Riot Fest

Douglas Park / Chicago, IL

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Photos by Laura Sedor

Three days of fun in Chicago with a little controversy thrown in – no this isn’t Lolla, this is Riot Fest. Around since 2012, this outdoor festival was usually held in Humbolt Park, but after last year’s landscape damages– estimated to be around $182,000– many aldermen opposed Riot fest’s return to the park. So organizers changed the venue to Lawndale’s Douglas Park on the southwest side of Chicago, despite the area having one of the highest crime rates in the city.

Riot Fest has had endless difficulties despite being smaller than the other, larger festival held in the biggest downtown park that’s notorious for fouling up traffic for so many residents, but the backing of and tight relationship to the Mayor’s brother has smoothed out all of those concerns. And to its credit, Riot Fest held a community job fair to make sure that Lawndale residents would be among the first getting paid jobs during the fest.

Rain early in the day made Friday soggy and muddy, but that didn’t stop the approximately 45,000 concertgoers from checking out the fantastic line-up. Truly, Riot Fest has something for everyone, with seven music stages and a spoken word stage (called Riot Fest Speaks), that featured Henry Rollins moderating the fascinating West Memphis Three discussion.

Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace had the best t-shirt – featuring the words “GENDER IS OVER” in the same font as John Lennon’s “WAR IS OVER,” while Chicago’s own Mest returned to their hometown stage on Friday, helped out by members of No Doubt’s horn section.

Friday’s trio of conflicting headliners made it hard to choose between the return of No Doubt, Ice Cube or Motörhead, but after so many recent health issues with Lemmy and his crew that have made it difficult for them to tour, Motörhead was the obvious choice. “This is gonna be the last song for us, but if you make some noise, we’ll come back,” teased the bassist at the opening notes to “Ace of Spades.”

Though Saturday’s rain cleared up to reveal a beautiful day, the damage had already been done. Maintenance crews busily covered the worst standing water with mulch, but that probably didn’t prevent a costly clean-up of the park. The music line up featured another impressive array of artists, however, including Mayday Parade, Bootsy Collins, Merle Haggard and headliner Billy Idol. Idol filled his sets with a collection of both his most famous ’80’s hits like “White Wedding,” “Rebel Yell” and “Eyes Without a Face,” as well as “Can’t Break Me Down” from 2014’s Kings and Queens of the Underground.

Sunday saw the return of rap, featuring  tight sets by Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg, who strolled on stage blazing, but half an hour late. Also reviving their career is L7, who rocked the house with their classic grunge and closed the show with “Fast and Frightening,” from the 1990 album Smell the Magic.

Closing out the weekend was Modest Mouse, who played a fun, energetic set that had the crowd hanging on their every word. The set finished with “Spitting Venom” off their 2007 release, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. As the crowd slowly dispersed, the Riot Fest promoters must have been thinking of next year, and how they could possible top such a great weekend of music and fun.

– Laura Sedor

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