Riot Fest Chicago
Article by ~Empress K
Originating in Chicago as a Punk Rock Festival in 2005 at multiple venues located throughout the city, the festival took root in an outdoor location only four years ago in Humboldt Park and this year it moved to its new location at Douglas Park. Riot Fest has now evolved into the 2nd largest Festival held in Chicago, second only to the infamous Lollapalooza festival – with its own broad variety of music for a slightly more mature crowd than Lollapalooza.
Where else could you expect to see Punk, Heavy Metal, Rock, Pop-rock, County, Hip Hop and of course our favor genre of Reggae all at the same three day festival. Genres of music only separated by the seven stages scattered throughout Douglas Park. And let’s not forget the full scale Carnival smack in the middle of the park, complete with a giant ferris wheel, amusement rides, cotton candy, and funnel cakes much more carnival fanfare! The multi-day festival has since expanded its foot print to include stops in Denver and Toronto.
One of the main attractions in Chicago this year for us, was the wide variety of Reggae acts featured at Riot Fest including Lee Scratch Perry, Dirty Heads, Slightly Stoopid, and Jimmy Cliff as well as the Catch A Fire artists in the middle of their month-long tour: Skip Marley, Black-Am-I, Jo Mersa Marley, Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage, Stephen Marley and Damian Marley. The Reggae artists paired with the legendary acts of No Doubt, Billy Idol, Fishbone, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and much more made this a not to miss festival.
Marked by rain in past years, this year’s experience was no exception. By the time we arrived at the park Friday afternoon, the rain had fortunately cleared – for that day anyway and it was time to check out the surroundings!
Fishbone, a band well known for their multi-genre fusion of rock, punk, and ska unleashed a killer set on the main Riot stage mid afternoon under the now cloudy skies. By the time they performed their hit song , Everyday Sunshine’(also the title of their 2012 released documentary), right on cue the sun was shining! Fishbone is not to miss on the live circuit. They have been consistently touring in support of their latest project, Instrincically Intertwined, an EP released in 2014 and have plans to release more music next year.
Lee Scratch Perry, the pioneer of Dub was the first Reggae act for us to see on the Roots stage. He arrived on Jamaican time – about 20 minutes late to his set. We understand he was delayed by traffic getting to the park and since we also struggled with that earlier in the day, we could certainly relate to that dilemma! DJ Emch, the mastermind of the Subatomic Sound System that he tours with and Perry’s very capable supporting vocalist, Dezerie Braithwaite along with legendary percussionist, Larry McDonald and a saxophonist easily kept the audience entertained until Perry decked out in a colorful “Perry-esque” outfit arrived.
Lee Scratch Perry at the young age of 79 was on a month-long tour across the US celebrating the 40th anniversary of his legendary album, Super Ape. Perry is also the subject of a new documentary, Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise, a culmination of 15 years of documentary footage, which debuted earlier this year. Perry’s age seems to transcend time; during our interview after his performance, when asked how he stays so young, he describes himself as “Working for the spirit and the spirit keeping him young as the reward.” It’s obvious that Lee Scratch Perry may not slow down anytime soon.
Chef’Special a young five piece band from the Netherlands comprised of lead singer, Joshua Nolel; guitarist, Guido Joseph; bass player, Jan Derks; keyboardist, Wouter Heeren; and drummer, Wooter Proudon are on their first US tour and were very enthusiastic when we spoke to them about their debut at Riot Fest as well as their upcoming tour dates. They’ve all been together since 2008 and have already made a name for themselves in their homeland, touring extensively across Europe. Now they have a chance to earn new fans while they are making their way across America on a nation-wide tour with Boston based band, Aer. Chef’Special had an energetic performance at Riot Fest combining their own style of hip-hop, rock, pop and a bit of reggae mixed in and we have no doubt they will easily acquire a US fan base as well. Look out for their upcoming full length album to be released next year.
