Riot Fest knows you're a sucker for the good old days. The punk-happy megacarnival (Ferris wheels included, duh) not only situates itself on the cusp of cozy hoodie weather—when the leaves are a-changin' and the pangs of what went wrong in life become especially poignant—it also books enough reunions, one-offs, and rare performances by bands relevant to a thirtysomething's formative years to create a bona fide time warp. The key, of course, is not to concern yourself with making sense of how (and maybe why) Paul Westerberg is onstage singing "I Will Dare," but to wring every ounce of appreciation you can from the spectacle. Trust me, Riot Fest didn't book Mephiskapheles, a satanic third-wave ska band, to get you thinking.
The festival is entering its ninth year, but only its second outdoors—founder Mike Petryshyn and his partner Sean McKeough brought it to Humboldt Park in 2012, streamlining what once was a multivenue escapade to three days, one location, one circus. And the more focused vision has allowed the bill to blow up even more: last year's lineup topped out at around 50 bands; this year there are 30 more than that. Programming remains a mix of suburban Warped Tour-sanctioned punk (Pierce the Veil, the Devil Wears Prada), early-aughts pop-punk/emo heroes (Brand New, Saves the Day), old-school hardcore and punk with the average member age exceeding 40 (Flag, X), and alt-indie bands that sported flannel decades before it became re-cool (Replacements, Pixies). And there will be scabs . . . plenty of scabs.
The main hitch with Riot Fest since its move: transportation gets tricky. Because Humboldt Park is no hop-and-a-skip from a train—the Kedzie Green Line is about a 20-minute walk, the Division Blue Line a half hour—biking is your best bet, with a bus ride maybe acting as a tolerable alternative. Basically, give yourself a handful of extra minutes or risk lopping off a portion of your schedule. Speaking of schedules, we made one. Though we only preview a fraction of the festival's acts—18 in total—we did our duty in recommending a variety of worthwhile performers, from the headliners through the midtier and on to the locals. Or maybe we just got sucked into our own portals of overblown sentimentality (I did write about AFI, after all). —Kevin Warwick