An Oral history of 2014’s Riot Fest as told by random people


Riotfest happened last week, we weren’t going to cover it but over the course of 48 hours, we, along with some friends, felt suddenly entranced by the festival. Maybe it was the North York air. Anyways, this is the story.

As told by:

Ricky (Panic Manual contributor/contest winner)
Paul (Panic Manual contributor)
Kristian (Concert photographer and GIF enthusiast.)
Caroline (Long time listener, first time caller)
Gary (Was not actually there)
Kim (Guest contributor, check out her music blog For The Trees)

Initial Thoughts

Paul: I remember it was late Sunday night when Ricky first brought up the idea of doing an oral history for Riot Fest. At first i was like, “I dunno about this idea. It all sounds a bit goofy.” I really wasn’t sure how it would all turn out but he was really into it, so sure, whatever. Let’s do it.

Gary: When I was assigned an oral history of something that didn’t occur personally and yet I have to tell in an epic fashion, I immediately thought of Homer. And the Great Book. And a lot of other important events in human history whose origin is still debated, like The Apollo Moon-landing. Ok. Maybe not that last one. But regardless, I started to research the origins of Riot Fest. It turns out, like Second City, it is an import from Chicago. Kinda injects more than the intended meaning into the term Second City. But I digress.

Ricky: Digress or egress. I had always been interested in RiotFest’s lineup. The Cure is band I love and you can’t go wrong with The National and some of the other small font bands. I didn’t want to cover it and in complete honesty, I thought I could win a contest to get free tickets to the show. I won tickets to the show, so I invited Paul.

Paul: Ricky loves free stuff. i do too. I mean, who doesn’t?

Kristian I attended Riot Fest its first year in Toronto. I was drawn to the lineup not because of current musical leanings, but instead it’s nostalgic appeal. The headliner was NOFX, and they were supported by Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music and The Lawrence Arms. The festival could have been called Kristians grade 11 mini-disk player-fest. Even then I got tickets via a contest, and it was the same this year. I’ve never paid for Riot-Fest.

Kim: For the past two years, I managed to attend Riot Fest without ever paying. Last year, I covered the fest for and spent most of my words gushing over the return of the Replacements. This year, I won tickets and spent my thoughts bidding farewell to Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla.

To me, Riot Fest is a mega festival that has really struggled to establish its niche and has largely chosen acts based on who’s available.

Caroline When I heard of RiotFest and some of the bands attending like Alkaline Trio and Taking Back Sunday, I recoiled a bit. Then I saw that The Cure was playing and immediately thought that would be cool. $200 seems steep for one great band and a bunch of others I don’t have any interest in. A lot of other people must have thought so too because thousands of tickets were given away a few days before the festival. Two of my friends had won and one invited me as her +1 after I had abandoned all hope of seeing The Cure.

Gary: Anyway, I had no prior experience with Riot Fest. I thought first of where best in Toronto to start a riot. Downtown? No, the history of G-20 protest will likely invoke a strong Police response. How about the middle of nowhere? Downsview airport? Fabulous! And since it’s right next to Canada’s first “urban” national park, they are advertising its benefit to the community.

The Day of (AND THE RAIN)

All outdoor festivals are faced with the same x-factor issue: weather. The night before Riotfest featured torrential downpour thus jeopardizing the enjoyment of some people at the show.

Ricky: Your outdoor festival experience can be hampered if you don’t have proper attire. Given last night’s downpour, I decided to go with flip flops as my footwear. My reasoning was simple: I’d rather wash my feet then my shoes. Also, it’s really gross when you are wearing shoes and it gets wet on the inside. It’s somehow less gross when your feet is all muddied.

Paul: I wore pretty much brand new shoes (not to be confused with Brand New the band) on the first day. Not the brightest move, but I got them for cheap so I don’t really care.

Caroline: I was warned about the mud on the way there, but it was too late. I made the poor choice of wearing ballet flats which got ruined. So the show actually ended up costing me $80, not $0 like I had hoped. Mistake #1. Clearly, I am not experienced with outdoor concerts.

Gary: Upon skimming through the lineup, I decided that one would need a sports coat, dress pants and colorful socks in order to blend in, possibly back stage. Perhaps I would sport a monocle in order to examine my own ego in between sets.

Kristian My day of preparation is never too extensive. Wear the crappiest shoes I own. On the bus home I counted a ratio of converse to other, and Converse was in the lead 8/2. I guess those punks are onto something. I’m not the kind of guy who dresses up to a punk show. The last one I was at I wore penny loafers and my work attire.

