Atlas was fortunate to be part of 2018’s Riot Fest, taking place from September 14-16 at Douglas Park in Chicago. While there were endless bands to watch, one can only fit so many into three days. We saw a lot and we bring you the best of this year’s Riot Fest.
The Fever 333
Jason Aalon Butler’s (letlive) brutal new project was the perfect start to a rowdy weekend. His message of standing up for what you believe in, combined with his staunch political views made The Fever’s demonstration a must-see. Guitarist Stevis Harris climbed the stage’s scaffolding and played the last song hanging precariously from the rafters. They may have been the first band of the weekend, but judging from the size of the crowd, they’re not a band to miss.
This Fueled by Ramen discovery played early on the main stage, bringing their comforting PNW evergreen to a muggy Chicago. Their set was indie-electronic and good vibes.
We’re fairly certain it’s not Riot Fest without these guys. From the “Burger Rain” balloon drop to the “Pool Party” mosh pit, The Aquabats will forever be a Riot Fest staple.
Even with technical difficulties delaying their set, Sum 41 put on an unforgettable show. Deryck Whibley and co. blasted the eager crowd with epic synchronized guitar solos and unwavering energy. Their time on stage was short, sweet and worth the wait.
“You can’t write this- this weather, that sun, you guys and the saxophone is a dream tonight!” Jack Antonoff loves Chicago and the feeling is profoundly mutual. Bleachers’ golden hour set was bathed in a stunning sunset for what may have been the happiest hour of the entire day. Playing a mix of songs from both albums, Antonoff and his incredibly versatile band entertained the starstruck audience for a moment of pure perfection.
Young the Giant
By the time YTG took the stage at sundown, a massive crowd had gathered to sway with them. Their colorful and psychedelic set was the perfect foil for Bleachers’ performance immediately before. Highlights- the “Silvertongue” dance party and a bold cover of Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.”
Day one ended with the only suitable replacement for the ailing Blink-182. Rivers Cuomo brought the weird and wonderful Weezer to headline the main stage. Their set was hit after hit, with the same quirky vibes of their tour setlist. Cuomo even ran to the adjoining stage for his standard interlude of “Island Song” and acoustic cover of a-ha’s “Take on Me.” They jokingly said they had also planned a Blink-182 cover but Young the Giant beat them to it….and then they played it anyway. It was the perfect end to a wild first day.
These Cali sad rockers attracted a young, early crowd to kick off Sunday. The mostly-teenaged audience screamed their lungs out to the band’s brand of surfer melancholia, all but ensuring a later slot in festivals to come.
Another band hailing from Southern California, Beach Goons had the best set of the day. The indie rock three-piece, led by singer Pablo Cervantez, shared stellar vocal duties with bassist David Orozco and the wisecracking Chris Moran on drums. The band played mostly songs from their newest album, ending on a high note with their incredible cover of “La Bamba.”
Yes, that is the kid from Stranger Things singing onstage. Finn Wolfhard’s breezy band played more like a novelty act, mostly due to their youth and Wolfhard’s celebrity outside of music. Make no mistake- while they may be funny now, these kids can play. Guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe shredded through the band’s original material, along with a Twin Peaks cover and even a scratchy rendition of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” Their rockstar status got the best of them though, and they were abruptly cut off after insisting on playing past their set time.
An Atlas favorite, Super Whatevr humbly played an excellent set to an adoring audience in the middle of Riot Fest day three. Their mix of self-deprecating and uplifting lyrics had their audience singing along and won over those new to Skyler McKee’s passion project.
I have no idea when this band became motivational speakers, but it was probably around the time their kids hit puberty. Suicidal Tendencies still retain their metal stage presence and rile up their audience to a moshing frenzy, but each break between songs was a new speech about never backing away from your dreams. This may have been the strangest set of the day, but no one could deny the entertainment value.
Going from Suicidal Tendencies to Blondie gave me whiplash in the best way. Debbie Harry remains delightfully weird all these years later and her set kicked off with “One Way or Another” and kept that old-school energy going. Channelling her best Katy Perry in a black bodysuit and neon green wig, Harry played all the hits, backed by her stellar band.
With one of the largest crowds of the day, Alkaline Trio reveled in the attention. The Chicago group’s extensive catalogue was represented in their hour long set and die-hard fans screamed every word. The band played into sundown and could easily have been the headliner (and hopefully will be in the future).
Run the Jewels
After a truly insane weekend, Run the Jewels was exactly what the doctor ordered. Infusing the punk festival with a much-needed jolt of bass, RTJ’s wall of sound reached into the neighborhoods surrounding Douglas Park. No one was complaining, though. Front row fans passed their weed to Killer Mike and El-P, who thought sharing marijuana “wasn’t too much to ask in Trump’s America.” Their party was so much fun, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t more to come in the best conclusion we could have asked for to the 2018 Riot Fest.
Story by Olivia Khiel
Photos by Anthony Nguyen, Timothy Hiatt and Jason Pendleton