Muddy Boots, Sore Feet, Endless People, and The Cure: My First Riot Fest

20140914_202758_LLSThe Cure at Riot Fest Chicago 2014

I have never been the biggest fan of festivals. The sheer amount of people and the thought of using a port-a-potty was enough to keep me away. This year I finally got over my fear and said “Fuck it” because I wanted to see The Cure. I missed them at Lolla last year and every time they announced a show in the past it was always overseas. This might’ve been one of my only chances to see them in the States and I wasn’t about to miss it. In the end, I made the right choice.

The day started with lots of walking. It took me about 30 minutes to get from my friend’s car to the entrance. From there we had to weave our way through the little shops and food vendors that were set up. I was actually surprised by the sheer amount of shops you could visit. You could get anything from t-shirts and leather jackets to jewelry and flasks. There was also a wide selection of food from places I didn’t even know existed. The smell of pizza, tacos, rice, funnel cake, hot dogs etc was almost too much to handle. I wanted it all! So many people walked around chowing down on delicious food you would’ve thought you were at The Taste of Chicago.

We finally made it to the Rebel stage to catch PUP. I talked about these guys earlier in the year and they are a great live act. They ran through most of their album with so much energy and vigor. They’re pure animals running and jumping on such a small stage. They also sounded great and showed themselves to be impressive musicians. There is clearly no studio magic with them. The best best was during the closer “Reservoir” where everyone went nuts and frontman Stefan Babcock joined the action by crowdsurfing without missing a note. They were also humble; they kept thanking the crowd for stopping by their stage. Their affect on people was clear as many of them walked away saying how good they were and were now fans of theirs.

While walking to the Rise stage, we caught some of Billy Bragg’s set. I didn’t know who he was, but it was amazing to just see him on that big stage with only a guitar. There was no back up band or singers. Just him rocking out with his fans. It was a cool sight to see. Next on our list was Andrew W.K. For someone who I don’t listen to a lot, I thought his set was a lot of fun. He was really hyper and energetic throughout, making his party party party persona come to life. Wearing his uniform of a white shirt and white pants, he wildly played the keyboard before head banging to songs like “Party Hard.” There was non stop moshing and a massive circle pit at the end. It was clear he wanted everyone to have fun and from the looks of it fans did. The only questionable moment was when burlesque dancers came out and began twerking and shaking around. I’m sure some people liked it, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to see.

There was a lot of time to kill until the big event, so we wandered around aimlessly. We got the chance to play a bit of Sunset Overdrive (and sit down, thank goodness) courtesy of the Xbox One tent. My thoughts? It looks like fun and seems like it will satisfy my need for destruction in video games. After that, we watched some Luchadors wrestle it out. It was weird, but really entertaining to say the least. While some in the crowd thought it was stupid, it was obviously a show they were putting on for the crowd and they delivered. Though it was clear they were tired, they still did their best to get a big reaction from people watching.

Since it rained a few days before, the park was good and muddy. There were moments when my boots got so stuck I thought I would lose it. Some people had mud all the way to their knees. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but there were times I was convinced I was walking in something else, which brings me to the smell. There were certain moments where it smelled like a zoo. The worse part was we weren’t near the toilets. You would be walking and the smell of farts, cigarettes, and shit would hit you. I’m not sure what it was, but it never lasted long enough for me to run out of the festival. It was just something I wasn’t prepared for.

After some people watching, we headed towards the Riot stage, meaning we got to see the last half of Patti Smith’s set. She is a passionate performer who put out several cries for peace in the world. There were times she became very adamant and jumped around while telling the audience they have the power for chance. It was really moving and she said it with such vigor you were ready to follow her into battle. Even though I’m not a huge fan I enjoyed seeing her because she’s an iconic and influential artist. From there we waited an hour and a half for The Cure. Social Distortion played on a nearby stage, so we had them to listen to, but the crowd mostly kept to themselves as they counted the minutes.

Fans muttered aloud as to what songs they would play or reminisced about the first time they ever saw the band. Some people played with their phones while others kept an eye on the screens on the side of the stage. Every time something popped up on them people would cheer hoping the wait was over; it was only a message about Twitter. The sky grew darker and people more impatient. Once when the screen flashed The Cure’s logo on the drumset everyone grew quiet waiting for the man of the hour to come out – false alarm. People groaned and resumed looking at their phones.

