What began as a modest multi-venue club festival in Chicago just over a decade 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. 15-17, Riot Fest returns to its home of Douglas Park, and with a somewhat paired down but every bit as expertly curated lineup, 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 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 ten picks from each day of the fest. Grab tickets here if you still need ’em, find full festival details (along with after party info and more) right here, and check out our picks below for 30 Riot Fest performances you don’t want to miss!
#10: SLEEP ON IT
Friday | Radicals Stage | 1:50pm
Hometown boys Sleep On It are fast becoming one of the most exciting pop punk bands in the Chicago scene, and with their debut full-length, Overexposed, right around the corner, there’s never been a better time to check them out.
LISTEN | “Unspoken”
#9: SKATING POLLY
Friday | Roots Stage | 12:00pm
Fusing riot grrrl-inspired punk, alternative folk, indie pop, and grunge, young Oklahoma City sibling trio Skating Polly are skilled beyond their years, having already shared the states with the likes of X, The Flaming Lips, and more.
LISTEN | “Pretective Boy”
#8: THE HOTELIER
Friday | Heather Owen Stage | 4:00pm
Massachusetts emo/indie group The Hotelier have been an underground favorite for several years, and after their unbelievable sophomore effort, Home, Like Noplace Is There and last year’s equally breathtaking Goodness, they’re on a path to true greatness.
LISTEN | “Soft Animal”
Friday | Roots Stage | 1:25pm
Dennis Lyxzén delivered one of the best Riot Fest sets of last year with his hardcore group Refused, and returns this year with INVSN, which began as a folky solo project before morphing into the post-punk leaning outfit it is today.
LISTEN | “Down in the Shadows”
#6: ACTION BRONSON
Friday | Rise Stage | 4:05pm
A former professional chef, New York rapper Action Bronson has recently been cultivating a second career as a traveling TV food personality, but his Wu Tang-esque, old school New York, sharp hip hop style is why he’s a must-see.
LISTEN | “Baby Blue” ft. Chance the Rapper
#5: RADAR STATE
Friday | Heather Owen Stage | 3:00pm
Featuring The Get Up Kids’ Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic, The Anniversary’s Josh Berwanger, and drummer Adam Phillips, The Anniversary are a verifiable supergroup of Kansas City emo legends- new, but with enough pedigree to warrant a lot of buzz.
LISTEN | “Double Speak”
Friday | Riot Stage | 3:55pm
They’ve seen members come and go, but save for most of the ’80, long-running English punk legends Buzzcocks have remained a constant fixture in the scene, still best known for their incredible late ’70s early output.
LISTEN | “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?”
Friday | Roots Stage | 3:05pm
Another hugely influential legendary punk act, LA mainstays X are celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band, renowned as one of the first true west coast punk acts, known for incorporating rockabilly to help influence cowpunk.
LISTEN | “Los Angeles”
#2: NINE INCH NAILS
Friday | Riot Stage | 8:30pm
In recent years, Nine Inch Nails seem to awaken every few years, as frontman/mastermind Trent Reznor maintains a busy schedule (and award winning run as a composer). The industrial rock icons are back in full swing, and nothing short of stunning in concert.
LISTEN | “Closer”
#1: NEW ORDER
Friday | Roots Stage | 7:10pm
Formed from the untimely and tragic demise of Joy Division, English post-punk/synthpop pioneers New Order had an immeasurable influence on ’80s dance music, and have continued to innovate, maintaining a reputation as one of the greatest bands alive.
LISTEN | “Ceremony”
Saturday | Heather Owen Stage | 1:00pm
Chicago locals Turnspit play a thoughtful, earnest, melodic flavor of punk with a touch of folk and even country influence, making them a wonderful choice for earlybirds before Saturday’s schedule gets impossibly packed.
LISTEN | “To the Moon and Back”
#9: POTTY MOUTH
Saturday | Heather Owen Stage | 5:00pm
LA pop punk trio Potty Mouth have been drumming up buzz in recent years, and after an opening run with CHVRCHES last year, they seem poised to break out to broader, well-deserved attention at any moment- don’t snooze on them!
LISTEN | “Cherry Picking”
#8: SHABAZZ PALACES
Saturday | Radicals Stage | 3:15pm
Seattle alt/experimental hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces have been honing their absolutely incredible, genre-bending sound since 2011 debut Black Up and masterful followup, Lese Majesty; on the heels of new music, it’s a great time to catch them.
LISTEN | “Shine a Light” ft. Thaddillac
#7: NEW FOUND GLORY
Saturday | Rise Stage | 7:00pm
Pop punk pioneers New Found Glory have spent the last few months on the road celebrating their 20th anniversary, but they also have a new LP, Makes Me Sick, out as well, making Riot Fest a great forum to mine from their entire catalogue.
LISTEN | “My Friends Over You”
#6: THE REGRETTES
Saturday | Heather Owen Stage | 6:00pm
The latest project from precocious 16-year-old Lydia Night, LA’s The Regrettes are fast establishing themselves as a formidable force in the rock scene, combining an affinity for retro pop and doo-wop with grungy, contepomnry garage punk stylings.
