(Toronto, ON) – Riot Fest returned to Toronto at Downsview Park on Sept 19th and 20th. This independent music festival was established in Chicago 10 years ago, while in 2012 expanded to Denver and Toronto. Not only is this festival filled with music, but also side shows, food vendors and a carnival.
The festival housed four stages : The main stage was Riot and directly next it was Roots. Off in the distance was a slightly smaller stage called Rock and perpendicular to this was the much smaller Radical stage. The schedules were devised so that as one band was playing the other was prepping for the next act. Riot and Roots would alternate while the same happened for Rock and Radical.
Performing at the two-day Toronto festival were: Alexisonfire, Weezer, The Prodigy, Wu-Tang Clan, Rancid, Motorhead, All Time Low, Tyler the Creator, Coheed and Cambria, Atmosphere, Drive Like Jehu, Bleachers, Echo & The Bunnymen, Thrice, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Eagles of Death Metal(cancelled due to rain), Against Me, Babes in Toyland, Yelawolf (cancelled), The Airborne Toxic Event, The Joy Formidable, The Dead Milkmen, Andrew W.K, Bayside, Gwar(cancelled due to rain), Cancer Bats, The Thurston Moore Band, Fidlar, Doomtree, Jazz Cartier, D.O.A, Moneen, Die Mannequin, Heat, Courage my Love, Ritual, The OBGMS, Wildlife, Nova Rockafeller, The Dirty Nil, Indian Handcrafts, Like Pacific, The Dying Arts, Foxtrott, PartyCat, Tasha and the Amazon, Safe to Say, Rarity, Twin River, Black Mastiff and Tomahawk Love.
Day one brought ominous cloud filled skies, with impending rain “showers” according to the weather network. However, that certainly wasn’t the case. A torrential rain storm hit at approximately 3 p.m. and lasted a good part of the hour. I was stationed at the GWAR photo pit at the time and it came down hard and heavy. The stage crew where scrambling to cover all the equipment. Hoping it would quickly pass, most of the media stuck it out and occasionally got shelter from the elements under the stage. Positioned at the Rock stage at the time, the trek back to the media tent was lengthy, to say the least. I was certainly looking forward to seeing the theatrics of this satirical metal act, but it wasn’t meant to be. Not wanting to disappoint their fans, they had two costumed characters come on stage and performed a decapitation, spewing blood onto the crowd. Followed by two guys with hoses further drenching the audience in red and blue “liquids”.
This rain turned the entire venue in a complete mud pit. The mud was so deep that it would pull your shoes off as you took your step. Slippery as hell, you’d see many people wipe out. It was frankly a miserable experience. The trek from one stage to the other was slow and deliberate. Cold, wet and dirty, I was sort of not looking forward to covering the festival for day two. As the rain dissipated Toronto’s own Cancer Bats took to the Riot stage. They ended up being the highlight of the day for me. Although I had heard of their name floating around the Toronto scene, I had never heard their music. They are a four-piece hardcore punk band with heavy metal influences. They performed a tight, energetic set. A pleasant surprise for me, and certainly a band that I will follow closer.
I totally anticipated the legendary groundbreaking metal act Motorheads show. There were rumors that this performance could be cancelled at the Toronto Riot Fest since just a couple of weeks before Motorhead cancelled their appearance at the Denver show due to Lemmy’s health issues. Much to the crowds delight Motorhead did take to the stage at 8:30 p.m. It was apparent that Lemmy wasn’t physically well, barely moving, with the exception of a head turn every so often. His voice was weak and he didn’t have much energy in his performance. Guitarist Phil Campbell attempted to liven up the stage performance by running around and trying to compensate for Lemmy’s lack of enthusiasm. I respect Lemmy for playing this show when he was obviously not well and it was great to finally be able to see these pioneers of metal play However, it was a less than stellar appearance.
