After a long night’s rest following the first day of Riot Fest, it was an extremely late start for me on day 2 of the festival. Despite early rain showers, the sun was shining bright as I walked into Douglas Park around 3 p.m. People were still running around from stage to stage, laughs were still audible in the air, and most importantly, the music was still blaring. Even hours after last night’s sets, the festival hadn’t slowed down a bit. If anything, the presence of the sun only excited Rioters even more, and they had plenty to be excited about. Saturday’s lineup was so appealing that I even overheard “if you are missing today, you are missing Riot Fest” at the top of some enthusiastic fan’s lungs. And I say I would have to agree. Riot Fest’s second day had so many big names on the bill that it was hard to keep up with it all.
Punk rock veterans Pennywise were first up on my list for the day, and what a way to start. Amongst a sea of pop-punk in today’s music industry, Pennywise stuck to the roots. Furious guitar, rapid-fire drumming, and chanted lyrics, Pennywise had it all. Songs felt like they were no longer than two minutes as the band continued to just assault the audience with nothing but pure, raw punk music.
After Pennywise, it was time for something a little different. Bootsy Collins, the Parliament-Funkadelic legend, was in the Windy City, and he made it clear right away: he was there to funk. Us. Up. With his Rubber Band, all clad in astronaut equipment, Bootsy put on a spectacle that had to been seen. After the band led the crowd in summoning him, Bootsy Collins hit the stage donning a large, blue-sequined robe and massive star shaped bass. Referencing to various P-Funk hits, Bootsy Collins dazzled the crowd with stunning solos, sex-filled lyrics, and jaw dropping showmanship. The crowd went wild as Bootsy finished a memorable set in a Duncan Keith Blackhawks jersey. Even after Bootsy had left the stage, plenty of fans sticked around, chanting “we want the funk” in hopes that he’d return.
Merle Haggard stuck out like a sore thumb on this lineup when I originally saw it. One of the original outlaws was to perform country music at Riot Fest? To me, that is the beauty of the festivals, to be able to see huge acts from all kinds of genre’s in one place. Merle Haggard had one of the largest audiences of the day, with people of all ages coming to see him. The crowd sang along as Merle performed his special brand of country.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see something like this again, so take a good hard look,” a father said to his young son. With stars in his eyes, he could only help but nod as I did as well. “Okie From Muskogee” played as Riot Fest applauded the legend. As Merle left the stage, a younger crowd started pushed their way forward to be close to the next act: System of a Down.
System of a Down is a major band that has been a huge part of many people’s lives, mine included. However, the band had been on hiatus from 2006-2010, never really giving the kids of my generation a chance to see them. Despite being back together since 2010, this was their first gig in Chicago since their reunion. People had flocked from various towns surrounding Chicago to see their childhood heroes. However, this is where Riot Fest turned ugly. Despite being no room left, the crowd continued to surge forward, crushing people and making it hard to breathe, and we were still half an hour from start time. Once System of a Down did come out, the crowd once again surged forward. The only spaces being created were by the various crowd surfers. The show only went on for three songs before security took over.
“They are saying we have to stop. Trust us, we want to play too, but it’s not worth anyone dying over,” front man Serj Tankian said as he urged the crowd to step back. The show only continued for one song until the band was cutoff halfway into hit song “BYOB.” This stop lasted far longer, nearly 15 minutes. Once the band was given the ok, there wasn’t another stoppage as the crowd didn’t want to lose anymore time. Mosh pits opened everywhere once more as the band blitzed through the rest of their set to make up for lost time. Playing songs from all but one of their five albums, their setlist was well refined. System of a Down has had a reputation for destroying festival sets, and this was no different. As the crowd dispersed from the stage, the ground was left destroyed, a small memento from the thousands of moshers. Mud caked nearly everyone walking away as they went home to rest up for the final day of the fest.