Chicago’s Riot Fest is back for another year of musical mayhem.

By Nick Bequette

September 10, 2015

With respect to Lollapalooza, Riot Fest may not be the biggest music festival in Chicago, but it is probably the loudest. The festival, founded in 2005, began primarily as a vehicle for punk music, with mosh pits and mohawks converging on the clubs and parks of Chicago. The festival lost its fight with the community surrounding Humboldt Park due to complaints of noise and the condition the park has been left after previous year’s festivals. I was at the festival last year and will admit that there is no way that that park was not left scarred. I watched as a weekend of rain and heavy foot traffic transformed beautiful fields of green on Friday into a brown swill of mud by Sunday night. The ground was so trampled and muddy there were spots where people were losing their shoes! The festival found an alternate site in Douglas Park. Just last week, however, concerns of “extreme noise” and congestion from a local hospital put the festival in jeopardy of canceling altogether.

Riot Fest has grown over the years from a weekend of club events by local and national punk acts to a three day festival and carnival featuring one of the most eclectic mixes of music in the country. The festival now takes place in Toronto and Denver as well, but Chicago is still the flagship. To give it a carnival atmosphere, mixed in amongst the stages are amusement rides, putt putt golf and local vendors selling everything from beads to bongs. Music is the master, though. While punk remains at it’s core, hip hop’s presence has steadily grown over the years, as well as ska, emo and classic alternative rock. This year’s lineup features everything from Snoop Dogg and Motorhead to Modest Mouse and Merle Haggard! It also brings the return of the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, who headlined the first full three day festival. I would be remiss to leave out Ice Cube, who is playing a remastered Straight Outta Compton with special guests. This was a must see when the lineup was initially released, but the hype of the biopic has assured it will draw a huge crowd. SPOILER ALERT: The special guests at Riot Fest in Denver were MC Ren, DJ Yella and Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays him in the movie.

As with every big festival, choices have to be made. Artists playing on seven stages will lead to some tough decisions on what to leave in and what to leave out. It can be a dizzying and overwhelming task.  We’ve collected of list of artists that deserve consideration in a lineup stacked with music legends amazing new artists.



Saturday 1:00 p.m. – Roots Stage

Bradford Cox’ dress wearing days may be behind him, but the energy of the shows remains a constant. Whether he utilizes a high falsetto or a deep howling growl, his stage presence attracts attention. Art punk, post punk, pop or garage rock; call it what you’d like, but don’t be late on Saturday. Their sevent album, Fading Frontier, comes out mid-October.



Sunday 1:30 p.m. – Rise Stage

Of all the hip hop artists at Riot Fest this year, Doomtree could come the closest to the festival’s punk rook roots. Their music has a hard core edge that will please many long time Riot Fest attendees. Unconventional, spacey beats and abstract, sometimes confrontational rhymes, make this Minneapolis conglomerate a must see.

Thurston Moore Band

Photo: Vera Marmelo

Saturday 3:45 p.m. – Riot Stage

Sonic Youth may be on a permanent(?) hiatus, but Thurston Moore and his guitar still have much to say. Throughout his career with or without SY, he has kept busy with multiple solo projects and side bands. The influence his guitar had on the last three decades led Spin magazine to give him and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo the top spot in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists.



Friday 2:00 p.m. The Riot Stage

They may have lost some members over the years but their live shows haven’t lost the energy the had in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. This ska/funk punk band is sure to garner much attention. Angelo Moore and company can turn Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” into an all out assault on the human psyche.

Jazz Cartier


Sunday 12:05 p.m. – Rock Stage

Don’t be fooled by the name. This won’t be a laid back way to start off your Sunday morning. Jazz Cartier belts out rhymes with a fervor and is sure to utilize every inch of the smaller Rock Stage while doing it. His debut album, Marauding In Paradise, was just released in the spring.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Photo by Carter Short

Sunday 5:50 p.m. – Rise Stage

Most music festival goers are not just there for the familiar. They want to hear something new that will prick up their ear. Those stumbling upon Rodrigo Y Gabriela for the first time on Sunday night are in for an experience of the ears as well as the eyes. Trying to figure out how two people playing acoustic guitar can make so much noise can be hypnotizing.

Against Me!


Friday 4:45 p.m. – Rise Stage

If you think the name of the latest record by Against Me! is all Dylanesque wordplay, think again. In between the recording of 2010’s White Crosses and 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, lead singer, Thomas James Gabel, became Laura Jane Grace. This unconventional punk band have done everything from reinventing Axle Rose to performing 23 live sex acts. The ever touring band will have little trouble connecting with a Riot Fest crowd.  

88 Fingers Louie

Photos by Patrick Houdek

Friday 3:30 p.m. – Rise Stage

Besides having possibly the coolest band name ever, 88 Fingers Louie have exactly what is at the core of Riot Fest: pure, no frills, unabridged punk rock. The hometown boys will have a big crowd and the pit will be angry for this one. Stand back.

Mariachi El Bronx

Mariachi El Bronx press shot 2011 August 25, 2011 © Ashley Maile
Mariachi El Bronx press shot 2011August 25, 2011 by Ashley Maile

Friday 2:30 p.m. – Roots Stage

In 2007, Los Angeles hard core punk band, The Bronx, meshed their music with the Latin sounds of Southern California; Mariachi El Bronx was born. The adoption of a new sound and the utilization of acoustic instruments has not slowed down the intensity or energy of their live shows. Their set will be another unexpected joy for some to fall upon at Riot Fest.

Drive Like Jehu


Saturday 6:40 p.m. – Rebel Stage

If you blinked in the ‘90s, you may have missed Drive Like Jehu altogether. With just two albums that have come to be considered greatly influential and highly praised, their reformation for this tour is sure to bring out many who missed them in their heyday.



Saturday 12:00 p.m. – Riot Stage

Skate punk doesn’t get more fun than L.A.’s Fidlar. You won’t find any hidden messages or agendas here; just a crowd of kids shouting anthems to beer, shitty pills and weed. As their band’s acronym states: Fuck it, dog. Life’s a risk.

Speedy Ortiz

Photo by Shervin Lainez

Friday 8:00 p.m. – Revolt Stage

The slow/fast cadence of their music brings to mind the alternative rock of the early ‘90s. Lead singer Sadie Dupuis’ vocals sound effortless against the angst of distorted guitar. Two full lengths into their career, Speedy Ortiz are crafting thoughtful pop songs with a razor sharp edge.

Check out the full 2015 Riot Fest Chicago Lineup:


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