Riot Fest 2014
The phrase “too big to fail” is one that carries with it a great amount of infamy in our culture, particularly in recent years and numerous economic crises we’ve had to face. Applied to this year’s Riot Fest, and we’re face with an altogether different creature. The festival itself has been around since 2005, starting in Chicago, but in 2012, expanded to such locales as Denver and Toronto. If one may allow this writer to change gears to a different metaphor, the organizers of Riot Fest have developed a reputation for loading up their plane with a mess of well-regarded artists so well that said plane could pretty much pilot itself. It’s an especially easy feat to look up the evening schedule for their Saturday set and not be convinced that the money one pays for a weekend pass isn’t worth it. Acts such as Brand New, Rise Against, Death From above 1979, The Flaming Lips, Billy Talent, and none other than The Cure of all bands. And that’s just a single evening, to say nothing of the smaller-time, but also talented bands from earlier in the day. Or perhaps the Sunday lineup would have been preferable to you, with such acts as The New Pornographers, Tokyo Police Club, Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion, Stars, Death Cab for Cutie, The National, Metric and City & Color.
This writer’s personal experience with the festival was a mixed one, but altogether a good one. Exorbitant parking costs (or transit options) aside, on top of having to walk through a field of mud to get anywhere on the festival grounds, it was hard to argue with a reasonably well-behaved crowd, solid food & drink options, and of course, decent vantage points for either of the main stages at the festival. Confusingly, the festival seemed to want to bill itself with some quasi-circus theme, hence the wrestling free-for-all guests walked past as they entered the gate, or the fire-eater adjacent to them. No, those oddities were quite forgettable, but the musical acts themselves were not.
Aside from being a well-curated festival in general, Riot Fest will mark a significant level of importance to a number of local music fans, as they were one of the first to help usher in the return of Death From Above 1979. Any fan of the group, this writer included, will gladly speak to the significance of this occasion. Having only released one full LP, a single EP, and a smattering of singles, this band still managed to achieve massive notoriety with their aggressive and swagger-heavy dance/punk sound. Toronto had never heard anything like them before, and soon after their first album “You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine” was released, they, and numerous cities beyond would be greatly enamored with this musical cannonball of a group. After putting together a near-miraculous reunion seven years past their original breakup, the fact that the band has not only come back together, but recently released a second album (“The Physical World”) is blowing people away. And the show they put on was far from disappointing. It wouldn’t be surprising if for many, this band was enough to justify peoples’ purchase of tickets to the festival, as they aggressively played their hearts out with finesse, proving that fans’ efforts were justified.
Further on in the evening, were acts such as The Flaming Lips, a band whom often portray themselves as a group full of heartfelt love, emotion, and fun, as well as a band that give others a good idea of what it must be like to transcend a typical concert experience (one only need check out my previous experience with them to see what I’m talking about), and they did not disappoint. Filled with lights galore, repeated confetti blasts, and front-man Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing in a giant inflatable ball, Riot Fest attendees certainly got to experience the minimum standards of a Flaming Lips show.
The rest of the festival was a rare thing to behold, The Cure blasted out music with timeless effort. The New Pornographers were in fine form too. The effort one has to make to get out to Downsview Park north of Toronto is both costly and arduous, but the experience of the festival itself is such that it’s easy to forget the hardship on one’s self and one’s wallet. While one’s time at Riot Fest may spread one’s self thin as they try to experience as many bands perform as possible, it would be hard to imagine their experience being an overall unpleasant one.