Revenge of the punks

With no flower crowns or henna tattoos in sight, Riot Fest’s 14th installment concluded last weekend in Douglas Park, marking the end of the festival season in Chicago.

Riot Fest, Chicago’s annual carnival of punk music, has taken many forms since its inception in 2005. Through the years, however, it has provided one consistency: a sanctuary of absurdity in a Chicago festival scene that is becoming increasingly ordinary.

While Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Spring Awakening and North Coast are all supposed to specialize in their specific genres and atmospheres, the overall experiences of each have become repetitive. Droves of teenagers intoxicated by a multitude of substances stumble through the concerts with their CamelBaks and ’90s basketball jerseys listening to a lineup so carefully crafted to present a palatable diversity that it lacks any originality.

Riot Fest hasn’t been immune to this phenomenon, but it has weathered the storm. This year’s edition featured some artists that would have been booed off the stage at the inaugural year. Beck, Elvis Costello, Young the Giant, and Father John Misty are more widely accepted shades of alternative music than the punk acts on which the festival was founded, and Run the Jewels filled the annual hip hop quota. Even with a compromised lineup, the culture of the weekend at large is still unique.

It was Emma Michel’s first year at Riot Fest. A senior at DePaul, she had been to other festivals this summer and saw a stark difference. “People seemed to really come for the music,” said Michel. “[Lollapalooza] is all about the hype.”

Attending a punk show is like viewing a strange microcosm of humanity. Attendees can go from moshing into random strangers with blood, sweat, and dirt flying through the air to complete civility in a matter of minutes. There’s an acceptance in the collective consciousness that life is weird, yet still beautiful in all forms. Embracing all aspects of the weirdness is central to the atmosphere so beloved by perennial fest-goers.

One of these returning customers is Melissa Pratt, also a student at DePaul. Pratt enjoys the diverse age range of the audiences. “They have a nice mix of artists. It makes the crowd way more diverse,” said Pratt. The festival has a tendency of booking current artists as well as nostalgic legends of the genre making 40-year age gaps between guests nothing out of the ordinary.

While the weekend ended up being a success, speculation surfaced for weeks about whether or not the event would even take place. A delayed lineup release was followed by a cyber attack on the official ticket website, TicketFly. Immediately following the hack, however, Riot Fest offered special discounted prices to make it up to the fans. This is when Pratt bought her ticket.

Then, just a week before the festival was supposed to start, and still without a daily lineup released, it was revealed that headliner Blink-182 would not be performing due to the health of drummer Travis Barker. Many fans were devastated until it was announced that three acts would be replacing the legendary pop punk group: Taking Back Sunday, Run the Jewels and, most similar in style to the group themselves, Weezer.

Just hours before Weezer was set to take the stage in place of Blink, Blink’s bassist, Mark Hoppus, tweeted “Wish we were there with you tonight @RiotFest. Thanks very much @Weezer for stepping in. Have a great weekend.” This was re- tweeted by the band’s official page.

Paying homage to the poster boys of a decade of pop punk, Weezer played a cover of “All the Small Things” to a roaring crowd during the Friday evening set.

The atmosphere of this strange collection of music, culture, and humanity is nothing short of extraordinary and deserving of at least one trip within a lifetime. A statement released on the official festival website, states, “…there wouldn’t be a Riot Fest without the fans. So from all of us at Riot Fest, we want to say thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.”