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Show Review

Riot Fest 2023: Day 3: AFI, The Bronx, Thursday, Cults, & More!

Photo: Mat Stokes

I was up bright and early thanks to my stupid aging body which can no longer sleep in. I slept like shit due to Red Bull induced nightmares. No need to ever try amphetamines, kids. Just chug seven energy drink in under 12 hours and you too can feel existential dread for days. It had been raining all morning and Mat and I were watching the weather and texting, reminiscing about past Riot Fests, especially 2014, when the festival was still in Humboldt Park. It poured all weekend, it was freezing, and everyone was covered with mud. I stepped a hole so deep that a friend had to help pull me out and I was worried that I would lose my shoe. Anything would be better than that year.

As I drove over to pick up Mat, bumping my newly created ICP playlist, a notice from Riot Fest HQ went out via social media and email. The festival was undergoing a rain delay and they would update us all soon with more info. Good thing other Matt was already on his way. He got to Douglass Park before us and let us know that press was allowed in despite the delay. Got a prime spot, another great year of “Secret Parking,” and we headed past the long line of festival-goers that was forming along the entry fence and into the park.

Mat, Matt, and I walked through the almost-desolate park, snapping photos of the strange abandoned festival as Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem sound checked. We were gifted free cold brew from a vendor and bought food solely because there were no lines and no crowds to fight against to get to the food row. In the Press Area, I found out that they were out of 0% Riot Pop. REMORSE! This is two years in a row that my non-alcoholic ass went without electrolytes on the last day of the festival. I was asked if I wanted a Red Bull instead; clearly, they were wise to my order. But, despite my eye twitching as parts of me screamed to start the day off right, I declined. My insides felt like I had swallowed sand. Water please.

The rain delay lasted until 2PM. And when the gates opened, people sprinted into the park to their stage of choice, no matter who was slotted to play. We started out day with Future Nobodies on the Riot Stage. They are one of the local bands that Riot Fest added to the lineup. Through n Through was also slated to play today, but their set was cancelled due to the rain. But Riot Fest moved them to later in the day so they could still play. Good form!

Mat headed off to put in WAY more steps than me (check out the end of the article for our step count) and Matt and I found a dry spot to plop onto the ground and watched Cults. The whole day felt a lot slower and stranger than originally planned due to the rain. Luckily, the park didn’t seem too worse for wear. The sun had dried up most of the soggy parts and people didn’t seem to be too muddy.

Our trio reunited to watch The Bronx. I fucking love this band so much. Just typing their name out makes me want to switch my playlist. In fact *puts on “Knifeman”* There we go. This was one of the bands that I knew I would be catching all of. Their set was iconic. “White Shadow” into “Shitty Future” to “Heart Attack American” to “False Alarm.” Solid af. I could list the whole set list, or you could just search for it online, or just take my word that it ruled. Matt Caughthran jumped off the stage and into the crowd as two circle pits took off. There was even a wheelchair crowdsurfer. Epic. Worth every second.

We had planned to do a Bad Libs with Finch, but the band hand to cancel due to their own personal rain delay; the hadn’t made it to the park and it was only an hour and half until their set. We used our downtime, which we hadn’t had much of all weekend, to just hang out with the other press friends. Aaron from Bearded Gentlemen was here again this year. We love Aaron! We also met a few new people from new-to-us sites. The best part of Press isn’t the free drinks or the fact we have a common space to meet and leave our stuff. It’s not brushing shoulders with amazing musicians, it’s the friendships you make along the way… especially with Dr. Matthew Ray, the very attractive chiropractor who sets his shit up daily in the Press Area and cracks all our backs.

After a quick crack session, the Mat(t)s and I took to the field and made our way through the crowd for AFI. I have a long history with the band, as they have been one of my forever favorites since high school. When I lived in Southern California, I used to hit up every show they played. And if you think you saw me in their I Heard A Voice DVD, no you didn’t (purple bandana, terrible looking blonde hair). I haven’t seen them in YEARS, so I was interested in seeing what their set would look like. They opened with “Girl’s Not Grey” and played a lot off Crash Love and Decemberunderground. They added in my personal break up anthem, “I Hope You Suffer,” and a little “Days of the Phoenix” and I was content.

I caught a little bit of the Dresden Dolls before heading over to The Gaslight Anthem with the Mat(t)s. Another full set-er for me. All day long, the Press Area chatter cycled around the band. Did you hear the new songs? Did you like the new songs? What do you know about the new album? I have answers to all of those questions, but none of that mattered when they came onstage and nailed the fucking set they played. “Old White Lincoln,” “High Lonesome,” “American Slang,” “Señor and the Queen,” followed soon after by “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts.” Deanna from Sincere Engineer even came out to join the band on “The ’59 Sound.” I was beaming ear. Mat and I were singing along to every lyric.

As the last note of “The Backseat” rang out, Mat and I headed back to Press. It was time to pack up and head out. The Cure took the stage while we rolled up our banner and grabbed all our bags. We did a final round of Midwestern goodbyes before the three of us made our way out through the masses singing along to “Just Like Heaven.”

Matt joined Mat and I as we walked to Secret Parking for the last time this year. We all hopped in my car and headed to Handle Bar over in Wicker Park. This restaurant was a staple of 2023’s Riot Fest when Curtis, Alex, JD, Jessica, Mat and I all crowded into my Civic every night and drove there, post-fest, for dinner. So it only made sense that we close the weekend this way again. Over drinks and comfort food, we discussed the weekend. Matt fits in so perfectly with the rest of the press friends that we have made over the years; I was elated to find out that he and Curtis may be tag teaming the festival next year, just as Mat and I do. While this year wasn’t as action packed and epic and exhaustive as last year’s Riot Fest, it was a really great year. It was different. We were missing two integral members of our press family (both of whom will be back next year). We didn’t go out partying and staying out late every night; I’m in grad school now, so my life is a little different. But this year we had a banner. This year Mat got covered in Faygo instead of GWAR’s fake blood. This year I watched more bands’ full sets than in the last few years combined. This year, my friend Tonia ran up to me, out of no where, in full juggalo paint on Saturday; I love her so much. And while this year, like every year, is different, I’m left with a hangover of appreciation of and awe at all that this little website has accomplished over the years along with gratitude for everyone who has made that possible. Thank you Riot Fest, Heather and the press crew, press friends new and old, Mat, and most importantly, thank you ICP for making this year’s Riot Fest one for the books.

Now, let’s get to the stats! This year Mat walked 64,727 steps which is equivalent to 30.5 miles. I walked a measly 42,045 steps which is about 18.74 miles. Over the course of three days, while on festival grounds, I drank 10.5 bottles of water, 9 0% Cherry Riot Pops, 13 Red Bulls (that was just two days since I was on the wagon on Sunday), and 1 ice coffee. We’ll see you all next year!

Check out Mat’s photo gallery from Sunday!

ICYMI: Check out our DAY 1 and DAY 2 coverage here!

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