What began as a modest multi-venue club festival in Chicago 15 years ago, and has, over the years, grown to become the city’s second-largest music fest, just behind Lollapalooza, the punk-centric Riot Fest is now a certifiable institution, spawning spinoffs in various other cities across North America, while doubling down on its Chi-Town roots, with jaw dropping, headline grabbing lineups and major reunions in recent years. This weekend, Sept. 13-15, Riot Fest returns to its home of Douglas Park, and with the same streamlined and expertly curated lineup we’ve come to expect in recent years, the event reigns as not just one of the year’s best punk festivals, but one of the best festivals around period. Per usual, Riot Fest Chicago’s entire bill is absolutely stacked from top to bottom, and we’re road-tripping north to be there in person. In case you’re ready to Riot too (or if you’re joining us from elsewhere), we’ve put together another handy festival guide, with our top twelve picks from each day of the fest. Grab tickets at a variety of options and amenity levels here if you still need ’em, find full festival details (along with after party info and more) right here, download the fest’s official app and follow along on social media for the latest updates (times and details are always subject to change), and check out our picks below for 36 Riot Fest performances you don’t want to miss!
#12: NO PARENTS
Friday | Rise Stage | 12:40-1:25pm
Born out of LA’s DIY punk and art scene, No Parents have, over the past few years, earned a reputation for their wild, energetic, and unpredictable live show and hard-hitting yet poppy fusion of punk and garage rock. If you need an early afternoon wakeup on Friday, they’ll surely do the trick.
WATCH | “History” (Official Music Video)
#11: THIN LIPS
Friday | Rebel Stage | 1:00-1:30pm
A part of Philly’s flourishing indie punk scene, Thin Lips‘ recent sophomore LP Chosen Family is one of our favorite records of the year so far, produced by Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan and Joe Reinhar, and channeling the scrappy, earnest, riff-infused sound the Philly scene seems to have perfected.
WATCH | “A Song for Those Who Miss You All the Time” (Official Music Video)
#10: PKEW PKEW PKEW
Friday | Radicals Stage | 11:55am-12:35pm
Since breaking out with their eponymous debut LP in 2016, Toronto punks Pkew Pkew Pkew have fast become one of our favorite bands on the rise, adopting a similarly catchy, energetic, beer-soaked sound of peers like PUP. Their set’s early, but their first-pumping, propulsive punk is worth punctuality.
WATCH | “I Don’t Matter At All” (Official Music Video)
#9: HOT SNAKES
Friday | Roots Stage | 3:20-4:20pm
Formed 20 years ago by Rick Froberg and John Reis of legendary San Diego group Drive Like Jehu, post-hardcore group Hot Snakes have only been intermittently active over the last decade, notably returning last year with their first LP since ’04. Not as well-known as some of their other projects, don’t let this set slip under your radar!
WATCH | “Six Wave Hold Down” (live)
#8: COCK SPARRER
Friday | Radicals Stage | 4:40-5:40pm
Riot Fest is great about booking both famed classic acts, and influential ones who never quite got their due outside of the punk world. Seminal English group Cock Sparrer fall into the latter camp, formed in the early ’70s and immeasurable in their influence on punk (particularly the Oi! subgenre), despite never achieving widespread commercial success. A few breakups aside, they’ve been going strong with their original lineup since ’72 which in of itself is an amazing feat.
LISTEN | “Take ‘Em All” (Official Music Video)
#7: DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL
Friday | Riot Stage | 6:35-7:35pm
After pausing the project for a few years, we’ve been thrilled to watch Chris Carrabba return fully to his beloved emo group Dashboard Confessional, dropping a pretty good, long-overdue seventh LP in 2018. DC’s high on our Riot Fest list, however, because they’ll be performing breakthrough 2001 album (and fan-favorite) The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most in full, in all of its nostalgic, ’00s emo glory.
WATCH | “Screaming Infidelities” (Official Music Video)
#6: THE GET UP KIDS
Friday | Rise Stage | 4:15-5:00pm
Though they’ve been reunited now for over a decade, it took more than eight years between records for The Get Up Kids‘ latest LP, Problems, to arrive. Thankfully, it’s their best since the mid ’00s, providing a fitting update on the earnest, indie and emo sound that made them one of the most beloved and influential bands in the scene. And of course, the group who made Something to Write Home About will never not be high on our list.
WATCH | “Satellite” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Rise Stage | 7:15-8:15pm
One of Southern California’s preeminent punk acts, long-running rockers the Descendents helped pave the way for pop punk and skate punk, fusing melodic hardcore into their catchy, propulsive punk sound in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A few breakups aside, they’ve remained a dependable live fixture over the decades, retuning about once every 10 years since the ’90s with a pretty excellent new album. No strangers to Riot Fest, they’re always a must-see.
