Posts Tagged ‘festivals’

It’s been interesting watching Riot Fest evolve over the three years I’ve been attending. The first year, it was still at Fort York. The past two years, it’s been held at Downsview. Last year, we got four stages instead of two and a corresponding larger number of bands. Toronto still lacked a lot of the pizazz of the Chicago and Denver Riot Fest shows though, and this year, the festival made up for it. This year’s festival boasted carnival rides, games of chances and a circus sideshow.

And those weren’t the only changes. The layout of the festival was much improved over last year. The stages were all in the same places, but the food, beverage  and water refill stations were set up in two distinct locations instead of all being clustered near the entrance. I may be wrong, but I think there were also way more portapotties than last year. I made a point of using the ones the farthest from the entrance all weekend long, and it paid off. They were clean, well-stocked and there was never a line-up.

So, how was the music you ask? Let’s start with Saturday. I hightailed it up there in time for D.O.A’s mid-afternoon set. The B.C. punk legends did not disappoint, putting on a tight, perfectly executed set of classic, hard hitting, political punk. It took no time for a pit to form, sending showers of dust over the crowd. I wish I had gotten a picture of the guy in the pit, in full kilt, jean vest and Docs, with a little boy sporting a trihawk on his shoulders. Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth was clearly visible side stage, watching the band. My only beef is that D.O.A’s set was just 30 minutes long instead of the promised 45 minutes.  On the bright side, that did allow me to catch the end of the Dead Milkmen’s set and I got there just in time to hear “Bitchin’ Camaro”.

That was also my last dry moment of Riot Fest that day. Rain had been forecast, but I don’t think many of were expecting the torrential downpour that soaked Downsview Park for 45 minutes straight. Confession time – I was in a portapotty when the worst of the rain hit and I wondered briefly if it would be a total asshole move to stay there until the rain stopped.

The rain caused GWAR to cancel, and cut the Eagles of Death Metal’s set down to just 15 minutes. I almost forgot about Thurston Moore’s set and got to the Rock Stage in time to hear the last couple of songs. Then it was time for one of my favourite bands, Echo & The Bunnymen. Their mournful and yet poppy sound was a perfect accompaniment to the still-overcast skies, and having them end the set with “Lips Like Sugar”, “Bring On The Dancing Horses” and “The Killing Moon” was pure joy. Dancing had warmed me up a bit, but even so, the sun was setting and the wind had picked up. My friends and I were still soaked to the skin, and we unanimously agreed to leave early. We all desperately wanted to see Motorhead, but the thought of standing around for 2.5 hours getting colder was deeply unappealing. When I got home, I poured impressive quantities of water out of my rain boots and then took an epically long hot shower.

Sunday was bright, sunny and scorching hot. Perfect festival weather. I got there in barely enough time to catch the end of The Joy Formidable, who are always wonderful. Then it was time for riot grrl legends Babes in Toyland. I had just seen the equally legendary L7 a couple of weeks ago, so getting to see the Babes felt extra special. Kat Bjelland is easily one of the fiercest and most uncompromising performers I’ve ever seen. I had some downtime after that to chill, check out the vendors and get acquainted with some bands I wasn’t familiar with, including Airborne Toxic Event and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls. The latter were my big discovery of the weekend – great live rock act with tons of energy.

And then it was time for Rancid, playing And Out Come The Wolves in its entirety. I confess that my mental image of Rancid was of the band of skinny young punks there were 20 years ago. When a large, bald, bearded man came out onstage, my first thought was “Where the heck is Tim Armstrong?” Turns out that was Tim. Ooops! The turn-out for Rancid was huge and the energy from both the band and crowd was electric. Best moment was when their set ended and crowd started to disperse. Then they came back for an quick encore and I raced back and almost got up to the front.

Rap and hip-hop really aren’t my thing, but I took in some of Wu Tang Clan’s set while sitting on the grass inhaling some excellent fish tacos for dinner. Then I played an amusing game of phone tag with my friends as we attempted to meet up for The Prodigy.

I’m not sure words can do justice to how good The Prodigy was. After a long intro, the band emerged into a blinding haze of strobe lights and lasers that lit up the ecstatic crowd into a sweaty dancing mass. An all-too-soon 75 minutes later, the noise-drunk crowd wandered out of Riot Fest looking dazed and delirious. Mission accomplished, Riot Fest, mission accomplished.

