I moved to Chicago two weeks before Riot Fest. It was one of those things that accidentally worked out in my favor. Before any sort of real home sickness could set in, I was surrounded by a ton of friends from all over the country. Sure, most of them were here to see Jawbreaker, but a guy can pretend dammit!
Friday, I woke up with two items on my agenda: help get my friends engaged and then get over to Riot Fest. The first part was simple. I would drop my buddies Lindsey and Amanda off at the nearby harbor, secretly follow them until Amanda proposed to Lindsey, and take photos. Camera in hand and a fake mustache on for good measure, I crept and lumbered behind cars like some sort of sneaky, perverted land whale, praying the sweat pouring down my face wouldn’t fuck up my $2 Target disguise. By the time I found the two of them, they were hugging and enjoying the view. I had missed the actual proposal. It was barely noon and I had already fucked up my first job of the day. Congratulations Lindsey and Amanda!
This was around the time that I got the news that the drinks in the Press tent were free and flowing all day. It was go time! I sweet-talked my girlfriend into dropping me off near Douglas Park and power walked mom-style to get my Press wristband and into the VIP gate.
Now, I went to Riot Fest in Denver in 2015 and it was great. But walking into the Chicago Riot Fest was overwhelming. The park is huge. The Rise Stage was directly in front of me and, in the distance, I could see the Riot and Roots stages. To the right was the Radicals stage. I didn’t even know about the food area, carnival games and rides, or the Heather Owens stage yet and I was already paralyzed with fear. But then, I remembered free drinks and B-lined it to the Press area, stopping only to watch a few minutes of the Circus Una Motorcycle High-Wire Acrobats doing their thing.
With a Strongbow Cider in hand (yes, we’re looking for sponsorship), I wandered back to the Roots Stage to check out X. I’m not a huge X fan; but when a legendary Los Angeles punk band is playing, it’s best to not ignore them. I paid my respects for a couple of songs until I received word that my Bad Copy cohorts, Mat and Kendra, were back in the press tent. I scurried back to grab a second drink and catch up. I learned that the plan for the weekend was to drink as many free drinks as possible to put us in the black and, in theory, have Riot Fest pay us to be there all while still properly covering the festival. The goal was to each reach the early bird pre-sale ticket level. At $150 per ticket, it would take a mere nineteen drinks per person over three days to reach that level. After that, we could climb to the different levels of tickets with the ultimate goal being the $700 Ultimate VIP level. With that, we each started our own drink tally.
Pounding drink number two and swiftly moving on to number three, Kendra and I wandered back to the Riot stage to catch some Buzzcocks and try to find our buddy, Four Lights’ own Jeff Mangalin, who was in from Seattle. He was jammed somewhere in the front. The closest we could get was next to a guy smoking his robot cigarette that smelled like brown sugar. As the unnamed man blew fat clouds of vape, we watched as four sixty-plus-year-old men played like they were half their ages all while baking in the hot afternoon sun. But soon, our cups were empty and it was time for a refill. After a quick jaunt back to the Press area, we went our separate ways. Mat and Kendra went to watch The Hotelier play at the Heather Owens stage and I sauntered over to the Rise stage to see Action Bronson. Everyone at my old job used to call me ‘Action Bronson’ (I found out later that it was just because we are both white and each have a beard). But Mr. Bronson was entertaining enough to keep me there for a good portion of his set before I finally decided to go find Kendra and Mat.
I wandered over to what I thought was the Heather Owens stage and watched the band that was playing. They were fucking terrible. I struggled to understand why Mat was so stoked to see The Hotelier. They sounded like high school, but ten years too late. I checked my phone and saw that the Heather Owens stage was past the Ferris wheel. I had wasted ten minutes of my life watching State Champs at the Radicals stage. Awesome. I ventured even further into the park and found them near the sound booth tent and was able to catch the last Hotelier song. It was much, much better than the atrocious sounds coming from previous stage.
We decided to go fuel up before watching Death from Above, a band I was excited to watch who I kept referring to as “that 1987 band”. I quickly found out they dropped the 1979 part from their name a long ass time ago (Wikipedia says 2004). I blamed it on not having internet for the past week and ordered another drink. I tried to take a picture of them from the Press area for our Instagram and was perplexed why the picture was so shitty. It turns out that I was taking pictures of the empty Riot stage next door and didn’t understand that just because the band could be seen on the big screen on that side, that was not where they we’re playing. My drink tally was reaching double digits.
This is when we traveled to the other side side of the park because I had yet to to find any food. I barreled through the food area, using my nose like a bloodhound instead of the words on the signs to find the Meat Wagon set up. I think that’s what it was called.
What’s important is that there was a lady tossing small pieces of meat at people as they walked by. I finally was able to catch her attention and she fastball pitched a hunk of meat at my face that bounced off my tongue and onto the ground.
She started to say, “Don’t eat that,” but I was already swallowing it and trying to get her to throw more at me. My only course of action was to explain how meat trajectory works, but what came out was more of a slurred, “toss it really high in the air.” She did and I was rewarded with 1/16th of a sausage treat bullseye directly into my mouth. I thanked her and grabbed another piece of meat off the ground as we made our way back for another drink refill.
I grabbed a drink and went to explore the Riot Mall, which is a bunch of merch tents mostly hawking Misfits rip off T-shirts and those poncho sweatshirts hacky-sacking hippie ware. In the midst of this, I was able to find the Red Scare booth and pick up a vinyl copy of Garett Dale’s Two T’s EP… because obviously I should be buying merch from a person who wasn’t even there. I was making my way back to the Press area when I noticed it had suddenly gotten way fucking harder to make my way around. It was very, very dark, and there seemed to be a good couple thousand more people in the park now than there were thirty minutes ago. Nine Inch Nails was about to go on. I grabbed my last drink of the night and tried to make my way towards the stage to get a good picture for the Bad Copy Instagram. If nothing else, I’m determined to do a good job. However, if you look at the blurry mess of black and blue on our actual page, it was a valiant effort.
I saw about half of Nine Inch Nails before we bailed to beat the crowds. I still don’t know if they played that “Fuck You Like an Animal” song or not. But what I do know is we made our way back to The Rocking Horse in Logan Square and I had the best tater tots I’ve ever had in my entire life. As I shoveled Poutine-style tots in my mouth, I saw a little piece of yellow paper sticking out of my pocket with thirteen tally marks on it. Riot Fest Day One was a success.