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Review: Riot Fest 2021

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Riot Fest is back and Punktuation’s Chicago review team Taz and Jaz were there covering everything punk!

After a compulsory year off in 2020, Riot Fest 2021 returned with a stacked line-up. The pandemic still hasn’t gone away, with artists dropping out last minute due to COVID issues. However, the RIOT FEST organisers quickly recovered, throwing in names just as big, guaranteeing a stellar line-up no matter what.

Kicking off the punk injection for the weekend and taking to the Roots Stage, Floridian five-piece pop-punk up and comers, Meet Me At The Altar.  These five young women exploded on the stage with their catchy hooks, making it impossible for the crowd to stand still. They opened up perfectly with the festival hungry crowd bouncing from the first track.  

The mood quickly altered to a more smooth, mellow vibe when Envy On The Coast hit the Riot Stage. This Long Island-based post-hard/emo/alt outfit began with a chilled vibe. It didn’t take them long to kick it into high gear. Again the crowd were lapping up the energy and taking in the music and the freedom.

punk couple
The fans were pleased to be seeing live music again. © Punktuationmag.com

In the early afternoon, popular Missouri natives Radkey brought a more classic punk sound, and a very “don’t give a F**k” attitude to the mix. Middle brother and bassist Isaiah Radke can’t seem to keep his feet on the stage. Jumping everywhere he could, his energy bled out into the crowd warming the punters. Radkey opened for Fishbone for their first-ever show in 2011. Today was much like history repeating itself as Fishbone followed the brothers. With their smooth melodic Ska beats, Fishbone had an uncanny portion of the Radicals Stage crowd dancing the entire set. 

Throwing back to raw 90s punk, Anti-Flag hit the Rise Stage, and immediately a mosh pit opened up, starting off the crowd surfing for the weekend. Both on and off the stage, no one could resist the frenzy, jumping to every song. The crowd unleashed from their recent track The Disease to their final playing classic, Turncoat, with every fan screaming the lyrics.

Young San Diego natives Beach Goons hit the Rebel Stage early evening. Their contagiously upbeat surf punk causing the entire front section of the crowd to jostle around with energy you could feel from the outskirts of the crowd.

Bassist David Orozco - The Beach Goons. Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com
Bassist David Orozco – The Beach Goons. Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

Popular local boys The Lawrence Arms kept the punk rock current firing. Hitting the Rise Stage, they opened with the Star Wars theme song blasting over the PA before launching into an outstanding and energetic performance. A solid vocal delivery from Brendan Kelly bringing crowd-surfers aplenty to the barricade.

Brendan Kelly The Lawrence Arm Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com
Brendan Kelly The Lawrence Arm Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

Motion City Soundtrack gets everyone off their feet, and in the case of keyboardist Jesse Johnson, it’s to the extreme. Early in the set, pulling off an acrobatic handstand kick that left the audience in awe. One of the most adored pop-punk/emo acts from the 2000’s Justin Courtney Pierre’s lyrics strikes a chord with every fan. Even in the outskirts of the crowd, fans were jumping around and rocking out, clearly ecstatic to be amongst live music.

When the sun sets, the Circle Jerks come out to play with their high energy classic hardcore and wild headbanging that even the rain couldn’t dampen. The energy for the entire set was electric. Circle Jerks fans fall across all ages, but at that moment, there was no generation gap, just punk fans.

Circle Jerks Riot Fest 2021  ©Punktuationmag.com
The rain couldn’t dampen Circle Jerks’ high energy classic hardcore punk! Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

From a massive mosh pit opening up early in the set, the crowd-surfers throughout, to the fans way, way back, everyone was jamming out, taking in the moment, and dancing like no one was watching.

Circle Jerks finished their night by having a quick selfie with the Rise Stage Headliners – punk rock legends NOFX. The LA band closed out the night in the most memorable of ways – joking with and ripping on the crowd as if they were old drinking buddies.

