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  • Writer's pictureAnna Marek

Riot Fest 2023 Full Recap: Punk's Musical Paradise

Brought to you by: Anna Marek & Daniela Guerrero

Riot Fest has been held annually at Douglass Park since 2005. Unlike other prominent music festivals, Riot Fest caters to an alternative and unconventional audience. The festival has featured bands such as the Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, and Agent Orange. In addition to a wide range of artists, numerous activities were available throughout the festival grounds, including a marriage tent, carnival games & rides, a boxing ring, and a variety of vendors. Attendees could even have their tarot cards read. This year showcased both prominent bands and underground artists. Riot Fest Day 1 featured Foo Fighters and Sludgeworth as the main festival headliners. Being able to work behind the scenes of the festival was an extremely rewarding and interesting experience. Riot Fest functioned like one massive machine, all working together to ensure everyone's enjoyment, and we were thrilled to be part of it.

Day 1:

Code Orange

The metalcore band from Pennsylvania, ignited the first day of the festival with their intense energy. Their performance captivated us, and you can witness their incredible stage presence in the photos we captured. One of the most enjoyable aspects of photographing metal bands was observing their visible passion for music which reflected on the audience creating a very lively atmosphere. If you haven't already, be sure to check out their new EP, Mirror, with a particular recommendation for the track "Grooming My Replacement." It's a must-listen."

Screaming Females

It was a true pleasure to witness Screaming Females perform on the Rebel Stage. Despite being a smaller stage, it provided fans with a deeper connection to this Rock 'n' Roll band from New Brunswick, NJ. Their 40-minute set felt too short given their extensive discography, which boasts over six albums and countless hits. Attending their concert just a week after the release of the documentary chronicling their multi-city Alaska Tour felt like a genuine privilege. The documentary premiered on the Don Giovanni Records YouTube Channel on September 14th, and it beautifully captures their authenticity and unwavering dedication.

If you haven’t already, check it out!


We took a sonic turn with the hardcore punk band, Turnstile. Their music exudes an electrifying quality, a sentiment clearly mirrored by the enthusiastic audience that gathered at their stage. We found ourselves right in the midst of the crowd, providing us with a unique photographic perspective. It served as a reminder that capturing the artist is just as important as capturing the audience. The crowd's infectious energy reverberated back to Turnstile, further fueling the fans' excitement. The audience went wild, particularly during their most-streamed song, "BLACKOUT," from the album Glow On. Amid literal blood, sweat, and tears, we managed to capture some of our favorite festival pictures.


Choosing between the two headliners of the night, Foo Fighters and Sludgeworth, was a tough decision. However, the opportunity to see the 90's Chicago punk rock band in their hometown made the choice easier. Sludgeworth, formed in 1989, quickly gained recognition for pioneering Midwestern punk. Their return to Riot Fest drew one of the festival's most diverse crowds, including both young fans who had recently discovered their music and lifelong fans who had lived through the heyday of their discography. Witnessing their live performance, 31 years after their split, was undeniably one of the most unforgettable moments of the weekend.

Day 2:

White Reaper

In an attempt to catch up from the chaos of Day 1 we stumbled upon White Reaper on accident while exploring the festival grounds. The utter heartthrobs from Louisville, KY brought a different sound to Riot Fest than some of the stereotypical hardcore bands. They were nestled between heavy metal and punk bands, but held their ground with a more indie garage, punk sound. Whilst they may have looked like a group of guys who just randomly wandered onstage, their music reflected a different aesthetic. Their 2023 album, Asking For a Ride, is a no skip body of work.

100 gecs

Dylan Brady and Laura Les, who together make up the duo known as 100 gecs, first crossed paths at a high school party, and we're certainly grateful that they did. Their performance was undeniably one of our top 5 highlights of the entire festival, and it was during their set that we captured some of our favorite pictures!

This was a truly special moment for both of us. Earlier this year, on April 20th, we had the opportunity to attend a 100 gecs concert together at the Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom! Although we were initially separated by the surging crowd, the mosh pit miraculously brought us back together just in time to scream out the lyrics to "hand crushed by a mallet" together—a personal favorite among 100 gecs songs. It was incredibly satisfying to relive that experience and this time have cameras in our hands. Not only could we relish the show, but we could also be a part of it!

This American hyperpop duo, formed in 2015, has gained widespread recognition for their unique blend of beats and lyrics that seamlessly fuse pop, punk, metal, and trance, resulting in an angsty emo sound that's perfectly attuned to whatever emotion you might be feeling.