WATCH | “I’m the One” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Radicals Stage | 7:40-8:40pm
Riot Fest has stages literally named for Rancid lyrics, so you know the West Coast punks are an essential act of the weekend. After achieving cult fame with prior ska punk group Operation Ivy, Rancid managed to bring their scrappy, approachable punk to the masses, breaking into the mainstream with the pop punk explosion of the ’90s. More recently, they’ve settled into being icons of the scene, remaining true to their punk roots in sound and attitude.
WATCH | “Time Bomb” (Official Music Video)
#3: THE FLAMING LIPS
Friday | Roots Stage | 7:40-8:40pm
While they boast one of the most fun, unique, transcendent, positive, and trippy live shows in the world, if you’ve seen psych rockers The Flaming Lips many times like we have, you more or less know what you’re getting. What still makes them so high on our list this year is that they’re set to play their seminal (and perhaps best) album, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, in full, more than enough to make even the most jaded longtime Lips fan giddy.
WATCH | “Do You Realize??” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Riot Stage | 8:45-10:00pm
Though the absence of co-frontman Tom DeLonge is still not ideal, especially when they’re set to play classic, breakout, influential pop punk album Enema of the State in full without him, Blink-182 have really come into their own over the past few years with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. And, honestly, they’re better live than they were in later years with DeLonge. Enema might feel a bit like a cover set, but Blink are still one of the most beloved, important pop punk bands of all time, and we’re surely be singing along.
WATCH | “All the Small Things” (Official Music Video)
Friday | Rise Stage | 8:45-9:45pm
After more than 20 years of being relegated to legend, presumed never to return, cult favorite punk group Jawbreaker mounted a stunning reunion for Riot Fest 2017. That headlining set (and a couple of warmup shows) was initially meant to be a one-time occurrence, but went over so well, it prompted the band to fully reunite. A documentary and tour have followed, and new music is reportedly in the works. The lack of impermanence has dropped them down from main headliner this time, but we’re still geeking out over the unlikely return of one of punk and emo’s best bands of all time, after fearing them lost to history for several decades. It’s a huge bummer they’re slotted against Blink, but after a couple years back together to get their footing, we have no doubt their Riot Fest return will be even better than last time, and urge you to at least split your time.
WATCH | “Boxcar” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Rebel Stage | 5:05-5:45pm
With their earnest and resonant fusion of indie, emo, and post-hardcore, Atlanta’s Microwave have become one of our favorite bands of the last few years. And with a new record out Riot Fest weekend, their killer live show is sure to feature some fresh jams you won’t want to miss!
WATCH | “Dull” (Official Music Video)
#11: THE DAMNED THINGS
Saturday | Rebel Stage | 3:55-4:35pm
Saturday sports one metal-ass lineup, so it might be easy to overlook The Damned Things. Boasting members of Anthrax, Every Time I Die, Fall Out Boy, and Alkaline Trio, however, this heavy metal supergroup, with a new LP in tow, are not to be missed- especially on this tiny stage!
WATCH | “Cells” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Riot Stage | 6:20-7:20pm
After pulling double duty in The Damned Things, Scott Ian will rock the main stage with his legendary thrash metal group Anthrax, performing a set of fan requests. One of the big four, along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer (who play later in the day), the long-running and hugely influential group are a must-see for any fan of legit, ’80s metal.
WATCH | “Madhouse” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Riot Stage | 2:45-3:30pm
GWAR and Riot Fest feel like a match made in heaven (or maybe hell), providing a perfect outlet for the Virginia group’s gory and conceptual thematic show and thrash metal riffage. It worked out well that they’re playing alongside so many metal legends this year, as GWAR’s musicality is often overshadowed by their in-character, bloody, immersive theatrics.
WATCH | “Let Us Slay” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Radicals Stage | 6:00-7:00pm
Breaking out in a big way with excellent 2014 debut LP White Noise, Massachusetts trio PVRIS have become one of the most interesting new bands in the punk sphere in recent years, anchored by inimitable singer Lynn Gunn. Channeling a dark, synthy, electropop sound with alt and post-hardcore bite, they’re a certifiable crossover success and a favorite of the festival circuit.
WATCH | “Hallucinations” (Official Music Video)
#7: MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA
Saturday | Rise Stage | 7:15-8:00pm
Atlanta indie rockers Manchester Orchestra have always straddled the line between the punk and emo world and the boarder indie rock scene at large, attracting a massive, crossover cult following over the past 15 years thanks to their incredible, genre-bending, artsy, and resonant style. An unlikely favorite across the whole festival circuit, MO are consistently one of the best live bands around, and one you should see any chance you get.
