Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Riot Fest - Day One, September 12th, 2014

Chicago is a city that has had a history of riots.  While the riot that is most closely associated with the Chicago occurred during the Democratic National Convention in 1968 (August 26 - 29) other riots have made their ways into its very fabric. Although my birth wouldn't happen for another few weeks I look at that riot as part of my own personal history.  Sure it seems odd but there were other riots that have taken place in that city of note and I think that my personal history might fit within the history of Chicago riots.  Okay?

While the 1968 riots are nothing to make light of its important to know that the riots that did occur prior to 1968 were a real turning point in the history of the Nation.  It was a difficult time in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, support for the Vietnam War was beginning to plummet, Mayor Daley used the Chicago Police Department and Illinois National Guard like it was his own private military as he tried to crush the approximately 10,000 protesters and Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie became the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President respectively.  While Humphrey and Muskie could have been the worst part of the DNC convention, the fact was the riot was a serious rift in the Nation and probably did help usher in quite a few social changes within the Nation.

Riots really are a huge part of the history of the City of Chicago ranging from the1855 Lager Beer Riot (only in Chicago), the 1886 Haymarket Riot, the 1919 Race Riot, the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre (what's with Chicago and bad stuff on holidays), the 1964 Dixmoor Race Riot, the 1966 Division Street Riot (in Humboldt Park), 1968 Chicago Riot (not related to the DNC), 1969 Days of Rage, 1979 Disco Demolition Riot (which I totally support) to the 1992 Chicago Bulls Victory Riot (which was stupid).  Its hard to make light of a riot because there has to be a certain amount of civil strife that usually fires up the populous except for any riot based on a victory of a sports team, those are exceptionally dumb.

While the history of Chicago is rife with civil unrest, so too is the history of music in the city.  The city is responsible for countless numbers of performers in the "Chicago style" of the Blues, jazz, soul, rock, hip hop and gospel music.  Musicians and performers the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, and Eddie Vedder all have the city etched into their DNA.  Is it possible to merge music and civil unrest?  Successfully that is (Guns 'n' Roses didn't do it very successfully) and that answer would be yes.

The City of Chicago has one of the most important punk / alternative music scenes of any part of the world.  Bands like Naked Raygun, Ministry, Screeching Weasels, The Smashing Pumpkins and punk legend Patti Smith have all hailed from the Windy City.  The fact that bands of this caliber hail from the city, a city that drips civil discord, makes it quite simple to understand the power of the punk movement. It should come as no surprise that the city would welcome a music festival named "Riot Fest," a punk, metal, alternative music based three days.

What is extraordinary about "Riot Fest" is that despite this being the Tenth Anniversary of the event, it was only the Second Anniversary of it happening in Chicago.  It is also of note that the location of the event, Humboldt Park was also home to that 1966 Division Street Riot.  While the riot of 1966 and Riot Fest have little more to do with Humboldt Park than the simple fact that word "riot" is associated with them.  Inside the boundaries of Humboldt Park sat several stages, food vendors, beer vendors, vendors of many wares and quite different people across the board of all social aspects.

Day One of Riot Fest launched in somewhat less than optimal conditions, weather conditions that is.  How can one explain what those conditions were?  I've got it, it was Ark-like conditions, it rained and I mean HARD.  When we decided to go to Riot Fest we knew we would be using the CTA through a combination of vehicles (we assumed a train and a bus) but instead what we got was a train and quite a few crappy directions from CTA employees. That wasn't the fault of the promoters of Riot Fest but it did make for a bit of a rainy walk across the city to Humboldt Park.

