Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 9/16/21, Riot Fest returned to Chicago’s Douglas Park after being absent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were a few key changes implemented in this year’s festival; one being the addition of an extra day of performers, and another being the added attraction of a wedding chapel, which resulted in 32 couples getting married at Riot Fest. My girlfriend and I had launched our romance just prior to Riot Fest 2019 and we decided it would be the perfect location to make our love official, so now we can proudly say that we were the eighth couple to be married at Riot Fest!
Only six acts performed on the first day and we were busy with the wedding details during the first two, but we caught a good set by Joyce Manor, an energetic pop punk band from California. The band is made up of four guys, so I was curious about the band name and discovered it was the name of an apartment building nearby the singer’s house. They were well received and one of the many performers who talked about how great it was to be back on a stage. Next up was Patti Smith And Her Band, delivering an emotionally supercharged set that was breathtaking and proving beyond a doubt why she is a legendary figure in music. Smith’s final song was a tour de force rendition of Land and Gloria that went on for around twelve minutes and seemingly channeled Iggy Pop at his most feral. I caught it on video and it is simply mesmerizing. Alkaline Trio followed and fell short of Smith’s intensity, but they had a great light show, at least. Matt Skiba (vocals and guitar) told the crowd that he had hit his head on a tree prior to taking the stage and was pretty sure he had a concussion, so perhaps that rates them a pass.
Thursday’s headliner was Morrissey, who has certainly established a divisive reputation throughout his career. I overheard people talking about him all day, many speculating on whether he would even show up. Morrissey did indeed show up, and provided a show worthy of his top billing. His band was tight and the big screen projections and lights were excellent. Above all, Morrissey still possesses a glorious set of vocal pipes, and displayed them to full advantage. I was particularly thrilled that he opened with How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths, just an amazing song. Another tune featured the bass player rocking a stand up bass (reminiscent of The Stray Cats), and the guitarist playing a sweet gold top Les Paul with a Bigsby tremolo bar. Hearing Morrissey’s golden voice singing rockabilly was a nice surprise.
Being back at Riot Fest felt like a sort of homecoming. Being married at Riot Fest felt like sacred ground. Having Patti Smith and Morrissey perform at our wedding reception felt priceless!