Riot Festival & Carnival originated in Chicago as a punk rock festival in 2005. Since then, it has expanded in size (within Chicago) and expanded to Denver and Toronto. They have also expanded the musical variety at their shows to include all forms of rock including my favourite, folk rock.
Based on some research I did prior to attending this festival, I was expecting to see a hybrid carnival and festival, as the event name suggests. What I found when I got there was a music festival with carnival posters and a small contingent of independent shops and one carnival game. Oh, and the first ever “Colossal Onion” I had seen (a whole onion deep fried- they looked delicious but I couldn’t commit to the line up for them with too many great acts playing).
Following a massive thunder and lightening storm the night before, Saturday proved to be perfect festival going weather except for the fact that all the rain had turned the park into a bit of a muddy slip and slide. The vast majority of festival goers were covered in a spray of mud, as it was extremely challenging not to fall when trying to get between the “Rock” stage and the “Riot” and “Roots” Stages.
My two favourite performances from Saturday are awarded to The Alkaline Trio and AWOLNATION.
The Alkaline Trio are a very impressive three member Illinois punk rock band. I am always impressed with bands who are able to engage fans and play with such a full sound when only having three members. They were fun, engaging and amazing musicians.AWOLNATION, well, if you have not seen them perform- go find tickets to their next show. AWOLNATION is not a band that regularly repeats on my iPod but seeing them live is always an experience I look forward to with gleeful anticipation. They are masters at their craft and so brilliantly pull fans into to their set with virtually each and every song. They are high energy and a good time all around. I appreciated that they did not close with their hit single “Sail” but were still able to sustain and finish with a high energy set.
Toronto’s own Death from Above 1979, as well as The Flaming Lips and The Cure closed Day 1 of the festival and were energetically and enthusiastically received by fans. All three bands, all being fairly seasoned musicians were a delight to sing along with, dance and rock out to. The only (and unfortunate) technical glitch was that the sound was slightly off for The Cure and it remained floating in conversations as fans embarked on Day 2.
By Sunday a lot of the mud had dried up and to my relief, festival organizers had placed boards over the more treacherous high traffic areas. This made movement between the stages much easier. And so, without a cloud in the sky, some of my most favourite bands took to the stage.
Both The New Pornographers and Tokyo Police Club were an exciting way to kick the early afternoon into high gear. They were shortly followed by one of my all time favourite bands, Seattle based The Head and the Heart (THATH). Typically when I’ve seen THATH shows, it has been winter and they have been dressed up in suits and more formal wear. It was a completely different experience to see them play in tank tops and casual summer wear. As I’ve seen them play over the past few years, it is really wonderful how they keep their older songs fresh and interesting. I always enjoy it when a band does something different with a popular radio single/crowd pleaser. Later that evening, City and Colour did a brilliant and jazzy rendition of “Comin’ Home”.
Alas, I digress.
Unfortunately for THATH, Die Antwoord began their rave-rap set just as THATH were closing with two of their beautiful acoustic numbers. It was somewhat distracting for both the band and fans for their finale.
Die Antwoord. If you are looking for a manic, unique dance party experience, you’ve gone to the right show. Between the costumes and the dance moves, they delivered a full 45 minutes of non-stop partying.
My favourite performance of Sunday, however was Stars.
Stars have been recording music and touring for fifteen years now. What never ceases to amaze me is how current and relevant they remain on the indie pop/rock/disco scene. With festival sets, most bands tend to play a “best of” collection of songs to highlight and to showcase their most well known and accessible songs. This is an effective way for any band to reach new fans, and (hopefully) keep longtime fans engaged. I typically love this about festival sets- they are shorter, tighter and more cohesive that full length sets can sometimes be. That being said, however, they opened strong with a very fitting rendition of “Take Me to the Riot” and delivered a beautifully balanced set of older, newer and even brand new songs. I danced, and laughed and was swept up in the energy, enthusiasm and comedy with which both Amy and Torquil front the band with.
Closing out Sunday night was an incredible line up: Death Cab for Cutie, The National, Metric and City and Colour. Death Cab for Cutie also played a really great mix of fan favourites and newer material. The National began their set just as the sun was setting and as the day faded away to night, the colored lights, visual clips and smoke set the mood for a gripping set. Matt Berninger was at his finest- he didn’t speak a word to the audience and yet he fully and completely threw himself into each and every song. Near the end of their set, he managed to perfectly deliver a song while crowd surfing, and then proceeded to zig zag throughout the audience singing Terrible Love to close the show. To the credit of the festival organizers, each and every performance was perfectly on time (amazing!) and so on the heels of the National, Emily Haines and Metric blasted onto the stage in a flurry of lights, rock and roll and dance. Across both stages you could hear fans singing their hearts out to all of their favourite Metric songs.
City and Colour made for the perfect evening to an incredible array of live music. I was pleasantly surprised by how they remixed and reworked many of the songs off their first two albums by incorporating more full band arrangements into Dallas Green’s melodically lilting songs.
All in all, a beautiful end to an incredible festival. With such a broad array of musical styles, incredible musicians and unforgettable songs to experience, I would be hard pressed to think of a better way to close out the end of another amazing summer.