Photos by Adam Hughes
Although Riot Fest celebrated it’s tenth anniversary this year, it was only the second year that the festival has come to Colorado. The festival was originally located in Byers, but after the town refused to let festival attendees return for the second year, the event was moved to the blacktop at Sports Authority Field in Denver. Riot Fest is one-of-a-kind festival, with carnival rides and sideshows and a wide variety of music ranging from Rock to Punk to Rap.
The three-day festival started Friday evening with a stellar line-up featuring Punk Rock legends NoFX and a hard choice to make with Slayer and Primus playing simultaneously on opposite stages and 90’s Rock band Weezer ending the evening. The crowd was as varied as the line-up, with old-rockers, dreadlocked hippies, and crusty punks filling the venue.
My weekend was spent frantically running backstage doing interviews for Green Light Radio, then back to the festival to catch bits and pieces of sets, working double-time for my press pass. The “post-apocalyptic gypsy punk band” Nostalghia was first on my list of interviews, and as I waited to speak with the band I caught up with NoFX keyboardist “Limo” backstage, catching a ride in his golf cart. After the interview I spotted “Smelly,” the bands’ drummer, as well as “El Hefe,” lead guitarist and trumpet player. The band was not doing press, but was nice enough to do several station ID’s and pose for photos. When Smelly saw my “The Decline” tattoo (a eighteen minute song by the band), he let it slip that they would be playing the seldom-played masterpiece later that night, in addition to their twenty-year-old album Punk in Drublic.
New Found Glory played a great set for a female-dominated crowd but the leadvocals were muffled where I stood, despite the giant speakers they played through. The crowd didn’t seem to notice, throwing their fists in the air when the singer told them to do so. It was nice to see the band play in person; their last few albums were over-produced and unnaturally polished. The final song “My Friends Over You” had the entire crowd cheering. Die Antwoord was a novelty band that many people were excited to check out. The band is a duo from South Africa that has garnered many fans due to their outrageous videos. The pop-synth rap group was less impressive in person, but their fans (most of them young kids) ate it up.
Nofx played next, and I hurried from one side of the event to the other to grab a spot in front to see my favorite band. Because of the festival’s ten-year anniversary some bands were playing specific albums, and NoFX played the entire album Punk in Drublic and still had time for the aforementioned The Decline. The band did not play the first album in order, which added some variety to the routine, and getting to hear “The Decline” at all made the evening extra special. Singer “Fat Mike” always entertains the crowd, and this performance was no different. He came on stage and said immediately that he was plagued by diarrhea and that he would have as good of a time as possible without shitting himself. The crowd loved them and there was the usual mad rush to the front as soon as the music began. Punk In Drublic is the bands’ most successful album to date, and although I had seen a good number of the songs before, one track they rarely play is “Happy Guy,” so seeing that one live was a real treat.
Watching NoFX meant that I missed the entirety of Gogol Bordello, a very talented Gypsy-Punk band, which was a bummer. I did catch a few songs from the Los Angeles-based band Nostalghia. Singer Ciscandra Nostalghia’s voice was ethereal and haunting, but at the same time melodic and experimental. Hear my interview with the band here.
The next big choice was Slayer versus Primus. Slayer was another band scheduled to play an entire album, Reign in Blood, and they also chose to play the 1986 release out-of-order. Many fans were heard to say that they were unwilling to watch the band perform without original member Jeff Hanneman, who died last year, which my have explained why there were more “bros” than “metal heads” in the crowd. Slayer had one of the best stage displays of the weekend; the stage was filled with giant upside-down crosses that moved up and down. With red and green lights shining on the crosses and blue background lights, the effect was very dramatic. Camera phones went up all over the crowd when the band played the song “Angel of Death,” which is first on the album, but wasn’t played until about halfway through their set. After that song we ran over to catch the end of Primus. Primus played several solid tunes, but Slayers’ wailing guitar solos made them the unofficial winner of that timeslot showdown.
Weezer finished out the evenings’ music, they were also part of the “Ten Years, Ten Essential Albums” lineup, and played their self-titled album also known as The Blue Album. In addition to this album, they played “Beverly Hills,” “Pork and Beans,” “Island in the Sun,” “Hash Pipe,” and “El Scorcho.” The light show was good, with swirling fog playing over a banner with the logo from their album coming out in October. The crowd was deep and many people enjoyed the show from the ground…already tired of standing at the end of night one.