When we arrived at the venue it was apparent that the rain and the 60,000+ patrons was far from kind to the neatly manicured grass turning it into a bog.  I could blame my description of the grass on the walk, akin to the Bataan Death March, which could perhaps a bit of the early onset of hypothermia or my lack of being in-shape but the fact was that the rain really did do a number on the turf.  That little jaunt to the venue and the walk to the main entrance did provide us with quite a bit of the music that wafted from the park.  Punk music is a subjective brand of music but punk is something that really can speak to everyone.  I say that because of the people we encountered along the walk and as we entered the venue.  Yes there were the stereotypical "punk-looking" people but I encountered a man wearing "wing-tips" (I'm guessing they were thrown away quite early when he got home), a woman wearing a burqa, a father carrying a newborn in some type of bondage like harness and countless numbers of "normal looking" people.

That is the beauty of Riot Fest, if not the genre itself.  Punk music is more than just young angst, its a movement for everyone.  Far too often people look at punk music and their "people" as simple, angry, malcontents but what it is so much more than any of that.  Take a look at the lineup for Day One of Riot Fest, it is a reflection of the diversity of music, its fans and the location of the event as a whole. On the seven stages was the culmination of the culture of metal, alternative and punk music over the last 30-plus years.  From Irish punk legends "Stiff Little Fingers," to "Slayer," Jane's Addiction, "Clutch," and the classic '90's band "The Offspring" Riot Fest had something for everyone.

As we ventured into the venue amidst the mud, rain and the bodies that populated the very turf in which we tread it became immediately obvious that the stages in which we thought was of great import for the day were the "Riot" and "Roots" stages.  The nice thing about the location of these two stages was that they were across from each other but having VIP tickets gave another aspect to the location.  VIP is a specific area between both stages (its the same on all of the stages) that provides its patrons certain perks including some seating, easily accessible restrooms but the most important thing it provides is a much simpler way to get to the other stage.

When we finally settled into the VIP section the first band we were able to really listen to was the band "NOFX."  The good thing about a band like this was the energy that they brought to the table and it was incredibly necessary.  When the band took the stage it was cold, rainy and it was getting a bit unbearable.  At one point one of the members of the band made the comment "Let's go to Chicago in September.  Awesome." and it caused me to laugh if not for the simple reason that the rain and cold were really starting to hit everyone HARD.  The band's set started at 6PM so there was still some daylight to be had but the SoCal band was about as prepared for the weather as we all were.

Through the rain and cold the breath of the fans was almost surreal but it became almost comical as the breath of the band was visible on the digital screens that were off to the left and right of the stage.  NOFX was incredible in concert!  Their music coupled with their affinity for their fans and a great sense of humor really made this band even better than I could have ever expected.

The way that Riot Fest is setup two stages in are in immediate proximity of one another then after one of the two bands is done the next band starts almost immediately.  It was kind of interesting watching the crowd from "NOFX" literally turn around and then be literally facing the other stage.

When the band "Gogol Bordello" took the "Riot Stage" at 7PM I began to laugh not because of the band but because of the rotation of the crowd toward their stage.  I had never heard of the band so I didn't have any notions of what the band was like, not even an inkling.  I'm glad.  I'm glad because they were AWESOME!  I have seen bands play lots of different instruments on stage but when a band pulls out the accordion and performs the entire show with it now that is entertainment.

Gogol Bordello is BRILLIANT!  Performing what they call "Gypsy punk" and using influences from Jimi Hendrix to The Clash and with members from locations like the Ukraine, China, Russia, Ethiopia, and the United States can only be described as eclectic and just flat out great.  I am a new fan and I WILL see this band again!

When I think back to the '90's one of the few things that are still kind of clear is the music that I listened to.  While I was sandwiched in between a job that had me living in a hotel for nearly a year and traveling back and forth home on weekends I had more than enough time to listen to music.  While my listening tastes were all over the place I had a real love of the band "The Offspring."  It was easy because there weren't any bands that really sounded like them.  Vocally they were superior, their music was excellent and their lyrics would make you smile as you sang along.  Since that first album, the band has remained viable and more importantly they remained good.

