I’ve never been quite as committed to live music as some. I know people who will go to any show available to them, folks who hit festival after festival until their feet fall off. I’m not really one of those people, but this year my best friend generously bought me a three-day pass to Riot Fest for my birthday—and when I saw the line-up, I was hyped to spend some 20 hours on my feet just watching music.
For being a mostly punk festival, the crowd at Riot Fest was surprisingly subdued—maybe I was at the wrong stages, but for the most part the crowd felt muted, yet respectful. Despite the slight lack of moshed-out frenzy, the energy felt good, and everyone seemed happy to be there. I was, too.
I certainly didn’t see every single band, nor did I even see every band I wanted to. That’s okay. The shows I did see were unequivocally great in their own ways. Below are some highlights. Reminisce, or read on with envy.
Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday
I put these two together since they pretty much cover the spectrum of easy listening, lovesick pop-punk. Both put on good shows, their sets full of the songs everyone wanted to hear. Most of the audience in each show were in their early to late 20s, no doubt hoping to either satisfy or recapture the angsty sophomore in high school that lives inside all of us. For me it was truly an exercise in nostalgia, and I don’t doubt others felt the same way. “This song is about the best day of my life,” Dashboard lead singer Chris Carrabba said before closing with “Hands Down,” completely willing to live in perpetual teenage-dom with all of us.
Ethereal and intensely earnest, Smith’s performance was moving. She’s 67, but she moves and sings like she’s still 23; it’s clear, though, that she’s softened a bit from the more aggressive approach and demeanor she was known for. Looking out at a sea of mostly millennials, she reassured her audience that we have an inherent ability to create a different world before playing “People Have The Power”— which felt simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. And while she played the hits, Smith made sure we knew she was looking forward and not back. “I don’t fuck much with the past,” she said, “But I fuck plenty with the future.”
I had to leave everyone I was with to see this show, but it was totally worth it. Descendents are not a band that needs to evolve, nor have they tried. While the band members are approaching middle age, their grating, adolescent sound still prevails. Whenever anyone tries to make some absurd proclamation that “punk is dead,” or whatever, remind them that the Descendents still play the exact goddamn way they always have—and that’s worth something.
Pussy Riot (discussion panel moderated by Henry Rollins)
Though not a musical performance, this was one of the best parts of the entire event. Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, two members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot who were jailed for their public dissent against the Putin administration, spoke on their experiences. Moderator Henry Rollins (Black Flag), and guests Greg Graffin (Bad Religion), Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), Marcelle Karp (writer/activist), and Michael A. Petryshyn (founder of Riot Fest) also chimed in, adding their own thoughts on the intersection between feminism, protest and authoritarianism, and punk and hardcore.
It was here where I was the happiest to see folks younger than myself—kids in high school who were looking for people to provide and validate an alternative perspective to what they might hear at home or at school. It sounds corny, but it warmed my heart; it was a panel I was happy to see at 23, but would have been changed to see at 16 or 17.
By Sunday night, I was tired, sore and painfully, painfully sober, as this good girl had to work on Monday. I knew I wanted to see The Cure, one of the only bands that I get very stereotypically emotional to—one time I literally changed the channel when “Lovesong” started playing on the radio because my eyes were blinded with mist. I’m familiar with the entirety of their “Greatest Hits” album, having played that non-stop throughout high-school, but I was wary of the two-hour commitment that would no doubt be filled with songs I didn’t know.
Still, I stuck it out. And I’m glad I did, because it was wonderful to watch Robert Smith perform “Just Like Heaven,” “In Between Days,” and even “Lovesong,” with a trademark lackadaisical romanticism—his lip-sticked mouth a bit slurry and his hair wild.