The Riot Fest Experience: What to Expect

Riot Fest is the last true rock and punk festival left in Chicago. You may have heard of that other Chicago music festival, Lollapalooza? Well, the purists claim that it’s moving steadily toward the mainstream pop genre. Riot Fest is left alone as the leader among punk, rock, metal, hardcore, and independent music festivals to cap off summer in Chicago. It’s best known for its live reunions of bands and lineups filled with veteran performers who skip out on arena tours of the US. Riot Fest is alternative, but it’s also everything. And it attracts a mixed bag of fans. Here’s an attempt to describe the Riot Fest experience and what you can expect this September in Chicago…

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What’s the crowd like at Riot Fest?

You can’t really pigeon-hole the audience at Riot Fest. Depending on the headliners and bands performing that day, you’ll see an ebb and flow of totally different types of fans migrating from stage to stage. You might expect a bunch of pink-haired punks, but this Second City music festival attracts a diverse audience, including folks who have been coming since its beginnings in 2005 that now show up with kids in tow. Since it’s all about the music, this happening festival draws all sorts of people, and for the most part, they’re simply a product of the bands that are playing (which is to say, a variety). 

Let us explain…

According to Consequence of Sound, at Riot Fest 2018, you could see the crowds’ demographics reflected in the festival fashion of the day (or hour), “[A]ny sartorial trends were dependent on which set you were at; you could drift from hippie couture to mod leathers to bright punk mohawks to the latest in comfortable dad fashions, all within an hour or so on any given day.”

When “older” bands like Blondie, Elvis Costello, or an 82-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis take the stage, you’ll see a noticeably older crowd appear. When it’s pop-punk bands like Sum 41 and Weezer, you’d see a more mainstream crowd. And of course, hardcore bands like FEAR attract a more fringe crowd. So really, you’ve got a range of festivalgoers on your hands here and you’re sure to find somebody you can hang with. 

If you like the music, you come to Riot Fest – it’s as simple as that. It also helps that Riot Fest is a quick walk from Chicago public transit lines, so it’s convenient for anybody in the city, particularly local music fans.

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The Midwestern States

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What’s the Riot Fest vibe like?

While some claim Riot Fest fans are still trying to relive the glory days of the Warped Tour, Consequence of Sound explains that this particular festival is special because it feels like an “open-air approximation of going to a Chicago punk club for a show.” And because of that vibe, there’s a lot of camaraderie among fans that makes you feel at home.

The producers of Riot Fest focus on booking your favorite bands, not just the most popular ones (even if that means they’re from the 90s). There’s a lot of older bands, a lot of nostalgia, and a lot of the hits being played. The festival logistics, lineups, and staging of artists is thoughtful and well curated. There’s a reason that Riot Fest has remained relevant and successful throughout the years despite not being a splashy, famous name like Lollapalooza or Coachella. It’s all about the music, with a few fun extracurriculars that have included wrestling, rides, acrobats, and carnival-themed activities in recent years – all in their own area of the giant Douglas Park. There are food trucks, bars, grassy areas where you can relax, and booth filled with vendors selling their wares.

You’ll dance, you’ll mosh, you’ll crowd surf (if you want), and most importantly, you’ll meet people. 

And the music at Riot Fest?

While its roots are in punk rock, there’s also a variety of bands: rock, pop-punk, hardcore, metal, industrial, hip-hop, and ska. There’s also been an emphasis on playing an entire album as a band’s set (14 album plays set for this year).

One day, you get No Doubt, Taking Back Sunday, and Dashboard Confessional, and the next you get local Chicago favorites like The Jesus Lizard or Alkaline Trio. Of course, you’ll see bands like System of a Down and Nine Inch Nails, but there’s also acts like Elvis Costello in there to balance it out. Heck, even Merle Haggard played Riot Fest!

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Riot Fest is about seeing your bucket-list bands, but it’s also about finding new, up-and-coming bands. And with the multiple stages and three days of Riot Fest Chicago, there are always plenty of both! It’s the perfect way to cap off festival season!

Our advice? Check out the Riot Fest lineup and if you like it, buy a ticket and see for yourself! We’ve got the cheap Riot Fest tickets – with no fees! Shop Riot Fest Tickets now!

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