On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 9/18/2021, we entered day 3 of our Riot Fest adventure with the realization that we needed to slow down our pace somewhat in order to save some energy for the final day. Even with a more laid back approach, we managed to catch several killer acts.

First on the list was the ever entertaining GWAR, performing their landmark Scumdogs Of The Universe album. After nearly being crushed to death during GWAR’s 2019 appearance, we decided to hang further back this time around. Oddly enough, this year’s crowd was far less violent, but the stage violence was dependably GWARiffic, and I love the fact that GWAR are a Riot Fest institution. My wife was eager for me to see Gogol Bordello, and we secured a spot in the front row to wait for their set. While we waited, we could hear a really great sounding band called Best Coast.

This female fronted band from Los Angeles had great energy and strong vocals with a nice power pop style. The same can’t be said for the band playing prior to Gogol Bordello. They were called Les Savy Fav. I want to accentuate the positive stuff about Riot Fest, so I’m just going to say that Les Savy Fav was not going to include me in any new fan lists. But I digress…Gogol Bordello did convert me as a huge new fan. Their style of music is a frenetic blend of gypsy punk, Latin, polka, folk, Romani, dub…just maximum high energy FUN.

The six members of the band who appeared on the Roots Stage (two others were unable to perform due to COVID-19) never stopped moving, and neither did the audience.

Everyone was jumping up and down, stomping, and grinning throughout the band’s super entertaining one hour set. Band members are from all over the globe, but based in New York City. I highly recommend Gogol Bordello, undoubtedly my favorite discovery of the entire festival.

We stuck around for several songs from Rancid, the venerable and well loved California punk band. They were awesome, but we decided to cut out early and skip Saturday’s headliners in order to recharge our batteries for the final day, which promised some really amazing acts…to be concluded soooooon!

On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 9/17/2021, the wife and I (this was our first full day of shows as a married couple…nice!) decided to pursue quality over quantity, and set our sites on a few key favorites.

We made our way to the Radical Stage to secure a good spot near the front to wait for Fishbone, who were going to perform The Reality Of My Surroundings in its entirety. When we arrived, a singer/songwriter billed as Amigo The Devil was playing to an enthusiastic crowd that seemingly knew the lyrics to all his songs.

I love making these discoveries of musicians I’ve never heard before, and I will definitely be paying attention to this guy….his stuff was really good. After Amigo The Devil finished his set, we slid effortlessly into some prime real estate along the rail in the front row, where we would remain for both Fishbone and Living Colour.

I have been a big fan of Fishbone since seeing them a couple of times in their heyday of the early to mid ‘90’s, and the prospect of seeing them play my favorite album of theirs filled me with huge anticipatory excitement. That excitement grew exponentially when I realized that all the original members (with the possible exception of the guitarist) were back together. After a bit of a shaky start sound wise, Fishbone quickly established dominance and delivered a blistering display of the rock/soul/ska/metal/funk gumbo that influenced so many of their contemporaries back in the day.

We had already seen Living Colour a couple of months ago, so we already knew we were in for an incredible display of musical muscle. This time around we were on the bass player side of the stage, so it was really cool to get a different view of this flawless band. I must say that after seeing Norwood Fisher dominate the low end with Fishbone and Doug Wimbish doing the same with Living Colour, I was feeling the love for the Bass. Of course, Vernon Reid was his usual fire and brimstone self on this crazy new custom guitar he had recently acquired! Next on our agenda was a trip to the Rise Stage to catch a blistering set of hardcore punk from the legendary Circle Jerks.

Front man Keith Morris (one day shy of his 66th birthday) announced early on that they were planning to play 29 songs (in a one hour set!), and I’m pretty certain they got it done. As a matter of fact, we met a guy the next day who claimed to have seen the Circle Jerks set list and said it was four pages long. However high the number, the songs themselves were explosive and propelled by an airtight beast of a punk band.

The skies opened up and poured some refreshing rain upon the frenzied fans, who moshed and crowd surfed throughout the manic set.

After all that wildness, we wandered around a bit and stayed way back as Smashing Pumpkins played their headlining set at the Riot Stage. Billy Corgan and company had an impressive light show and sound mix, but try as I may, I just can’t take too much of Corgan’s whiny voice. I was happy they played Drown, though. That song from the Singles movie soundtrack has always been a favorite with all the layers of glorious feedback that Corgan and James Iha conjured from their guitars. They did a nice job of recreating that beautiful chaos at Riot Fest.

We stuck around long enough for NOFX to make their entrance on the Rise Stage. Singer/bassist Fat Mike made some funny remarks (including his opinion that Smashing Pumpkins suck!) and finally got around to blasting through a short burst of punk fury that would have fit right in with the Circle Jerks.

It had been a long and eventful day and as we rode the train back to where we were staying, the entire crowd on the train found out we had been married the previous day and gave us a suitably rousing Riot Fest cheer of approval! We have found our tribe!

On This Day in History

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!

On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

Riot Fest finally returned after a veritable eternity of waiting that included an agonizing number of cancellations and substitutions of major bands. The long running Chicago showcase of musical diversity celebrated its 16th anniversary (once again in Douglas Park), providing four days of entertainment spread out across five stages, virtually guaranteeing that no two attendees have the exact same experience. When all was said and done, it was well worth the wait, and Riot Fest 2021 resulted in a marriage, new friends, tons of smiles, laughs, and unforgettable performances. I will be writing a separate review for each day of the festival in order to spotlight the major events as they happened.

The performers for Riot Fest 2021:
Thursday – Morrissey, Alkaline Trio, Patti Smith And Her Band, Joyce Manor, WDRL, Kristeen Young.

Friday – The Smashing Pumpkins, NOFX, Lupe Fiasco, Coheed And Cambria, Circle Jerks, Dirty Heads, Beach Bunny, Motion City Soundtrack, Thrice, The Lawrence Arms, Sublime With Rome, Eyedress, Pinegrove, Circa Survive, Anti-Flag, Living Colour, Beach Goons, Meg Myers, The Sounds, Radkey, Fishbone, Kississippi, Envy On The Coast, Oxymorrons, Amigo The Devil, Jackie Hayes, Meet Me @ The Altar, Seratones, Girlpuppy, Senor King.

Saturday – Run The Jewels, Rise Against, Taking Back Sunday, Dropkick Murphys, Andrew W.K., Vic Mensa, Gogol Bordello, Mayday Parade, Rancid, Bayside, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Bollweevils, Best Coast, Les Savy Fav, State Champs, Hepcat, Ganser, Big Freedia, Joywave, Four Year Strong, GWAR, Night Moves, Just Friends, Man On Man, Citizen, The Bronx, Bearings, Action/Adventure, Spider, The Orphan The Poet, Devon Kay & The Solutions.

Sunday – Slipknot, The Flaming Lips, NewFound Glory, Machine Gun Kelly, The Weak Days, Devo, Anthrax, Knuckle Puck, The Ghost Inside, Ratboys, Body Count, K. Flay, Thursday, Simple Plan, Bleached, Health, Alex G, The Bled, Fever 333, Melkbelly, Facs, The Gories, Mother Mother, KennyHoopla, Gymshorts, 3OH!3, BLACKSTARKIDS, Airstream Futures, Pet Symmetry.

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