Our favorite moments from Riot Fest

By Max Wacker

September 21, 2018

While Chicago may have been fully ready for fall, Riot Fest Weekend had other plans. Each day brought blue skies and 80 plus degrees to the three-day festival. Douglas Park, the festival’s home since 2015, offered little shade, causing festival-goers to flock to the minimal tree lines banking the park’s outer edges. While bands played, fans dutifully watched in the beating sun. By Sunday, you could guess what outfits were worn the past two days based on the sunburns left over. The smell of trampled grass felt like hugs from old friends as attendees talked about the weekend as an almost religious experience, a yearly pilgrimage.

Photo: Kelly Fleming

Riot Fest found its start as a weekend string of shows spread throughout Chicago at multiple venues. Coming from these humble beginnings to the festival force it is today was no easy feat but surely was made easier by Riot Fest’s knack for squashing band-ending beefs. Headliners like The Misfits, The Replacements, The Pixies and Wu Tang Clan are just a few of the monumental names Riot Fest has brought on in the past years, and the names helped situate the fest as a major contender in the Chicago summer festival line up.

However, this year’s lineup, while impressive, was not filled with dreamed about reunion shows. This year saw a lot of repeat visitors, some who moved their way up to more impressive timeslots. That being said, the fest wasn’t anything to shrug off; names like Run The Jewels and Beck absolutely draw crowds. The challenge for anyone in my opinion comes down to strategically planning out your day. Do you want to skip 15 minutes of father John Misty for a better spot during Run The Jewels or rely on shoulders and elbows to make your way up as far as possible? The fest schedule quickly became a bit of a road map with lines and stars riddled about, trying to figure out the best possible course and use of time. 

Photo: Kelly Fleming

Here are some of our favorite moments from Riot Fest 2018: 

Pussy Riot 

The performance started with upwards of 14 people coming out on the stage in lime green ski masks, holding signs that said, “We will punish those who poisoned Peter Verzilov.” Front woman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova delivered a powerful message halfway through the set about how band member Peter Verzilov was poisoned and in critical condition until that Friday, the first day they heard Peter speak in almost a week. The band performed loud, but the message was louder.


Weezer was the highlight of my Riot Fest Weekend. A last-minute add after Blink 182’s Travis Barker was deemed  unable to play due to an elbow injury, Weezer kicked off the evening’s last set with “Buddy Holly” and continued to hammer out the hits. They incorporated a lot (and I mean a lot) of covers into their set: Blink 182’s “All The Small Things,” The Turtles “Happy Together” which bled into Green Day’s “Longview,” an acoustic cover of A Ha’s “Take On Me,” and Toto’s “Africa.” The band sounded just like they did when the Blue Album came out, full of energy and charm mixed with raw emotion. The encore ended with “Say It Ain’t So” bleeding into Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” It was like a dream that I didn’t even know I wanted coming true all done, as Rivers Cuomo said, “Weezer style!”.

Rivers Cuomo photo by Kelly Fleming

Twin Peaks 

If you’re looking for a band that provides a good time on multiple levels, look no further than Twin Peaks. Chicago natives and local favorites, the band brings an energy to their shows that often leaves you wanting more. The band opened their set with a person in a dog costume running around stage while they played “What up Dawg?” The crowd reacted with non-stop dancing and moshing (often combined) throughout the set. While attendees may have come for the fun, they’re not disappointed by the sound either. Twin Peaks delivers an eclectic sound that’s hard for anyone to disagree with.

The Voidz 

The Voidz came onto the stage with all the poise of a band that didn’t want to be there. Granted it was hot; Julian Casablancas spent the first few songs taking lots of water in, spitting most of it out, and pouring the rest on the back of his neck. This whole air was further driven home with their opener, “Pointlessness.” As the band played and the sun set, their performance and sound reinforced that The Voidz did in fact want to be there. While the performance may have been strange, it was far from bad.


The crowd filled in quick for Beck, so I inched forward as close as I could. Regardless, there probably wasn’t a bad seat in the park for his set. Incorporating as much visual as audio, his set was filled with bright colors, awesome animatronics and a lot of fun. Starting the set with crowd favorites like “Devils Haircut” and “Loser,” Beck continued to please the entire set. The encore brought the most surprises, the biggest being Gary Numan coming on stage to help do a cover of “Cars.” It also included covers of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” and Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime.” Above all else, it was a fun set that was a pleasure to watch. Beck brought nothing but energy to the stage and the crowd could feel it.

Alkaline Trio 

Alkaline Trio was a very nostalgic experience for me, although I may have wanted it to be more than it ended up being. The band ripped through a lot of different material with barely no filler in between, just the occasional “Fuck, this is fun!” from bassist Dan Adriano. The set list consisted of classics like “Clavicle,” “She Took Him to the Lake,” and “Private Eye,” but it was also full of new tracks off their recent album Is This Thing Cursed? The set may not have been the reincarnation of an early 2000’s Fireside Bowl show I had hoped but that show probably doesn’t exist anymore. They ended the set with crowd pleasing “Radio.”

Matthew Skiba of Alkaline Trio. Photo: Kelly Fleming

Bad Religion 

Bad Religion took no hesitation in getting their show started and the crowd responded with a massive, non-stop mosh pit. The sun had already set by the time they started so the crowd was seen under the stage lights intermittently. It would be dark and then suddenly you would see this mass movement, people clamoring on top of each other, beer spraying from mouths and cans. It was what punk rock show should be. Starting with classics like “Recipe for Hate” and “Fuck You,” the band and the crowd fed off each other. I had never seen Bad Religion before but had grown up with their music. Their live performance was an absolute treat.

Run The Jewels 

Run The Jewels are a phenomenon, a force separate of space and time. Killer Mike and El-P seem to defy almost all boundaries with the music they make. The hip-hop duo performed in front of their classic fist and hand gun logo, bolstered by phenomenal lighting, and great sound. There wasn’t a dull moment in the set but a crowd favorite was the discussion of why Killer Mike and El-P got in the rap game. It was a long-winded explanation that boiled down to free weed. The conversation ended with a front row fan handing a joint to Killer Mike and an uproar of approval from the crowd. RTJ demolished their set list with sweat, passion and humor. Crowd favorites like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Stay Gold” were taken to a better-than-the-album level thanks to the duo’s effort and love for what they do. Not often do you see two people have such chemistry on stage.  

Learn more about Riot Fest.

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