Riot Fest tore through Chicago this past weekend with massive headliners like My Chemical Romance, the Misfits and Nine Inch Nails — as well as a slew of other punk and emo acts to round out the weekend’s lineup.
Some names were brand new to the festival while others were veterans who’d been there since the beginning, but even the rookies were quick to develop some new core memories thanks to the unparalleled punk rock weekend.
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As Riot Fest nears its 20th anniversary, we asked dozens of artists what their favorite memory or moment was from the festival’s 17-year history.
What’s your favorite Riot Fest memory/moment?
I love getting to watch some of my favorite bands and artists perform over the weekend. I’ve always been so impressed by the Riot Fest lineups — this year especially — and I’m really honored to be a part of it.[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]
Eugene Hütz (Gogol Bordello)
We have a lot of September birthdays in Gogol Bordello — mine and our violinist, Sergey [Ryabtsev], included. So every time we celebrate our collective Virgo birthdays here, it’s been very satisfying. Imagine playing a great gig to a great crowd, and then running to see the Stooges up next!
Playing it for our first time in 2019 was super fun. Definitely one of my favorite moments. Seeing Cap’n Jazz, and the Broadways in 2013 — and always drinking too many Monaco [cocktails].
Brian Sella (The Front Bottoms)
We’ve played Riot Fest twice, and I have two very clear memories of it. The first is from when I was much younger, and I think I had a bottle of Jack Daniels on stage with me. Then I went down and walked around the audience with it and was just hanging out with everybody. The second memory is from when we had a bunch of people come up on stage and sing “Twin Size Mattress.” It was just a really good time.[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]
Kyle Fasel (Real Friends)
One of my personal favorite memories from Riot Fest happened in 2017. My best friend Tom was in the crowd with a big sign that asked me to be his best man at his wedding. The crowd really got into it as well. Everyone was pointing at the sign and it was a whole big deal. It’s a fond memory of mine.
Pat Kirch (The Maine)
I love how diverse the lineup is every year. There really is something for everyone, and they always seem to get a band to reunite — which I love!
Blothar the Berserker (GWAR)
My favorite Riot Fest moment was meeting Merle Haggard’s crew. I was sitting there eating a baby leg, and in walks a bunch of hundred-year-old cowboys. I asked them to play “The Bottle Let Me Down” and they actually played it that night! What I like the most about Riot Fest is seeing so many legends in one place. I’ve seen Die Antwoord and I’ve seen Jerry Lee Lewis, Television and Wu-Tang. We’ve all shared time in the line for the soft serve machine.
Kelli Mayo (vocals/bass): Being on the side of the stage with Kat Bjelland watching L7. It was pretty amazing. We had just toured with [Babes in Toyland] in Europe for the first time and Kat was like my Riot Fest buddy the whole day.
Kurtis Mayo (drums): My favorite memory from Riot Fest is when I got to watch the Pixies from a Ferris wheel. Also when I smoked weed with De La Soul, and then Cypress Hill came up and told me my rolling papers were too small.
Peyton Bighorse (guitar): My favorite memory is getting to see New Order from the crowd. I don’t usually go out in the crowd, but I was like “I gotta do it for New Order.”[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]
Milkie Way (vocals/bass): I was really excited to see My Chem for the first time — and also our set was really fun.
Sam Matlock (vocals/guitar): I got to meet Dan from The Wonder Years last night — and yeah, I was surprised that the crowd actually knew a lot of our shit today. That was awesome, since we’re just some scruffy punks from London.
Erik Jimenez (drums): My favorite memory of Riot Fest ever was 2016, watching Ween for the first time. I love Riot Fest, because there’s more punk bands that get to play that maybe wouldn’t get to play any other festival, so I’m always stoked on it.
Danny Bengston (vocals/bass): When we were on stage during our last song today, there was a girl who was crowdsurfing in a wheelchair, and that was fucking awesome.
Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids)
I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but it’s a memorable memory for me. We did the 20-year Something to Write Home About show, and then we went to go see Hot Snakes play at an after show party. John Reis is kind of my hero, and we’d talked on the phone about maybe working together in some capacity, but it hadn’t ever come around. So we went to see Hot Snakes after I’d been at Riot Fest all day with “beverages,” and I got scared of him. I stood in the corner backstage and I wouldn’t talk to him. He was like “Hey, Matt, how’s it going?” And I was like “Nope, can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t talk to my hero.”
Heather Baron-Gracie (Pale Waves)
Well, there are a lot of emos here today, which I really love and appreciate. The fashion is amazing. Plus, we had the most amazing pizza yesterday. It was deep-dish and fried with this thick pound of cheese on it. It was very cheap, and it was incredible.[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]
Tom Rheault (vocals): Maybe this is selfish, but we just played, and that was one of the fucking most solid shows we’ve ever played — like a 10/10 No Trigger show. There’s not many of them, but we just did it. The crowd was great. The sound sounded so good. It was just perfect.
Jon Strader (guitar): It’s also because it’s an honor to be on the list of bands playing Riot Fest itself. It’s very exclusive from what we understand, so to be included is nice.
My favorite moment at Riot Fest was when a mosh pit opened up to my saddest song, “Forever Fifteen.” Normally, people are crying, but there was a small mosh pit off to the right this time.
Frank Iero (guitar/My Chemical Romance): Well I think just being able to play our first show here was crazy. The only thing I don’t like is that we can’t play two years in a row.
Anthony Green (vocals/Circa Survive): I’ve never had a bad experience here, so yeah, we’re finding a way to play next year. I think Taking Back Sunday does it every year, so we can too.
Travis Stever (guitar/Coheed and Cambria): Last year, [Coheed and Cambria] played here and there was a huge storm behind us. It almost looked like we hired someone or paid the Earth to do that. I think Circa Survive was actually the first band I got to watch play live last year, and that was a great moment too.
Joshua Fiedler (The Juliana Theory)
I got to see Sunny Day Real Estate, which is one of my favorite bands. I’d never seen them before. They get so many bands from all the scenes, so it’s just a perfect festival for me.
The Joy Formidable
Matt Thomas (drums): There was this one year we had the cats here…
Ritzy Bryan (vocals/guitar): No, we didn’t have the cats here. But I remember it was very hot and sunny one year. It was a very quick set — kind of like today — but full of energy. Then we left straightaway, which is often the case with festivals. You’re kind of in and out, but you would love to stay around and see some stuff.
Rhydian Dafydd (bass): I think a lot of our memories are those times that you just would like to stick around. But today, we had a beautiful crowd.
Bryan: It was such a lovely crowd. I love playing stuff off the new record, which feels really special because it came out during the pandemic. So this is one of the first festivals where we’ve actually been able to play some of that stuff live. As a general point, it’s also really nice to see alternative music still being represented. Sometimes you feel like it’s almost separated out, but here it’s really all kinds of genres coming together.
Thomas: I do have one lasting memory. This one year, this rain cloud came in when the Foo Fighters were on and they were getting pelted with rain. But the craziest thing was that we were trying to get out somehow, but the whole site was just flooded. We had to build stepping stones out of road cases, and we were all just trying to get around the stage. That was fun.
Jim Ward (Sparta)
I went to Riot Fest in Denver once and watched Modest Mouse and Drive Like Jehu. I actually had to run away when Drive Like Jehu started playing because I realized I didn’t want to see one of my favorite bands with this huge cloud of dust and pot smoke from behind the stage. I literally fucking ran away right then.
Evan Phelps (guitar): My favorite was in 2016 or 2018 when Modest Mouse headlined one of the nights and I was like three rows from upfront. That was my first time seeing them, and it was like a bucket list magical night.
Austin Reinholz (drums): Just fucking getting to play the festival was incredible. It exceeded my expectations. It was a lot of fun.
Ryan Osterman (vocals/guitar): One thing I was really looking forward to was seeing Anthony Green’s new project, L.S. Dunes. But it ended up being right around the same time we played, so I missed it and was really sad about that.
