Riot Fest Chicago
It's weird to think that the biggest Orange County-centric Festival day of the year happened on the West Side of Chicago. Maybe even weirder that we happened to be there for Riot Fest watching as a handful of our biggest bands were tapped, mostly on Friday, to take the stage in the Windy City. Actually, from now on we'll just call it the Muddy City. The festival kicked off with an afternoon downpour and the 30,000 people stomping the park's long blades of grass into oblivion created a field of sloppy quagmires that were basically unwalkable without a pair of galoshes and a prayer. But for us out of towners who brought their Chucks to the party, it was an excuse to,well, buy new Chucks.
Though plenty of locals bemoan the fact that this once small punk and hardcore fest has bloated itself into a quasi-Coachella (minus the overgrowth of EDM and insane ticket prices), it still had plenty of its own dirty charm (and free beer in the press tent? Say, whaaaat?!). Add that to the fact that they put a grip of OC artists together who you would never see at the same show: No Doubt ( Friday's headliner), Atreyu, Thrice, The Dirty Heads, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Snoop Dogg was there, rollin' blunts and reppin' Long Beach, of course. And something told us that had Social Distortion not been busy at the Observatory this weekend, there asses woulda been there too. But there's no question that Chi-town's love for OC was palpable and pretty mutual from the locals who played.
Friday, 5:30 p.m.-6: 15 p.m. at the Rebel Stage
Let the OC love begin. "Hello, Chicago! We are Atreyu from Orange County" yells Alex Varkatzas, the lead screamer for Atreyu who introduced the metalcore outfit to a raging crowd. On the heels of a recent reunion and a few days before releasing Long Live, their first record in five years, the band–featuring guitarist and bandana wearer Dan Jacobs along with drummer/singer Brandon Saller, rhythm guitarist Travis Miguel and long bearded bassist Marc McKnight–wasted no time warming up, going right in for the kill, opening their set with "Become the Bull." The pit began to swirl as Varkatzas locked eyes with the crowd for every song as they shouted lyrics back at him. At one point, McKnight jumped off stage and started wandering through the pit, just as paramedics came rushing to the side of the stage to grab a fallen fan. Maybe McKnight was just swooping in to save the day? He was probably just lucky to get out of that crowd alive himself.
Friday, 6:15 p.m.-7:15 p.m. at the Rise Stage
Guy standing next to us is going absolutely apeshit when Dustin Kensrue comes out and waves to the crowd and commences banging away on "Of Dust and Nations" from 2005's Vheissu. Then that last beer must've hit his bladder. Go to the porto-potty or stay here and catch the next song? For him, the decision was simple. And gross. With his arm around his (very loyal) friend he goes "dude, I've haven't seen these guys in forever. I can't miss this. Cover me." The next sound we hear is the sound of piss hitting the mud as the band plays on. The friend stands like a statute, nervously providing cover and sharing in this embarrassing moment as people gradually become wise and back away. Didn't think the floor of this fest could get any dirtier. Thanks for proving us wrong.
The Dirty Heads
Friday, 6:15 p.m. at the Roots Stage
It's kinda perfect that we should walk up to this set tucked back at the reggae-centric Roots stage as the Huntington Beach stoner rap rockers explode into "Check the Level" with a bombast of drums and rhymes. "It's in the audio, it's in the air!" shout rappers Duddy B and Dirty J as low-hanging ganja clouds hover throughout the tree-lined stage. Chi-town's loud definitely doesn't have shit on Cali weed, but it still got the crowd to a proper head space to appreciate the band's sunny, beach-ready sound as (actual) grey clouds threatened to pour all over us again. Just wish this weather could match this music a little (okay, a lot) better.
Friday, 8:45 p.m.-10 p.m. at the Riot Stage
Being from Orange County and seeing this band perform once every few years or so, you forget that Gwen Stefani's rock stardom really has infected the entire world. The band kicked off their set on a major high with "Hella Good" that was probably the most excited we saw the festival all day on Friday, especially the front row who had some pretty dedicated fans. When a guy in the front row got Gwen's attention and held up a tattoo of her face on his arm, her cloyingly sweet stage banter just wasn't going to be enough to show her appreciation. "Im gonna come down there and make out with you, okay?" Sure, why not? She's a single woman now. Stefani climbs down, smooches the dude who will probably never wash his face again and proceeds to get back up there to rock out. At one point she covered her bare midriff with a banner made from a fan from Argentina and pulled up a local fan onstage for a selfie. As far as the music, the set was entertaining and pretty predictable (including a couple stabs at intimacy with acoustic versions of "Simple Kind of Life" and "Excuse Me Mr."). But the band wasn't short on love, right up until the end when Gwen climbed to the top of the scaffolding to lead the crowd in an "I'm Just a Girl" sing-a-long before pulling out "Spiderwebs" for the encore.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Sunday, 3:45 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. at the Riot Stage
Walking up to the Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness set was a bit like stepping into a time warp as he launched "I Woke Up in a Car" from his days as the frontman for Something Corporate. A collective freakout waited from the nasally, clean cut piano man who can create tears amongst his female fans like a wizard or water works with a few plunked notes on the ivories. A few detours into Jack's Mannequin material ("Dark Blue," "The Resolution," and "La La Lie") all wove seamlessly into one big emotional lullaby that retained its effect, even in the middle of the day.
Sunday,7:45 p.m.-8:45 p.m. at the Rock Stage
Snoop was late. Mad late. Apparently some technical difficulties with a video on stage created almost a 30-minute delay which caused swaths of excited Chicago fans to puff, puff pass like fiends, emptying what was left of their stash before the rapper born Calvin Broadus even hit the stage to open with "Gin and Juice." His suave stoniness was definitely on point, coming out dressed like a hip-hop anachronism in a black track suit, gold chains, long braids and a blunt with two female backup dancers on either side. His aura was almost enough to distract us from the fact that he wasn't going to do his debut album Doggy Style in it's entirety as promised on the bill (possibly because he just didn't have enough time). For many of us who weren't able to experience the launch of Snoop's career in concert in 1992, this would've been a welcome crip walk through time. It wasn't in the cards though, despite throwing us a bone with "Who Am I (What's My Name)". But c'mon, wasting time on a House of Pain cover ("Jump Around") and ending the short set without playing "Ain't No Fun" is just wrong. Stil,l at the end of the day on the Rock stage, the Long Beach legend still proved that there ain't no party like a west coast party, even a short one.