Two of my favorite people in life had the chance to hit up this years Riot Fest Chicago in, you guessed it, Chicago. Pete and Mary Alice were gracious enough to share their experience with me and all you crazy readers out there.
Riot Fest, for those of you who may not know, is basically a 5 day punk rock Lollapalooza. Instead of me listing all of the bands here, I felt it best for a busy guy like myself to post the concert poster of it:
Pete, aka The Electric Grandmother, has been a good friend of mine since the days when I was young. We have always shared a true love for punk rock and even if he keeps telling me over and over that punk is dead, I know he is not speaking of the punk that binds our friendship so strongly.
Please enjoy Pete and Mary Alice’s hilarious and heartfelt story/review about the time they left Ohio to see some classic punk rockers play out in Chi-Town.
Thanks guys for the share! I turn it over to Pete now:
It’s Friday morning, and we’re about to get breakfast at Wendy’s in the Columbus airport. Two young ladies are waiting in line with us, one with green hair and one with pink hair, both decked from top to bottom with authentic punk rock garb. “You guys going to Riot Fest?” I asked them. “Yeah, which night are you going?” the green-haired girl responded. “Um,” I swallowed. “All three nights.” After breakfast, as I walked with our laptop slung over my shoulder, hand in hand with my beautiful well-dressed wife, I realized that we had officially become yuppie-punks.
Who’d of thought? Not me, but then again I never picture myself in the future, I just do a lot of planning ahead. It wasn’t careful planning, but an uncharacteristic spur of the moment idea by my wife and I to go see our beloved Screeching Weasel in Chicago at the 2009 Riot Fest. Those who know my wife Mary Alice know that she only travels in style, and since I’m lucky enough to be attached to her, I travel in style by proxy. Here’s me getting punk rock in our hotel room:
And here’s my wife showing everyone how a hotel robe should be worn:
After an exciting trip to the newly renamed Willis Tower, we ventured downtown to the Congress Theater for the first of three Riot Fest nights. The doors opened at the venue at 5:30 PM, and we left our hotel room at 7:45, as we were only interested in seeing the Dead Milkmen, the fourth of five bands scheduled to perform that night (told ya we were yuppies). Being that we hail from Columbus, the land of late-starting shows, we figured we’d be there in plenty of time – not so. When we arrived at the Congress, the Milks were already 10 minutes into their set. We were a bit disappointed, but not crushed since we’re hardly Dead Milkmen aficionados. We found out later that we had missed them performing “Punk Rock Girl,” but did manage to catch “Bitchin’ Camaro,” as well as a few other well known singles that poseurs like us enjoy. The staff at the venue seemed really cool, and the crowd in attendance made us not feel too old to be there. There were lots of people there in their 30s and 40s, interspersed with the kids that were born after the Dead Milkmen were formed. We left before the Murder City Devils came on, because we’re old and don’t like to watch bands that we know nothing about. All in all, we were at the venue for maybe 45 minutes. Such poseurs. We went back to our fancy hotel and drank until bedtime.
The girls who we met at the airport said they were going only to see Cock Sparrer, a 70s/80s-era Cockney-Oi!-Working Class-Skin-Et Cetera band who reform occasionally to do Oi! things on stage. We managed to catch Cock Sparrer on Saturday, as we had made sure to leave early to catch NOFX, a longtime favorite of ours that has enjoyed a listening renaissance with us in the past year. We made sure to go to the venue’s upper balcony while Cock Sparrer performed, as we wanted no part of the inevitable skinhead roughhousing that was to occur below. We ended up enjoying the band on many levels, and they seemed like cool people. They were nice bald guys in their 50s, who were just there to perform British working-class anthems for a bunch of rich American kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if that Oi! stuff isn’t my thing, I still enjoy watching a crowd sway and wail and “Whoaaaaa” to Sham 69-style boot boy music. My wife kept laughing at the similar thematic elements in the bands songs, i.e., “This song’s about working!” (Seriously, they have a song called “Working.”)