Saturday’s lineup began at 12:45, and for the people who went to one of the official after shows, it meant a thirteen-hour day filled with music. Denver local band Wiredogs was the first band to play at the Revolt Stage and the four-piece Punk group drew a good sizes crowd. The band had a great sound; singer and guitarist Dan was loud and crisp, the drums vibrated the ground, and the backup vocals were clear. The most impressive thing about this band was that Dan was missing the lower part of his arm, but managed to play the guitar with a pic rigged up to his stump, joking with the crowd that if he could clap with one hand, the crowd could do it with two. I caught up with the band later; check out their interview here. My Saturday was filled with interviews, click to hear The BOTS, Frnkiero and the Cellabration, and Baby Baby.
Larry and His Flask was up next; their sound was a cross between Big Band, Richard Cheese, and the Koffin Kats. The band was comprised of a stand-up bass, slide trombone (the trombonist also played the banjo), drums, acoustic electric and electric guitars. They had great harmonies and the bassist jumped around the stage as he played despite the heat. This was the type of band that one goes to a festival for; that one surprise band that you’ve never heard but can’t wait to get home and download. With five singers, Larry and His Flask has a fresh and blended sound, with each song different than the last, while having a very distinct sound. The next band I saw was a local Denver Hardcore band, Allout Helter. The band started strong with the track “Assume the Imposition” and singer Ross Hostage wore a bungee-type cord around his glasses so he could thrash and head bang around the stage. Although I’ve seen them play larger crowds before, the sound quality at the venue was the best I’ve heard for the band.
Strung Out proved they could still pump out the jams after twenty-five years. Their Skate-Punk style has evolved over the years into a melodic fusion of Rock, Metal, and Punk. The three guitars were in perfect unison and the drummer played furiously as a good-sized moshpit erupted during the faster songs. Face to Face was Saturday’s highlight, and the twenty-three year old band played a good set with plenty of variety of old favorites (“A Ok,” “Ordinary,” “I Won’t Lie Down”) and new hits (“Bright Lights”). Singer Trever Keith commented that the band sounded good for being tone-deaf drunks. Bill Stevenson and Joey Cape were among the powerhouse musicians spotted backstage after the bands’ performance. I caught two of Taking Back Sunday’s songs from across the venue, “You’re So Last Summer” and “MakeDamnSure,” and wished I wasn’t so far away from the band as they ended.
The Descendents were next, and they satisfied the crowd’s need for the old hits, playing “I’m Not a Loser,” “Parents,” “I’m Not a Punk,” “Suburban Home,” “I’m The One,” and so many more. The crowd was so thick that you couldn’t see the stage. Bill Stevenson killed it on the drums and it seemed as though everyone at the festival showed up for this legendary band. Descendents ended with “Thank You” while fans sang lyrics, “Thank you for playing the way you play,” to the band. The band was amazing, however singer Milo Aukerman’s voice has distinctly aged since he joined the band in 1980. Social Distortion was another aging group playing Saturday night and although singer Mike Ness’ voice hadn’t aged, his face certainly had. Ness played a guitar inscribed with the words “from a G to a gent,” and the band held the crowd’s attention with tracks “Through These Eyes,” “Ball and Chain,” and “Ring of Fire.” Bring Me The Horizon played opposite Social Distortion and definitely had the more energetic performance. The super talented Metalcore band had a great fog display and a light show good enough to cause an epileptic seizure.
The Cure finished the night and the crowd packed in like sardines to see the mega group. Standing close to the sound booth all I could see was purple fog and hear Robert Smith’s unmistakable voice. The band did not allow press photography before the show and somehow the fog that wafted over the stage prevented any photos from the crowd as well. Although Smith’s voice remained the same over the years his appearance had certainly changed. His hair was still wild and wavy and sticking up randomly, but it was now a solid grey instead of black, his face had visibly deteriorated, and he has put on several pounds. The band was low-key compared to the other bands that played Saturday, and a generation of 80’s misfits danced to the theme songs of their youth. They played favorites like “In Between Days” and “Just Like Heaven.” As I left the venue a little early to watch Face to Face play an after show at the Summit Music Hall, I saw in the faces of the 40-somethings all the teen angst that I felt when I saw Face to Face play earlier in the day. This was the soundtrack of their lives; lost virginities, broken hearts, broken homes, and Smith brought all those feelings back with a perfect set.
