Riot Fest must-see sets: punk, hip-hop, rock, metal punctuate the annual music festival

Few festivals in America do it like Riot Fest. The totally homegrown, eternally independent event was started in Chicago in 2005 and continues to be put together by the fans, for the fans. It’s the only place you can show up, get married at an onsite wedding chapel if you’re so inclined, take a victory lap on a Ferris Wheel, and check out the best of punk, hip-hop, rock, metal and GWAR before the sun goes down.

This year is no different with a smorgasbord of talent from The Original Misfits to Coolio — not to mention all the twilight after shows. Put together a schedule based on our top 10 picks below — or just grab a can of the Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale when you get to Douglass Park to figure out the day-by-day. For the third year in a row, the fest partners with Goose Island for the specialty brew with a peel-off label that shows the day’s full schedule right there in your hands. Genius.

L.S. Dunes

Riot Fest has given us a lot of gifts over the years (that John Stamos butter sculpture, GWAR’s return every year, the most outrageous Twitter account to get us through the other 11 months). But willing the cosmos to form a supergroup mere weeks before the kickoff – now that is some serious superpower. Announced Aug. 26 and officially debuting at Riot, L.S. Dunes features guitarist Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance, the can’t-miss headliner on this night), guitarist Travis Stever (Coheed and Cambria), vocalist Anthony Green (Circa Survive), bassist Tim Payne (Thursday) and drummer Tucker Rule (Thursday/Yellowcard) … aka the perfect fit. (1 p.m. Friday, Rise Stage)

Foxy Shazam

Stay put after L.S. Dunes for these seriously underrated throwback glam rockers on the same stage. One listen to tracks like the gloriously over-the-top “Oh Lord” will have you wondering how this band never made it bigger (also not helped by an unfortunate six-year hiatus from 2014-2020). They fit right into the rock revivalism movement like contemporaries The Darkness with a platter of British Invasion homage, Motown harmonies, rock operatics a la Queen and Meat Loaf and a singer who’s simply Freddie Mercury reincarnated. To see them live is nothing short of an experience. (2 p.m. Friday, Rise Stage)

Bob Vylan

You can catch Bob Vylan in a Friday afternoon set at Riot Fest.

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One silver lining of the chaotic past few years: Bad times can make really great punk music. Just ask Bob Vylan. Apart from the fact that the grimy U.K. duo (born in 2017) has maybe one of the best band names ever, their amplified diatribes like “We Live Here” are some of the greatest new tracks of the past decade. Tackling racism, police brutality, class warfare and more ills of society through in-your-face lyrics and electro-fueled punk fury, they carry on the torch of Rage, Fever 333 and The Clash. (4:15 p.m. Friday, Rebel Stage)


Saturday is a battle of East Coast vs. West Coast – hardcore, that is. Two of the greatest examples of each (FEAR from L.A. and Madball from NYC) appear on this day. Thankfully they don’t take the stage at the same time so you can catch them both and live to tell the tale — if you can make it out unscathed from the pits. FEAR’s set will be one of Riot’s very special full-album plays as the band rips through every track of their classic 1982 debut “The Record” in honor of its 40th anniversary (around the same time bassist Flea was in the group), and rightfully so as it’s an album that shaped a whole music scene. (2:50 p.m. Saturday, Riot Stage)

Gogol Bordello

Eugene H?tz of Gogol Bordello performs at Riot Fest in Douglass Park in 2021. The group returns to the fest this year, with an evening set on Saturday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The eclectic gypsy punk rockers return in 2022 after a showdown performance last year. They are one of the late additions to the lineup after some snafus and personal matters that derailed appearances from Placebo and Bauhaus, yet Gogol’s set comes at an opportune time. The eight-piece act’s new album “Solidaritine” drops the day before on Sept. 16, and they just returned from performing a top-secret show for the Ukraine military as the country remains embroiled in the invasion by Russia. Singer Eugene Hutz was born in Kyiv and has been coordinating a number of benefit shows and awareness about the conflict, and will likely use this platform to further that message. (7:25 p.m. Saturday, Roots Stage)

The Original Misfits

The horror punk band’s biggest shock comes as the OG members continue their sporadic reunion (first seen at Riot Fest 2016) and play their incredible debut “Walk Among Us” in full this weekend. Striking a deal with Danzig and Doyle to do this may have cost fest organizers even more than dealing with the devil himself. But the crowd will be truly grateful for that sacrifice watching the founders along with fellow classic member Jerry Only as well as Dave Lombardo and Acey Slade tear through “Mommy Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?” and “Night of the Living Dead” for the album’s 40th anniversary. (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Riot Stage)

The Linda Lindas

They’re not even out of high school yet, but The Linda Lindas have a career only few can ever achieve. After opening for Bikini Kill, being commissioned for soundtrack work by Amy Poehler and signing with Epitaph in a span of two years, the four-piece punk rockers wowed at Pitchfork Music Festival this summer and come to Riot Fest this weekend. Having written their first song as a response to a racist comment made by a classmate as COVID broke out, they’re now hailed by Pollstar as “bringing punk rock to a new generation” — but trust they’re delighting the elder punks too. (1 p.m. Sunday, Roots Stage)


Riot Fest organizers have been known to throw a good curve ball every now and then — but Coolio? That’s one few saw coming when the rapper was added to the lineup July 19. Most known for his wild 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” (which has found renewed attention in recent times in movie and TV spots), Coolio last made headlines for running as a vice president candidate in 2020 alongside presidential hopeful and former porn star Cherie DeVille. Here’s to hoping Riot marks his return to music instead. (4 p.m. Sunday, Rise Stage)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs during the eighth annual Governors Ball Music Festival on Randalls Island in New York in 2018.

AFP via Getty Images

There was a time when a strong wave of New York indie rock dominated the music industry, led by bands like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The latter was an arty approach to garage rock led by the formidable Karen O, who became as much of a cultural icon as her predecessor Debbie Harry while tracks like “Gold Lion,” “Heads Will Roll” and “Maps” defined the era. And then they went away in 2014. The three-piece has since re-emerged and this month will release “Cool It Down,” their first new album in nine years that shows they still got that X factor. (7:10 p.m. Sunday, Roots Stage)

Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor and the rest of Nine Inch Nails will headline Riot Fest on Sunday night.

In 2019, NIN was named by fans as the No. 1 act to ever play Riot Fest in a poll sanctioned by the event, with many praising the industrial act’s 2017 set. Frontman Trent Reznor has written some of the most ferociously danceable songs of our era (“Terrible Lie,” “March of the Pigs,” “The Perfect Drug”) and has drawn in some of the most proficient musicians to grease the machine. NIN shows are known for their high production value, and the appearance this weekend will be worth the wait after the act had to postpone last year’s slated set due to COVID. Though they aren’t listed as offering a full album play, NIN’s landmark EP “Broken” turns 30 a few days later, just sayin’. (8:15 p.m. Sunday, Riot Stage)

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