After seven years of DIY fun inside the Congress Theater, Riot Fest is growing up. Sort of. Expanding into Humboldt Park south of Division Street, the homegrown fest packs in four stages of talent spanning several generations. That growth spurt isn’t limited to Chicago; satellite dates see the fest branching out to Brooklyn, Toronto and Dallas.
If you’re a newbie, don’t be intimidated by the name—the three-day endeavor is anything but lawless. Founder Michael Petryshyn explains that, similar to other large-scale fests like Pitchfork, the outdoor portion is contained by heavy-duty fences, two secure entry points and a security staff. That said, Petryshyn anticipates a peaceful rapport between concertgoers and Humboldt Park residents, adding that the park’s newest fest has been received positively by area businesses and neighborhood organizations.
Not only has Riot Fest grown in size, this year’s lineup introduces significantly more stylistic depth. Even so, Friday’s Congress Theater kickoff stands as a monument to its punk past, featuring local perennial Pegboy and ’90s holdover the Offspring. That makes the glossy Neon Trees a conspicuous choice, or it could explain why that evening has already sold out.
The fest invades its new Humboldt home Saturday 15, where Justin Champlin’s oddball Nobunny serves a welcome dose of scuzzy garage and fuzzy attire amidst the teen-oriented pop-punk and metalcore filling the day. No doubt party-starter Andrew W.K.—here celebrating 10 years since his bloody-nosed bow, I Get Wet—would appreciate the bunny-eared rocker.
Midwestern dudes who were twenty-something, bearded and/or jean-jacketed back in the day will surely stake out Saddle Creek mainstay Cursive, whose seminal 2003 record, The Ugly Organ, they probably knocked boots to in college. The same fans are likely to line up for revived post-hardcore troupe Hot Water Music, though we strongly advise against spinning the Florida band’s new Exister in the bedroom.
The Springsteen-aligned screeds of the Gaslight Anthem should go over well with the plaid-clad set, and Massachusetts’ longrunning Dropkick Murphys feed the same workingman ethos, which includes a proclivity for half-in-the-bag Irish drinking songs. Teen-at-heart adults join actual teens for Riot Fest vets the Descendents, singing in unison as the SoCal old-schoolers tear through “Suburban Home” in one of our city’s urban treasures.
Expect to see vinyl-collecting dads join mall rats and Brit-pop fiends of all ages on Sunday 16 when the genre pool broadens considerably, splitting the festival’s counter-cultural trappings wide open. Fat Wreck Chords forefather NOFX chugs out surfer-punk fart jokes while funk-punk holdover Fishbone continues to eke it out with a ska-powered mix of brass and sass.
The bearded set from Saturday beelines for Built to Spill’s indie-rock noodling and the vintage cute-core of Davey von Bohlen’s Promise Ring. But perhaps the most anticipated appearance of the weekend comes from Scottish mope-pop kings the Jesus and Mary Chain, whose brooding wall-of-sound has spawned dozens if not hundreds of imitators in the 14 years since it’s last album.
Proof of Riot Fest’s growing age divide arrives in the form of Elvis Costello & The Imposters and Iggy Pop. Though the latter, with the Stooges, offers unbridled aggression in the original spirit of Petryshyn’s baby. Pop may pull a sample of the audience onstage, but he might as well dive into the pit. With this many acres, there’s plenty of room for everyone to pile in.