7:45 came and still no Cure. Turns out Social Distortion decided to say “fuck the set times” and play one last song. Fans grumbled about them playing and wished for them to shut up. Finally, five minutes late the band strolled out. I saw Robert Smith with my own eyes and it was glorious. Others around felt the same as they jumped up and down or held their faces refusing to believe Smith and co. were right in front of them. No matter how old they were, everyone turned into 16 year old girls when they saw his nest of hair. Instantly, I was flooded with feelings of adoration, love, overwhelming, excitement, and disbelief. I was actually there watching one of my favorite bands playing before my eyes. Robert fucking Smith was right there with Simon fucking Gallup on the right of him. The man whose been in the band for a good period of time. The man behind epic bass riffs. He was there strutting his stuff like I’d seen him do so many times in concert videos.

The band started things off with the aptly named “Open,” which drew a great response from the crowd. They followed this with “Fascination Street,” sending the exciting mood over the top. As soon as that heavy bass riff rang out the cheers were so loud it almost drowned out the band. Surprisingly, they followed this with “Sleep When I’m Dead” from their 2008 LP. It was so unexpected because the record received mixed reviews and wasn’t their biggest success. I didn’t mind because it’s actually one of my favorites from the album. I was happy to hear that the band sounded even more wonderful than they do on the records. Robert sounded excellent both in terms of his singing and his guitar playing. And yes he was every bit as charming as he appears to be.

While some Cureheads may disagree, I thoroughly enjoyed the setlist. It was good mix of fan favorites, such as “Just Like Heaven” and “In Between Days,” along with deep cuts you would never dream of hearing, like “Play for Today,” “Want,” “alt.end,” and “Push.” They did a good job of pleasing younger and older fans in the crowd with some exclaiming “YES!” after each track. They performed at least one song from their albums, with the exception of Bloodflowers, Faith, and their debut. Still, I was able to hear some of my favorites live like “The Walk,” “Pictures of You,” and “Lullaby,” which I will never forget.

For the most part Smith was very reserved, just singing the songs and quietly saying “Thank you.” (Yes, my heart did swell when he said it). He finally loosened up around “Close to Me” when he started doing his little dance moves, which caused a lot of screams from fans. This prompted him to keep dancing into “Hot! Hot! Hot!” I cooed as he wiggled and shook on stage. He smiled from the reaction as if to say “I knew that’s what you wanted.” Something I had seen on so many concert films was finally happening in front of me! The best and most unexpected part came when Smith pulled out a harmonica launched into “Bananafishbones.” I was beside myself even though the rest of the crowd seemed to be confused as to what was going on. It’s something they don’t perform that often and one I would never guess to hear live.

Well known songs like “Friday I’m in Love” and “Lovesong” prompted huge sing-a-longs. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear the band anymore. It was one of those moments where it didn’t matter if you were young or old; you bonded with everyone. Another crowd favorite was “A Forest.” As soon as that gloomy riff started people were beside themselves. I heard cries of “What?!” and “Oh my god!” and they hadn’t fully launched into the song. “Wrong Number” also got a huge response, particularly when Smith began to say “Hello? Hello?” It seemed like he had a lot of fun as the crowd screamed and shouted “Hello!” Of course a Cure show wouldn’t be complete without “One Hundred Years.” It was massive, epic, and amazing to hear thousands of people shout “It’s doesn’t matter if we all die.” This was a song I’ve heard thousands of times, but hearing it live made it even sweeter.

Sadly, the band ended early with “End.” I believe they were supposed to do an encore, but due to Social Distortion going over their time, we got jipped. Robert didn’t even say good night, but I think he was expecting to come back out to say it then, but was told they had to end due to curfew. But fans still waited, hoping he would come back out. They even began to chant “Boys don’t cry! Boys don’t cry!” to lure him back out – no luck. Of course I didn’t want it to end, but I was immensely happy. I waited a long time to see The Cure and it was worth it. The setlist was long and expansive and Smith was every bit as charming full of quirks and all.

For my very first festival I really enjoyed it. There was some great music and cool little events to check out. There were a ton of people there, but somehow I dealt with it. A lot of them were pretty chill even when it came to show time. It was great to hear everyone’s excitement to see and heart one of their favorite bands. Hearing their cheers made me smile because sometimes fans get hung up on the songs that aren’t played, rather than enjoying the fact they’re seeing someone they admire. It was also cool to see a whole bunch of alternative people come together and listen to some awesome music. Would I go again? I would have to say yes. But for now I’ll lie and think about how I finally saw The Cure and it was majestic.

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