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 three of the fest, featuring The Linda Lindas, Action Bronson, Ice Cube and an interview with Juliana Theory.
The final day of Riot Fest, attendees rushed in early to catch The Bombpops, Night Spice, or Moon Kissed. I arrived just in time for The Linda Lindas - a group of young girls that have blown up the internet with an L.A. Public Library performance of “Racist, Sexist Boy” in May of last year. I’ve heard the hype surrounding these kids that are killing it in the music world, but hadn’t really taken the time to listen to their music - aside from the video clip from last year. To say I was astounded would be an understatement. These girls perform as though they’ve been touring for decades. Their syncopation was on point, and they had a massive stage presence. I was blown away. About half way through the set, they took a moment to introduce themselves, as well as sharing their ages. Their oldest member, Bela Salazar is just 18 years old, with their youngest member and drummer, Mila de la Garza, at just 12 years old! WOW! I couldn’t do fractions at 12, let alone polyrhythms.
This was truly the best way to begin the third and final day of the festival. After jamming to the Linda Lindas, I made my way to the Rebel Stage for Concrete Castles. Funny enough, the last time I saw this band was the day before Riot Fest 2021 at Subterranean Chicago. It was cool to catch them at the festival this year. They took the stage full of energy, jumping into the title track off their latest record, Wish I Missed U.
I sprinted from the Rebel Stage to the Radical Stage hoping to catch the Juliana Theory. I pushed through the crowd as they played “To the Tune of 5,000 Screaming Children”, looking for a decent spot to get some photos. The crowd was excited and enthusiastic, but also kind, helping me to a better view.
I had a few minutes to chat with half of the duo on Saturday. Josh Fielder expressed his excitement to see Sunny Day Real Estate, explaining that he never got to see them in their hay day because they broke up and got back together a few times. With the topic of bands breaking up and reuniting at hand, I asked him how it’s been for The Juliana Theory. They broke up in 2006 only to reunite in 2021, with new music this year. “It’s almost like the energy is better than ever” Josh stated. After a 15 year hiatus, he said it’s “all good vibes.”
The duo released a 5 song EP earlier this year, Still the Same Kids Pt. 1, and we talked about what it was like recording during the pandemic. “I was flying out to Los Angeles on, like, these empty planes” Josh states, “it was just me, Brett, and our producer Courtney holed up in this little studio.” This offered a “no pressure” environment for the recordings. They spent the summer introducing a whole new generation of kids to their sound while touring with Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness and Dashboard Confessional. This year has been the busiest for musicians since before the pandemic, and Josh noted how difficult it was to find venues to play in, as there were multiple shows happening each night in every city they visited. While Riot Fest was the final show on their 2022 tour, they have plans for touring in 2023, yet to be announced.
Less Than Jake brought all the horns and energy that one would expect from the ska legends. It was absolute chaos from beginning to end, complete with toilet paper shooters and a massive skank pit. They opened their set with “Automatic” and played a variety of fan favorites including “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” and “Last One Out of Liberty City”. Closing their set with “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads”, a personal favorite. This was one set that I was determined to stick around for the entire thing! I stood in the crowd, about ten people away from the skank pit, and as the set went on, I ended up right on the edge of the pit. It grew consistently and enthusiastically as the group shot toilet paper streams over the crowd.
I was already at the Radical Stage for LTJ, so I figured I’d stick around for Pvris. I didn’t realize how excited I would be to photograph Lynn Gunn. They opened with “Dead Weight”, a song I’d been jamming to since its release in 2020, so I was hype from the start. They continued to get the crowd dancing to songs from the latest record, Use Me, throwing in an oldie or two.
I was able to get to the press tent in time for a decent view of the end of Jimmy Eat World’s set. I caught “The Middle” and that was more than enough to make my teen emo heart happy.
Ever since I started watching that show where Action Bronson and his friends get high and watch Ancient Aliens (it was on Viceland - and it was awesome) back in 2016, I’d been wanting to see him perform. So when I saw his name on the lineup for Riot Fest, I was stoked. He opened his set with “Hound Dog”, seamlessly transitioning into “Dmtri” and so on.
At this point, there were well over 50 photographers waiting in line to photograph their favorite act, so I rushed to the Roots Stage to get in line for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Because there were so many of us, they instructed the first group to cover the first song and a half, rotating out to the next group. It was hectic and super fast paced, but I then understood what the hype about Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were about.. They opened with “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” and the whole thing was just as momentous and cinematic as you might have expected.
After my song and a half of photographing, myself and another photographer sprinted together back to the Rise Stage for Ice Cube. We made it back at the very end of Action Bronson’s set, just in time for him to say “I love you motherfuckers” and throw his mic into the air.
Ice Cube began his set by announcing “let’s keep it gangsta tonight,” as he took the stage with fellow NWA member MC Ren. They started with “Natural Born Killaz”, continuing a mini NWA reunion with Yella on the turntables. The nostalgia continued as they performed “You Know How We Do It’ and “Straight Outta Compton”, finishing the night with “It Was A Good Day”.
Nine Inch Nails finished off the night at the Riot Stage, wrapping up the festival with aggression and fire. I was staying at a hostel downtown and I knew just how insane it would be getting out of the park and into the city at the end of this night. I stuck around long enough to hear “Closer” and headed for the Pink Line.
Sunday was by far my busiest day of the weekend. I managed to photograph nine acts and saw at least a dozen. There was no lack of talent and passion at Riot Fest this year, each day better than the last. From Foxy Shazam to The Wonder Years, Yungblud and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the weekend was packed with amazing set after amazing set. If you attended, who was your favorite set of the weekend!?
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