Riot Fest took place on Friday 9/16/16, Saturday 9/17/16, and Sunday 9/18/16 at Douglas Park in Chicago, IL. There is so much going on, at times it can be like a sensory overload for some. To someone who has never been, it may seem a little overwhelming so I decided to put this together.
First of all, it is highly recommended to have your transportation figured out well before you head to the festival. There isn’t much in the way of “parking” close to the park, so it is a good idea to consider public transportation. If you park on the residential streets or in the hospital garages your car will be towed. Depending on where you are coming from that could be a tricky situation, especially if you are unfamiliar with Chicago public transportation. After 2 long days and nights at the festival and then having to wait for a train back out to the suburbs that came an hour or more after the fest ended, we opted to drive on the last day and park in a garage near the CTA Pink Line stop at Adams and Wabash. It was literally as close as you could get to it, and by paying for our spot online before we got there, we saved some money and knew there would be no problem with being able to get a spot. Then there is the CTA Pink Line, you should probably buy a Ventra card to make things easier on yourself. You can either buy it online beforehand if you allow enough time for it to be mailed to you, or you can purchase a card at the station which is pretty simple. It does cost $5.00 for the card, but if you register your card online within the first 90 days you will get the $5.00 back in the form of a fare credit on your card (eventually – it is not an instant thing, so this is where sorting this out well before will come in handy), but then you do have to load the appropriate funds on your card to keep using the Ventra card. It certainly does save time and money with your fare loaded on the card since you do not have to purchase a ticket each time (which is $3.00 per ride as compared to the $2.25 if you use the Ventra card). To use your Ventra card simply hold your card over the designated spot at the turnstile and voila you’re on your way.
Of course, if you live in the city, there is always the option to grab a Divvy bike, or if you have your own bike and ride there, but depending on the weather that may not be ideal. The fest does provide a good amount of bike parking nearby for those that are using this form of transportation. My best advice is to double check the estimated time it will take you to walk from one place to the next, as you can very easily miss your train if you are coming from a suburb. For example, we thought if we left at 9:30 pm that we would be able to walk from the festival grounds to the CTA Pink Line’s California Ave. station (about a mile or so walk), ride that back to Adams and Wabash station, then walk back to the Van Buren station to take the 10:20 pm Metra train back to the south suburbs. We were wrong, even though we ran when we could we missed the 10:20pm train, which left us sitting waiting for the next train for more than an hour. Also, if you are wanting to see an earlier performance, give yourself extra time, you never know when there may be delays that will happen while you are on the trains, which also happened to us. There are always taxis, Uber, and Lyft too. Riot Fest did offer promo codes to help with the cost of using Uber or Lyft, but I am not overly familiar with these services as I am from the suburbs and own a vehicle. If you are familiar with getting around Chicago, I’m sure things won’t be very complicated for you.
Secondly, be certain to bring plenty of money for food, drinks, band and Riot Fest merch. It should probably be one of the first things you get out of the way to ensure that you get what you really want in the size you prefer as some of the items you will see are available in limited quantities and may not be there when you come back later. The lines may look long, but rest assured the staff is working as fast as they can to get you what you need and move onto the next person, so just be patient, and also keep in mind that easily half of the people standing around the area are just looking and not even making a purchase. We ended up buying 5 shirts over the course of the weekend, which may seem like a lot, but come on, there is only one Riot Fest for Chicago so you gotta do it right given that there are some pretty amazing people and bands that don’t always tour as much as they used to. You will also want to be prepared to buy food and drinks if you are planning to be there the whole day. On Friday we didn’t make our way around the entire park and missed out on the plethora of food options available. Instead, we saw a few vendors set up near where we were going to be watching some bands performing and opted to just grab a bite from what was available right there. We weren’t the only ones who didn’t realize there were more food options available though, and that left us standing in the same line for empanadas for the duration of 2 and a half bands performances (it seemed like an hour and a half or so honestly). I suggest if you are hungry looking at the map thoroughly and going to check out all of the different things the map shows you.