WATCH | “The Gold” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Rise Stage | 3:45-4:15pm
Nearly 25 years into their run, emo-infused indie rockers Cursive are one of the preeminent acts of Omaha’s impressive scene, breaking out in the early ’00s alongside peers like Bright Eyes. Their 2003 masterpiece The Ugly Organ is not just one of emo’s finest works, but one of the best albums of all time, and recent efforts, including last year’s post-hardcore leaning Vitriloa have kept the group fresh and relevant, even if they’ve never broken out into the mainstream.
WATCH | “The Recluse” (Official Music Video)
#5: BLOC PARTY
Saturday | Rise Stage | 8:45-9:45pm
English indie rockers Bloc Party found massive success in the mid-’00s thanks to their contributions to the post-punk revival, and have remained a dependably solid band since. What makes them our fifth most-anticipated Saturday act, however, is that they’re playing their classic 2005 debut (and most beloved work) Silent Alarm in full, in all of its nostalgic, pioneering post-punk glory.
WATCH | “Helicopter” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Roots Stage | 3:35-4:20pm
Yep, you read that right: Avail are back! The trailblazing Virginia punks, who never officially broke up, but hadn’t shared the stage in 12 years until earlier this summer, are playing their 1998 fourth LP Over the James in full. Never huge, but an awesome punk scene staple of the late ’90s and early ’00s (with frontman Tim Barry going on to a solid solo career), if you missed this band the first time around, you should make their return a must-see!
WATCH | “Simple Song” (Official Music Video)
#3: CHERRY GLAZERR
Saturday | Rise Stage | 1:45-2:15pm
With its classic metal slant, Riot Fest’s Saturday slate is a bit of a dude fest, which makes us even more psyched to see LA garage rock/noise pop outfit Cherry Glazerr, easily one of the coolest bands of the last few years. Fronted by Clementine Creevy, the group’s wild show and grungy, poppy sound hooked us with 2017’s Apocalipstick, and feels even more honed on this year’s stellar Stuffed & Ready. After showing up at fests like Bonnaroo, Riot seems like the most fitting home for this punk-spirited act.
WATCH | “Wasted Nun” (Official Music Video)
Saturday | Riot Stage | 8:30-10:00pm
One of trash metal’s big four, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, Slayer‘s dark, intense, and technical style helped change metal forever in the ’80s, cementing their status as legends of the genre in the decades since. Despite staying fairly active, Slayer announced last year that they’re planning to disband, making this appearance their last ever in Chicago. They’re definitely a bucket list band, even if you’re not a metalhead, so unless you have plans to see them elsewhere, we’d prioritize their Riot set.
WATCH | “Seasons in the Abyss” (Official Music Video)
#1: WU-TANG CLAN
Saturday | Radicals Stage | 7:30-8:30pm
We’ve seen New York hip hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan a number of times, and results may vary, based on who exactly shows up, the vibe of the show, and what they decide to play. They’ve been great at Riot in the past however, and seem to be riding high on lots of nostalgia and buzz lately, with a new dramatic series and documentary both drumming up accolades, all of which combined gives us a very optimistic feeling that this is going to be a prime Wu outing. One of the best and most important hip hop groups ever, their welcome addition to an otherwise more homogenous lineup shoots them to the top of our anticipation level.
WATCH | “C.R.E.A.M.” (Official Music Video)
Sunday | Radicals Stage | 12:25-12:55pm
Sunday’s lineup boasts an especially great, eclectic crop of smaller artists on the rise, making it hard to narrow down our recommendations. Hometown Chicago act Ganser, however, really caught our ear, thanks to their stylish, artsy, gothic post-punk sound and impossibly cool vibe.
WATCH | “Bad Form” (Official Music Video)
#11: SKATING POLLY
Sunday | Riot Stage | 1:00-1:35pm
Though still in their teens, Oklahoma grungy, indie alt/punk sibling group Skating Polly have been making music together for a decade, drawing praise early on from groups like X and The Flaming Lips. Indebted to Bikini Kill and the riot grrrl scene, it feels so perfect that they should help kick off Sunday.
WATCH | “Camelot” (Official Music Video)
#10: SINCERE ENGINEER
Sunday | Rebel Stage | 3:40-4:20pm
Another up and comer we encourage you not to overlook, Chicago’s own Sincere Engineer is the introspective punk and emo project of local scene staple Deanna Belos. Propulsive, heartfelt, and earnest, Belos’ confessional writing style and knack for catchy melodies had us immediately hooked.
WATCH | “Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7” (Official Music Video)
#9: THE B-52’S
Sunday | Radicals Stage | 5:15-6:15pm
Given their frequent touring and festival outings in recent years, it seemed that seminal Athens New Wave group The B-52’s would be playing shows forever. The group recently caught up by surprise, however, announcing their attention to disband after their current tour cycle, making this your last chance to see them in Chicago. They’re true musical legends, and another bucket list band you must see live, even if you only know “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack.”
