Riot Fest is Chicago’s monster again | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Riot Fest is Chicago’s monster again

After years of expanding into other cities, the giant punk party is once more a strictly hometown affair—and the Reader weighs in on its bill, its brand, and more.


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It's totally punk rock to have 442 teeth. - ILLUSTRATION BY BALDUR HELGASON
  • Illustration by Baldur Helgason
  • It's totally punk rock to have 442 teeth.

For six years now, Riot Fest has been an outdoor spectacle, taking over a public park for days to celebrate "punk," whatever that means in 2017—this year it runs from Friday, September 15, through Sunday, September 17. Riot Fest is now carrying on without cofounder and producer Sean P. McKeough, who died at age 42 in November. Spurred in part by McKeough's passing, organizers discontinued Riot Fest's Denver edition, leaving this hometown party the last one standing. Chicago's Riot Fest seems to be slimming down too, after growing fast its first few years outside—the 2017 lineup is 91 acts, down from more than 120 last year.

Riot Fest
Fri 9/15 through Sun 9/17, noon-10 PM, Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento, $79.98 per day, $149.98 two-day pass, $198.98 three-day pass, all ages

As a brand, though, Riot Fest is as ambitious as ever—earlier this year it staffed up an online magazine on its website, and in July it launched a pop-up restaurant in Wicker Park called Riot Feast. The quality of the fest's bookings hasn't fallen off a bit, despite the slightly less gargantuan bill—though I suppose you should know that I say this as a fan of Jawbreaker, who've reunited after 21 years to play this Riot Fest. Part of that consistency comes from familiar names, in keeping with tradition: Is Riot Fest even allowed to do this without Andrew W.K. and Gwar? (Other high-profile repeaters include third-wave emo heartthrobs Taking Back Sunday, prehistoric indie-rock juggernauts Dinosaur Jr., and old-school punk romantics the Buzzcocks.) Speaking of tradition, the festival features ten acts playing classic albums in full, and in our preview package Luca Cimarusti revisits all of them. You can also read Ed Blair on Riot Fest's editorial approach, Kevin Warwick on the bands worth showing up early to see, and several pieces by yours truly—I talked with Mr. W.K. and one of the creators of a new Jawbreaker documentary, Don't Break Down, among other things.

A healthy number of this year's performers challenge the notion that punk has to be played with guitars, among them raunchy pop experimentalist Peaches, electronic mutant Tobacco, and hip-hop spacemen Shabazz Palaces. Rapper Vic Mensa probably belongs in that category too, and he's also one of ten locals on the bill—not a record for Riot Fest, but better than Lollapalooza has ever done.

Not that you need me to tell you this, but you can find festival rules, recommended transit options, and other information at That site is also a good place to start if you're anxious about last-minute changes to the schedule or the set times—at least if you're not already following @RiotFest on Twitter.  v

Wake up! It's seven and a half o'clock! - ILLUSTRATION BY BALDUR HELGASON
  • Illustration by Baldur Helgason
  • Wake up! It's seven and a half o'clock!

Riot Fest and shine

To see some of the best acts on the bill—including Downtown Boys, Invsn, and Fishbone—you’re gonna have to skip brunch.

By Kevin Warwick


You got your Riot Fest in my peanut butter!

Gentle readers, witness our dumbest way yet of rounding up the local acts on the bill.

By Leor Galil

They're not actually on their way here in this photo. That's just a coincidence. - COURTESY OF RIOT FEST
  • Courtesy of Riot Fest
  • They're not actually on their way here in this photo. That's just a coincidence.

The reunited Jawbreaker follow a documentary on the band into Chicago

Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker unpacks the group’s legend, even for people who don’t know it has one.

By Leor Galil


Which of the albums getting played at Riot Fest actually deserve it?

Old favorites from Dinosaur Jr. and the Wu-Tang Clan still sound fresh, but a few of these alleged classics have passed their expiration dates.

By Luca Cimarusti

The personification of partying - ASHLEE REZIN
  • Ashlee Rezin
  • The personification of partying

Precious Riot Fest moments with Andrew W.K.

He’s been on every lineup since 2012, but what does he remember?

By Leor Galil

Is that bird wearing a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt? - ILLUSTRATION BY BALDUR HELGASON
  • Illustration by Baldur Helgason
  • Is that bird wearing a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt?

Punk’s not dead, and neither is publishing

Riot Fest launches an online magazine—because sometimes Twitter just isn’t enough.

By Ed Blair

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