NOFX's Eric Melvin Riot Fest 2021  ©Punktuationmag.com
NOFX’s Eric Melvin Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

The band threw in the disclaimer early in the set “We are not a child-friendly band”. They went on saying they have “lost their minds” and that they are old, almost justifying it when during their set, they took a break to explain to the crowd what “Fisting” is.

NOFX maintained their controversial status and played a phenomenal set that appeased the fans. The show took out Friday’s Riot Fest lineup with light-hearted energy, some amazing pits and a plethora of crowd-surfers.

An awesome first day!

Riot Fest Day Two – The Weekend Continues.

Riot Fest day two maintained the momentum from the previous day. The day’s line-up of punk rock kicking off with LA punks, Spider‘s high energy and fast pace. The band starting the momentum rolling, getting the crowd moving very early in the day. This intensity was accelerated by local pop punks Action/Adventure, the crowd quickly forming a mosh pit with vocalist Blake Evaristo calling for a circle pit instead. The fans happily obliged.

Punk Fan at Riot Fest ©punktuationmag.com

Popular Los Angeles Natives The Bronx followed, bringing their passionate and aggressive vocals to the stage resulting in an instant pit upfront. Those not wanting to enter the pit still jumping about, unable to resist the energy from the stage.  

Four Year Strong were a welcomed sight late in the afternoon, bringing cheers from their dedicated fanbase before they even played a note. With the first chord struck, vocalist Dan O’Connor called for movement, and the crowd readily accommodated. Four Year Strong received a considerable reaction to Hero’s Get Remembered, Legends Never Die. A slower track but without doubt a fan favourite.

State Champs brought out the big guns having the crowd hooked from the first note. With a scream of ”Riot Fest! Let’s go fucking crazy!” the crowd erupted; moshing and jumping around from the stage back to the sound booth.

Next up old school ska-punk legends The Mighty Mighty Bosstones make it extremely hard for anyone to stand still with the bouncy, cheerful notes coming from the brass section of the band.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Riot Fest 2021  ©Punktuationmag.com
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

If that wasn’t enough to get the crowd up and moving, the entire stage appeared to be a ska dance party led by the Bosstones very own Ben Carr showing off his moves.

Bayside’s cult following did not let them down today, welcoming the band back to Riot Fest with cheers as they stepped onto the stage. Once the music started flowing, the crowd clapped along without any prompt from the band, opened up a mosh pit and sang along flawlessly throughout the performance.

Mayday Parade have an almost fanatical following, their pop-punk/emo songs firmly embedded in the DNA of teenagers past. With the band holding the crowd with their intense stage presence, popular track,  It’s Hard To Be Religious When Certain People Are Never Incinerated By Bolts Of Lightning” made it very easy to get lost in the moment.

Andrew WK is now very much a staple at Riot Fest. His set opened with a somewhat electronic vibe, the crowd clapped along before he even appeared on the stage. The band kept the music tight while Andrew worked the stage. And he not only worked it, but he owned it, with his strong vocals and powerful presence.

Finally, headling night two of Riot Fest celtic punks Dropkick Murphys brought almost deafening cheers by just playing some Irish flute before they walked on stage.

Dropkick Murphys Riot Fest 2021  ©Punktuationmag.com
Dropkick Murphys Riot Fest 2021 ©Punktuationmag.com

In addition to the deafening cheers, the crowd stomped their feet, letting off a huge air of excitement and anticipation. Once the lads hit the stage, the crowd sings along to every word clapping to the beat of the songs. They finished strong with “The Boys Are Back” and “Shipping Up To Boston.”

Rise Against were back in front of a hometown crowd again after winding up their ‘Nowhere Generation Tour’ at the end of August. Playing the final set of the day on the Roots Stage, Tim McIlrath dedicated the set to Faith No More’s Mike Patton, after the band were brought in when for the legendary rockers and Patton’s band Mr Bungle cancelled all tours due to Patton’s ailing mental health. Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up were also missing from the Riot Fest line-up. The band couldn’t get into the States in time so Rise Against brought out Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, and performed a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son. Another phenomenal set from one of the world’s most adored punk bands.

At the end of day two and we are left wanting more!

Riot Fest Day Three – What a Banger!

