Riot Fest and Carnival in Chicago’s Humboldt Park

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The annual 3-day Riot Fest & Carnival took place in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. Five stages, a Ferris wheel and other carnival rides and games, various vendors, food stands (more than I’ve ever seen at a large event like this), a side show tent and a wrestling ring were strategically positioned across the park and a portion of the streets of Chicago. Each day, attendees had anywhere from 20-30+ bands to choose from. This type of variety gave everyone the opportunity to plan their day as they wanted, although I overheard many struggle to make a decision when two of their favorite bands were playing at the same time. (Most commonly heard: “Rancid and Public Enemy are playing at the same time?!”). For anyone new to Humboldt Park, the area was massive. Especially once you realized how long it would take you to walk from the Rock Stage to the Rise Stage. One constant all weekend were the large crowds at the majority of the stages at any given time.

Upon entering the grounds after the gates opened, a local group, Environmental Encroachment, entertained folks as they passed by. While wearing colorful costumes, they played instruments, performed weird dances, juggled and whatnot before eventually parading through the grounds. As I walked around, each of the five stages were aptly named Rock, Riot, Roots, Rise, and Rebel. Performances consisted of bands that were up and coming, current and those that had been doing this for a while. Each night closed out the day’s festivities with a headliner at the Rock stage.

Friday ended with a high energy set from Fall Out Boy, which also included an appearance of the Stanley Cup (GO BLACKHAWKS!) and a photo op for the band with said cup and the massive crowd behind them. Saturday night concluded with yet another energetic set from Blink-182 that appeared to make many people very happy. Both nights, the fans were quite active and as a result, both bands had to stop their show a couple times to ask fans to take a step back. By the time Sunday night rolled around, the security rail had been configured into a T-shape to help alleviate the crowd push. The weekend ended with a very welcomed set from the reunited Replacements.

During the weekend I somehow managed to see portions of almost 30 performances. Some bands I’d never heard of before while others had been on my radar for a while. To me, Dessa was the stand out artist on the first day. Public Enemy had the stand out performance on the second day while the last day’s stand out performance went to Against Me.

Make no mistake though, as every band I saw brought something to the punk rock table. Whether it was the Day 1 performance from The Flatliners, Hatebreed’s tribute to Jeff Hanneman from Slayer or Andrew W.K.’s extremely energetic songs about partying, head banging, and did I mention partying? Then there was the absurd craziness from GWAR which lead into a partially nostalgic performance from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, as she also played a few songs from her new album including Soulmates with guest vocalist Laura Jane Grace from Against Me.

Check out my photos of the Atmoshphere on Day 1 here:

Check out my Best of Day 1 Photos of The Flatliners, Saul Williams and Hatebreed here

Check out my photos of Dessa here

Check out my photos of Andrew W.K. here

Check out my photos of Joan Jett here

Check out my photos of Fall Out Boy here

Day 2 kicked into gear with Mephiskapheles and a killer horn section, and continued with a performance from Environmental Encroachment that left you wondering what you had just witnessed. Fans were extremely excited over Glassjaw’s set and FLAG proved music knows no age when it comes to rockin’ out. There was a classic performance from Blondie that carried over to a wildly popular set from Public Enemy before Violent Femmes surprised everyone by playing their entire first album in order.

While Day 3 was overcast and threatening rain at any minute, Against Me set the tone with their set while Bob Mould carried on despite the pouring rain. Suicidal Tendencies had enough energy for five bands and All Time Low, with their screaming female fans, entertained one and all. AFI played a dark, moody, dramatic set before Pierce the Veil proved why they’re ready to take over the world.

The weather for the first two days of the festival couldn’t have been better. However, Sunday was another story. Eventually rain would but a huge damper on the day, although, as far as I know, there were no cancellations. As the day went on, the rain eventually let up, but the grounds were pretty muddy. The overall vibe of the festival was very laid back. Also, I absolutely saw the most Mohawks I’ve seen at any festival I’ve attended not to mention the number of interestingly dressed people.

There were also two performance troops on the grounds. Hellzapoppin held their side show theme inside a circus tent which included fire eating, sword swallowing, walking on glass and razor sharp knives, among other things. The second troop walked the grounds and stopped from time to time to perform acts of juggling, balance and a phenomenal performance on the Ring of Death that left me, and I’m sure others holding their breath in awe. The wresting ring was a fun spot to take a break. Whether you saw someone get clothes-lined, saw a wrestler jump off the top rope down onto the mat or saw someone in a twisted head lock, it was definitely entertaining. Another quirky site to see was the Butter Stamos. Yes, there was a bust of the one and only John Stamos, made entirely out of butter. He was housed in a refrigerated trailer on display for everyone to see. From time to time, the sculptor was also inside the trailer adding final touches. It definitely got a reaction out of everyone.

Riot Fest recently announced they will be celebrating their 10 Year Anniversary September 12-14, 2014. They are promising more rides, more food, more attractions and more surprises. The fact that the Early Bird passes are already sold out tells me everyone clearly had a blast and can’t wait to do it all again next year! Keep your eyes on riotfest.org for more details and for more Early Bird tickets as they become available. If you forgot to pick up a shirt this year, 2013 Riot Fest merch is available here.

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