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No Festival Offers a Genuine All Ages Punk Show Like Riot Fest

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13: A fest attendee crowdsurfs at Riot Fest Chicago 2014 at Humboldt Park on September 13, 2014 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Redferns via Getty Images)

If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to dust off some sleeveless black denim, Chicago’s Riot Fest is ready to welcome you to the metaphorical mosh pit. The event started as a DIY, multi-day, multi-venue affair that specialized in punk and punk only. But today, Riot Fest stands as a three-day outdoor spectacular that also encompasses hip-hop, post-punk, rock and psych all while maintaining that familiar punk ethos: all are welcomed so long as you enjoy the show.

Riot Fest’s generation-spanning 2018 lineup should be all the evidence you need that this is a genuine all-ages affair. Headliners include legends like genre-mashing pioneers Blondie, Millennium pop-punk kings Blink-182, rock ‘n roll’s original punk Jerry Lee Lewis and modern mainstays like Father John Misty — an artist who certainly embraces the punk attitude despite finding a different sound. If past Riot Fests are any indication, that top of the bill merely represents the beginning. The event has garnered a reputation for two kinds of special occasions near and dear to an audience’s heart. Riot Fest tends to inspire a few artists to pick an old favorite album and play it front to back (like acts such as Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr. have done). It also attracts long-time-coming reunions, like Jawbreaker in 2017 and the Glen Danzig-led Misfits in 2016. As of late July, the official lineup still included “????,” and no attendees would complain if big discography-boasting greats like Cypress Hill, Gwar, or Superchunk decided to dust-off something iconic this year.

Even as Riot Fest’s profile and scope have grown, its ethos remains old-school punk. Billboard calls it a “grown-up Warped Tour” or a “well-adjusted Ozzfest,” noting there’s just something different and more genuine-feeling happening at Douglas Park annually. The event’s night shows still specialize in that familiar, intimate and high-energy punk setting. But during the day, nowhere else will you find people in their 40s and 50s nonchalantly enjoying the experience alongside today’s teens, each ready to finally transfer those between-headphones-relationships with acts like Beck or Liz Phair to a live setting.

At Riot Fest, loving nostalgia extends beyond the stages, too. Some of the event’s most beloved activities likely involve its vintage midway-like carnival area. Many fests boast a Ferris Wheel these days, for instance, but few have trapeze acts or an old-school sideshow. So no matter what generation or genre of punk most speaks to you, Riot Fest is happy to have you — denim-clad or otherwise.