LISTEN | “Hey Now”
Saturday | Riot Stage | 2:35pm
For decades, Canadian electropunk Peaches has carved a niche for crafting sexual, overt, dance ready songs that have made her a soundtrack staple, in-demand collaborator, and feminist icon, and she’s still as intense and inspired as ever.
LISTEN | “Fuck the Pain Away”
#4: BAD BRAINS
Saturday | Radicals Stage | 4:40pm
Still largely intact from their earliest days, D.C. punks Bad Brains had an immeasurable influence on the scene, paving the way for the hardcore gold era of the ’80s, and laying the groundwork for many of their Riot Fest peers.
LISTEN | “Banned in D.C.”
#3: WU-TANG CLAN
Saturday | Radicals Stage | 8:00pm
It’s never clear how much of the Wu-Tang Clan you’re going to get at any given festival (it’s rarely all of them), but the fact that they’re set to play 36 Chambers in full automatically makes this an essential set for any real hip hop fan.
LISTEN | “C.R.E.A.M.”
#2: QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
Saturday | Riot Stage | 8:45pm
Back in action with perhaps their most experimental album ever, famed California alt rockers Queens of the Stone Age might not seem like the most exciting choice of headliner, but once you see them in person, you’ll definitely get it.
LISTEN | “The Way You Used to Do”
Saturday | Roots Stage | 5:20pm
Glenn Danzig helped deliver perhaps the most important Riot Fest set of all time last year, reunited with his former Misfits bandmates for the first time in decades. This year, he’s back to play Danzig III: How the Gods Kill in full.
LISTEN | “How the Gods Kill”
#10: DOWNTOWN BOYS
Sunday | Rise Stage | 1:00pm
Politically charged Providence punks Downtown Boys are a band we’ve had an eye on for a minute, and with their recent Sub Pop debut, Cost of Living, we suspect they’re about to pick up traction pretty quick- give ’em a listen!
LISTEN | “Lips That Bite”
#9: BEST COAST
Sunday | Radicals Stage | 6:45pm
Breezy Los Angeles indie pop duo Best Coast are currently on the road with Paramore, and we’re glad that they’re making an appearance at Riot Fest as well, bringing their retro, earnest, harmony-laden vibes in tow.
LISTEN | “I Wanna Know”
#8: SAY ANYTHING
Sunday | Radicals Stage | 3:00pm
Now presented more as the solo vehicle for frontman Max Bemis it’s really always been, Say Anything has become something of a transcendent punk rock institution, subverting genre expectations and amassing a cult following along the way.
LISTEN | “Give a Damn”
#7: TV ON THE RADIO
Sunday | Rise Stage | 6:00pm
Longrunning Brooklyn indie/art rockers TV on the Radio bring some nice range to Riot Fest, their smart, expansive and genre-bending style perfectly primed for a festival stage, hopefully destined to expand the minds of some staunch punks.
LISTEN | “Careful You”
#6: BUILT TO SPILL
Sunday | Rise Stage | 4:20pm
Indie rock institution Built to Spill are a welcome name on any festival lineup regardless, but the fact that they’re set to play their 1999 fan favorite fourth LP, Keep It Like a Secret, in full makes this an especially cool chance to see them.
LISTEN | “Carry the Zero”
#5: DINOSAUR JR.
Sunday | Riot Stage | 6:35pm
Another of the ten bands pegged for a full album set this year, alt rock pioneers Dinosaur Jr., always a festival favorite, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough, somewhat misunderstand effort You’re Living All Over Me.
LISTEN | “Watch the Corners”
#4: THAT DOG.
Sunday | Riot Stage | 2:15pm
Beloved LA alt rockers That Dog. are apparently working on new music for the first time since reuniting in 2011 (!!!), but for Riot Fest, they’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of their third (and, until now, final) LP, Retreat from the Sun.
LISTEN | “Retreat from the Sun”
#3: CAP’N JAZZ
Sunday | Riot Stage | 4:25pm
After 15 year of dormancy, Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz, under-appreciated in their short run, but posthumous emo legends, briefly returned in 2010 and released an anthology, re-imerging once more this year for a rare handful of shows.
LISTEN | “Little League”
Sunday | Radicals Stage | 8:00pm
The only Nashville band on the Riot Fest bill this year, alt rockers Paramore are having a huge 2017 thanks to their incredible new album, After Laughter, and the reinvigorating return of original drummer (and friend of the site) Zac Farro.
LISTEN | “Hard Times”
Sunday | Riot Stage | 8:45pm
Though not as flashy as the inexplicable, genuine Misfits reunion last year, Jawbreaker’s return is every bit as shocking as monumental. After 20 years of shooting down any hope, the trailblazing punks, criminally under-appreciated in their day, are back for what might be a very short window. Consider this the weekend’s most indispensable set.
LISTEN | “Accident Prone”