ALEXISONFIRE had the biggest crowd of the day. Having played their “final” show in 2012, they reunited to play a series of festivals this summer, including the Toronto Riot Fest. A less than amicable breakup of the Ontario band, had the masses speculating if the band had put aside their differences and were getting back together. Guitarist Wade MacNeil stated during the show “Thank you for believing in this band when we couldn’t even believe in this band. Thank you for sticking with us. We promise to never leave you again. No more sentimental shit. Alexisonfire is officially back.”
Towards the end of the day, there were a lot of drunk people that were fighting or simply passed out. The fighting that I did witness was snuffed in a timely manner by the police. I suppose it’s to be expected when alcohol is served at these 11-hour events.
The sun was shining on the last day of the event. I had a rejuvenated attitude of the festival and was pleasantly surprised at how the organizers covered the mud with sand, and laid ply wood in high traffic areas. It was plain as day who was there the day before, you just had to look at their shoes!
Day two of Riot Fest started off with Rock and Roll’s visionary party animal Andrew W.K on the riots stage. This former bubblegum machine salesman had the crowd participating in his headbanging antics. Asking if everyone was ready to party, sticking his mic down the front of his pants to unleash a party furry on the keyboards while thrashing about. Towards the end of their set Andrew W.K announced that he would be giving away gifts, thanking everyone for partying with him. T-shirts where tossed into the crowd, much to his fans delight. It was Andrew’s 4th year performing at the legendary festival and his first time at the Denver and Toronto stops.
The Joy Formidable are a three-piece alternative rock act from the UK. Considering they are only a trio, they had a bigger sound to them than what I anticipated. Their stage set up consisted of several low placed flags baring their band name. The wind unlatched the flag closest to bassist Rhydian Dafydd and somehow caused his equipment to fail. The bass tech ran back and forth trying to fix the problem, which in the end, ate a good chunk of their set time. Singer Ritzy Bryan did her best to fill time with banter, but was starting to lose the interest of the crowd. When they finally got all the technical difficulties out of the way they performed a solid set. The crowd in attendance where bopping their heads, but that was the extent of their excitement for this band.
I ended up moving over to the Rock stage to catch rap and hip hop artists Jazz Cartier, Doomtree, Tyler the Creator, Atmosphere and Yelawolf. Canadian rapper Jazz Cartier ensured the crowd was well hydrated throughout his set by spraying the audience on multiple occasions with his bottle of water. At one point he chose the audience as his stage, rapping while being held up by the crowd. Tyler the Creator could barely keep his feet on the ground. Constantly jumping around, taking a puff from his inhaler after exerting himself tremendously. Unfortunately, Yelawolf was cancelled, no explanation given. Researching his twitter account, he stated “Due to forces beyond anyone’s control I won’t be able to play @RiotFest today”.
I headed back to the Riot stage to catch Rancid perform their album And Out Come The Wolves. A set that mimics their recording well. An interesting concept in the world of live performances, that seems to have become popular with a lot of bands. Rancid was certainly a crowd favorite. Crowd surfers emerged and the crowd sang along to their set.
The last performance of the night for me was Wu-Tang Clan. They belted out a relevant performance.The crowd that had gathered to see their set comprised of many different generations.The audience sang along to their songs with their hands raised in the air, shaped in the letter W, showing respect for these revolutionary rappers from the ’90s. Wu-Tang Clan had back and forth banter with the audience singing “WU” and the crowd would finish “Tang”.
In conclusion, the two-day festival had its hits and misses. A ton of comp tickets where given out, possibly due to lack of ticket sales. Toronto had a much smaller version of their american counterparts, who had three days worth of bands and many more larger mainstream acts. The weather certainly couldn’t be helped, but I did appreciate the effort put forward to deal with the mud situation. All in all, I enjoyed the festival. I discovered many acts that I wasn’t aware of and ended up enjoying their sets.
For more info on Riot Fest click HERE
All photography is © Sue Sadzak. Please do NOT copy without consent.
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