Alex Rieth (bass): Honestly, the vibes have just been fucking fun. Everyone here is so nice. Everyone is very chill. The weather’s great, and the trees and everything. We’re from the desert, so anything green gets us excited.
Alexia Roditis (vocals): My favorite memory from Riot Fest is just being shocked at the magnitude of this festival and how huge everything is. The scale of the whole thing is just absolutely absurd to me — and I also love the open bar for the artists.
Narsai Malik (drums): Everyone’s been really nice to us. We’ve seen some cool new bands. We’ve seen some old friends already. It’s just a really beautiful park to have this festival.
Violet Mayugba (guitar): I love My Chemical Romance so much, and Frank [Iero] has been very nice to our band. So to be here with them playing… I love that, and it’s also just a great punk rock festival.
Briana Wright (vocals): We didn’t know what to expect as a bunch of kids from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but the number of people who had shown up by the end of our set was wild to me. I’ve always wanted to come to Riot Fest because it’s chock full of my favorite bands, so for my first Riot Fest to be playing to that crowd was one of the highlights of my life.
Joey Duffy (vocals): We’ve got to meet so many of our favorite bands — like Taking Back Sunday and the Wonder years — and both of them had heard of our band. That made me pretty emotional. I was like “Oh, holy cow. You know Cliffdiver?” This is all I’ve ever wanted to do my whole life. These are the bands I saw and dreamed of playing shows with. It’s been a big blow to my imposter syndrome.
Dony Nickles (saxophone): I think experiencing the crowd singing our vocals back to us for this first time even being here was just mind-blowing. I didn’t know if anyone would know the words, but they were screaming them and chanting in a circle.
Playing on the same stage as MCR was pretty much a dream come true for me. I’ve always loved Riot Fest because it’s just a place for all the emos and punks. Everyone is dressed so crazy, and it makes you really feel like punk is not dead.
Brian Baker (guitar): My favorite Riot Fest memory was in Denver where I saw the very first Misfits reunion concert. They wouldn’t let anybody on stage, but somehow I knew some guy and got on stage, and I was wearing white pants, so their entire vibe was blown. I saw shots from the front of house, and it looks like everything’s all black and grim — except some idiot in white pants blowing it. That was me. I was the idiot in the white pants.
Jay Bentley (bass): My favorite memory from Riot Fest is the dinosaur I saw in the pit. Anytime you see that, you can’t stop laughing from the stage.
Jamie Miller (drums): The Denver one [Baker was] talking about was the first one I’d done. I’d just joined the band, and we ran into Taylor Hawkins backstage. He knew the old drummer, Brooks [Wackerman], and he was like “Where’s Brooks?” Jay was like “Brooks isn’t here anymore…” and Taylor was like “Oh, that’s right. You got Jamie from […And You Will Know Us by the] Trail of Dead!” I was like “How the hell do you know who I am?” We became buddies after that. Rest in peace, my friend.
Mike Dimkich (guitar): I gotta go with the Denver one as well, when the tornado came in. They stopped the show and carted the entire audience to a high school for shelter — and then they put us in a barn and everyone just hung out. Then we went on super late and I fucked up the intro to “Fuck Armageddon… [This Is Hell]” so badly that Jay looked at me and goes “I don’t know how you’re gonna explain that.”
Greg Graffin (vocals): I’m from the Midwest, so it was always a special occasion to come down here and go to the museums or go downtown from 60 miles north in Racine, Wisconsin, where I grew up. It’s always felt like a hometown festival to me. A favorite moment for me was a couple times ago here in Chicago when we played with Joan Jett. We shared a dressing room with her, so we were able to hang out with the legend herself.
It feels like it’s a pretty prestigious festival at this point, even in the UK. Europe is pretty big on festivals, so there’s not a whole bunch of them in the US that are on the British scene’s radar, but this is definitely one of them. It also made me change my mind about deep-dish pizza. I hated it for a long time, but I had it again on this trip and it was really delicious.
