A lot can happen in 10 years. People get older, places change, and Riot Fest evolves from a few bands playing headliner shows at numerous venues throughout Chicago, to a weekend music festival with carnival rides and huge headliners in Humboldt Park.
Title Fight was one of the first bands to take the stage to kick off the festival on Friday. Despite their early time slot, the band was still able to pull a huge crowd that crowd surfed throughout the entire energetic set put on by the Pennsylvania band. The band played a range of songs off their two studio albums, “Shed and Floral Green” as well as their compilation album “The Last Thing You Forget”. Due to the nasty weather that stayed consistent throughout the day, bassist and vocalist Ned Russin made a point to thank fans for “being here early, through the rain and cold,” as fans slipped around through the mud.
I trudged through the heavily forming mud to the Rebel stage in order to see Gwar, a costumed thrash metal band that has been prevalent since the 1980s. Although I am typically not a fan of thrash metal, I have made a point of seeing Gwar when I can because of their always exciting onstage performances where the crowd is pelted with fake blood and witness enactments of violence. This year didn’t disappoint as Gwar came out with a Barack Obama figure, which they quickly cut the head off of as fake blood came spraying out into the crowd.
Fans were also wondering what their performance would be like after the death of forming member and longtime vocalist Oderus Urungus. While no one could take the place of the legendary member, new vocalist Blothar did a fine job at entertaining the crowd throughout the performance.
I left relatively early through Gwar’s set in order to get a front row spot for the event I was most excited for throughout the entire festival. Riot Fest hosted a panel on the Riot Fest Speaks stage, featuring Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina of the Russian activist group Pussy Riot, as well as Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, journalist and activist Marcelle Karp, and Michael Petryshyn, the founder of Riot Fest. The panel was moderated by Henry Rollins, who brought up topics of how punk music can be used to create societal changes, and how necessary feminism is in both Russia and the United States.
Tolokonnikova and Alekhina became globally known in 2012 after being arrested after staging a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Petryshyn compared punk music in the United States and United Kingdom to the punk that Pussy Riot was utilizing in Russia and said “[music like]Anarchy in the UK is empty [because the US and UK are areas in which punk music is safe to create], Pussy Riot isn’t empty.”
Tolokonnikova and Alekhina concluded the panel discussing Media Zona, a news outlet the group is launching in an effort to “try to resist censorship,” according to Alekhina, which they are anticipating will be shut down by the Russian internet watchdog.
Rollins had the last word in the panel when he told the Russian activists, “I think you have done amazing things.”
2014 marks the tenth anniversary for Riot Fest, and in honor of that, 10 bands have been chosen to play their essential albums in the entirety. On Friday, The Offspring performed their 1994 album Smash, including the songs “Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem” and “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”
The Offspring had one of the largest crowds of the night, possibly due to the fact that people were spread out far trying to find a spot that did not consist of deep mud.
By the time Rise Against, one of the headliners, took to the Rock stage the weather had completely ruined the ground. Riot Fest attendees were having trouble taking steps through the slick and deep mud, but that did not stop the crowd from jumping around to the set by Rise Against which consisted of many of their classic songs such as “Prayer of the Refugee” and “Give It All.”
Although the weather left attendees shivering for hours, I left excited by the first day’s events and eager for the rest of the festival and celebration to continue for the rest of the weekend.