The third day of music began for me with The Menzingers who played at two pm. Their set was amazing and included “The Obituaries,” “Good Things,” “Casey,” “My Friend Kyle,” “Nice Things,” “Gates,” and “Where Your Heartache Exists.” The crowd was just as excited to see the band as I was, and they slam-danced to the harder songs and sang along with the band. On the way to my Me First and the Gimme Gimmes interview I caught a few songs from Bob Mould. He sounded like Chuck Berry crossed with Social Distortion, and were easy to listen to. I also ran into a Violent Femmes member, Brian Viglione, drummer since 2013. My interview unfortunately prevented me from seeing the Bouncing Souls, but I did catch a few Violent Femmes songs, including “Gone Daddy Gone” from their first album. The band sounded as awesome as they did thirty years ago, and they were a great addition to the lineup.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes were the highlight of Sunday’s lineup for me, and they did not disappoint. They played “I Will Survive,” “Sloop John B,” “Science Fiction Double Feature,” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (a song they joked that was about non-consensual schoolyard sex.) They continued the jokes saying, “We’re against non-consensual schoolyard sex, we’re against most things.” And, “We put the cunt in country.” The band is a “supercoverband,” made up of rockers who are members of popular Punk bands NoFX, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, as well as a former member of Swingin’ Utters. Guitarist Chris Shiflett (formerly with No Use for a Name and currently with the Foo Fighters) was absent, replaced by his brother Scott Shiflett (from the band Face to Face). Eric Melvin (NoFX) fills in for Fat Mike (MFatGG bassist) occasionally, and stopped by the set to play a song with the band as well as a song from Me First singer Spike Slawson’s new ukulele cover band Uke-Hunt (“Crazy” by Willie Nelson).
Dropkick Murphys were up next, and I was fortunate enough to watch the band from the side stage. Before their set I had witnessed Ken Casey, the bassist of the Celtic Punk band, stop to help a girl up who had got knocked over. The action epitomized what Punk Rock has always been, a crazy and sometimes violent scene that is made up of people that underneath it all are always looking out for one another. The bagpipes were loud and drummer Matt Kelly was very impressive, slamming out beats while simultaneously doing backup vocals. Fans tried to dance but the sea of bodies was too thick, instead resigning themselves to throwing their fists in the air. They played a great set, including the songs, “Don’t Tear Us Apart,” “The Boys Are Back,” “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya,” “Jimmy Collin’s Wake,” and even a cover of “Taking Care of Business” that turned into “We’re An American Band” that the crowd went crazy for. The band played perfectly and the stage quivered like a 5.0 earthquake and the smell of fresh rain was as refreshing as the Irish medleys the band played. After the set, a few police officers took photos with the band; the smiles on their faces were comparable to the look on mine when I finally got a good photo with Punk legend Fat Mike.
Sublime with Rome was next, click here to listen to the interview I did with the singer Rome Ramirez the week before the event. It was the first time I had heard the band without deceased singer Bradley Nowell, but Rome did a great job as a front man. They played many listener favorites including “Garden Grove,” “April 29th, 1992 (Miami),” and “Santeria.” When they played “What I Got,” they stopped the song for a full minute to dedicate the song to Nowell, saying, “Rest in Peace,” before continuing with the lyrics, “Loving is what I got,” with thousands of fans singing loud in the pouring rain.
Rise Against absolutely killed it, and for me they were the true ending of a great weekend filled with amazing music. “Prayer of the Refugee,” “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore,” “Satellite,” and “Savior” were among the numerous songs played by the band. Fans were delighted; they were dancing, pumping fists in the air, and throwing themselves at one another in the mosh-pit. When singer Tim McIlrath dedicated a song to The Ramones, Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton, Lagwagon singer Joey Cape, and NoFX guitarist Eric Melvin all joined onstage for the homage. Later Spike Slawson and Bill Stevenson joined McIlrath onstage as well. The band was exceptional and finished their set with a great instrumental outro.
Wu Tang Clan ended the weekend with some sweet rhymes and a huge crowd headed over to their stage to watch the final performance. They started the set by saying “Bring the mother fucking ruckus,” and the venue lit up with camera phones going off. Arms were in the air as Wu-Tang once again reminded us that they were nothing to fuck with. My job was done, and it was bittersweet. I was overwhelmingly happy with the professional accomplishments I had achieved over the weekend, but simultaneously saddened by the experiences I had missed out on, from missing shows and fun times with friends and my boyfriend. “Riot Fest with Press Pass-Year Two” was over, and all I had left was to write this article and wait for the craziness that will be Riot Fest 2015.