And all the hype lead to this; Riot Fest. Two days of uninterrupted music, culture, community, and family. I was looking forward to it based on my first Riot Fest back in 2012, where it was only a handful of bands, one stage, and probably the best festival I’d ever experienced. From the moment I arrived on the grounds, I was immersed in the festival atmosphere. Friendly staff, concert goers, and awesome bands for the first day! I hadn’t been to a festival in over a year, and was ready to kickstart my heart for bands that I’ve always wanted to see and experience.
I checked in at the media area, and began looking for places to charge my phone, since I would be taking notes on it, and I noticed that they were all located underneath 102.1 The Edge’s area. This is where they were broadcasting live from the event, and that made it hard for the rest of the media to charge their phones, laptops, and camera batteries and in turn, impedes our abilities to do our jobs because unless we didn’t make a damn sound, we were promptly kicked out of that area. Luckily, there were enough of us that we decided to sit there and charge our stuff anyway. Strength in numbers.
After a failed attempt at trying a new poutine truck, whose power was out, I looked at the schedule to see who I should check off my must see list. First was Ritual; the brand new hardcore band fronted by Matt Tobin from the retired, Dead and Divine. I used to follow those guys back in high school and needed to see if I could feel like a kid again. Quite honestly, I didn’t; I felt like I grew with Matt in a way because this band sounds so much more intricate and aggressive than Dead and Divine ever did. The stage shook, and even though the crowd was thin compared to the main stage, I had an absolute blast right at the barricade. There was a point where bass player, Matthew Rigg, hopped into the mosh-pit during the last song, and once their set was over, threw his bass on stage. I couldn’t stop laughing at the joy he must have felt from letting the music take over. It was beautiful to experience, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come next month when Ritual releases their debut record.
Shortly after, it started to rain. And considering the fact that this was Downsview Park, one thing was evident: mud. And lots of it. So much so that you begin to second guess your journey to the stage, and because you were sinking into a mud puddle. I, unfortunately, missed the aliens in Gwar. But this didn’t dissipate the energy or atmosphere of the concertgoers around me. Everywhere I looked I saw smiles, people dancing, and laughing; everyone was just enjoying themselves in the company they were with.
The rain stopped just before Cancer Bats took the main stage, and this was my first time seeing them live. They did their job well; so well that even the sun came out during their set, which made everything much more enjoyable for the brief time it stayed in the sky. What really drove their set home was their cover of Beastie Boys’, “Sabotage.” People all around me, began chanting the lyrics, and the pit erupted. The energy was so powerful, and so much fun to watch.
I began to make my way towards the press tent through the mountains of mud and rain puddles. My feet were drenched through my shoes, which I so stupidly wore as oppose to rain boots. As I got to the tent, I felt like the trenches were just outside the tent borders. I had to unwind for a bit before I went out to see Against Me. I had no idea where the stage that they were playing on was, because of the high winds. Since the names of the stages were on these banners attached to the stage at least a hundred feet in the air, I was struggling to find out what the names actually were.
The two main stages were the Riot Stage (okay, Riot Fest, of course, that’s the main stage), and the Roots Stage. The two side stages were the Radicals Stage (the smallest and had more local talent, like Courage My Love and Rarity), and the Rock Stage. I aimlessly made my way over in the mist to a stage and, much to my surprise, I was at the wrong one. But this was a happy accident because I was swept away by none other than, Thrice. I’ve never heard these guys before, but their sound was exhilarating. Their stage presence was way more reserved, letting the music speak for itself, which suited their style perfectly. They were probably the highlight of the afternoon for me.
I caught the beginning of The Dirty Nil‘s set, and it was a truly immersive experience in punk through lyrical interpretation. They were fun, raw, and just plain awesome. And after a brief glimpse of Lemmy, I headed over to get a nice spot for Alexisonfire. As Weezer played their first night’s set, the crowd grew, and the respect for personal space shrank. To the point where I latched myself onto a group of people getting out of the bulk of the crowd just for the sake of air! Some poor soul also got trampled in the mosh-pit, and had to be carried out by paramedics in a stretcher. But, despite that sad news, the sets were amazing, and filled with energy. There is a reason these acts were headlining, and it was proven on that stage.
There is a positive from the end of the evening. The most exciting thing I heard all day was the fact that Alexisonfire will be releasing a new record. Yup, that’s right. They’re back boys and girls! And I couldn’t be more excited.
As I looked down the subway car on my way home, I could tell who was at Riot Fest; not by their attire, personality, hair colour, tattoos, or piercings, but by the mud coating their shoes.
Let’s hope day two is better!
Written by Rian Cunningham
Photography by Stacey Rebertz
*edited by Danielle Kenedy