WATCH | “Rock Lobster” (Official Music Video)
#8: WHITE REAPER
Sunday | Roots Stage | 1:40-2:20pm
Louisville’s White Reaper have been on a serious hot streak for the past few years, attracting indie and garage rock cred with their 2015 debut, hitting anthemic, poppy heights with a 2017 followup, and again subverting expectations and exploring new musical realms with recent singles, ahead of a third album this fall. We’ve watched them grow from tiny unknowns to opening for The Killers, all the while perfecting one of the best live shows around. Don’t sleep on this band!
WATCH | “Might Be Right” (Official Music Video)
#7: TAKING BACK SUNDAY
Sunday | Rise Stage | 8:15-9:45pm
One of the most seminal and beloved acts of the ’00s emo and post-hardcore scene, Taking Back Sunday are regular Riot Fest favorites, and a band we’ve loved for many years. What makes this year’s return extra special, however, is that they’ll be performing their classic debut Tell All Your Friends AND their breakout third album (and enduring fan favorite) Louder Now both in full. We’ll take any TBS show, but this one promises to be extra magical.
WATCH | “Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)” (Official Music Video)
Sunday | Roots Stage | 3:10-3:50pm
Call us suckers for shoegaze, but long-running English group Ride might be the best band on Sunday’s bill likely to float under the radar. Notably featuring Andy Bell, who went on to join Oasis, Ride put out an incredible string of albums in the early ’90s, before calling it quits for nearly 20 years. Since reuniting in 2015, and amidst a renewed interest in shoegaze as a whole, they’ve picked up where they left up with two great new records.
WATCH | “Vapour Trail” (Official Music Video)
#5: THE STARTING LINE
Sunday | Rise Stage | 6:45-7:45pm
One of the best pop punk bands of the 2000s, Philly’s The Starting Line are a weird example of a group who never really broke up, yet remain so intermittently active that every show nowadays feels like a reunion or special occasion. Just based on scarcity of opportunity alone, if you jammed Say It Like You Mean It, Based on a True Story, and Direction as hard as we did, you’ll want to savor every second of their Riot Fest set.
WATCH | “Best of Me” (Official Music Video)
#4: AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Sunday | Rise Stage | 5:30-6:15pm
Until just a few years ago, Illinois’ American Football were essentially relegated to emo lore; a band who existed for only a few years, made up of members of now legendary prior and subsequent groups, who only ever released one album in ’99 before quickly disbanding, an LP which gained a massive cult-following and persistent, enduring influence and legacy. Inexplicably, the group reunited in 2014, and have since released two more albums, gracefully infusing their modern sensibilities into their classic sound, met with a fervent new audience and again becoming an influential cult act. Like Jawbreaker, we still can’t get over the shock of their return, and relish any chance still to see them live.
WATCH | “Never Meant” (Official Music Video)
#3: AGAINST ME!
Sunday | Riot Stage | 3:55-5:10pm
As we’ve written about time and time again, Florida formed (and now partially Chicago based) punk outfit Against Me! are one of our absolute favorite bands of all time. Their Riot fest sets are always extra special, but this year they’ll one-up themselves, incorporating a current full-album tour to perform their beloved 2002 debut Reinventing Axl Rose and incredible 2014 effort Transgender Dysphoria Blues both in full (with two other LPs performed at a sold out Saturday night after show). They’ll receive one of the longest set times of the weekend to do so, which is welcome news as well.
WATCH | “Black Me Out” (Official Music Video)
#2: PATTI SMITH AND HER BAND
Sunday | Riot Stage | 6:20-7:20pm
Riot Fest has hosted an endless array of legends over the years, but we’re still pinching ourselves over the inclusion of the one and only Patti Smith. The influential author and poet is one of the most important fixtures of New Year’s transformative 1970s punk movement, and to this day remains one of the most legendary and celebrated artists of all time. Smith and her band being slotted before Bikini Kill feels extra perfect, and if Patti is somehow before your time and not on your radar, we urge you to give Horses a spin and make her Sunday set one of your top weekend priorities.
WATCH | “Because the Night” (live)
#1: BIKINI KILL
Sunday | Riot Stage | 8:30-9:45pm
From the moment Bikini Kill announced New York and LA shows earlier this year, we hoped with every fiber of our being that they’d appear at Riot Fest, and were so thankful when that channeled manifestation came into being. Pioneers of the riot grrrl movement and one of the most important acts of the Pacific Northwest punk scene of the early ’90s, for the 22 years they were split, the band not only became even more legendary, but frequently topped persistent punk reunion wish lists. Members have gone on to found other great projects, but Bikini Kill will always be one of the most important and beloved, a leading voice for feminism in punk whose attitude still rings just as necessary today. Not only our top pick for Sunday, but our most-anticipated of the entire weekend, until we hear otherwise, it’s unclear how widespread or long-lasting this reunion will be, and we urge you to cherish every second of it.
WATCH | “Rebel Girl”