Riot Fest Chicago: Alex's Awards

I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a pretty wide variety of music festivals the past few years. I spent an unpleasant, grimy weekend at Bonnaroo in 2012. I’ve had a lot of beer poured on me in the Summerfest bleachers. I’ve been drenched in sweat at any number of Chicago’s street festivals. But Riot Fest stands above them all (note: I have not yet made it to the Holy Grail that is the Fest in Gainesville). For the eclectic music listener, the gamut of punk, rock and hip-hop that Riot Fest continues to offer provides most bang for your buck of any festival.

It’s always a special experience. I sang along to “The Ramblin Boys of Pleasure” arm-in-arm with what felt like half of Chicago at Riot Fest 2013. I happily destroyed my boots in fields of mud at Riot Fest 2015. This year, with good weather and a terrific lineup, was the most enjoyable one yet. Here’s what stood out to me as award-worthy: the good and the bad. Remember, this is one man’s festival experience. Please share yours in the comment section!

Most Gruesome Set Award: GWAR, of course.
GWAR has become something of a fixture at Riot Fest, and as usual, they did not disappoint. This year, GWAR staged a fight to the death between the presidential candidates. Of course, first they decapitated Obama. Hillary Clinton disemboweled Donald Trump before her breasts were ripped off, both resulting in high amounts of shooting, audience-soaking fake blood. Bernie Sanders even came out to stake his claim, but was mutilated and walked off the stage. GWAR reigned supreme.

Worst Pop Punk Set Award: Neck Deep.
Since I avoided All Time Low, this award goes to their British brethren. Some of the more generic pop-punk of the evening with plenty of audience-pandering. Average age of crowd: 15.

Best (and Most Nostalgic) Pop Punk Set Award: Set Your Goals.
I did an acoustic version of “Echoes” with a friend in high school for a choir concert, so this was a must-see for me. They put on a high-energy, slightly sloppy set with an infectious positivity. “The Fallen” and “Mutiny” were big hits with the crowd. A guy did a fucking standing front flip at the end of the set- must have been stoked by all the posi-vibes.

The “Who’s that?” Award: Big D and the Kids Table.
Aside from Big D himself, I didn’t recognize a whole lot of the other members of the band. Apparently the entirety of the group has been replaced. That did not stop them from throwing together a terrific, tight set. “LAX” got the early Friday crowd going.

Worst Time to Buy Merch Award: 1 PM on Day 1.
I saw quite the line forming at the Riot Fest Merch tent early in the first day. Inconvenient. I know it’s pretty neat stuff and you need that print on your wall to show everyone how active and fun you are. You know they sell them all day, right?

Best Food of the Festival Award: Big’s Meat Wagon
It's a tough call, but they had some killer pork nachos. Made all the more enjoyable by eating them during the infectious, poppy fun of Bad Cop/ Bad Cop nearby.

Best Quote of the Festival Award: Ryan Young of Off With Their Heads.
"We don’t have a set list. We don’t practice. But clearly…we party.” For not a whole lot of preparation, OFTH ripped through a tight, varied set to one of the bigger small stage audiences.

Friday’s Surprise Hit Award: Violent Soho.
I hadn't listened to them a whole lot, but decided to give them a chance, and they killed it with a HEAVY set. I know they’re just starting to find an audience in the states after conquering Australia; their 30 minutes at Riot Fest definitely helped. The band found themselves a new fan in me.

Best Speech Award: Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén
Despite releasing a bit of a dud of an album last year, Refused still put on a terrific live show, almost built for festivals. They hit all the obvious songs, but the key moment was when the band’s singer talked about sexism in music and pointed out that only 12% of the performers playing Riot Fest were female. Identifying the problem within the exact sort of punk music festival that should be working to fix this was a bold and necessary move.

Biggest Loss of Punx Cred Award: Me, choosing Flaming Lips over NOFX.
I was talked into heading to the Flaming Lips set at the end of Day 1. Despite instant loss of punk cred, I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. The trippy band covered Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Wayne Coyne rode on a giant plastic ball through the audience. A surprisingly fun end to night one.

Most Band Tension Award: Fucked Up.
They were my most anticipated set of the festival, and they did not disappoint. There was some clear tension, however, and it was a little distracting. Damian talked about weed and pro wrestling and laughed about how that always annoyed his band. He cozied up to one of the guitarists who seemed not super happy to be there. There was a physical divide too, with the band playing on stage and Damian entering the crowd for most of the set. Though the band performed admirably, it felt like the Damian show, as I’ve heard are most Fucked Up shows.

Best “Legendary” Band Award: Descendents.
Sorry, Misfits. Descendent’s set made me want to dig out those old records and proved they deserved the enormous crowd that gathered for their mid-afternoon set. They kicked off with “Everything Sucks” and it was nothing but crowd-pleasers from there on out. More energy than plenty of bands at the fest half their age.

Most Joyous Reunion Award: Thursday
I’d gotten a chance to see their after-show and their Riot Fest set, and both were flawless and fun. Geoff Rickley talked about how they’d put some disagreements behind them and were happier than ever to perform together. They looked like they were having a blast. The after-show was all the deep cuts and lesser-known songs, and they saved all the hits for the Fest, from “Jet Black New Year” to “Signals over the Air”.

Top Orgcore Choice Award: The Falcon.
Sloppy and fun thirty minutes: just how the Falcon should be. Brendan Kelly was surprisingly sober and relatively quiet, saving the early afternoon crowd from his usual hilarious (or annoying) rambling. The Falcon played a really balanced set of Gather Up The Chaps and old songs to keep the crowd happy.

Best Punk Set Award: Leftover Crack.
I skipped All Dogs (a favorite of mine) to give the much-heralded LOC a shot. They did some admirable synchronized jumping on “One Dead Cop”. Constructs of the State’s “Bed Bugs and Beyond” was particularly heavy and great. “Operation Move” was surprisingly emotive. They kept the crowd happy with multiple Choking Victim covers, including “500 Channels” and “Crack Rock Steady”. For the latter, they brought out singer from All Tore Up to share vocal duties.

Best Discovery of the Festival Award: Big Ups.
Big Ups knows how to play a crowd. The spastic, goofy antics of vocalist Joe Galarraga were mesmerizing, and the band’s exciting take on post-hardcore were something totally different from the rest of the festival. A heavy use of dynamics and gradual buildups, talk-singing and screaming created a tense, highly-watchable set.

Biggest Temper Tantrum Award: Joey Bada$$.
The hugely popular rapper went on 10 minutes late, blaming troubles with the sound setup. Mr. Bada$$ himself was angry at the Riot fest sound crew and throughout the set made a point to insult them. “They fucked my sound up. Never had this happen in my fucking life. This is amateur hour.” Dude. It's a music festival. Grow up.

The Play-Through-It Award: Hard Girls.
Despite bass cable issues and a broken bass strap, San Jose’s Hard Girls plugged away at one of the best sets of the festival. Including two newer tracks and plenty from A Thousand Surfaces, the band won over some new fans and kept this one happy.

Most Morrissey Moment Award: Three way tie-
1.Morrissey requested that all food vendors nearby to his stage (and all meat vendors) stop making food before his set. 2.Morrissey requested security for his stage change their light blue shirts to a darker color during his performance. 3.Morrissey came on nearly an hour late, playing what seemed like a random Youtube playlist to an exasperated crowd.

Were you at the Festival? What did you think? Let's talk in the comments section!