If it had been any other lineup, I probably wouldn’t have attended Chicago’s Riot Fest 2012 — simply because of its location(s). For one, I loathe the Congress Theater. I’ll never forget how their bathrooms look like set pieces from Seven or Saw, or how they let Man Man sound piss poor that one time, or when they closed coat check during a bitter cold New Year’s Eve party. The latter which resulted in yours truly getting heat sores all over his chest, all from having to wear a leather jacket on the dance floor for three hours straight. Then there’s Humboldt Park, a good mile or two away from the Blue Line, which is already too far west for my preference. I sound like a crotchety old nutbar, but I’m not alone in these sentiments, as I heard them for months leading up to the festival.
Well, thank god for that lineup then. This year’s setup of Riot Fest may have initially made me a skeptic, but 48 hours later, I’m a believer. Promoter Mike Petryshyn has done the unthinkable: He’s added another outdoor festival to Chicago. Eschewing from the SXSW model of using multiple venues — something Schubas’ Tommorrow Never Knows Festival executes to precision every January — Riot Fest opted for two days at Humboldt Park, which would offer a spin on the traditional Grant vs. Union Park options and also allow the festival to jog some.
More like run, really. They went all out in the inaugural year of this format. When the poster reads “and Carnival” they weren’t kidding. There were more carnival games and rides on-site than there were legitimate music stages. This added such a unique element to what’s admittedly become such a predictable format these days. All throughout the weekend, thousands upon thousands of patrons waited in line for either the ferris wheel, the tilt-a-whirl, or the fun house. It was surreal, but on paper it successfully pushed past the confines of what a music festival can be and what it can offer. Riot Fest, in a way, rewrote the rules. I mean, really, outside of maybe Coachella, where else can you hop on a ferris wheel and hear the Descendents blast through choice cuts off Milo Goes to College? It’s pretty cool.
Also, Humboldt offers such a beautiful escape. Within the grounds there were little meadows, ponds, and forested areas that offered more than enough natural variety and shade to keep things fresh and ethereal. Maybe it’s just me, but I appreciate setting just as I do a lineup, and the far out confines of Humboldt allowed for a compact, breezy, and relaxed adventure. That’s another shocker: Despite a fight or two during Iggy’s set, the majority of the festival remained so relaxed and calm. It was as if the aging punk rockers traded in their leather and ripped band shirts for lemonade and pulled pork.
That’s not to say there weren’t punks. As someone who has four tattoos himself, I still felt rather meek. Nary a body sported clean, undocumented skin, and if it wasn’t flagrant tattoos, it was a bevy of costumes, including Bee Ladies, creeps on stilts, and even a portly guy in a popular horse’s mask. This sort of fare littered the park with character, which coursed through its proverbial spinal column, and culminated in one warm, positive aura. Juxtapose all that with a slight chill in the air each evening and you had Chicago’s first bonafide fall music festival. Or: It was the closest thing to Utopia that one might achieve at a festival headed by the likes of Iggy and the Stooges.
You’ve gotta respect that.
Photography by Heather Kaplan.