Riot Fest 2022 proved to be a joyful musical party, featuring all your misfit friends and a bill stacked with nearly 100 of your favorite punk, rock, industrial, indie, and hip hop artists. The festival took place over three days (September 16th-18th) at Chicago’s Douglass Park.
This year’s lineup not only featured rock’s elder statespeople, but also the artists they influenced. Where else could you see Glenn Danzig headline one night at 67 years old and the teenagers of the Linda Lindas play the next afternoon?
Friday’s sunny weather matched the mood. “This is the best day of my life, and I hope it’s your best day too,” said Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian. The Florida alt-rockers offered a high-energy set that kicked off with “Never Take Friendship Personal,” conjuring many circle pits. On the Radicals Stage, a technical delay didn’t spoil the good vibes for Jeff Rosenstock fans. They sang along to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” and Sublime’s “Santeria” while they waited. The band ripped through a barrage of songs from each of Rosenstock’s four albums to the crowd’s delight, fittingly kicking off with “NO TIME.”
“I’m not a cool guy anymore,” declares Descendents singer Milo Aukerman as he sang “Coolidge” while joking about his prescription sunglasses and wearing a water bottle strapped to his chest. Delivering more than 20 songs in a set that ranged from their iconic 1982 debut Milo Goes to College to their 2021 LP 9th & Walnut, Descendents proved they are still very cool.
On the cozy Rebel Stage, Cloud Nothings performed one of the day’s hardest-rocking sets ,including playing “Separation” for the first time since 2013. As night fell, Riot Fest veterans Taking Back Sunday got the emo fans dancing as Adam Lazzara vamped on stage swinging the microphone around his neck. Chicago natives Alkaline Trio took a moment during their set to admire the city’s skyline. “I’ve never seen Chicago look so beautiful,” mused Matt Skiba.
Friday’s tickets sold out, and it was apparent that My Chemical Romance was the reason. Attendees complained of long food and water lines that snaked through the festival grounds. With no competing headliners on other stages, a massive crowd packed in for MCR. Two-and-a-half years after their postponed reunion tour, fans got the triumphant set they wanted from Gerard Way and the band. Sporting sunglasses and a babushka, Way kicked off with new release “Foundations of Decay” before belting emo classics like “Helena” and “Welcome to the Black Parade.” Way stopped the show multiple times asking the compressed crowd to step back. “Be safe, take care of each other, and pick each other up,” he implored.
Riot Fest has cultivated a distinct aesthetic. Attendees rocked soaring mohawks, harnesses, fishnets, and a sea of black band T-shirts. On Saturday afternoon, a fan in a hot dog costume crowd surfed several times during 7 Seconds’ set. The hardcore veterans channeled 40 years of energy and the crowd responded by moshing, especially for the closers “Young ‘Til I Die” and a cover of “99 Red Balloons.” Singer Kevin Seconds shouted out War on Women, who were lighting up the Rebel Stage with feminist hardcore anthems. Waving a transgender flag that she plucked from the crowd, Shawna Potter said, “This is a great year at Riot Fest for women, trans, non-binary, and minority artists — but it could always be better.”
Another 40-year veteran band, Bad Religion, schooled the crowd in punk harmonies. “We’ve got a similar message to the last time we played here. It’s the new dark ages,” bandleader Greg Graffin teased before launching into the 2007 song of the same name.
Elsewhere on Saturday, fans on the Radicals Stage reveled in the prog-influenced emo of Sunny Day Real Estate, who recently reunited after a 12-year hiatus. Intergalactic barbarians GWAR packed the smaller Rebel Stage with blood, gore, and alien genitalia. “Nothing can stop us. Not even a heavily armed 18-year-old who crossed state lines,” declared Blothar before executing Kyle Rittenhouse, his blood spray soaking eager fans. Yellowcard reunited for the first time since 2017 on the Rise Stage to play their 2003 debut Ocean Avenue. Fans who traveled from as far as Chile, South Africa, and Brazil stayed put to bop along with the the full pop-punk classic.
Despite the warm weather, Halloween came early to Chicago on Saturday, with the Original Misfits as headliners. Glenn Danzig was eager to “get back to our regularly scheduled program” after playing the classic album Walk Among Us in full. He fielded requests from the crowd, delivering “Bullet” and “Hollywood Babylon” in his signature baritone before closing with “We Are 138.” Bassist Jerry Only and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein completed the scene with ghoulish face paint and several smashed bass guitars.
Women rocked on Sunday, starting with the teenage troupe the Linda Lindas. The infectious punk quartet dedicated two songs to their cats before tearing down a “Racist, Sexist Boy” and covering Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” Later on the same stage, the Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O dedicated “Maps” to the Linda Lindas and to Sleater-Kinney who “paved the way.” The band incited an indie rock dance party led by Karen in an iridescent dress and headpiece. Fans soaked up her sparkle, equally excited to hear new singles “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” and “Burning” along with classics like “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll.”
Even after the departure of drummer Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinney lived up to their iconic status with Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker joined by Angie Boylan behind the kit. The powerful set included classics like “Dig Me Out” and “Modern Girl,” before closing with “The Center Won’t Hold.”
Hip-hop ruled the Rise Stage, where Coolio performed with a live band followed by Action Bronson and Ice Cube. Trent Reznor presided over the weekend’s closing ceremonies with a 20-song Nine Inch Nails set. “This is one of our favorite festivals in the world,” he said. “We’re fucking glad to be here after COVID and everything else.”
The NIN set featured industrial bangers and a pulsing light show. The crowd raged to favorites like “Closer” and “The Hand That Feeds” while “God Break Down the Door” delivered a glitchy interlude with live saxophone. The weekend ended with the crowd singing together under a dark sky, first to “Head Like a Hole” and then to the set-closing “Hurt.” Between songs, Ice Cube’s vocals drifted over from the Rise Stage. “Today was a good day.”
Photo Gallery – Riot Fest 2022 (click to expand and scroll through):