I’m 47 and I still love Music Festivals: How to survive Chicago’s Riot Fest

By Nick Bequette

September 14, 2016 

Yes, kids….I’ve been around the block more times than I care to remember. I’m so ancient that I went to both of The Who’s 25th and 50th anniversary tours. My first music festival was the debut year of Lollapalooza on August 16th, 1991 in Lake Fairfax Park, Reston, Virginia. Over the years I’ve lost shoes, hats, sunglasses, cigarettes, beer, friends, my lunch and, on one drunken occasion, over $800 in cash. I’ve been separated from my group and lost for hours. I’ve woken up on the hood of a truck I had mistaken for my brother’s. And in one instance, I’d given up making it home and slept for a couple hours in a ditch by the side of the road. That time, it was the buzz of the morning traffic that woke me from my slumber. Just last year, while filming in front of the stage of The Pennywise set, I recorded a guy crowd surfing toward me. My recording ends with his muddy boot landing on my forehead.

A video posted by Nick Bequette (@nicbeq) on

Have these experiences taught me anything? Is there any sage advice that I can pass on to a first-time festival goer? Yes. First, don’t take $800 in cash to a music festival. Then, you’re going to want to pace yourself on the drinking. You don’t want to wake up and not remember if your favorite band played your favorite song.

Riot Fest is a three-day music festival and carnival held in Denver and Chicago. (Unlike years previous, Toronto was omitted this year.) The festival began in Chicago in 2005 as a multiple venue weekend of primarily punk music. It wasn’t until 2012 that it took on a more traditional style, bringing all performances together in one park and branching out into multiple genres of music. However, its base will always be grounded in ‘80s and ‘90s punk and it is the primary reason why I choose to make the trek to Chicago each year with friends with whom I experienced the bands’ music. Oh, the wonderful memories we’ll reminisce over this weekend.

clture - riot fest
CLTure contributor Nick Bequette and Andrew W.K at Riot Fest 2015

Apparently, September in Chicago is monsoon season. Any avid festival goer knows the risks involved with an outdoor venue. You know there’s a chance you’ll get wet and perhaps a little muddy. Even under perfect weather circumstances, a beautiful, green park can be turned into a trampled brown field of dirt by Sunday. Add a little rain and you get fields of mud resembling the aftermath of a tank battle. That being said, you’ll want to consider your wardrobe choices carefully. Those Vans or new blue suede sneakers you just bought are out, unless you don’t mind traveling home with them in a plastic bag painted a pretty Jackson Pollock brown. Get smart! Wear something comfortable, practical and, most importantly, easily hosed off in your hotel room shower. The rest of your clothes are easy: Follow the Labor Day rule and stay away from white, and consider the evening temperature drops.

Do your homework! I don’t care how much you think you know about music. You’re not going to be familiar with every band at a festival this size; Riot Fest hosts 125 bands this year. Don’t be the guy that goes only to hear what he’s familiar with. Branch out and prick up your ears. Riot Fest’s website has links to official band sites and Pandora has a Riot Fest station this year, playing tracks from all of the performing bands.

Riot Fest 2015

Like any multi-stage festival, you’ll have to make some tough choices on who to leave in and who to leave out. Riot Fest’s Saturday schedule is the conundrum for me this year: Fitz and The Tantrums, Brand New, The Descendents, Death Cab For Cutie, Method Man and Redman, Social Distortion, Nas and Morrisey are overlapping one another all day long. Some of them must be sacrificed.

However you plan to survive Riot Fest, give mommy a kiss before you leave. You may be calling her for a ride home before the weekend is over. And remember: keep yourself hydrated, your feet dry, stay sober enough to remember the music and when the crowd surfing muddy boot is heading your way….DUCK.

Check out the full Riot Fest Chicago 2016 lineup: 


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