Photos and words by Chelsea Whitaker
Riot Fest is an independent, three-day rock festival in Chicago, Illinois. Check out a live review with photo impressions from day two of the fest, featuring Bad Religion, Mothica, The Bridge City Sinners, and more.
If you arrived early on Saturday, you were in for a treat. Mothica may have gone on at 1 pm on the Rise Stage, but she performed as if she were the closing act, opening with “Casualty” off her latest album, Nocturnal. About half way through the set, Mothica paused to thank everyone for coming out early for her set, as well as to give a bit of background for the next song, “Forever Fifteen”. She spoke of her history with eating disorders, abuse and mental health. At the end, she emotionally exclaimed that she was “so fucking happy be here” and to make it past fifteen, encouraging the audience to seek help when they need it. This performance encouraged the first ever moth pit to the song, as the crowd grew silent. “Wow, now if that’s not a reason to stay alive, I don’t know what is” Mothica stated.
After Mothica’s set, I wandered around the park, in search of beer, food, and friendship. I made sure to secure my signature “Riot Fest Sucks” Ale, and made my way to the Rebel Stage.
The Bridge City Sinners are not your typical string band. There’s a sinister twist that can send chills down your spine. Libby Lux enters the Rebel Stage with a twisted smile that looks as if she were the Devil herself. Strumming a Gold Tone Resonator Banjolele, they begin “Through and Through”, with all the sound of a big string band, but with the addition of dark lyrics and growly screams. “I used my hands to take her life, the very ones that asked her to be my wife. I watched the light fade from her eyes, one man's truth is another man's lie” Lightnin’ Luke scowled, ripping at his fiddle. By the end of the set, the crowd was chanting back “Hail Satan” as Libby Lux held up her hand in a sign of the horns. For a performance on the “small” stage, the band did not sacrifice their performance.
Considering the amount of photographers that had shown up after night one, I knew I would need to stake out my place in line for the remaining performances of the weekend. So I grabbed some Island Noodles and dashed for the Roots Stage.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a Yungblud fan before this day. I’d heard his name and some of his music casually, but I was in no way invested. After photographing and seeing him perform live…. everything changed. When I say Yungblud is the most adorable man on stage, I mean it. From running across the stage, end to end, while belting the lyrics to “The Funeral” and holding his red solo cup to the crowd in cheers, he proved his worth to me in a matter of minutes. He continually thanked the fans for showing up, encouraging them to move and dance to the music. The amount of energy, dedication, and pure talent did not go unnoticed.
I was already at the Roots Stage for Yungblud, so I headed over to the neighboring Riot Stage for Bad Religion, who took the stage immediately after Yungblud. The band, who formed in Southern California in 1980, entered the stage with loads of energy. They proved that punk music can stand the test of time, getting fans of all ages on their feet, and jumping with them.
As a millennial emo, Yellowcard was in every mix CD I was sharing back in the day. And Ocean Avenue was my favorite. So the fact that Yellowcard was scheduled to perform the entirety of Ocean Avenue from start to finish put me in dreamland. To say I was excited is an understatement. So I ran over to check out GWAR first, because they never disappoint, but I was not prepared to be covered in goo…so I watched the set for a bit before ultimately heading to the Rise Stage.
The hype was very real for this performance. Obviously the Misfits were playing at the same time on the Riot Stage, but I feel like the demographic for these two stages were wildly different. That said, the Rise Stage was packed for Yellowcard. They began with the album opener, “Way Away” as the crowds screamed the words. If you know the album at all, you know that their biggest hit from the record falls as track 3. They prefaced the song with an explanation. They don’t usually play this song as the third song on the set list, but they were dedicated to performing as true to the album as possible, so they requested the fans stick around for the remaining songs. From the first note, the crowd was belting along, “there’s a place on Ocean Avenue, where I used to sit and talk with you…” I jumped out of the photo pit a bit early, just so that I could experience the song with the crowd. And I cried.
I think it’s so cool for a festival like Riot Fest to have such a dichotomy of old and new. I just started listening to Mothica earlier this year. And to have the opportunity to photograph her so soon after discovering her was a true honor. But then to discover a new (to me) band like the Bridge City Sinners made me smile for days. And again to finish my night with an emo band I grew up dancing to in my bedroom with my best friend. It was unreal.
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