The second day of Riot Fest began with a large blow-up cherry and a burgundy slip dress. The latter was donned by Cherry Glazerr’s always-on frontwoman, Clementine Creevy, and the former teetered in the background of their set. With the level of noise coming from each instrument, you would have expected it to pop. But no, it held up throughout their raucous and entertaining set, a whimsical piece of mythology that encapsulated the group’s ethos perfectly. Standing three feet from the front of the stage and the aforementioned cherry balloon, I was struck by a jolt of pure happiness. For the first show of Riot Fest’s second day, we were already off to a great start.
Cherry Glazerr played for over an hour straight, with each band member thrashing to the music as Creevy’s ethereal voice carried through the air. I had seen them perform at Detroit’s Fillmore theatre in 2017, just as their star was beginning to shine in the rock scene. It was nice to see how they’d grown from a smaller, derivative outfit to a full-force group of seasoned performers. Their group is an interesting mix of classic punk and pop-punk influences with a lighter, almost folk-inspired flavor. It was a natural fit for Chicago’s Riot Fest crowd, which was mixed in a similar way — from hardcore punkers to lighter, more hippie-esque festivalgoers, there was something there for everyone on that sunny Saturday in Douglas Park.
After dancing extremely poorly throughout the entirety of Cherry Glazerr’s set, I meandered across the fairgrounds and realized an artist I had been meaning to see was 50 feet away from where I was standing. That artist was upcoming rapper PROF, who is, I would say, what we all wanted Macklemore to be but never got from him. PROF’s set was a hilarious forty-five minutes of him questioning why he was even playing there (which one could reasonably ask at a largely punk festival) and a rap performance that knocked it out of the park. The rapper threw water into the crowd, threw it on himself, bantered with his DJ and performed songs from his most recent album all at the same time, building a rapport with the crowd with every move he made. His beats were solid, his flow a pleasant nod to old-school. He is definitely one to watch.
Walking soaked from PROF’s audience to the next stage, I couldn’t help but giggle at the wonder of it all. You could hear the battling basslines of multiple performers echo across the battered grass, smell the smoke from vapes and cigarettes mixing in the afternoon wind, catch the laughter of each group who had ventured back for another day. It was honestly delightful. What was also delightful came in the next hour, when I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd for glam-rock throwback band The Struts. Their set was a blast from the past, in the best way possible.
The Struts, composed of four incredibly talented musicians in shiny costumes, bounced onto their stage with fervor. Frontman Luke Spiller was clad in a brilliant red getup reminiscent of Freddie Mercury’s early costumes, and the rest of the band wore similar outfits to push their image even further. The songs blended into one another perfectly, with Spiller effortlessly throwing in anecdotes between each performance that ultimately segued into the next song. It was great, it was hot and it was something that not many musicians could do in this day and age. If Greta Van Fleet is what happens when a band blindly copies one from the past, The Struts have ultimately become more than the sum of their influences. Parts of their set reminded the audience of Queen, of Black Sabbath, of the late ‘70s in general — but they were themselves, not anyone else. The music was good, and sometimes that’s what sets you apart in the end.
As the sun began to go down and lines formed at every stage to prepare for the mainstage headliners, an anticipatory buzz fell over the crowds. First, I made my way over to the Wu-Tang Clan’s performance, for which they were predictably late. After waiting for 20 minutes in the photo line, we were finally there: I couldn’t believe that I had made it one foot from the members of such a celebrated heritage group, but there I was. Joining most of the original lineup was a new addition, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, aptly nicknamed Young Dirty Bastard. Their show was brilliant, if somewhat slow. But its been decades since they burst onto the scene, and the audience knew that. We were celebrating their genius while listening to it, joining the group members in a rehashing of their very beginnings with a full performance of their album 39 Chambers.
The rest of the night was a blur. From running to the Slayer stage only to feel the literal sweat of the metal legends on my own skin in the photo pit, to a knockout performance from the British post-punk icons Bloc Party, I was riding an emotional yo-yo back and forth happily. My eardrums were near the brink of collapse, but the smile on my face was immovable, plastered across my cheeks like the Joker. I could feel the bass in my bones, the arms and legs of the audience members around me, the eyes of each performer crossing mine as I tried to get the best shots and sounds of the night. Though blended, my memories are fond. Those last two acts were a frenzied mix — sadness that I would be going home the next day, ecstatic joy of true togetherness. We were dancing with legends that night, and everyone knew that. Walking home from that second day at Riot Fest, my skin buzzed with the energy of everyone I had seen that day. I can almost feel it now.