Ricky: The journey there was long and painful. As a downtown person, you know you have travelled too far when the subway somehow ends up outside and you are faced with the blinding glow that is the sun.

Paul: We played a game on the subway ride there of guessing which people were on their way to Riot Fest. Once on the festival grounds, we played a much easier game of “which of these people are here mostly just to see The Cure?”

Ricky: I’m not sure what RiotFest’s business model is, but when your contest winner list comes in a binder, you might want to do a better job selling tickets.

Riotfest loves lineups. Here are the lineups that were required:
– pick up tickets
– get beer wristband
– get ticket scanned
– go through security
– buy beer tickets
– get beers.

I don’t know what kind of crime they have in North York but it was the most fierce security I have encountered. The girl was responsible for patting me down touched so many of my body parts, I thought I had to slip her a twenty or buy her champagne.

Kristian Security was top notch. I only say this because they let me take in my half consumed bottle of water. They the real MVP.

Caroline: After walking past the grope-y security, I felt like I was transplanted into another world. Coming from Queen west hipsterville, it seemed strange but refreshing to see a huge crowd of suburban emo punks. Brand New was on the stage and they screamed a lot. I regretted not bringing my earplugs for fear of having decibel damage to my ears. Mistake #2

Day 1 Acts

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Ricky First act that I paid attention to was Paul Weller. His band as expected, came out all primp and proper. Points to one of the guitarists for wearing a full suit. Paul Weller himself looked like one of those guys who have spent too much time in Fort Lauderdale.

Paul Weller’s an odd act, especially if he only has an hour to play. The man has so much material to pick from, yet I bet most people just want to see The Jam stuff. The age difference between was the Paul Weller crowd and the AWOLNation crowd was probably twenty years. I enjoyed the fact that he played My Ever Changing Mood.

AWOLNation was awful, but if I lived in boonies, I would probably have liked them.

Gary: The last time I saw Paul Weller was in 2008, at the Virgin Festival. Glad to hear that he’s still producing soulful music. He is one of those musicians who I would only listen to live, so there’s an opportunity lost. I feel old knowing that I would be much more entertained watching Weller and the Lips instead of Metric or City and Colour. And the “LIKE” buttons on Riot Fest’s lineup page confirms this…

Caroline My friend and I explored the food choices as we counted down to the Flaming Lips. We opted for a Collosal Onion, which is a battered, deep-fried onion. It was tasty, but after just a few bites, it was nauseating because it was so greasy. Mistake #3.

Ricky RiotFest had a strong food game. I hate lineups so I went to the roti place. I immediately regretted my decision when I saw some white dude handing me the roti instead of some middle aged Caribbean women. Never trust white people to make ethnic foods.

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Ricky I still don’t get the pandemonium that arrives whenever DFA plays a show. I liked Sebastian Grainger for making fun of the crowd by saying they are all from Barrie. He was probably right. I don’t think I can pull off the no-shirt white overalls look that Grainger was earing.

Check out this dude. Why bring sunglasses and put them on the back of your neck:

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Paul: Wayne Coyne did his usual Willie Wonka on acid routine.  It was good, but it seemed a little lacklustre, perhaps because of the time constraints of their non-headliner slot.

Ricky You know you’ve been to too many concerts when a Flaming Lips concert comes off as a bit meh. Without their usual gigantic stage, the Lips seemed off. At times it felt like a Japanese arcade on mdma. Some people were losing it, but I thought it was just average. Maybe I’m dead inside.

Caroline After a visually interesting but lacklustre Flaming Lips show, the sun went down and The Cure came on. It was freezing at this point and I was glad to have brought a sweater and towel. Success #1.

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Ricky The Cure. They did not disappoint. Rummaging through their entire discography, fat Bob not only played all the hits, but sounded absolutely fantastic. The set list had everything you could ask for including Just Like Heaven, Boys Don’t Cry, Lovesong, Friday I’m in Love and Close to Me. I wanted Crystal Castles to show up to do Not in Love, but Crystal Castles are probably lost in a field somewhere.

Caroline The Cure was the highlight of the show. It was great to hear all their hits and I was amazed that Robert Smith sounds essentially the same since so many aging rockers lose their voice. I was happy that they played Lovesong which may be my favourite song of theirs.

