POZ Perspective: How Riot Fest Created The Best Festival Lineup We’ll Ever See

by Zack Zarrillo - Sep 6, 2013


Riot Fest Chicago will be kicking off in exactly one week, and it’s all we’ve been waiting for since the original lineup announcement back in May. PropertyOfZack has put together a new Perspective piece with Riot co-founder Mike Petryshyn to get to the bottom of they curated the best festival lineup we’ve ever seen. Check your Chicago tickets here and read the Perspective below!

by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman

Riot Fest co-founder Mike Petryshyn’s first Rule draws his battle lines with unmistakable clarity — “You can’t be a 35-year-old asshole and say ‘that’s not punk,’ or something completely jaded along those lines.”

That’s probably because Petryshyn doesn’t have the authority to judge the genres younger concertgoers gravitate towards. He admits pretty unabashedly that, when he was a kid, he owned Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling,” mostly just because he “grooved like a mofo when I was ten.” 

So how does Rule Number One play into that mentality? Well, Petryshyn (known around the Chicago scene as Riot Mike, which is easier to type and much more fun to say) contends that the punker-than-thou attitude is not fair and, in his own eloquent phrasing, “makes you seem pretty dumb.” The snobs are out there, and usually in full force, but Riot Mike would prefer fans find new bands to fall in love with at Riot Fest than remain stuck in their own basement-tinted nostalgia.

“I’d rather have a PTV kid discover Violent Femmes at the show than [hear an older concert-goer] talking about how much better their Riv show was in 1986,” he says vehemently.

Not that Riot Mike won’t indulge in some nostalgia of his own. He jokes that booking The Replacements was 22 years in the making (if you don’t get the joke, remember that Riot Fest is just pushing its eighth birthday) and that, at 13, he pestered The ‘Mats Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson with postcards. 

“I let them know what I was up to in life,” he cracks. “Girlfriend problems, how I hated gym class, and how my parents didn’t get me. You know, that sort of stuff. After 22 years of postcards, I mentioned that I had a fest and it would be super dope if they played.”

Wisecracks aside, the reunion of the elusive ’80s rockers wasn’t the only surprise to crack the Riot Fest bill. Riot Mike runs through a quick list of bands he didn’t quite expect to take the stage – Violent Femmes, Blink-182, Guided By Voices, Brand New, AFI, No D’Bags allowed, and Pixies.

But Riot Mike brags (with a healthy sense of self-awareness, no doubt) that he boasts a 100 percent accuracy rate. It’s a statement he backs up with a topical metaphor, one day after the Broncos shellacked the Ravens on the first day of football season: Riot Mike equates his booking successes with success in his fantasy football drafts. Non-football fans, skip the next quote: it probably won’t make much sense.

“Sometimes you have the first pick overall, so you draft Adrian Peterson, and in the Riot Fantasy draft, The Replacements. But sometimes, though, you draft someone high who hits the injured reserve, like Motorhead or Toots, so it’s all about who you draft in the middle rounds.”

And like any fantasy football competitor (or at least those willing to admit it), you always draft players from your favorite team. Riot Mike says the fest loves their Chicago bands, and the acts that fly that hometown banner are in full force this year; from Fall Out Boy, to Smoking Popes, to Screeching Weasel and more, there will be a veritable slew of bands defending their home turf. 

If Riot Fest has accomplished nothing else, Riot Mike is proud that the fest has focused more sets of eyes on what he deems “Chicago royalty” — the scene as a whole, sure, but also bands like Big Black, Screeching Weasel, and Naked Raygun.

“But more importantly, maybe a few kids after going to Riot decided to pick up a guitar and start a band, instead of writing beats on an Apple,” he hopes. 

As Riot Fest continues ballooning in size, Riot Mike says that the festival “kinda” gets tougher to book year in and year out, but his theory of why Riot Fest has skyrocketed to the level it has is probably closer to the truth than his claim that it is “100 percent wrong.”

“If you build something that is decently fun and that worthwhile bands want to play, it ultimately creates something special in the air,” he says. “Especially when 90 percent of the attendees are there for the music, and not just to slam beers all day.”

He tacks on a quick addendum, amending his statement to include, “We do not discourage beer consumption at all at Riot Fest.”

So ultimately, Riot Mike hopes this year’s festival is about being safe, taking care of each other and having a fun time. More specifically, that means “watching Andrew WK with a corn dog and beer in hand.”

And Riot Fest goers might as well have a good time, because when asked about the festival’s future, Riot Mike jokes there might not be one. At least, not until it’s a good time to cash in. 

“I was thinking about going on hiatus after September 22 and reuniting for the big bucks in 10 years,” he clowns. “Oh, wait, that wouldn’t really…”

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