THE RIOT FEST CHRONICLES:  Last Night In Thrill Town - Waves of People, Lights & Full Audio Assault



I decided to give myself a break from all this rock and roll, punk, fusion, and funk explosion. I was going to roll into Riot Fest a little later in the afternoon. I was going to get into this place called The Cantina in Little Latin America but they were a cash only joint and were crowded with alternative people to the windows but good fortune was about to fall into my hands.

I approached this bar with loud blaring Hispanic music. I read the menu taped to the wall. Its marker scrawled on paper and it reads THE CURE BURGER… 10 BUCKS.. WITH FRIED EGG.  If you want it spicy then ask for the FLAMING LIPS BURGER. I liked the chutzpah of this place. I see that it’s BYOB and they tell me to get my booze across the street. So I do as I am told. There’s a liquor store across the street and the riot festers are coming out to the show from all directions.

I come back and get a table for my sixer  and there’s a bucket of ice on the table for my glass bottles of MGD. My waitress gave me a bottle opener and a menu and get this….. she walks over to the sound system and puts on THE SMITHS. They had all these great alternative rock tunes on there like Depeche Mode, The Cure and I felt like I was right at home. I sat there and ate off the appetizer menu and watched all the alternative kids strut down the street heading to the main entrance. This reminded me a bit of Quadrophenia when the Mods all show up at Brighton beach and see what the other fans of Mod music look like. Some of these kids were all decked out in fancy knee high boots, some had amazing leather jackets covered in stickers and patches of their favorite bands. The haircuts were all across the board. Some were punky, some were classic rock, and all of them had plenty of style.




These girls went on the Riot Stage at 4PM. They’re great at writing outstanding pop songs and I’ve always wanted to see them. They would lead me into wonderful song filled afternoon that would lead to the end of the festival. The Cure and Weezer were going to close out the festival and there was some anticipation in the air. The ground felt kind of spongy --- as if all of the water was stomped out of it and for a while I even believed it. Under the crystal blue sky we could hear the catchy pop lyrics of, “Back In Your Head”. Tegan and Sara were on stage wearing large sunglasses and talking to the crowd saying they were glad to be here in Chicago. They were impressed with the festival and had flown all the way from Washington state just to be here.

That afternoon seemed to be suspended in time. We were enraptured in pop bliss. After Tegan and Sara had left the stage we were listening to the wild sounds of the Dropkick Murphys. The grounds were getting filled with more people. The mood was picking up and it was elbow to elbow people. The Dropkick Murphy’s had stirred up a mood that seemed to encourage a rambunctious type environment. We were pretty much frozen in one spot as people walked around us. It was around this time that I noticed parents actually brought their toddlers. This was interesting to me because the music was quite loud an obviously not Disney-like. There were definitely more little kids here than previous days.

Patti Smith came out around 6PM and delivered a powerful set. The songs were sensible and were welcomed by the audience. She delivered John Lennon’s, “Beautiful Boy” for her son who was celebrating a birthday. She also delivered the classic, “Because The Night” and this was well received by the people. This was my first encounter with the iconic singer and I was sort of spellbound. Smith did an 8 song set.

My friends and I discovered the Wonder Beer booth and this brew set the tone for the remaining hours of the festival. Things definitely got crazier around this time. Mudhoney was playing over at the Rise Stage and they are a Sub Pop favorite. We also heard good things about Modern Baseball too so they were worth a look. Then it was a quick romp back over to the Rebel Stage to check out Cheap Trick. Robin Zander and the boys from Cheap Trick promised to do the entire, “Heaven Tonight” album for the tenth anniversary of Riot Fest and they delivered. After doing the 11 song set they did one encore with, “I Want You To Want Me”. They ran through this set list and made it look so easy. The crowd welcomed these guys with great enthusiasm.

By this time tens of thousands of new people had entered the park to watch the final acts of the night. The sun was going down and we were about to see how this festival had earned its name. Social Distortion was setting up its stage. Primus was over at the Rise Stage putting up its large inflatable astronaut men for their set.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. The entrance into the smaller stage sets were about 20 feet max. The people were getting bottle necked into the area and it was hard to get in and get out of the area. The crowd had stomped into the mud so deep that the awful sticky condition returned. Some shoes were bound to get lost now. It was like a big tar pit. Everybody was moving in great waves of foot traffic. Some wanted to see Weezer and others were trying to see the Cure.


I got lost from my friends. The lines to the restrooms were out of control and jammed with people. It was hard to get from one end of the park to the other and I made it a point to just do the best I could. Weezer was going to do the entire Blue Album to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Riot Fest. They attracted a full crowd of fans and moving around amongst them was tough at best.

Getting to see the Cure at the Riot Stage was equally difficult. They were doing a full 2 hour and fifteen minute set. The Cure had an incredible sound system and the light show was extensive and bigger than anything I had ever seen by them. In addition to the large spinning multi colored light projections they had large searching spotlights that reached up at least a good 40 feet above the stage scaffolding. This was combined with large fog machines that pumped dry ice over the stage and around the musicians. I really don’t think, “Fascination Street” ever looked or sounded better.  They did some poppy songs like, “In Between Days” and, “Hot Hot Hot”. This was more than just some rock concert. This was a full out war on the senses.

There was no street lights in the park and everybody was smashed out of their minds. Getting a straight answer on where what band was playing at any time at this part of the festival was impossible. You had to use your trained ear and just gravitate towards what appealed to you. Every band was just pumping out their sound and it was manic pop overload.

Heaven. Yes, I think I was in Heaven…. Just Like Heaven – like the Cure said.







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