LIVE: Riot Fest Friday: Chicken Strips, Orange Mohawks, Ripped Ponchos

By Mike Petruccelli

For three years now, I have been attending Riot Fest Chicago at the end of summer prior to my favorite time of year in the Midwest: the fall. What used to be a seasonal punk festival in multiple Chicago venues has turned into an outdoor ceremony that spans across many musical spectrums. What is it like maneuvering through one of the biggest DIY festivals in the country? Well, let’s find out and see.

Friday 9/12/14- Day One.

1:40pm-The weekend started when I received a text from Punktastic photographer Mat Stokes, a friend whom I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with to Fest 12 last year. We decided to meet at Bullhead, a bar at Division and California across the street from the main entrance of the festival.

1:42pm– I realized that there was dog shit at my bus stop. Expect more of these in-depth observations throughout this piece.

2:00pm– Mat and I met up and entered the festival through the press gate. The line to the park was already stacking up and it was an hour before opening. This year Riot Fest expanded into a bigger part of Humboldt Park, there were 7 stages as well as a slew of side attractions (the stages were cleverly, but inconveniently named Riot, Rebel, Radical, Roots, Rock, Rise, and Revolt. Yeah, totally not confusing, right?).

2:05pm– As we got lost (twice) trying to find the press tent, we discussed who we wanted to see over the weekend and I realized that Mat and I wouldn’t be seeing much of each other aside from some obvious bands (Pup, Descendents, Menzingers, etc).

2:33pm– (no lie, it took us this long to find the press tent).


2:34pm– “Holy shit, GWAR is in the press tent.”

2:55pm– Mat and I finally walked around the festival prior to opening, among the various stages there were multiple vendors that sold jewelry, clothes, records, etc. Along with that there were different types of tents providing various food options (my personal favorite was the bucket o’ cheese fries, but that’s just me). There were also many side attractions like Riot Putt (a putt putt golf course), carnival rides, games, and- I shit you not- Luchador wrestling. If you had a lull in your schedule, you had no excuse to be bored.


3:10pm– I started my day by watching Boston’s SOMOS on the Revolt Stage. When I arrived the production crew was still putting some finishing touches to the stage due to the rain; the ground was already a little muddy which was a minor precursor to a major problem all weekend. As for SOMOS, I had heard some good things about them and missed them when they played Subterranean in April in Chicago. Opening the first day of a three day festival isn’t easy but they took it in stride, moving and swinging around on stage to a style of honest indie/emo rock that seems to be on the up and up these days. They also drew a good crowd which has to be rewarding when you play a 3pm slot.


3:43pm– Around the bend at the Roots Stage I soon submersed myself in a sea of teenagers and awkwardly aging twenty-somethings (*points to himself and waives*) to see Title Fight play what I can only describe as a bit of a lackluster set. Their album ‘Floral Green’ was one my favourites in 2012 and most of their set consisted of songs from it, however they seemed either tired or distracted throughout most of it and the mix was a bit off. I will say though that ‘Secret Society’ and ‘Symmetry’ were songs I was waiting to see for a long time and they nailed those two.

3:59pm– I overheard a man who was completely covered in mud say “Maybe I shouldn’t have had so much tequila before I came here.”

4:19pm– GWAR put on a great show at the Rebel Stage and didn’t disappoint especially when considering singer David Brockie’s death, AKA Oderus Urungus, in March of this year. I can’t say much about specifics of the set musically (which isn’t too surprising considering their reputation with onstage theatrics), but there were multiple singers throughout the show in place of Brockie and blood was splattered onto the front row via cow udders, a hand chainsaw, and…. boobs. There was also an enactment of Barack Obama being decapitated, so yeah, it was a family friendly good time.

4:47pm– Stiff Little Fingers came aboard the Roots Stage and performed one of the most impressive sets of the day. One of the things I loved about them was that they started out with “Suspect Device.”It was somewhat of a bold move considering it’s their “hit” (blah blah High Fidelity blah blah) and I assumed they would play it last. The one thing they also did was set the recurring theme for many of the veteran acts throughout the whole weekend- none of them have grown boring, apathetic, or washed up. More on that later.