It’s been 20 years since No Doubt released their break through album, Tragic Kingdom, however “no doubt” they were exactly where they should be, back on stage headlining on the opening night at the main Riot Stage. Fronted by the ever stylish Gwen Stefani who by the way doesn’t look a day older than her Tragic Kingdom days, didn’t miss a beat as they kicked off their high energy set with Hella Good from their grammy winning, Rocksteady Album (2002) recorded in part in Gee Jam Studios in Portland, Jamaica. They also performed a few other fan favorites from that album including the billboard chart topping songs Underneath it All and Hey Baby produced by Jamaican producers Sly & Robbie, which also features Jamaican recording artists, Lady Saw and Bounty Killer, respectively. The enthusiastic audience didn’t mind at all that the majority of their set included a number of their hit singles from Tragic Kingdom including Don’t Speak, Sunday Morning, Happy Now, Excuse Me Mr, while saving Just a Girl and Spiderwebs for their final song selections making this a most memorable opening night at Riot Fest.
With rain in the forecast again for day 2 of Riot Fest, I timed my arrival to late afternoon to miss out on the downpour that occurred earlier in the day. This did not deter the fans from coming out to the day 2 event, which for the most part was geared to the rock and punk rock crowd. Many fans were well prepared for the aftermath of mud at the park sporting rubber boots – something I will certainly add to my list of festival gear!
Country Legend Merle Haggard 78 years of age and celebrating over 40 years in the music industry was only the 2nd oldest entertainer that we are aware of at Riot Fest. Just one year younger and in a completely different in style than Lee Scratch Perry who we had seen the day before. A large and overflowing audience diverse in age were present at the Riot Stage and certainly excited to watch Merle Haggard and The Strangers perform his catchy sing along country songs including his number one hits and ageless tried and true classics, Mama Tried, and Okie from Muskogee.
“It’s like a memory that will last-Like a postcard from the past-Yesterday is history-It’s there for all the world to see.” Billy Idol has been one of my favorite rock artists from the eighties, however I’ve only managed to see him once at small outdoor setting outside of Montreal some years ago, so I was looking forward to see him once again and check how his performance measured up after all these years. While not looking quite as youthful, Billy Idol still knows how to command the stage while looking as fierce as ever clad in a black leather jacket, pants and boots. The rock infused set started out with a new song, Postcards From The Past from Billy Idol’s seventh and most recent studio album, Kings and Queens of the Underground (2014) before launching into many of his classic hits, that are now unbelievably more than 30 years old including Flesh For Fantasy, Eyes Without a Face, Rebel Yell, and White Wedding including a wonderful acoustic version of it before capping off the evening with the ever popular, crowd singing and dancing along version of the Tommy James song, Mony Mony. It feels like just yesterday that I was watching his videos on MTV. These are great memories from Riot Fest that will certainly last.
On the final day of the Riot Fest, just as the sun finally made it’s full appearance, it was time for an entire day of conscious and uplifting Reggae Vibes on the Roots Stage. Tarrus Riley had the honor of kicking off the sunny afternoon with a longer set than had typically been the norm on the Catch a Fire Tour, which mostly had condensed sets due to early venue curfews. We enjoyed seeing more of Tarrus Riley and the solos highlighted in his set from Dean Fraser and the Blak Soil Band, including a song by his keyboardist, Chris Smith as well as a spotlight on producer and bass legend, Glen Browne.
Once Tarrus kicked off his set, the crowd steadily grew with hard-core Reggae fans as well as other festival attendees that stopped by to check out the music, all “vibzing” to the beat. One couple sporting mohawks and Anthrax T-shirts agreed with a smile for a photo and when I asked them how they were enjoying the Reggae set, the response I received said it all – “How could anyone not love this?” A great testament to the fact that Reggae music can and will bring everyone together. Tarrus’s powerful medley of songs set included popular selections from his always growing catalog of hits including Lion Paw, Superhuman, Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover), My Day, Good Girl Gone Gad, and Gimme Likkle One Drop as well as his original breakthrough hit, She’s Royal. Tarrus also brought a new style of energy to the stage starting with a pre-recorded intro “Someone told me something crazy today, they said it’s ok to be happy!” before performing Powerful, the New Major Lazer song collaboration also featuring Ellie Goulding.