Riot Fest 2013 was my first Riot Fest. I bought a single day ticket and rocked out under the sun at Iggy and The Stooges, Dinosaur Jr., Rocket From The Crypt and The Replacements. Riot Fest moved to Downsview Park for 2014, which meant 4 stages instead of one. Which meant a LOT more bands.

The Good: The fest was really well organized. Set times were almost always spot on. A band would walk off one stage and 5 seconds later, the next act would be ready to go on the stage next door. On-site locker rental and cell charging made the whole weekend much easier. Water stations meant we all stayed hydrated and the Porta Potties were pretty clean up until the last hour or two of the night.

The Bad: Lack of drink options. Bud, Bud Light, a lager of some kind and Strongbow. That’s it? And they ran out of Strongbow almost immediately. I bought a Bud – a warm one at that – took one sip, and spat it out. And then threw it away. That stuff is shit. There was also a communication breakdown between the organizers and the security, so the empty water bottles we were told we could bring in were all confiscated at the gate.

My festival pro-tip: Bring a travel pack of baby wipes and a flash light. Makes navigating the Porta Potties at night much easier.

I had a great time at Riot Fest, eventually. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I was really tired, so much so that I delayed leaving for the show to catch a quick nap which just made me feel worse. I had a late breakfast and forgot to have lunch, so my blood sugar was quite low by the time I got to Downsview Park. It was a lot colder and windier than I was expecting, and the cute sundress that had seemed like a good idea wasn’t anymore, plus the venue was very muddy and I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to deal with it. Thank goodness I didn’t wear sandals. I was cold, tired, hungry. And, since cell service was spotty, I couldn’t reach any of the many people I knew who were also there. I started to wonder if I’m too old for this, if I really can’t handle crowds and festivals anymore, and that thought made me sad.

I bought a T-shirt, which warmed me up a bit. I had grabbed some pizza when I first arrived, and it was so greasy that it made me queasy. Later on, I grabbed some water and some veggie tacos and they were so fresh and tasty that I felt much better after eating them. That veggie food truck ended up rocking my taste bugs all weekend long. The first few bands I saw were ones I like, but not ones I’m crazy about, and I really needed to get lost in music to distract me. Death From Above 1979 were excellent, and dancing to them warmed me up a bit. After their set, I grabbed my hoodie from my locker, watched The Flaming Lips utterly psychedelic set from a distance while in an endless queue for the Porta Potties, and then staked out a spot in the crowd for The Cure. A huge crowd had gathered by then and the heat from all the people around me warmed me up a lot.

At 9 o’clock sharp The Cure came on and once they started playing, everything got better and just kept getting better. Their set at Riot Fest seemed to polarize the crowd. They played all the hits – Just Like Heaven, In Between Days, Hot Hot Hot! etc. – mixed in with some really obscure tracks that even I, fan that I am, didn’t know. Mint Car? Bananafishbones? Fat Bob then really upped the ante with some classic dirges, including one of my personal favourites, One Hundred Years. A large chuck of the crowd ran for the exit at that point while the rest of the crowd pressed closer to the stage and swooned.

Here’s my take on it. The Cure have been around for 4 decades. They’ve earned the right to do what they want, including being bloody-minded with the set list. Plus I was feeling extra nostalgic that night because it was almost exactly 25 years before that I saw The Cure live for the first time. My evening ended on a high when I ran into friends in the crowd who showed me a much faster way home.

I woke up on Sunday to sun and blue skies. Just as I had underdressed for Day 1, I overdressed for Day 2, but I just stashed all my extra stuff in my locker. The weather was perfect for an outdoor festival – hot and sunny. In short, Sunday was everything that Saturday wasn’t. Most of the mud had dried up. I had a snack with protein on my way out the door, and I grabbed water and a kale salad (veggie food truck FTW!) when I got to the venue. My friend Britt texted me and I hung out with her and her boyfriend for a while. And most of all, Sunday was just one of my favourite bands after another – Bob Mould, Social Distortion, The National and The Buzzcocks. I also saw The New Pornographers, Dropkick Murphys and Die Antwoord for the first time. Holy fuck, but Die Antwoord are even weirder live than in their videos, and that’s saying something. I had to work the next day, so I skipped Metric and The City and Colour to head home. Next year, I take the Monday off work.

By the end of Riot Fest, I felt great. Happy and relaxed and belting out the words to the songs at full volume. Yeah, I can still do this. 🙂