The next most important thing I feel needs to be touched on is the schedule of performances… Be prepared to have to make some tough choices, and possibly even miss some bands you really hoped to see. What I found my final choices coming down to was whether I have seen a band already, or how likely it will be to easily see them again on a different tour. Get the Riot Fest app, it sends you an alert 15 minutes before your saved favorite bands are about to start which is very useful, among a variety of other helpful info. Friday night Pierce The Veil was performing and NOFX also started shortly into PTV‘s set, so I found myself literally running back and forth to try and catch what I could because I really wanted to see both bands without a doubt. The important part is that I did have luck on my side and got to hear and see the songs that meant the most to me. Saturday Method Man and Redman slightly overlapped with Social Distortion as well as Nas and Morrissey so again, prioritize and try to be aware of the bands performing time slots so you can be where you need to be with no regrets. You have to ask yourself, do I want to walk away from a band playing a kick ass set, and also miss most of another band’s set to see a different band, for me I did walk away – I have seen Underoath and the Deftones many many times, and as much as I love them, I absolutely had to catch Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. I do not regret the decision at all either, I have not yet had the chance to see Me First live and they were awesome, well worth the sacrifice! Sunday was by far the hardest day to figure out where I wanted to be because there were SO many bands I felt I HAD to see. I even had complete strangers commenting on how hard it was to be forced to make the decision to miss certain bands to see another band. Riot Fest did however make it easy for anyone that was interested in seeing The Original Misfits perform as they closed out the festival with no one else performing simultaneously.
A few other points that are worthy of mentioning are the bathrooms, buying tickets, VIP upgrades, and being prepared for inclement weather. Porta-potties, my least favorite way to go… be prepared for a lack of cleanliness and toilet paper. It is certainly wise to look for toilet paper before you unfasten your pants. It also wise to be positive you lock the door, as I learned this past weekend, many do not. Just because you see a green sign saying come on in, there may very well be a man or woman in there doing their business. So maybe give a knock just to be sure you are entering a vacant stall if you’re not into that whole I don’t know you at all but seen you taking a pee or poop thing. Sadly, by the end of each night the restrooms were in very bad shape, but with the amount of people using the porta-potties it comes with the territory. Be absolutely sure to have a light handy once it gets dark, or you may go to use the bathroom and find an overflowing toilet, so much so that it is running out of door onto the ground outside. There’s nothing like standing in human waste ha, ha. There were hand sanitizer pumps mounted in the stalls, but some were empty, be sure to look just outside for a stand alone cleansing station, sometimes those were empty too though. I did my best to hold it until getting off the “L” and would go to McDonalds and just buy a cheap drink and french fry to be in the clear to use their washroom before heading out of the city on another train.
If you plan on attending all 3 days of Riot Fest you should consider buying passes as early as possible to save on the cost as it will only keep going up, and most likely sell out in time. You may not know who all is going to be playing when you buy your tickets earlier but the savings should be well worth it, and there are always notable acts to be seen. If you think about the cost of 1 regular ticket to a normal larger band’s tour tickets average around $50.00 a pop these days. With that in mind, and the number of bands performing over the 3 day period I feel it certainly is a justifiable cost. Otherwise there is always the option to buy 2 day passes, and you can pick which 2 days you want to be there for. For example, let’s say you want to go Friday and Sunday, but not Saturday this would be the best option for you (or whatever days you may prefer). But if you only wanted to go Saturday you can always buy a single day ticket as well. Regarding the VIP upgrades, if you have the money and don’t mind parting ways with it I’m sure that those who had VIP were loving it. Some of the amenities that were included with the VIP upgrades this year were: VIP main gate entrance, entrance into VIP Lounge, festival re-entry privileges, private bar, private bathrooms, private lockers for purchase, Wi-Fi, charging stations, drink vouchers, fortune tellers, private circus performances, multiple massage stations, and more. As you can tell, some of these things could be very beneficial given the amount of time spent at the festival and the fact that you are going to be outside either standing or sitting on the ground for extended periods of time.
If you know anything about Riot Fest in Chicago, then you probably already know that most of the time it has rained during the festival over the years. However, this year we truly lucked out – no rain whatsoever. Although we were supposed to have scattered thunderstorms Friday evening that never happened thankfully. We did come prepared though, ponchos are a must. You can get them for a dollar if you are smart enough to pick one up before you get there, but of course you can always buy a Riot Fest poncho for $25.00 once you are inside the gates. I also highly recommend having a waterproof bag of some type for any electronic device you may have on you just in case it does start pouring down rain. A sandwich bag is even a good idea to keep your phone, money, and ID in if you don’t have anything else to use. They did have lockers for rent, but they were all taken pretty quickly because many reserved theirs online prior to the event. When you rent a personal locker you don’t have to worry about carrying your stuff all day and night, or even worse losing something. The lockers also come with unlimited cell charging so you don’t have to worry about your battery dying before the night is over. A locker is a good idea for pretty much anyone in attendance.