Cock Sparrer from the balcony
Sorry it’s so blurry, our camera sucks. Look at that well-lit guy at the bottom, that’s weird.
Following the Sparrer was the NOFX. I had seen them perform only once before in 1996, and they were the exact same band – which is a good thing. Fat Mike took the stage wearing Joker makeup, a la the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Following some intro music and a few minutes of self-deprecating jokes, the band launched full speed into the classic “Linoleum,” and the crowd went batshit crazy (as did we). The band then proceeded to hammer through their (45-60 minute?) set in maniacal fashion, only occasionally interrupted by the trademark crowd-baiting banter from Fat Mike, which included his teaching a 12-year old audience member the definition of “Felching.” It was very cool to see all the characters that we’ve come to know from viewing NOFX: Backstage Passport multiple times, not just the band, but the wacky road/tech guys that work with them. Our favorite is Kent, who Mary Alice got a picture of while working the sound board (see below). The entire set was superb, except for their closing lip-sync dance number to Avenue Q’s “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” I wouldn’t call it un-funny, just wasted time where they could have played more songs. Perhaps the funniest moment of the weekend occurred after we left the venue. A school bus was parked out front to haul some of the crowd to an after party. People out front were laughing and taunting them while they hung out of the windows of the bus, and the bus crew were yelling back in turn. As we were walking down the street to catch a train back to our hotel, the school bus passed by with all the punks hanging out of the windows, making horrendous noise and yelling at people on the street. Right before the bus left our sight, we saw the emergency roof on the top of the bus being opened by someone, who then stuck there head out into the night air. Never had I seen such a hilarious and encouraging sight. Watching it made me feel like a teenager again, and gave me hope for the future. Poor bus driver, though.
Fat Mike aka Cokie the Clown
Sunday night found us at a cool little restaurant having dinner with an old friend before heading to the Congress to see the one and only Screeching Weasel. Much like the Dead Milkmen on Friday, the Weas were not the headlining band, so we knew we had to get there with plenty of time to spare. After leaving the restaurant, we were under the impression that we were very early to see the band; we were not. As we walked up to the balcony to watch what we presumed to be one of the first bands of the night already in progress, my wife turned to me and asked, “Does that sound like Screeching Weasel to you?” I said with utter blind confidence that it didn’t, then ran out to the seating area of the balcony, only to see grumpy frontman Ben Weasel singing about a girl named “Cindy,” who currently was having a problem with methadone. I turned in horror to my wife and stared blankly. “WELL C’MON!” she shrieked, and we bolted down the stairs toward the venue floor.
Mary Alice had the good sense the ask a merch guy how long they had been on, who shrugged and offered that they maybe had been on five minutes. Now normally this kind of situation would make me crazy, and I would not be able to get over how we missed the beginning of their set. But once we stepped on the floor and saw the band under the lights, it didn’t even matter anymore. Sure I’d been drinking, but I was still instantly sobered (ouch, sorry) by the sheer magnitude of it all. Here was a band that I had been following with only my ears for 14 years, and suddenly their songs were coming to life before my eyes. I had never seen Ben Weasel or Dan Vapid (the only two classic/recognizable of five band members anymore) move around before, and I was just mesmerized. I’m not usually that much of a fan-boy geek, but I couldn’t help it. The songs being performed were my life, and represented so much of the life my wife and I have made together. During one of the last songs, my wife and I turned to each other and kissed amongst the surrounding mass of humanity. At that moment she and I were the only ones there, and band was performing just for two lovers.
Now that you’ve barfed, I’ll just say that it was a great time. The staff and crowd were getting irritable and stressed after three chaotic nights, Mary Alice was underwhelmed by Screeching Weasel’s performance as it compared to NOFX’s the previous night, I really had to pee after their set, but none of it even mattered.
We were all that mattered.