It’s Cool to be Conscious
Since reuniting as band in 2013, Morgan Heritage has released and toured extensively in support of their last two albums Here Comes the Kings in 2013 and Strictly Roots released on their new Cool to be Conscious (CTBC) label earlier this year. Their extended set included a number of crowd pleasing selections from those albums such as Here Comes the Kings, Light It Up, Strictly Roots, Perfect Love Song, and Perform and Done as well as the Morgan Heritage well known classics Nothing to Smile About, Down by the River and Don’t Haffi Dread. Gramps Morgan’s son Jemere Morgan also made a brief appearance during the extended set.
“Lively up yourself, and don’t be no drag
Lively up yourself, Reggae is another bag
Lively up yourself and don’t say no
Lively up yourself, because I said so” Bob Marley
After a brief band change, Stephen Marley’s band opened up the next segment of the show and backed short sets from the next generation of youths from the Ghetto Youths International camp, Black Am I, followed by Stephen Marley’s oldest son, Jo Mersa. With the Reggae crowd continuing to grow, the atmosphere became even more lively as Stephen Marley kicked off his set with a tribute to his father performing, Lively Up Yourself. Stephen’s set highlighted numerous original songs from his 2012 Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life album: Break us Apart, Can’t Keep us Down, and No Cigarette Smoking.
Stephen had the pleasure of introducing the youngest entertainer, his 18 year old nephew Skip Marley to the stage to perform Cry to Me, Skip’s debut single release from earlier this year before Stephen performed a few more Bob Marley classics: Is this Love, Buffalo Soldier, Iron Zion, and Three Little Birds.
Stephen Marley closed out his set with a fitting tribute to the celebration of the next generation on the tour by thanking the younger artists on the tour during the introduction to his his next song and welcomed Jo Mersa back to the stage, adding “Our future is our responsibility. Responsibility goes a long way, this is my son. I say responsibility goes a long way, from generation to generation!” before performing a collaboration with Jo Mersa on Revelation Party from Stephen’s upcoming album Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life.
“You Can get it if you really Want”
Jimmy Cliff had an exuberant set – kicking off with a drum medley for Rivers of Babylon before continuing with an energetic performance singing and reminding everyone in the process that You Can Get It If You Really Want. We met many fans who were very inspired to finally see Jimmy Cliff perform for the first time. And it truly was an inspiration to see Jimmy Cliff perform his mainstream hits from his over 40 year long music career including The Harder they Come, Many Rivers to Cross, Wonderful World – Beautiful People and his covers of Cat Stevens’ Wild World and Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now. He ended his set perfectly with Reggae Night.
“Welcome to Jamrock” at Riot Fest
From the first electrifying notes of the 2013 Skrillex / Damian collaboration, it was time to set the concert into high gear with the crowd’s excitement reaching yet another level as Damian Marley bounded upon the stage performing Bun Dem before launching into Set up Shop setting up the tone for the rest of evening as he performed hits from each of his albums including More Justice, Hey Girl , Beautiful featuring Dean Fraser on a Saxophone Solo, Dispear, Promise Land, Love and Unity, War / No More Trouble, Move / Exodus, Sabali and It Was Written. He also welcomed Stephen Marley back to the stage to perform a few collaborations as well. For the final song before the encore, it was great to see Damian welcome all the artists back to the stage, all smiles and each taking turns singing a verse of the Bob Marley classic, Could You Be Loved. Especially significant this year in Marley history since it coincides with the 70th anniversary celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday. Damian Marley wrapped up the evening with a encore of Get up Stand up, Road to Zion, and his break out song Welcome to Jamrock, which put him on the international map just 10 years ago. He also mixed in a bit of his 2014 release Hard Work. Hard Work indeed it must have been as Damian Marley was instrumental in pulling off some of the most memorable Reggae events I’ve attended in the last couple years: Last year’s inaugural Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise and this year’s month long Catch a Fire Tour including the stop at Rio Fest. However, it’s well worth the hard work it to inspire others in the Reggae industry to follow in the same footsteps. We certainly hope to see many more Reggae bands included in future Riot Fest events as Reggae succeeds in bringing people together in new and unexpected places.