The bus I'm on smells terrible: a mixture of body odour, cheap beer, and anticipation. It's filled to the brim with concert goers, mostly teenagers, but also a handful of adults who are dressed like teenagers. We're on our way to the Toronto leg of Riot Fest. This is the third year that the self-proclaimed punk rock festival has held shows in the great white north, though the first time they've held their event at Downsview park. The venue is an hour long shlep from Toronto proper, and I'm trying to use this time on public transit to go over my interview notes, and think of mean things to say on twitter. However, before I can come up with one decent zinger - Brand New? More like Brand Old! Am I right? - one of my fellow bus riders tries to engage me in conversation:
"Dude, like, do you know if they're gonna like…check our bags?"
I foolishly take off my headphones when answering his question, and from that I'm down the rabbit hole of inane bus talk. People are excited about the festival, and pleased with themselves for being messed up in the middle of the afternoon. They chat, and flirt, and compare their awful tattoos. Overwhelmingly, however. there is one sentiment that gets repeated ad nauseam: my bus is excited to see the bands they used to love in high school, even though they feel slightly embarrassed about it. This is weird idea, because by my account most of my bus looks like they're still in high school, but whatever. Welcome to Riot Fest, everybody.
After what seems like an inordinate amount of time I'm let off public transit into a sea of black, plaid, and denim. It's hard to assume the moody journalist pose in the middle of the noon day sun, but I throw on my shades and do my best. The Cure are headlining this evening, which means that Toronto's last remaining goths have come out to play. I spot a couple in Victorian Dress, literally holding parasols to protect their pristine white complexions. I'm tempted to go tell them that Disintegration sucks, just to see what would happen, but I think better of it and make my way over to the press check in.
Riot Fest's Toronto line up is a mixed bag of legends/nostalgia acts, radio friendly rock/indie, and the ghosts of Warped Tours past. There is a wrestling ring set up in the middle of their muddy field, and in between the venue's four stages there are artisan food trucks and carnival fare. I get into the press tent just in time to hear a lively discussion about whether or not the festivals current set up constitutes a sell-out, or whether or not the festival should be calling itself punk, but because I want to talk to pot bellied writers about what is and isn't punk about as much as I want to get kicked in the face, I venture out of the tent to find some music.
At Alkaline Trio, my first band for the day and a consistently great live act, I am immediately kicked in the face by a crowd surfer.
Over the course of the next two days I see a dozen or so bands with sets ranging from magnificent to terrible. Highlights and low lights, in no particular order, include:
- Watching Awol Nation try and stretch one hit into a forty minutes of stage time.
- The contempt that Death From Above 1979 had for the audience. At one point the band proclaimed: I bet all of you are from Barrie, aren't you?
- My inability to understand Die Atwood while the rest of the crowd lost their collective heads for the duo. Stay away from drugs, kids.
- a hotdog wrapped in bacon.
- Lucero making a short set in mid afternoon feel like a 2 am whisky induced heartbreak.
- The Cure sounding amazing, and doing absolutely nothing to engage the audience for their nearly two hour set.
- The neckbeards with photo passes making fun of female bloggers then trying to hit on them twenty minutes later.
- The druggiest sober experience of my life while watching the Flaming Lips. The band started out with giant dancing mushrooms and four minutes of raining confetti and things only got weirder from there.
- Pup. Good lord Pup. The Toronto band was far and away the best act I saw all weekend, bringing an infectious energy to the three hundred or so die hards who chose the local heroes above Clutch and Death Cab For Cutie on the competing stages.
For all the complaining on Social Media about Riot Fest's lack of consistent identity, or how us Canadians were shafted in terms of line up, all fair points by the way, the festival served as a great opportunity to see some amazing musicians tear it up on the big stage, even if that stage may have been completely inappropriate for the bands and their set lasted half an hour.
After the festival was over I stood on line for forty minutes waiting for my bus. When I finally got on I was seated beside a man who loudly bragged about sneaking in whisky by making a fake catheter bag . The man then proceed to take said bag from his backpack and take a long drink while myself and the other bus riders looked on disgusted. The man finished drinking and laughed. Then he yelled out:
"I DON'T CARE! I DON'T CARE! I'M NEVER GOING TO SEE ANY OF YOU AGAIN!"
Riot Fest is clearly still Punk Rock.