The most memorable moment of the night was Pictures of You – but not because it was such a great live rendition. Partway through the song, an inebriated young lady broke my Cure reverie by coming over and asking me if she could pee where I was standing. I said no but she pulled down her pants and peed on the metal barrier, tainting the vicinity and forever creating a new association with the song for me.

Ricky Caroline has always said she was a weirdo magnet and today I witnessed it first hand, but we are friends so maybe I too, am a weirdo.

Day 2 Acts

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We asked Gary what some lessons learned would be from day 1
Gary: Ricky would be able to tell you the precise GPS coordinate to stand your ground in order to have a panoramic view by 3PM. And then, he’ll have a poorly drawn but weirdly accurate bird’s eye view breakdown of the venue to go along with commentary by 6PM. (Tip: you’re supposed to look at it while mildly inebriated). My projected lesson after the first day would probably involve the number of drinks before I look like an asshole while using a tripod to hold the telephoto lens among 10,000.

Caroline: The next day, I was better prepared. I wore running shoes and brought my earplugs.

Kristian: I felt the bands this year lacked identity. The festival is called Riot Fest and City and Colour was headlining. Stars, Death Cab and the National are hardly bands that people who want to mosh would identify with. Seems to me it could have done better as a single day, mostly punk festival.

Ricky: By the time I arrived, The New Pornographers had already played for 10 minutes. Dan Bejar actually looked somewhat sober. New Pornographers are so good and vastly underrated as a band. I didn’t run into the same security girl who groped me the day before, if it had happened again, I might have changed my relationship status to “It’s complicated” on facebook just for her.

Paul: I’ve always wondered what Dan Bejar does when he goes offstage during the times that he doesn’t have to sing one of his songs.  I assume it mostly involves drinking.

Ricky: Die Antwoord gets the award for most energetic and weirdest band of the day. They seem to be a band that people who subscribe to Vice magazine listen to. They were quite visually amusing to watch, even if every song of theirs sound the same. The rapper seems like a South African version of Riff Raff.

Paul: Dropkick Murphys had my favourite onstage banter of the festival, with singer Al Barr offering up some friendly sports-related trash talking in his Boston accent.  “Go Leafs?  I’m tawkin’ about baseball here!”

Ricky: Riotfest and Stars seem like an odd combo. The band made the best of it by sticking to their rockier material and also by covering Alvvway’s Marry Me Archie. Torquil went on his usual political schtick and I’ve concluded he’d probably be that one asshole who ruins every conversation at dinner parties.

Paul: I’m not a big Stars fan, but for some reason I really enjoyed their set.  I feel like they probably made an effort to make it as “punk” as a Stars show could possibly be. Torquil kept to his standard dramatics, including his use of overemphatic swearing throughout the show.  Also, great Rush tribute/putdown during the early part of their set.

Ricky: Death Cab was a lot louder then I had anticipated and they definitely had one of the biggest crowds. It wasn’t until this show where I realized I only know like four or five Death Cab songs. My highlight of this set was this girl who wore a Jack Bauer/24 hat. What’s your thought process when you buy this hat?

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Kim: Beyond my reservations about Downsview as a venue, attending shows at the former airforce base around sunset is actually quite charming. Death Cab played just before sunset and played a surprising number of tunes off of Narrow Stairs, an album I love, but I imagine Transatlanticism fans love to hate.

Caroline The day was fun but nothing was particularly memorable. RiotFest was all about The Cure.

Kristian: My half day take-away is that the festival was pretty good, but the barrier down between the two stages created a log-jam in between sets. Why not just have it open, and let people cycle back and forth?

Ricky Caroline sums it up pretty well. The National were their usual great self and even did a sax solo from a Sufjan Stevens song. Not wanting to ruin my Sunday by listening to Metric or City and Colour, I made the long journey back home.

Kim As a massive fan of the National, I was sad to find that despite my efforts to move as close to the stage as possible, I still had people yaking behind me during the band’s slow burn ballad “I Need My Girl.”

Gary: With the downtown core packed and the islands difficult to access, it looks like Riot Fest found a fairly open space to grow. And from what I can tell with my telescopes in Baltimore it is becoming an important event on the Toronto calendar. Perhaps next year – or maybe I should just drop by Brooklyn.

Posted on by Ricky in Everything

About Ricky

Britpop lovin Chinaman, consumer of all things irrelevant. Toronto Raptors fan.

One Response to An Oral history of 2014’s Riot Fest as told by random people

  1. DM

    you should submit this to @longreads

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