Beyond the Gates: It’s difficult not to compare last month’s Lollapalooza and this weekend’s Riot Fest. While the former operates on a far larger scale and runs an extra day, the two festivals take place only five miles apart (a mere hop away on I-290 West), both signal the dwindling days of summer in the city, and each one has become a Chicago institution.
But apart from similar technology in outdoor plumbing, the resemblances really end there. Lolla attendees skew younger and descend upon Grant Park from the suburbs in body stockings, basketball jerseys, and head bands, ready to partake of all a festival weekend in a major metropolis sans parents has to offer — as if a music festival were a micro-brewery sampler or a Netflix scroll. It’s become the go-to music event for an indecisive generation who have grown up with unlimited choices.
Riot Fest, celebrating its 15th year, couldn’t be more different. One look at the grimy legions of tattoo-calfed, potbellied, tallboy-nursing masses tells you all you need to know. These aren’t tourists out for a weekend stroll through Douglas Park. For them, Riot Fest isn’t about trying out reggaeton, taking selfies in the pit, or catching a glimpse of a celebrity during a set from the latest Top 40 pop sensation. These are festivalgoers who appreciate guitars, prefer songs performed in rapid-fire succession, and, more than anything, love hearing the anthems of their youth live for the hundredth time. It’s the reason that the hot dog and funnel cake line dwarfed the wait for crepes and vegan noodle bowls. These folks know what they want, and they aren’t about to change now.
Fuckin’ Slayer! (responses echoing in the distance: Slayer! … Slayer!! … Slayer!!!)
“This is Warped Tour for dads,” my fellow writer Samantha Lopez noted early on, an observation underscored by several graying men wearing Rancid and Descendents tees while pushing strollers across the grounds. (But a newborn wearing kiddie safety earmuffs, really?) They were grounds that bottlenecked, muddied, and proved too small at times (both to hold certain audiences and prevent terrible sound bleeds), with a stinging atmosphere that became eye-watering at some point mid-Saturday. But these motley, veteran festivalgoers weren’t going to let that stop them from a weekend that promised the opportunity to hear several classic albums played in their entirety, a last chance to bid farewell to an outfit of thrash metal pioneers who helped make so much of the music at Riot Fest possible in the first place, and, most importantly, three days of head banging rather than life’s headaches.
It’s with this mindset that we swarmed to Douglas Park this past weekend.
Oh, yeah. Fuckin’ Slayer!