Riot Fest returned to Chicago’s Douglass Park over the weekend (September 15th-17th). This year’s lineup was jam-packed with something for everyone: nostalgia, genre-defining icons, emerging artists, and unforgettable reunions. Everything we’ve come to expect from the festival.
The three-day fest kicked off with a rock heavy lineup on Friday. Turnstile, occupying the second-to-top slot, delivered a high-energy performance that left a lasting impression on anyone within a mile radius. Foo Fighters served as headliners, as Dave Grohl and company closed out the evening with a rousing 19-song set.
Indie-rock was billed as the main draw Saturday night with Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service — both featuring Ben Gibbard — taking over the main stage with full album plays. At the opposite end of Douglas Park, Insane Clown Posse closed out the festival’s smallest stage. Based on the amount of face paint seen throughout the day, you could argue they drew just as much buzz.
Sunday welcomed progressive rock band The Mars Volta as the penultimate major act of the night. While the band drew a large audience, most of whom were likely securing their spot for the final act of the night, their jazzy grooves and jam band tendencies received mixed reactions from the crowd. That final act of the night was The Cure. who closed out the festival with a specactular set.
For those who couldn’t attend this year’s festival, here’s what you missed:
Turnstile Are Your Next Festival Headliners
Within moments of taking the stage an hour prior to Foo Fighters, Turnstile quickly proved this should be the last festival season that sees the Baltimore hardcore act anywhere below the top billing. They bring a new energy that’s managed to be appealing to both hardcore fans and mainstream audiences alike. This was on display Friday evening as soon as the band launched into their opener “Mystery.” The festival grounds exploded and it was nearly impossible to take a breath during the 18-song set.
The Postal Service Deliver
Following a rather mellow and short set by Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard returned to the main stage with The Postal Service for a headlining set that was one of the biggest highlights of the festival. The band played its one and only full length album, Give Up, in its entirety. Hearing songs like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Such Great Heights” live felt almost like an out of body experience, all enhanced by the enthralling vocals of Gibbard and Jenny Lewis.
Icons Will Be Icons
Riot Fest never disappoints when it comes to honoring the artists that undoubtedly inspired the younger acts on the bill. This year, the festival welcomed alt-rock queen Kim Gordon and funk legend George Clinton.
Gordon’s set was a slow build that quickly ended up taking shape and saw the Sonic Youth alum climbing atop the subwoofers and wrapping herself in the mic cord.
Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t waste a beat. He led Parliament-Funkadelic to an all out party at the festival’s Rise Stage that was attended by festival goers of all ages. The stage was absolutely packed with at least 20 musicians, backup singers, and friends of the band.
The Most Riot Fest Thing to Happen at Riot Fest This Year
Early rain on day two did not stop fans from cramming into the southwest corner of the festival where actor Corey Feldman was set to perform at Riot Fest’s smallest stage. With the turnout for Insane Clown Posse being the only competitor (and runner up for this category), Feldman drew one of the largest crowds at the Rebel Stage.
Starting his set 10 minutes late due to technical issues, the Goonies and Stand By Me actor came out to chants of “Corey! Corey! Corey!” After the band stumbled through the opening of “Comeback King,” Feldman found his footing and had the crowd moshing and crowd surfing almost instantly. Feldman wasted no time to channel his Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves — fedora and all. While the songs themselves aren’t going to be winning him any awards, it’s impossible to deny how entertaining the half-hour set was.
A Craving for the Hard Stuff
Many of the most memorable daytime sets from the weekend were thanks to the fest’s more hardcore acts. Bands like Death Grips and Code Orange tested the vulnerability of the Roots Stage’s barricade and kept security busy. Canadian punk rockers PUP electrified the Rise Stage with their perfect blend of mosh friendly verses and sing along choruses. Nostalgic rock outfits like The Used, Silverstein, Thursday, and Bayside continued to make the festival’s Radical Stage a favorite for us older millennials.
Also, an honorable mention for The Interrupters. The ska band from Los Angeles stormed the festival’s largest stage for a mid-afternoon set on day one. The four-piece didn’t slow down for a second of their 45-minute set, giving the fest’s more hardcore acts a run for their money.
AFI Deserve Their Own Category
AFI deliver every single time. Singer Davey Havok embodies what it means to be the frontman of a rock band, and let’s be real, he just looks so damn cool doing it. The band’s high energy set saw Havok jumping off the risers, a plethora of crowd-surfers, and a few of the most anthemic choruses heard all weekend.
Sunday, I’m in Love…
The Cure were the final band to take the stage Sunday. There was an obvious sense of excitement and anticipation brewing all day from fans and artists alike who couldn’t wait for the festival’s closing act. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act did not disappoint.
Robert Smith took the stage with his bandmates wearing an Amy Winehouse T-shirt and launched into an impressive two-and-a-half-hour set, including favorites like “Lovesong,” “Close to Me,” “Friday I’m in Love,” and “Just Like Heaven.” The band sounded incredibly tight and Smith’s vocals remained impressive the entire night. It was epic way to close out the Riot Fest weekend.
Photo Gallery – Riot Fest 2023 (click to expand and scroll through):