Last but certainly not least, I figured I should most definitely go over some of the amazing bands that played. I will start from Friday and work through the weekend. Some of the bands I most looked forward to checking out were Julian Marley who performed Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Exodus, Set Your Goals (both I did miss sadly, but I got to hear some of SYG while waiting in line at will call), Jimmy Eat World was cool to see, but about half way through their set we decided to grab some dinner, and then from about 6:30 to 7:45 we stood in line to buy food so several bands I was looking forward to seeing were missed, like Ween, but at least there were other bands playing nearby to keep things interesting, those bands were Turnover, Off With Their Heads, and Violent Soho who all sounded pretty good. By the time I had my food All Time Low was most of the way through their set, but what we did see was entertaining. Since Pierce The Veil was up next on the same stage, I stayed put and got a great spot to watch PTV from. Naturally, Pierce The Veil did not disappoint. Simply put, they are an amazing band to see live. NOFX was next on my list of must see bands for Friday night, and although they did have overlapping set times with PTV I was able to time things out just right to catch the songs I so wanted to hear from both bands. NOFX killed it for sure. I got so caught up in NOFX that I did miss The Flaming Lips, but from what I have seen and heard they were great too and put on a memorable show.
Saturday I slept in pretty late and then had to work briefly that day so I already knew that I would be getting out there a little later than I was hoping for and on the way to the Metra station a bad car accident happened which caused us to miss our train by 10 minutes, and then we had to wait another hour for the next train, but in the end we thankfully made it just in time to see the one and only Method Man and Redman doing their thing, from there we left to check out Social Distortion which was cool to see them performing White Light, White Heat, White Trash, and then personally I could not miss the chance to see Nas perform so I didn’t really catch much of Morrissey, but I’m okay with that because I’ve been a Nas fan since the mid 90’s and have never had to opportunity to see him in concert, and I promise it was well worth the wait.
Sunday at last was upon us – so many excellent bands to see in one day! Running a little late I missed Frnkiero Andthe Patience but was able to catch some of Dee Snider which was great given that one of my first records was Twisted Sister when I was young, then off to see Juliette Lewis & The Licks, which was pretty sweet. We caught some of Andrew W.K. as we were passing through to buy even more merch, and then we were off to wait for Thursday which was a treat to see since it has been a good number of years since last being at one of their shows. Up next was Bad Religion who despite their age still put on a lively show, cranking out the hits one by one, and then one of my most anticipated bands to see of the whole weekend was next, Underoath. Underoath did not disappoint one bit, and played some of their fan’s most beloved songs. It was great to see them back on the stage. I did leave a few minutes before they were finished in an effort to secure a nice spot for the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes‘ set, which I did succeed at, and they are most certainly on my list to be sure to see live again. They are an extremely entertaining and talented group of guys. Everyone in the crowd sang along in unison overflowing with happiness the entire time they played. I planned on checking out The Dirty Nil, but ultimately missed them running to catch the last few minutes of the Deftones who were in the midst of playing some classics when we got there. Having been a longtime Deftones fan, I just couldn’t skip seeing them perform Change, My Own Summer, and Headup. Then we were down to the last 2 acts that were a must see on the list, Rob Zombie was up performing White Zombie‘s Astro-Creep 2000 which was sick, and he even threw in Thunder Kiss ’65 and Dragula for good measure. Finally, the moment so many had been waiting for – The Original Misfits were due out on stage any minute. For Misfits fans this has been more than 30 years in the making. So many people’s childhood dream to see The Misfits was about to become a reality. It was one of those things that nobody thought would ever happen. Fans have listened to their albums for decades, yet it was bittersweet because they knew they were never going to see them perform together again. The Misfits came out in a fury and the 83,000 people in attendance went absolutely crazy. The Misfits played hit after hit to their fans delight. Everyone there was singing and reveling in all their glory simply because for so many they thought this would never come to pass. No band could have been better suited to close out Riot Fest which has without a doubt become the punk rock Woodstock of the modern era. All of the bands were great to see doing their thing over the 3 day fest. If you ever wanted to go to Riot Fest, don’t let your next chance pass you by – get your tickets as soon as you can!
Riot Fest Merch