Let’s talk Riot Fest | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Let’s talk Riot Fest

The Reader crew start some conversations about Chicago’s loudest punk-rock institution: its lineup, its location, its role in the community, and more.


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Douglas Park during last year’s Riot Fest - DANNY O’DONNELL
  • Danny O’Donnell
  • Douglas Park during last year’s Riot Fest

The world didn't shift on its axis when Riot Fest announced its lineup in May, even though it'd landed arguably the biggest prize of the 2019 festival season: reunited riot-grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill. Riot Fest has made something of a specialty out of booking (or even bringing about) unbelievable reunions that fans never expected to see in this time line: the Replacements in 2013, the Original Misfits in 2016, Jawbreaker in 2017. But because organizers rolled out this year's lineup more than a month after Bikini Kill played their first batch of reunion shows, and because Bikini Kill didn't have any midwestern dates at the time, the big reveal was almost predictable—like getting exactly what you'd asked for at Christmas.

Of course, that's barely a complaint—especially after last year, when the full lineup and schedule didn't drop till a week before Riot Fest began. Single-day tickets weren't available till then either, which prompted Block Club Chicago to ask if the festival would even happen. This year it's been business as usual for Riot Fest, even as several other big local festivals have run into bad news—Mamby on the Beach got canceled, in part to protect endangered shorebirds; North Coast moved to a venue controlled by Live Nation, the Borg of the concert business; and Lollapalooza booked the Chainsmokers as a headliner. There's some comfort in knowing you can bank on seeing Gwar and Andrew W.K. at Riot Fest.

Riot Fest
Fri 9/13, 11:55 AM-10 PM; Sat 9/14, noon-10 PM; Sun 9/15, noon-9:45 PM; gates open at 11 AM all three days

Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento, riotfest.org, $50-$550 for single-day passes, $100-$170 for two-day passes, $150-$1,500 for three-day passes, all ages

Other repeaters include Patti Smith, Jawbreaker, Hot Snakes, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Slayer, playing their final Chicago show as part of their final world tour (though without drummer Dave Lombardo and late guitarist Jeff Hanneman, maybe it's more apt to call them "Slayer"). I don't mean to imply that Riot Fest only knows how to repeat itself, of course—Bikini Kill are hardly the only historically important act making their first appearance at the festival. You can catch fabulous new-wave weirdos the B-52s (also playing their final Chicago show), thrash veterans Testament, indie-rock heartthrobs Bloc Party, shoegaze faves Ride, and what's left of the Village People.

This is the 15th Riot Fest, the eighth outdoors with multiple stages, and the fifth in Douglas Park. For this year's preview coverage, ten Reader regulars got together to start some conversations about the festival. How do the big reunions and full-album sets stack up? Why is a for-profit festival with a majority-white audience taking over a public park in a largely Black and Brown neighborhood, and what can it do to mitigate that harm? What's it like to be on the Riot Fest grounds, compared to the experience at the other big summer blowouts? Which acts shouldn't have been booked, and who would we like to see? And who might get lost in the tiny type way down on the festival bill, but definitely shouldn't be?

We'd love to hear what you have to add in the comments. And as usual, the full festival schedule, transit routes, and fine-print rules are posted at riotfest.org. See you in the pit!  v

Hopping the Riot Fest nostalgia train

Reunions and full-album sets are the festival’s specialty—so what does it have to offer this year, besides Bikini Kill?

Unsolicited advice for Riot Fest’s bookers

The festival has its traditions, and it’s hard to hate Andrew W.K. or Gwar—but here are some bands we’d like to see.

Riot Fest’s elephant in the room

Does a for-profit festival with a majority-white audience have any business taking over a public park in a largely Black and Brown neighborhood?

Why to get to Riot Fest early

If your lunch runs late, you’ll miss some great acts—including Mongolian metal warriors the Hu, “ugly pop” trio Skating Polly, garage monsters Drakulas, and folk-pop wild card Caroline Rose.

Once Riot Fest has you, how does it treat you?

The festival grounds themselves provide a pretty different experience than, say, Lollapalooza or Pitchfork.

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