Riot Fest Denver | 09.19-21.14

Riot-Fest-BannerThe Cure had beautiful stage effects that went perfectly with the rest of their well-honed and beloved music.

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The Descendents, photo Ashby Walters

Amazing. I know the word is overused, but it sums up Riot Fest Denver 2014 perfectly. I was amazed from the moment I stepped onto the site and stayed amazed for the next three days. I don’t just mean the sights and sounds, but also the fact that, in a little over two months, Riot Fest went from losing the site they had used last year to finding a new site and making it work seamlessly. Amazing.

Last year, they were in Byers, Co., just outside of Denver, on May Farms, so everything was done on soil. This year, they moved right downtown to the parking lot of Mile High Stadium and nearly everything was done on asphalt—a huge change when you are talking about mosh pits, amusement rides, and most of all camping. Camping was out. So, all the tickets for camping had to be refunded and Riot Fest had to work with local lodging to “extend some exclusive hotel options at discount rates.”

I was not able to go to last year’s event, so I can’t tell you if the new site was better or worse. The reaction on social media seems mixed. Many liked the availability of public transport that came with the new location, but some others missed the benefits of nature and softer ground offered by Byers. Either way, they have found a new site that can be depended on, even if Byers never invites them back. Win-win.

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The Cure, photo Ashby Walters

Riot Fest was such a huge event that one could get lost right from the beginning. I had downloaded their app (great app; highly recommended!) and relied heavily on it the entire time, because things can definitely get confusing. The grounds were set up with four stages, one at each corner. Usually, two bands were playing at the same time on opposite corners of the venue. This made for a lot of hard choices, and is why I would highly recommend using the website and app to plan out who you want to see most.

My wife had a photo pass, which allowed her to go right to the front of the stage, into the “photo pit,” for the first three songs of every band (except a few prima donna bands like The Cure.) So, for many acts I followed along and caught the beginning from just outside the photo area, and then rushed off to try to catch the next act. This kept us literally running nearly the entire time. I had mapped out several bands that I had to see in the entirety while she went off the get pictures of some other group at the other corner of the venue.

My circumstances were unique, but for most, there were just endless choices. You could choose to attend one, two, or all three days. You could choose general admission or the V.I.P. treatment, which entailed being able to leave and re-enter, along with special viewing areas and privileges. You could choose to rush and see as many bands as possible, or you could take your time and visit the other attractions, such as amusement rides and even putt-putt golf. The choices for food and drink were better than your average concert, too, with several locations and choices ranging from carnival food to higher-end fare and craft beers.

Riot Fest was full of great music. Right from the beginning, I could tell that no one was phoning it in; even newer bands had great rapport with the crowd. But even with all of these great performances, there were several that really stood out.

Friday 09.19

  • Die Antwoord (photo, right: Ashby Walters) came on like an explosion, with Ninja stage diving over the photo pit into the crowd within the first 10 die riotseconds of their show. The earth-rattling bass and high tempo whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

  • Nostalghia filled their half-hour slot with a menacing, dark metal and beautiful, almost operatic singing. They created a somber, dark atmosphere perfect for the next band, Slayer.

  • Slayer is still crushing out the metal. Their new guitarist is already fitting in perfectly with a smooth, fluid style that makes him seem like a lifelong member. They played a song off their upcoming new release and several older, less-played songs, including my personal favorite, “Epidemic.” (SLAAAAAAYER!!!)

  • Weezer has so many well-known and beloved anthems that they easily turned the crowd into a bouncing, sing-along tempest. A great end to the day.

Saturday 09.20

  • The Descendents had the crowd in the palm of their hand, especially when they played their entire first album, Milo Goes to College, straight through.

  • City and Colour were sooo mellow, like the Avett Brothers on Quaaludes. Sonic, airy guitars surrounding the voice of a very solid singer created a nice change of pace in the middle of the riot.

  • The Cure had beautiful stage effects that went perfectly with the rest of their well-honed and beloved music. It was nice to see on social media a lot of people who were probably only into harder music saying that they were blown away by The Cure and would be investigating their music. Such a seamless performance will do that to people.

Sunday 09.21

  • Bouncing Souls are true craftsmen at getting the crowd pumped up, creating even more crowd-surfing than Slayer. THAN SLAYER! And they had fun, too, playing songs like “East Coast Fuck You!” and specifically calling out the Dropkick Murphys, who would be playing that very stage a few hours later. All in good punk fun.

  • Violent Femmes were a great tempo change in the middle of the day as it began to sprinkle rain. They stuck mainly to the classics, but that was what the crowd wanted. Brian Ritchie can definitely still rock those bass solos like a boss.

    And for the finale, people had a choice of The National or Wu-Tang Clan.

  • The National prepped the crowd with “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors. This, with heavy smoke and the now steady rain, created a perfect intro to Matt Berninger’s ghostly, smooth voice and their pulsing, yet somber sound.

  • Wu-Tang Clan, on the other hand, was late starting and somewhat disjointed for the first two songs. This was too bad because their huge crowd was ready to explode with excitement just to see them. Soon they seemed to catch their groove, though, and pump the crowd though to the end of the night…and the Fest.

In summary: Amazing! From all of this, I only had one complaint. The bass was way overmixed on the “General Store,” stage and I think it blew some woofers by the middle of the second day. This was a real damper on Clutch, Descendents, Social D, Dropkick Murphys, and basically every band that played that stage afterwards. But, considering the scale of this event and the huge last-minute changes that were forced on the promoters, I still can’t believe I was there and everything I experienced, let alone that they got it all done so (nearly) perfectly. Bravo. Amazing. | Matt Ehrlich

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Cerebral Ballzy, photo Ashby Walters

And now, a quick word from the peanut gallery—er, photographer—who caught a few noteworthy acts her husband missed:

  • Radkey, a punk band from St. Joseph, Mo., has a mature sound harkening back to the style’s early, more experimental, bold days.

  • Boulder’s 3OH!3 electrified the pavement. Within seconds, the audience was bouncing and leaping, with bodies tumbling over heads and hands toward the stage moments later. One of the few techno bands at Riot, 3OH!3 demonstrated what differentiates performers from musicians: While their catchy sound engaged the body, rousing hearts and lifting feet, their presentation engaged the mind, thrilling the audience, which was roaring for more at the first beat.

  • Cerebral Ballzy is a wonderfully moody hardcore band from Brooklyn with an audaciously fun sound that was impossible not to head bang to. | Ashby Walters

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