Let Me Talk About Riot Fest: Favorite Sets

Riot Fest happened two weeks ago, and I’m still not over it, so I’m going to talk about it some more. Riot Fest is by far my favorite Chicago music festival, it may even be my favorite thing about Chicago. For starters, all my teenage wishes came true at my first Riot Fest a few years back when I got to touch the leather-panted leg of A.F.I.’s front man, Davey Havok. Even if you don’t know who Davey Havok or A.F.I. are, all you really need to know is that I worshiped this band from the ages of 13 to 18. I was in their fan club, wrote A.F.I. fan fiction (a fact which I’ll never admit again), and their music was the sole inspiration for my very first aim screen name (don’t ask what it was). Even though I hadn’t listened to them consistently for at least 5 years, I felt like a giddy 15-year-old on my way to their Riot Fest 2013 set an hour early. THE HOUR WAIT WAS WORTH IT. Halfway through the Davey walked out onto the shoulders of the crowd, like the rock god he is, and I happened to be one of the shoulders. I touched his leg. My point, Riot Fest is where dreams come true.

For context, as a teenager, I was consistently grounded (sorry Ma), needless to say I didn’t go to a whole bunch of concerts. I’m sure there is a positive correlation between how much hardcore music a kid listens to and how often they’re grounded; I had my headphones in from sunrise to sundown. So every year when Riot Fest releases its lineup there are usually 3-6 bands on it that I had obsessed over as a teenager, but never got to see live (because I was always grounded). And even though I’m now a fully functioning member of society, I still love hardcore music, still love the bands I’ve always loved, but rarely find the opportunity to see these kinds of shows (mostly because I don’t know anyone my age that still likes “hardcore” music). This year’s Riot Fest lineup was particularly noteworthy (in my mind anyway) with emo-kid favorites like Bayside, Atreyu, Thrice, Coheed and Cambria, Alkaline Trio, and Alexisonfire, alongside major headliners like No Doubt, System of a Down, Billy Idol (lol), Motorhead, Snoop Dogg, Taking Back Sunday, and Modest Mouse. My only regret is missing most of Friday and all Sunday to tend to adult responsibilities, and that I couldn’t be at multiple sets at a time. If you couldn’t attend because you decided to sell your ticket last-minute, wimped out because of the weather, or.. maybe it’s not your thing, HERE’S WHAT YOU MISSED.

Alexisonfire – Post-hardcore: FAN GURL ALERT – I’ve been completely obsessed with Alexisonfire since I heard ‘A Dagger Through the Heart of St. Angeles’ off their self-titled album when I was 14; the song is erratic and abrasive, while also being really beautiful with a soft interlude. This album is my favorite of theirs, mostly because it’s so raw, but still great instrumentally, plus I have so many hormone-induced feelings attached to it. I’m not much of a music writer, so I recommend checking it out for yourself.

Anyway, Alexisonfire broke up in 2011 and I had officially accepted that I would never see them live, and that was that. I’d return to them occasionally for the sake of nostalgia, or if I needed a song to get amped to, but it’s always sad for me to listen to a band I know isn’t together. It’s like you love this thing, or rather this thing created by a group of people you admire, but even this thing you think is so great isn’t enough to keep the group of people you admire together; reminding us that nothing lasts, everyone is mortal, blah, blah, darkness. But then there they were on the Riot Fest lineup, I literally almost died/cried. EXCITING UPDATE THEY ANNOUNCED AT TORONTO RIOT FEST THEY’RE GETTING BACK TOGETHER. They alluded to this at their Chicago set but never officially announced it. If you’re still reading my blathering on about Alexisonfire at this point… you really need to be doing something else.

Anyway, part 2, their set was awesome. They knew they were playing to longtime fans, and played the classics. The energy was just as intense as I hoped, George ripped of his shirt and screamed from the guard rail (I got to touch another leg!), the vocals and instrumentals matched what I’d been listening to the past 11 years, I got to throw a few elbows, and at one point I remember standing in the mud, crushed against other bodies, just feeling really really happy.

Coheed and Cabria – Progressive Rock: Coheed is another one of those bands I feel like I’ve been listening to forever. Anyone who was remotely young in 2003 when ‘A Favor House Atlantic’ came out listened to this song on repeat at least a few times. The tempo is upbeat, lyrics catchy, the lead singer has a distinct voice, and crazy hair; what’s there not to like? As I become more a “fan”, or really just explored their works in depth, my favorite thing about their music is the sci-fi conceptual background behind their albums. I’d been listening to Coheed and Cambria for a number of years before I found out that all of their albums represent a chapter in The Amory Wars saga, which is the fictional story about the doomed relationship amongst two characters, Coheed and Cambria, whose children may be infected with a serum whose power can destroy the universe. And all of this is takes place on a fence made out planets in space somewhere in the future (maybe). Mind blown. There are actual comics that correspond to the albums and flesh out the story further, but I’m not much of a comic gal. That said… I do read the summaries online from time to time to know what’s up. It’s kind of the same a Googling the lyrics to your favorite songs, you want to try and understand what the song is about and be able to say the words correctly should an opportunity arise.

It’s such a disappointment when you go to see a band you really like, only come to find out they suck live, I won’t be mean and name names, but fortunately this wasn’t an issue with Coheed, their set was great. The sun was starting to go down, Claudio’s hair was whipping violently in the Chicago wind, it was all very cinematic.

The Joy Formidable – Welsh Alt. Rock: I hadn’t heard of The Joy Formidable before Riot Fest, but I caught their Saturday afternoon set and Ritzy Bryan is officially my new female rock idol. While watching her play I wasn’t sure if I wanted to befriend her or be her. The Joy Formidable has great chemistry onstage and their sound is big, booming, and fun. By the end of the set even the cool kids with arms crossed tapping their toes had found a little rhythm in their hips. Ritzy really made the show for me; there’s nothing I love more than seeing a frontwoman kill it on guitar and play like no one’s watching.

Sleep On It – Pop-Punk: These kids. Okay they aren’t probably… kids, they’re probably around my same age, but their music is just enough pop and just enough punk to make me feel like a frisky and free teenager, with a side of angst. I was in search of the water station Saturday afternoon, but if anyone knows my sense of direction they know it doesn’t exist, so I was wandering around for quite some time. Near death, I found the water station tucked in the back on the far side of the festival, where they were hiding all the really good food vendors too. Sleep On It was playing and the whole band was jumping around so excitedly I felt like I had to go watch. They remind me of a combination between Senses Fail and Bowling For Soup (lol – probably haven’t thought of that band for a while), but like… a cooler version. Their stage presence is awesome and I can’t wait to catch another one of their shows (as long as there aren’t real teenagers present).


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