Sunday was hot: 85 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. People sat huddled by the shade of the crowd barricades. One woman bought a bottle of water ($4) and poured it directly on her head, and that made a lot of sense to me.
For some of the sets, the energy wasn’t totally there.
One of the earlier artists, rising emo-pop star Josh A, held the mic out to the audience to fill in the lyrics to his song, “Pain,” which has 100 million Spotify streams, and no one filled the silence. “1, 2, 3, 4, jump!” he yelled, and about that many people did.
Then there was Coolio. I stayed for the whole set — full of jazzy 90s hip-hop and dancing hooks and “Gangsta’s Paradise” — and I’m glad I did. Unbeknownst to anyone in the audience or Coolio himself, this performance at Riot Fest would be one of the last of his life. Coolio died just a few weeks later, on Sept. 28, at a friend’s house in LA. The cause of death is not yet public.
The news of his passing came as a bit of a shock for me. From where I stood, Coolio seemed to be having a time on stage. He was spry and dancing and waving his arm and calling out to the audience. It was a great performance. Thank you, Coolio.
Safe to say, three days of a festival is tiring. After Coolio’s show, I walked over to watch Poliça, but before long, I curled up on a nice patch of shady grass and let her celestial synth melody lull me into a deep sleep. I must have been out for an hour because I woke up to the sound of Jimmy Eat World. They played a relaxing dad-rock set, peppered with enough hard jams to please the metal core. It didn’t hurt that the crowd could sing along to their nostalgic classics like “The Middle.” People may have been feeling the heat and the pain in their knees from three days of standing and moshing, but the energy was growing.
I stayed at the same stage to watch Sleater-Kinney, the trailblazing punk-feminist group that came alive in the New York nineties. Their music has amassed a second and third wave of popularity with the rise of the hit series, “Portlandia,” starring Carrie Brownstein, the lead guitarist and second-singer of the group. But Brownstein is not just some Hollywood sell-out. After watching Sleater-Kinney’s performance, it’s clear that Brownstein is first and foremost a punk-rocker: That dude can shred.
But sadly, I had to leave the Sleater-Kinney set early. It was time for Action Bronson.
Bronson was one of the artists I was most excited to see. His TV show, “Fuck That’s Delicious,” was a comforting staple in my streaming rotation this summer. It is quite entertaining to watch a goofy, charming and slightly ridiculous rapper stroll into divey restaurants and call everything he eats the best thing he’s ever had; more entertaining than watching his concert, it turned out.
Most of Bronson’s songs are not really bangers. While I do thoroughly enjoy The Alchemist’s production, his slow, loopy beats just don’t go that hard at a concert. And even though Bronson is a cheeky lyricist, his flow felt a little too steady and even lacked the inflection of passion I expected from a character of his caliber. Maybe I expected too much of the man. After all, he did tell us he had a WWE fight the next day. Bronson’s got a lot going on. Maybe his heart isn’t in the music anymore, and maybe that’s alright.
As soon as Bronson finished his set, I bolted over to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I’m extremely glad I did. Frontwoman, Karen O, is a riot, or, she was a riot back in (yes, you guessed it) New York in the early aughts. Nowadays, she’s a mom and a fantastic performer but didn’t display much of anything close to the carnage she’s known for beyond a simple smash of her microphone. I want to be clear: I don’t blame her in the slightest. With the help of some slapping songs, including tailgate classic “Heads Will Roll,” Karen O performed a peach of a set. We were vibing, we were dancing, we were singing: What more do you need?
As it turns out, I needed Ice Cube, and luckily, his performance was next. I think it is safe to say Ice Cube is an absolute legend of American culture. He was one of the founding members of N.W.A., arguably the most influential rap group of all time. He has produced and starred in countless fantastic films and more than a few flops, all of which are entertaining. And he’s a great performer. At 53, Ice Cube still bounces around the stage, banters with the MC, belts his lyrics and shows up for the audience. His energy spread through the crowd. We started bobbing our hands, swinging our backs, screaming the words.
But just as the energy was rising again, I had to go. The people with whom I was driving back to Ann Arbor had a project they had to finish before the next morning. There wasn’t time for Nine Inch Nails. They couldn’t email the professor asking for an extension? We couldn’t stay a little longer? Decidedly not. Such is the life of a college journalist, but I can’t complain.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.