I feel like it was long overdue for us. They put the Bob-Signal in the air, so we saw it from London and said “They need us over in Chicago.” So we did everything we had to do to get over here yesterday and respond to the Bob-Signal.[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]
Christian McAlhaney (guitar): There are a lot of bands here we’ve toured with in the past, so the whole weekend is just about hanging out and watching bands that we know. This is the most exciting show for us to all catch up — especially after COVID.
Nathan Young (drums): It’s the first year we got asked to play it, and we just put out an EP, so it was really good timing across the board. It feels like we’ve always been watching from afar with envy going “Man, that’d be awesome to play.” We love Chicago. We’ve always had a great time in the city, so the ability to play this festival is an honor.
Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire)
Last time Alexis[onfire] played, I think it was about six years ago when the Misfits were playing with Danzig again. That was fucking massive for me, because I grew up as a punk kid in the suburbs of Toronto listening to the Misfits and playing Misfits covers in high school. Plus, Dave Lombardo from Slayer was playing drums — as he did again this year — so, as a drummer and a big fan, that was massive for me.
It’s been so cool to see a constant flow of bands playing throughout the whole day. Seeing these new up-and-coming bands like ourselves sharing the stage with the legends that are at this festival is so cool. It was awesome to see such a crowd come out and see how supportive they are of the whole festival and everyone on it.
I came in early this weekend just to see My Chemical Romance, so that’s easily been my best memory. But I’m just glad Riot Fest gives shots to little guys like me to play like me. They asked me to play on the [main] stage, which was pretty cool because I’ve never really played a big festival like this before. I was just stoked to be here, and hopefully I’ll get invited back.
Jen Pop (The Bombpops)
It must have been 2011 or 2012 when we played a Riot Fest late night show with Dead to Me and Sundowner. We showed up in Chicago and stayed at Atlas Studios, and it was the day that the Menzingers had finished wrapping On the Impossible Past. They were staying there, and I think Teenage Bottlerocket might have been staying there as well. Anyway, I will never forget that rooftop party at Atlas Studios from that year. Then, in 2018, we were watching GWAR and then ran to another stage to watch Jerry Lee Lewis. I remember having a bit of an existential moment where I was like “I exist at a time when I still get to see Jerry Lee Lewis, but GWAR is also a thing.”
Kevin Singleton (Night Spice)
Just being able to be on the stage and share that moment with my band members and my friends and family. We’re local guys, and it was really cool to see everybody here. This is a festival that I’ve been going to every year it’s existed, so it was really special to finally be able to be here playing it.
Gabe Saporta (vocals/bass): This is a real story that just happened.
Tyler Rann (guitar): All of the trailers have a sign in front of them with the band’s name on it, but the one next to ours didn’t have a sign. So we assumed that was also our trailer, because obviously a band of the caliber of Midtown in 2022 deserves two trailers. So we made ourselves comfortable in both trailers. Then somebody knocked on the door, came in, looked at Gabe and was like “Mr. [Ice] Cube, is the catering to your liking?” Gabe looked at him calmly and coolly and answered “It’s OK, just call me ‘Ice.’”
Saporta: OK, that part’s only about 60% true.
Jimmy Eat World
Zach Lind (drums): The first time we ever played Riot Fest, Girls Against Boys was playing on the same stage. I hadn’t seen them play for probably 20 years at that point, but when we were starting out, they would come around Phoenix and were always one of the best live bands. It was awesome to see them again. They were so good.
Tom Linton (guitar): My favorite Riot Fest moment is watching Ween from out in the audience. They also put on a great show.
Rick Burch (bass): I just always love reconnecting with bands and people we’ve met and become friends with over the years. It’s always like a rock ‘n’ roll reunion. But a memory that stands out for me is when this ripping reggae band was playing — it might’ve been Damian Marley — and I got stuck on top of the Ferris wheel.
Jim Adkins (vocals/guitar): A lot of the other bands playing and the people working with the other bands playing are people we’ve known for 20-plus years. I don’t know if you could file it under a “Riot Festival moment,” but it’s just always awesome to see everybody and be part of the experience together. There’s no other situation where these people would hang out all together at once, other than this.