- by Zach Johnson Rating: Release Date: Label:
I’ve always been a fan of the idea of balance in one’s life, and that applies to the world of music as well. The concept of Yin and yang, for example, the dark and the light, the negative and the positive, etc. So, if Saturday was a day full of darkness and mayhem (which is a bit overly dramatic, but just go with it), then similar to Friday, Sunday’s lineup was kind of the anthesis of that idea.
Yes, Sunday it was time to step out of the proverbial darkness and back into the light with performances from the likes of The Village People (yes, the Village People) and one of the most outright fun and legendary new-wave bands of all-time: The B-52s! That’s right, yours truly would be going from “Dead Skin Mask” and “War Ensemble” straight to “In the Navy” and “Love Shack”.
Doesn’t get much more antithetical than that now does it?
But wait, there’s more! As if Sunday and Saturday couldn’t look and feel any more different, to make Sunday even brighter for this reviewer, I decided to bring along my entire tribe of ladies this time, which not only included by lovely wife, but also my 3 daughters, ages 6, 4, and 2.
Who says Riot Fest isn’t family fucking friendly?
Yes, between all the great music, arts & crafts, the Ferris wheel, carny games, gigantic pizza slices, popcorn and cotton candy, it was going to be a fantastically fun-filled day for all ages. And, admittedly, my choice in sets was heavily influenced by the attendance of my smaller ladies, as both The Village People and The B-52s would no doubt be a fantastic backdrop for the best family picnic ever!
But before it was time to sing “Macho Man” with my two-year-old, 90s ska-punk veterans Save Ferris were performing at the Rise Stage. And although I’m clearly a sucker for 90s nostalgia, even I must admit: Save Ferris was pushing it a little. But that’s subjective I suppose, being that yours truly never fully got into the whole 90s ska revival thing, but my wife sure AF did, so whether I liked it or not, we had a family lunch picnic date with Save Ferris to kick things off. And despite my petty misgivings, it went over quite well, particularly with the little ones, who were rambunctiously running around the trees with their goofy headphones on, forming sort of a little kid circle-pit, if you will (highly disorganized as it was, but I digress). We even ventured to the outskirts of the crowd itself to give the girls a little taste of the action, much to everyone’s delight. And although Monique seemed to be trying slightly too hard to be “risqué” (lots of vaginal references), Save Ferris’s generally up-tempo and spunky vibes made their set pretty enjoyable overall. The girls dug it, so, that was certainly good enough for me.
Riot Fest doesn’t always get enough credit for the quality array of vendors, displays, and extracurricular activities available throughout Douglas Park for folks to enjoy when they’re not jamming out to all the quality bands at hand. But a few vendors came in particularly handy on Sunday, helping to keep the kids occupied in between sets. One such (somewhat unlikely) source of salivation was the Deep Eddy Vodka tent, that not only offered a welcome reprieve from the blazing hot early-afternoon sun but also offered some cool swag for the little ones (my four-year-old looked pretty hilarious in her rainbow Deep Eddy Vodka trucker hat for example). Not only that, but the tent had a lot of cool concert memorabilia and art for everyone to soak in, including some very rad portraits of Johnny Cash, David Bowie, etc. Was nice to give the little ones a little rock n’roll education, not they particularly gave a shit, but hey, at least they got some cool hats and shades out of the deal. Cheers to the folks at the Deep Eddy Vodka tent for getting us out of the heat (and the swag of course)!
From there, we continued our long migration (which felt a lot longer pulling 3 kids in a wagon) to the Radicals stage where we reestablished our picnic just in time for the famed Village People to hit the stage. While it felt somewhat surreal to actually witness a performance by The Village People in 2019, at Riot Fest, with my kids, etc. therein lied the beauty of it all, I suppose. If it were not for Riot Fest, the concept of going to a concert by The Village People, on purpose, would be a borderline preposterous idea for yours truly, but nevertheless, there we were, and it was actually kind of awesome to behold. And being that the crowd on hand was a predictably cheerful and congenial bunch, it afforded me the opportunity to make some decent headway toward the stage during their performance, with my 6-year-old atop my shoulders of course. I’ll admit I was a bit jealous of her vantage point, but at least it gave me an excuse not to participate in gesturing “YMCA” with the masses (safety first)! Although I was pretty exhausted, and only a modest fan of flamboyant disco music, my daughter seemed to be having a great time and enjoyed the group’s “costumes”. What a first concert experience, right? Good memories for sure, courtesy of The Village People. They were hilarious and a lot of fun.
With a good couple of hours to kill before The B-52s set, yet another Riot Fest vendor came to the rescue in the form of the Chicago Open Center for the Arts booth, who were super nice and provided some awesome activities for the kids (painting, arts & crafts, coloring, etc.) that kept them happy and occupied for a solid hour or so. So special shout-out to those guys for their hospitality and crafty ingenuity, which the kids enjoyed to the fullest, and bought us some much-needed time until…
The B-52s! Truth be told I had to temporarily abandon my family because, well, duty calls, and this reviewer needed to get as up close and personal to The B-52s as possible. There may have also been a smidge of selfishness in that decision, but I had a job to do dammit, so sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. And what an enjoyable job it was, as the group opened in all their quirky glory with the one-two punch of “Planet Claire” and “Private Idaho” (a personal favorite). And speaking of personal favorites, we all have certain songs that take us back to our childhood, songs that you hear at such an early and impressionable age that the serotonin signatures are forever seared into your brain for all eternity (or you know, until you die, but whatever). For yours truly, one such song is “Roam”, and getting to hear that song live took me right back to 1st Grade all over again. Although, in all honestly, I don’t entirely remember what it was like to be that age anymore (I actually think it kind of sucked generally), but whatever the case, those aforementioned serotonin imprints are still there, so needless to say I enjoyed hearing that classic live. And it was also virtually impossible not to enjoy other classics like “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster”, which closed their set (and yes there were a few inflatable lobsters crowd-surfing of course). As for the overall performance of The B-52s, it was really solid, especially considering how long they’ve been at this now. There’s a certain kitschy tone to Fred Schneider’s voice that can’t help but make you smile, and really just compels one to get goofy and have a good time. And while some songs felt like they were delivered perhaps not quite at full-tempo, on the whole, their entire set was obviously a lot of fun and proved to be the perfect way to close out an incredibly awesome (and somewhat bipolar) Riot Fest weekend for this reviewer.
Day 3 Tidbits:
Number of people that complimented my Oh Sees shirt: 3 (finally…made up for the zeros Friday/Saturday)
Should Riot Fest look into booking Oh Sees next year? 4 shore
Is Riot Fest actually pretty family-friendly, and should you bring your kids to the festival next year? Yes and yes
Is Riot Fest consistently the best music fest in Chicago each year? Why yes, yes it is