As the crowd rotated back toward the "Roots Stage" my excitement began to percolate.  I was full of questions about "The Offspring" but my first question was how was I going to stay dry.  The rain was getting brutal and the rain and mud was becoming an epidemic.  We found refuge under a tent that was used by security to allow people in and out of the VIP area, it was a godsend.  By the time the band hit the stage it was dark and cold but the performance of the band made up for every single bit of it.  Gone was the cold and rain only because of their set.  They were impeccable on stage, I loved every minute!  Stay tuned to my blog because I will be writing about the band more in depth!

Riot Fest didn't make some decisions of which bands I wanted to see easy,  There were several conflicts so I did go back and forth on who to see.  Unfortunately for me one of conflicts I had was with two of my favorite bands that started at the exact time.  While the weather was a bit of a tiny factor and the location of the two stages was significantly different, I still had to decide between "Jane's Addiction" and "Slayer."  That decision was tough but despite the fact that "Jane's Addiction" was on the "Riot Stage" and to see them perform I only had to rotate my spot 180 degrees, the real reason we didn't attend "Slayer" was because we had seen them perform at Rock USA on July 19th, 2014 (HERE).

I was excited to "Jane's Addiction", their first album "Nothing's Shocking" is one of the greatest releases of all-time.  Before I had ever seen a video of the band, I had already worn out my first cassette of that release so the chance to see the band was beyond explanation.  Everyone has had some type of surreal moment in our lives and seeing as many bands as I do I have had a few surreal moments but for me the most interesting one had to be when I saw Perry Farrell on the side screens.  That sounds odd and a tad creepy but for me that band has had such an important impact on music starting with the first release of "Nothing's Shocking."

Farrell and his bandmates Stephen Perkins, Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney are still at the absolute top of their game.  Farrell's vocals are reminiscent of his earliest works and they still seem like they are flat out perfect.  Unlike many of their contemporaries their music still holds up and will continue to do so for hopefully many, many years to come.  Their performance at Riot Fest was my favorite of the day as well as one for the entire festival!  I still love Jane's Addiction and if you haven't heard them before, SHAME ON YOU!  Take some time, listen to their music and see them live!

The history of Chicago is as deep as the political rhetoric that flows forth and later draining into Lake Michigan.  Its a storied history of lies, deceit, self-serving pap that every American community has within their borders.  Chicago holds a certain level of attention and that really shouldn't be a surprise when one looks at the civil unrest that the City has spawned.  While some of the unrest has been because of the stupidity of sports victories, a vast majority of the that unrest has been a direct reflection of the problems that have plagued the Nation itself.  It should be without question that a town of blue-collar workers, the "hog butcher for the world," would be such a hotbed of civil discourse.

Within the streets of the City reside the youth, the troubled, the masses of discontented individuals that seek respite through its art and its music.  Inside the music of youth lies its ties to the past of the City and its ties with the populous that has battled against the troubles of a Nation and not merely a City.  Through the eyes of the souls of the City can such discourse cause an entire culture grow.  Under the backdrop of the lights of that City can all of that angst be confined if not for a fleeting bit of time to help provide the release for the youth if not the populous itself.

The City of Chicago has been given a gift that can give that voice of discourse a chance to scream and shout in such a way that can assure that voice continues to carry on.  Riot Fest on the surface may seem to be just a simple music festival but inside the limits of Humboldt Park it has a chance to reflect its roots.  At its core this festival gives the alternative, metal and punk music cultures, not merely fans, a chance to reflect their influences which are at their core misunderstood and maltreated.  The counterculture of an entire City has a way, a release if you will, to be themselves and not be judged because of it.  Riot Fest is that release.

Music at its very core touches everyone on some level but what happened on Day One of Riot Fest is interesting.  It gave everyone that was in attendance a choice to see innumerate acts that was as diverse and edgy as the City itself.  Despite the weather and a few "glitches" Day One went off without a noticeable hitch.  The opportunity that lay before the attendees on Day Two and Three was impressive but most importantly it was the ability to take all of that angst and create the best music festival this year.  Unbelievable!

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