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Riot Fest 2019: Celebrating 15 years of punk rock in Chicago

Riot Fest, an annual Chicago staple, celebrated 15 years in the game with one of their wildest events yet. From the return of Butter Stamos to a Village People circle pit (you had to be there), the 2019 Riot was one for the books. Atlas spent three jam-packed days in Douglas Park and we’ve compiled the best bands of Riot Fest 2019.

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me bleeds their magic out

It’s no secret that Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman are Atlas favorites, but even they were pleasantly surprised at the turnout for their early afternoon set for day one. The duo was campy and fun, with Weekes’ flamboyant stage presence encouraging the audience to embrace the moment and dance like no one was watching. Their 45 minutes included nearly every song in their catalog, but the acapella “Nobody Likes the Opening Band” to kick things off cemented IDK How as one band you’ll never want to miss. 

Angel Du$t defies genre, logic

Angel Du$t is either punk rock or completely ridiculous, but it really doesn’t matter which because they’re one hell of a good time. They played fast and loose, with singer Justice Tripp playing an acoustic guitar with a frenzy not usually found on that instrument. The band is a wild mix of hardcore and 90s punk and somehow, it just works. Kids of all musical affinities moshed together in a unique display of the many different kinds of people that find themselves sharing unlikely pits together at Riot Fest. 

Celebrating 20 years of Dashboard Confessional

After 20 years as a band, Dashboard Confessional packs both a nostalgic and an emotional punch. Singer Chris Carrabba spent most of the set playing solo acoustic through iconic album The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. Carrabba still has one of the loftiest voices in music, his stunning performance reaching the back of the gathered crowd and stopping many walking by in their tracks. Fans were mesmerized and many diehards lifted their own voices to join in experiencing a classic album in full.

Glassjaw tears up the punk rock stage

Riot Fest might want to think twice before having these New York heavyweights headline the festival’s smallest stage next time. The crowd turned out and turned up for a full performance of Worship and Tribute, adding to the list of iconic album sets over the course of the weekend. The mosh pit was roiling for the duration of the band’s time onstage and hardcore fans threw their voices and bodies towards the stage. For their part, the members of Glassjaw looked to be having the time of their lives playing for such an enthusiastic crowd for one of the best sets of the day one.

The Damned Things take supergroup to the next level

Combining Every Time I Die, Anthrax and Fall Out Boy seems like a recipe for chaos, but The Damned Things have taken this combination to a face-melting level. They played during the heat of the second day, but drew an audience to rival some of the larger stages. Frontman Keith Buckley was magnetic as always, backed by the stellar musicians of FOB and Anthrax. The bands on the smaller stages may have had less time to play, but The Damned Things took every second to make their show unforgettable. 

Grandson comes for the throat in charged up set

Watching grandson graduate from small clubs to festival stages has been a thrill to see. Jordan Benjamin owned his performance, with a passionate call to arms that has become a staple of his live sets. He played through the rowdiest songs in his repertoire, even jumping across the barricade into the awestruck audience who lifted him through “Blood//Water”. Onlookers could be heard commenting on the hype of his set as they walked away stunned at one of the best performances of the day.

The Struts are afternoon glamtastic

With the flamboyance of Queen and the pipes to match, The Struts are the British Invasion everyone should be talking about. They have a backlog of bangers and paraded them out for fans eager to soak up an iota of frontman Luke Spiller’s confidence and charisma. Spiller had the expanding audience in the palm of his hand for every note, call and response and dance break. The band closed with the wistful dance grooves of “Could Have Been Me”, breaking the spell on a magical mid-afternoon party. 

Wu-Tang is for the children

The sun was setting as Wu-Tang Clan brought hip hop back to Riot Fest. They surprised the overjoyed audience with a full performance of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and injected plenty of commentary and an homage to their fallen member, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. As one of the only hip hop acts on the bill, fans flocked from rock acts to put up their W’s together. Riot Fest said Legends Only this year and Wu-Tang Clan was in a class of their own. 

Ultra Q chases the clouds away

This young quartet drew the noon slot for day three of Riot, but still had the entire early crowd out to watch. Formerly known as Mt. Eddy, the band played new and unreleased material, along with tracks from their previous moniker. One thing’s for sure- they can shred. Frontman Jakob Danger evoked plenty of comparisons to his famous father (Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong), but Ultra Q is blazing their own path with their killer jams. 

Frank Iero and the Future Violents

This is the most recent incarnation of Frank Iero’s solo project and may be his best yet. The Future Violents are heavy with slick riffs and incredible vocals, all while projecting an enormous amount of genuine emotion. Iero was the sleeper set of the day- everyone who attended was blown away and those who missed it, thoroughly missed out. The band was visibly joyous, thanking the fans repeatedly for the chance to return to a Riot Fest stage and an ever-growing audience year after year.

Village People

Speaking of the unexpected, 70’s disco group Village People drew one of the largest crowds of the entire festival. An online campaign running prior to Riot called for a circle pit to “Macho Man” and a wall of death for “Y.M.C.A”- both of which happened in a glorious moment of unity and hilarity. Sure, these disco queens might be a little older, but they still got the moves, drawing fans young and old into imitating the cheesy choreography of an era gone by. 

The Starting Line

Atlas’ last hurrah of Riot Fest weekend was the highly anticipated reunion of The Starting Line. TSL is also celebrating 20 years on and off as one of the most influential pop punk bands of the early 2000s. They might be a little older, but frontman Kenny Vasoli was a tornado, whipping his hair and posi-jumping like an excitable teenager. The band wore huge grins, playing through songs from each of their albums, including the singles released in 2016. Dedicated fans pressed as close as they could get to catch Vasoli’s unexpected jump into the crowd. In a moment of pure magic, the gathered hundreds sang the band’s biggest song “The Best of Me” acapella to end the set as TSL looked on in awe and appreciation of their lasting impact. 

Another year down and the lineup and atmosphere continue to make Riot Fest one of the best in the country. Atlas is already looking forward to the next journey back to the Windy City in 2020.

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photos by Dan Wade, Jason Pendleton and Anthony Nguyen