The final day of Riot Fest 2021 kicked off a bit differently than the first two. Emo band Pet Symmetry opened the festivities, claiming they were “blasted back from the future”. They brought a very chilled vibe to the Sunday crowd who just vibed and lightly bounced along to the band.

Following the chilled vibe is Airstream Futures, a high energy female-fronted punk/alternative band with a fabulous stage presence and fantastic instrumental groove that had the crowd nodding along.

Bouncing over to the Radical stage was Fever 333. As the set time drew nearer, the crowd started chanting “333, 333, 333” Hyping the energy to near fever pitch!

Fever 333 © punktuationmag.com
Fever 333 © punktuationmag.com

Once the trio hit the stage opening with Bite Back, the crowd was hit with the band’s crazy energy and Jason Aalon Butler’s insane aggressive vocals! Butler ran around the stage like a madman throwing the mic stand and re-arranged the speakers to create a platform.

The intense performance only got crazier during Supremecy with Butler climbing the scaffolding and hanging feet above the crowd.

Jason Aalon Butler hanging around Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com
Jason Aalon Butler Hanging around © Punktuationmag.com

Fever 333 finished out their set with “Hunting Season”. Butler, now wearing only underwear and socks, backflipped into the adoring fans, crowd-surfing back to the stage to finish the set.

Simple Plan then hit the stage. The crowd erupted, fist-pumping and dancing along to the setlist that included hits like “Shut Up”, “Jump”, and even throwing back 19 years and playing “Addicted”.

Simple Plan Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com
Simple Plan Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com

During “Jump”, it was an amazing sight to see the entire crowd jumping in unison.

Vocalist Pierre Bouvier even showed his age a little by mentioning they were on MTV – TRL. The elder millennials seemed to get a kick out of that statement whilst the younger crowd looked on in confusion.

Simple Plan Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com

Knucklepuck was next to hit the stage, immediately calling for the crowd to pack in closer from the first song. There was an insane amount of jumping as well as a mosh pit.

The band met the crowd’s high energy doubled it, clearly enjoying their work running around the stage and interacting with the crowd on a phenomenal level.

Bringing the carnival theme of Riot Fest to the stage was New Found Glory. This included the stage set as well as the band’s performance. They ran around with the energy of circus acrobats and commanded the crowd’s attention like a carnival barker.

New Found Glory Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com
New Found Glory Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com

New Found Glory’s singer Jordan Pundik fed off the crowd’s energy loving every minute and shouting, “Keep this shit up”. The crowd most assuredly did, jumping, dancing, and waving their hands in the air throughout the entire set.

Closing out the Radical Stage was rapper gone pop-punk artist Machine Gun Kelly. Opening with a video of what we can only assume is his morning routine (brushing his teeth and smoking a joint) he took the headlining position on the Radical stage and immediately had technical issues.

Machine Gun Kelly Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com
Machine Gun Kelly’s ‘almost embarrassing’ performance at Riot Fest 2021 © Punktuationmag.com

The crowd pushed forward and started to sing along with him once those were resolved. In true Machine Gun Kelly fashion, he interrupted his show to make several digs at Riot Fest, closing headliners Slipknot stating, “Turn the lights up. Let me see who chose to be here, instead of with all the weird old dudes with masks.” and later, “I’m really happy that I’m not being 50 years old wearing a fucking weird mask on a fucking stage”.  

Ironically these insults were shot towards a band of unique metal legends and amazing artists, within the same performance where Kelly attempted several pale imitations of other artists. Including a subpar cover of Misery Business by Paramore and an amateur, an almost cowardly attempt of Fever 333s Jason Butlers signature move of climbing the stage.

Throughout the entire weekend, the cast, crew, and performers of Riot Fest worked like a well-oiled machine making sure everyone in attendance had what they needed – be it a beer, turkey leg or a beat to dance around to. Even with all the banners, merch, and videos proclaiming “Riot Fest Sucks”,  this music fest was the perfect way to ‘officially’ end lockdown and bring the punk festival back to Chicago.

All photos by Jaz


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