5:00pm– The rain had finally picked up in the park, luckily I had a trusty blue poncho that ripped as soon as I put it on. THANKS, NO SERIOUSLY, THAT’S REALLY COOL OF YOU PONCHO. The mud was starting to collect on my walks between bands, I kept muttering “son of a bitch” while trudging through it and a an insufferable group of high school kids who were a little too stoked to see We Came As Romans.

[Editor’s Note: Mike is sort of a pretentious asshole and claims to never have liked any prototypically shameless music in high school. He is a liar.]


6:10pm– So, speaking of high school, I decided to see NOFX. It was a tough decision because there was a Riot Fest Panel that Pussy Riot was doing and it was being moderated by Henry Rollins, one of the coolest human beings in history. However, since it was the 10th anniversary of Riot Fest, 10 bands were picked to do full album sets and NOFX was one of them. I decided that seeing ‘Punk in Drublic’ live was more fitting for my day. I only half regret my decision.

6:15pm– I sifted through a huge crowd of patches and leather jackets to get a good vantage point of the jumbotron at the Roots Stage. So far, this was the biggest crowd I dealt with all day. It was getting dreary and the lights were coming on in the park. After unsuccessfully trying to meet up with a friend, I stood next to a dude with a bright orange Mohawk, he seemed nice. NOFX played ‘Punk in Drublic’ out of order but then followed it up with ‘The Decline’ – the infamous 18 minute long punk song that I (and everyone else in the crowd) knew word for word. I felt like it was a bit expected but it didn’t matter. Sadly, it was cut short by about 5 minutes due to time constraints. Fat Mike said, “Well, look at it this way; you’re the only people who only saw 3/4th of ‘The Decline’ live!”

7:15pm– On my way to the Rebel Stage to see Mastodon I bought a knit cap from a vendor because it was getting cold. Unfortunately, the cap later ripped on Saturday of the festival. This confirms once again I’m terrible at buying shit.


7:22pm– Although the weather was inconvenient, I personally thought it helped with the overall atmosphere of Mastodon’s set. Considering their technical dark approach to metal, it felt right seeing them in the cold rain. The crowd was packed out for them, and this was the moment I discovered that the area by the Rise and Rebel stage was basically a pig pen, there was so much god damn mud. On the plus side, Mastodon were technical, energetic, and had the crowd throwing fists their whole set. I never seen fans follow odd time signatures as perfectly as theirs.

8:24pm– I saw the bright orange Mohawk guy from NOFX’s set, he must have went in the pit because he was all muddy and his Mohawk was bent and destroyed. I wanted to make a really prolific metaphor about the existence of punk and why our hearts follow rebellion an- Oh shit, are those chicken strips?

8:31pm– Chicken strips are the best food ever.

8:43pm– It was super weird when I realized the dude I was helping get to Beat Kitchen to see Beach Slang was Dan Ozzi, a notorious writer for Noisey and Vice. Considering his extremely opinionated pieces, I found him to be a pretty nice dude.


10:20pm– After a long bus ride filled with discussions about journalism and punk with Mr. Ozzi, we made it to Beat Kitchen, one of Chicago’s best punk venues for punk bands. Yes, I skipped The Offspring and Slayer to see Beach Slang because as much as I wanted to see ‘Smash’ and ‘Reign In Blood’ live, the weather drew me elsewhere and I had a chance to see a band that has been making some serious buzz lately. Not only did they play all of ‘Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?’ but also some tracks off their upcoming EP ‘Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street’ as well. For a band that’s only been together for a short amount of time, they played flawlessly, and the set was explosive and exciting. It was a good end to my night, proving there’s always something good happening in Chicago.

2:28am– I fell asleep on a friend’s couch after having some hot cider and whiskey. Welcome to the Midwest.