So, I’m sitting on my couch, recovering from my weekend at Riotfest and recalling it with extreme satisfaction. The two day festival, spanning August 24 to August 25, started with a flurry of loud, angsty, screaming music that was a big draw on Day 1 for the younger crowd. The line up, spanning bands Real Friends to The Ghost Inside to Day to Remember was markedly different from the line up on Day 2, which not only featured somewhat more mellow music, but also a significant change in age dynamic.
When Real Friends entered the stage at 2:30, they heralded the beginning of the festival (although it could be said that people didn’t really get into the swing of things until The Ghost Inside. Real Friends brought the angst-rock, which didn’t leave until the end of the day, even though things did mellow out a bit more towards the end. Modestly, the band declared “90% of you don’t know who the fuck we are, so thanks for coming out,” before they tore up their half hour set.
The festival grounds themselves took about ten minutes to circumnavigate. The merchandise tent was almost as popular as the stage. There was no real difference between general admission and VIP, unlike other Fort York festivals this year such as Field Trip, Toronto Urban Roots Festival, and Grove Fest, which made me feel less sad about not getting VIP admission (haha). The grounds were small, but well-organized and easily navigable, and thank goodness for the plethora of porter-potties, the most I’ve seen at a Toronto festival since Edgefest. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but after 8 hours in the blaring sunlight with several thousand people using the same bathrooms over and over and over… Well, you get my point.
Structures went on at 3:15, on schedule, screaming their metal music out to the burgeoning crowd. Though the band was, apparently, “usually sleeping” at their set time, they brought an exhilarating level of energy to their set. There’s probably an emoticon that could be used here to accurately describe the music at Riotfest, but I’m not sure what that would look like. The band itself was like a little baby Rage Against the Machine, and in time could be just as good. Structures praised their hometown (Toronto) as the city they love more than any in the entire world. I was glad I got the memo about the apparently dress code on Saturday, which consisted of cut offs and rock shirts.
The Ghost Inside came out at 4pm, and the moshing began with earnest. From afar, viewers didn’t need to actually see the moshing to know it was there, as the immense dust cloud that drifted over the crowd toward the stage was indication enough. After the band, people emerged from the pit, mouths caked with dirt that looked like black lipstick, with gashes on their arms or bare backs, and legs so filthy so as to appear covered in hair. The crowd itself was becoming very powerful, with a lot of shoes being thrown into the dust cloud. The band itself was also very heavy, but with more attention placed on lyrics and more showmanship.
Grade arrived at 4:55 and I began to sense a theme with the loud, screaming bands. Grade, however, was increasingly melodic compared to the preceding bands, even though according to them they “don’t really fit it” with the Riotfest line-up. The crowd was less responsive, and the moshpit died down enough that the roadies had to bring out the real smoke machine to recreate the effect.
Mayday Parade arrived at 5:50, to security guards spritzing the crowd with water bottles. Progressing even further away from the heaviness that opened the festival, Mayday Parade, hailing from Talahassy, told the crowd, “We wanna see some crowd surfing!” Later, with Every Time I die, Keith, the lead singer, demanded a circle pit and said, “I wanna see bodies on top of bodies!” and, “I haven’t seen anybody on anybody’s shoulders yet.” Keith’s singing voice was reminiscent of Jack White, and a concertgoer likened the band to “dirty angels rising from the pit of hell,” due to the mess of dust rising up from the crowd.
With Pierce the Veil and Day to Remember giving energizing performances while also sounding a lot like Rage Against the Machine, day 1 of Riotfest drew to a close, with the second day heralding bands such as The Weakerthans and Rocket from the Crypt, and the indelible Iggy Pop.
The next band I saw on the second day was Best Coast who, despite excellent music, drew in a small crowd, most likely due to their time slot. Dinosaur Jr. entered the stage after, playing lots of guitar solos and a Cure cover.
Rocket from the Crypt entered stage next, from San Diego wearing matching outfits. There was a surprising lack of moshing, which was probably because everyone was much older than the audience members from day 1. There was a markedly different age dynamic, which most likely was because of Iggy. There were some punk rock trumpets and a lecture on the history of Fort York and the war of 1812, praising Canadians for fending off the Americans who, “Were just trying to help.” The lead singer flipped through pages of set notes before declaring, “We’ve got 5… no 7 minutes left. 5 or 7 you know I’m gonna talk the whole time.” Complete with stage diving and a solo from saxophonist Steve McKay, the band said, “There’s a very pretty Canadian girl in the crowd but YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL,” and launched into their song of the same title.
I’m sorry to say I missed The Weakerthans because I had to take a turn about the grounds to shake off the intense claustrophobia in the burgeoning crowd, but I made it back to the stage in time for Iggy. There was a great deal of waiting once The Weakerthans left the stage, and people were growing a little restless until Iggy finally entered the stage. Like Mick Jagger, shirtless and in tight black pants, Iggy strutted about the stage like a peacock amid an ecstatic cheer from the crowd. Images of David Bowie and Mick Jagger danced in our heads, being so close to such an idyllic rock icon. Iggy provided the crowd with a stunning show, never stopping his outrageous dancing spasms for the extent of his performance, falling on stage (and bleeding), and making remarkable stage dives into the extremely grateful crowd. Iggy later said, “This next song, from out new album is called Sex and Money,” and what else could it be? Of course it would be called that, and Iggy, you do it so well.
Iggy bid us ado, waving and blowing kisses from side stage, and he was replaced by The Replacements, who rocked the crowd after a 22 year hiatus, and saying, “This song signals the end of crowd surfing.” And so it did. The end of moshing and crowd surfing, but also the end of the concert.