Chicago’s Riot Fest 2018: Beck and Gary Numan teamed up, Weezer saved the day and punk gets shy

What started as a celebration of punk is becoming a little more mainstream

Riot Fest, the three-day Chicago-based music fest that was once marketed as a punk-rock alternative to more mainstream Lollapalooza, wrapped up on Sunday. While still hosting many bands from different punk rock subsets, the festival probably has never been as mainstream as it was this year.

The organisers replaced last minute dropouts Blink 182 with Weezer, Run the Jewels and Taking Back Sunday — none of which are punk-rock royalty. Other headliners included Beck, whose Saturday night performance drew most of the festival crowd and included a rendition of ‘Cars’ with Gary Numan, who had performed earlier that same day.

Perhaps the most questionable addition to the lineup was pop-act Matt And Kim, whose Friday performance was highlighted by the thousands of balloons that they released in the crowd. Chicago band Twin Peaks was also a curious choice, along with ageing legend Jerry Lee Lewis, who seemed to be more of a novelty than a legitimate act. Additionally, having Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys — two Irish-American punk bands that played a couple hours apart on Friday seemed overkill, even if both bands played solid sets.


Australia’s Wolfmother played on Saturday and reminded patrons of how over-hyped Greta Van Fleet are right now, showing that if you’re going to rip off a classic rock and roll band like Led Zeppelin, you may as well rip off Black Sabbath as well. That said, it’s hard not to like their power chords and Andrew Stockade’s vocal wailing.

Chicago natives Jesus Lizard may not have the drawing power as Beck, but perhaps no band in this year’s lineup has more punk cred. They at least should have been on a larger stage. The final day of the fest featured Johnny Marr, Clutch, local band Alkaline Trio and old-pros Bad Religion, whose tunes sound more relevant now than ever before.

After 14 years, Riot Fest may be giving in to having a few more mainstream bands each go-around, but overall it still does a good job of featuring the types of bands the fest was founded for — punk-rock. Whether or not it it ever becomes like the other festivals that it once mocked is yet to be seen. Hopefully it will never be home to EDM, but with the fan-base of old school punk-rock getting another year older, as well as the bands, it may have to ultimately change things up. After all, does anyone really want to see Henry Rollins when he’s 75?