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The Best and Worst of Riot Fest 2014

Riot Fest tore through Humboldt Park in a blaze of rainy glory this weekend. From the mud to the mohawks, here are the highs and low of this year’s punk-rock carnival.

NOFX during a Friday set for Riot Fest.   Photo by Travas Machel

The tenth annual Riot Fest stormed through Humboldt Park this weekend, with ten of the bands playing their signature ablums in honor of the anniversary. Despite the rain, mud, and traffic woes, we stuck through it all to hear some truly incredible music. Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of this year’s festival.

The Best

The Hotelier’s drizzly backdrop

We’ll have more to say about Friday’s bad weather shortly, but an upside to the rain was how well it complemented the Hotelier’s hyper-cutting tunes. Things got cinematic if not a bit damp.

Fat Mike’s mohawk

The NOFX frontman’s stock ’hawk was as spiked & bright-red as in its ‘95 heyday.

The Revolt Stage

It was tiny and tucked between the food carts and some porta-johns, but a chunk of this weekend’s best sets happened at the Revolt Stage, including the Hotelier, Tiny Moving Parts, Dads, and Modern Baseball (who played to a crowd that rivaled Chance’s local-stage set at Lolla 2013).

Mike Ness’s amber-encased voice

Any wear and tear the Social D-frontman’s voice has taken since the early 80s has only made it all the more gravelly and mangled—which is to say, more itself.

The Cure’s light show

The crowd was backed up so far during the Cure’s Sunday-night headlining set that their high-budget light show was one of the only things some fans could see. Luckily, the thing was positively mesmerizing.

Anthony Green teetering on the edge of insanity

The Doylestown vocalist fronted two sets this weekend—one on Friday with his current band, Circa Survive, and a reunion set with Saosin, the emocore quintet he came up with during the early aughts—and behaved like an utter nut during both of them. Whether he was rubbing mud in the faces of fans (Circa) or impersonating Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord (Saosin), Green was infinitely weird and infinitely entertaining.

The crowd in general

Chalk it up to soggy exhaustion, but this weekend’s crowd was by far the tamest of all Chicago’s summer festivals.

The Worst

Friday’s weather

Some rain at a music festival is to be expected given Chicago’s track record. But five hours of it in 50-degree temps was miserable and turned Humboldt Park into a swamp for the rest of the weekend.

The traffic jam at Weezer

Weezer on Sunday night headlined the Rebel Stage, which, due to some bumbled planning, was walled in by the Rise Stage on one side, the Ferris wheel on the other, and a fenced-off backstage area to the rear. The result was tens of thousands of people squeezing into and out of the area through 10-foot gaps between carnival games and ticket booths.

Scarce maps & schedules

You might not know it, but Riot Fest designed a sharp map/schedule handout this weekend. Sadly, it ran out within an hour on Friday, and the handouts were near-impossible to come by on Saturday (I ganked mine from a fan with an extra).

Trekking from the Rise stage to the Rock stage

A downside to this year’s stacked lineup (and the event’s increased area) was a 20-minute, mile-long hike between the two main stages.

The $4.95 ATM fees

Forgetting to hit the ATM before a festival is a rookie mistake, but this reporter made it, and a five-dollar ATM fee didn’t ease the sting.

Bert McCracken’s rudderless banter

The Used frontman hit his high notes with all the oomph he used to, but between songs he rambled about legalizing heroin, suggested the crowd engage in lots of unprotected sex, and called for some sort of vague revolution. Pick your battles, Bert.

Getting out

Anybody who went to Riot Fest last year recalls the nightmare that was getting out of Humboldt Park post-festival. Unfortunately, this year was no better. If you didn’t bike to the festival, you were either waiting a half hour in line for a CTA bus or walking a half hour, to Wicker Park, to find a cab.

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