Insane Clown Posse

Even though Insane Clown Posse was on the smallest stage, the crowd poured into the road and carnival games. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope came out 30-40 mins late, but immediately sprayed Faygo all over the crowd. ICP is notorious for having very intense and crazy concerts. Audience members will throw cans of Faygo or other things on stage. Many people have even gone as far as to describe it as a dangerous experience. However, their set at Riot Fest seemed less chaotic than normal because it had more fans who wouldn’t typically attend a concert of theirs. They played a variety of their songs including "The Jokers Wild" with "Your Rebel Flag" to start.

The Postal Service

Wrapping up the day we knew we had to RUN if we wanted to catch both Insane Clown Posse and The Postal Service. Unfortunately ICP started later than scheduled, so this mission became more complicated by the second. Despite being drenched in Faygo, we made it just in time to catch "Nothing Better," what we consider without a doubt one of the best songs from their discography. As we ran through the crowd we sang “Would someone please call a surgeon? Who can crack my ribs and repair this broken heart that you’re deserting … for better company”. That remains one of our core memories of our entire weekend.

The Postal Service played from beginning to end their platinum-selling 2003 debut album Give Up, a complete compilation of love, lust, loneliness, and distrust. With an ethereal stage presence, they were the absolute best way to close the night.

Day 3:

Chaos, Chaos, CHAOS!! Waking up to the sound of raindrops was not a promising start for the festival's last day. Riot Fest had to delay the event by three hours due to the rain, which unfortunately led to the cancellation of many anticipated and beloved bands' performances. The festival crew worked tirelessly to clean up after the rain and ensure everyone's safety first. As staff members, we had the privilege of arriving early to speak with vendors and observe Riot Fest's efforts to recover from the rain. Surprisingly, the areas near the stages were relatively dry, and everyone still seemed to be having a good time. Day 3 began slowly with the rain, but the energy picked up quickly as fans rushed through the gates to catch their favorite bands.


Taking the stage as one of the first bands right after the rain delay can be a challenge, but Fleshwater brought an astonishing amount of energy to the audience. Despite being relatively new compared to many other bands at Riot Fest, they boast a dedicated fan base. What we particularly cherished about their performance was the intimacy of the smaller stage, which allowed us to connect with the band on a deeper level—we even managed to snag one of the drumsticks! Fleshwater displayed remarkable crowd interaction and persevered through the rain. Most of their setlist comprised songs from their 2022 album, We're Not Here to Be Loved, with our personal favorite being "Kiss the Ladder."

Flogging Molly

By Day 3 our feet were already in pain, but Flogging Molly's set revived all the energy we needed! In fact, this is the set we took the least pictures, but danced every single second of it. The band switched from punk to folk with every beat, a tactic that kept every single person on their toes. Not a single person in the audience was standing still. We stumbled into their show and quickly became newfound fans of the band. Our favorite song so far is "Seven Deadly Sins" off their 2004 album, Within a Mile of Home. If you haven’t heard Flogging Molly already, don’t wait any longer.

Unofficial Best Riot Fest Crowd Award: Flogging Molly

The Cure

This set was a complete visual and auditory masterpiece. The Cure truly gave it their all on the final day of Riot Fest. One might assume that performing at this festival so many times previously would become tiresome, but Robert Smith appeared to relish every moment on stage. His voice hasn't aged a day, and, together with the band, they made us feel as though we were rediscovering The Cure for the very first time. Boys don't cry, but boy did we cry. The lighting and visuals brilliantly complemented the music, particularly with the space theme they incorporated. While they did perform a plethora of their classic hits, we found ourselves yearning for a deeper dive into the more "obscure" parts of their musical catalog. It felt somewhat like listening to their top 5 tracks on Spotify. While they omitted favorites like "Let's Go To Bed," they did treat us to other well-known gems, including "Just Like Heaven" and "Friday I'm in Love."

Thank You Riot Fest:

We are incredibly grateful that you placed your trust in us to cover such a quintessential Chicago music festival and allowed us to become a part of the media team. This experience was truly remarkable! From enjoying our favorite artists to discovering new ones, each day felt like pure magic. Throughout the event, we often found ourselves looking at each other, rendered speechless, as we realized how fortunate we were, and how every single detail had been meticulously planned.

Here's a fun fact: Several months before the lineup was even released, we had conversations about how enriching and exciting it would be to cover Riot Fest, and to do it together! Since then, every time we crossed paths, we made a pact to keep an eye out for the press application. Not to suggest that we somehow made it happen, but it seems like we just might have.


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1 Comment

Taryn Indish
Taryn Indish
Sep 22, 2023

Wow! This is amazing work! Captures the essence of Chicago beautifully. 💯

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