After returning from last year’s Riot Fest in September, I had to immediately blab about seeing the Replacements and it ended becoming one of the most read Yer Doin Great pieces to date. Let’s see what my olde man memory can remember about the rest of my Denver trip four, er, eleven and a half months later. Seeing the amazing photos taken by my three friends is helping bring it all back. Just in time for Riot Fest 2014!
The first announcements about last year’s Riot Fest lineup in Chicago were tempting but when the Replacements and an additional date in Denver were added, I started thinking about going a little more seriously. I’d never been to Colorado, I have friends there I’ve never visited and I’d just missed both of Rocket From The Crypt’s hometown reunion shows. Then it was announced that original RFTC drummer Atom Willard would be playing with the band for the first time since 2000. When I met singer John Reis for the first time a few weeks before the festival at the Tower Bar, he insisted on getting me tickets. How could I say no?!
I flew into the Denver darkness late Thursday night. It was strange visiting a new city and not actually getting to see it but by the time I bused into the city, I was barely awake. Only a cool documentary about the Sunset Strip could’ve prevented me from crashing. I woke up the next morning with no plans and a flip phone to (not) guide me. I knew I was within walking distance of Twist & Shout Records so I headed that way and wasn’t disappointed. After hitting a bookstore next door, I saw an amazing looking building across the street which turned out to be East High School, built in 1924. There were some purdy trees over yonder, so I headed north into what ended up being a huge park with museums galore.
I haven’t followed baseball in years but I couldn’t let my childhood dream of visiting every major league baseball stadium die, even if I didn’t care about an expansion team that didn’t exist the last time I could name more than three current baseball players. So I cabbed over to Coors Field, scalped a great third base side ticket, befriended some locals who schooled me on local history and watched the most unreal fireworks finale I’ve ever seen. The stadium was built to look like a classic and the hometown team prevailed, so it was a good night.
Highschool friend/punk icon Matt Page and his girlfriend Ambeur whisked me away to Denver suburb Northglenn afterwards and, since his daughter was away for the weekend, I slept in her bottom bunk while Justin and Selena posters watched over me. Felt like home. They were also housing fellow highschooler and former Lorna’s Italian Kitchen slave Sarah and her awesome husband Greg (Ribshots). As if they weren’t fun enough company, between the four of them, they introduced me to an endless stream of cool, interesting folks at the festival.
(fast forward seven months after I started writing and I can remember less….)
After a quick lunch, the five of us headed to the small town of Byers, Colorado, about 45 minutes east of Denver. We didn’t hit a lot of freeway traffic but, understandably, the line of cars to get into the festival was not short. The parking lot route took us past the entrance and we drove at a slow crawl, getting further and further away from our destination as we watched exhausted pedestrians pass in the other direction. It was at least an hour until volunteers guided us into our parking space and we started the long hike back to the farm hosting Riot Fest.
There were some extremely unhappy Superchunk fans in our crew when we finally arrived to catch just a few Chapel Hill anthems on the stage closest to the entrance. The entire festival was put on three huge stages all spaced apart and facing the same way. I’d never seen a set up like it but it worked fine. We started to run into friends as soon as we walked up to see Guided By Voices. I’d never seen the original lineup that had recently reformed but I found myself missing the late-era replacements I’d seen so many times. Bob’s Peter Pan juice ran dry for the rest of the band and they looked and played like their age. Strangely, the only song that really seemed to get the crowd going was “Teenage FBI”, which these guys hadn’t even played on. They ended just in time for me to catch a few Dismemberment Plan songs and go help stake our claim up front for RFTC.
All reports of the Rocket reunion shows were, unsurprisingly, raves. It felt good to be that excited in my olde age, up front, jumping up and down and dancing like an idiot with fellow San Diegans, while our boys absolutely destroyed and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little cool to be on their guestlist. To see Atom up there on drums again was beyond special and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster even bounded out to yell and tambourine along like he’d done in the studio with them. Speedo was in rare form and kept thanking the rock community of Byers (population 1,160) for such a strong showing. Quite a few folks said their set was probably the best of the weekend. They rocked fierce and tight and I could feel my cheeks lodged into a semi-permanent smile. This trip was already worth it.
There was time after Rocket to grab some quality foods and try to avoid the unavoidable: AFI, the Brand New and Toxic Airborne Whatever blaring away with no audio shelter to be found. A roving noise/marching band and conversation with my new best buddy, Tim from Dagger Zine, helped but it was hard to keep my energy up at my age at that hour. I had flown from California to see the Replacements but was barely standing as Iggy and the Stooges tore into their set. God knows what they’ve got Iggy on to get out there and be that crazy but it was motivating. All around me, kids half my age gawked in shock and ran to get a closer view, some even getting onstage. I stayed my distance and walked off within earshot of the searching and destroying to jockey for position for the Mats.
I’ve already told the Replacements tale. I thought I had no energy. I even thought I’d be happy leaving without seeing them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After that fun, we all found each other and went back to Rocket’s trailer, where they’d left us their wristbands that would allow us anywhere for Day Two. Boy, did we need them…..
After a long drive home and a good night’s sleep, we returned a little later and found all the traffic problems had been solved. Not sure how or why but it was nice to avoid that mess again. It’s a brand new festival in a remote location, so I figured there’d be plenty of kinks to work out. I’d say it all went pretty smooth considering everything that was about to happen….
We got there just in time to see California kids Kitten. I’ve known ex-School of Rock guitarist Waylon Rector for a few years, so to see him and the band do their thing way out in Colorado at a huge festival was a big kick. They jumped around like crazies per usual and the ol’ “Purple Rain” bit was fitting on such a gray day. I eventually found fellow LA SOR guitarist Jacob Butler, whose Dad dropped him off like he was dropping him off at the mall and we went over to watch Peelander-Z, who was like a Yo Gabba/Power Rangers act for kids. In broken English, they sang about tacos for 11 minutes and the youth contingent ate it up. Huh.
I gave Naked Raygun a try but even hardcore fans said they were disappointing so I made the trek to the Public Enemy stage guilt free. Their set got off to a worrying start. There were only two S1W’s and they barely moved. All the cutting and strutting with military precision was nowhere to be seen and, worse yet, they started into the first song and Flavor’s parts were pre-recorded but he was nowhere to be seen. Oh no. SIKE! He came bounding out halfway through and the place went ballistic. They jumped and rapped and preached, gave us all the classics and Flav played passable bass and drums for a few seconds. The mostly young crowd gave the band deafening call and responses, waved their hands in the ayah and jumped when told. Hell, no one even corrected Flavor when he gave shout outs to other bands on the bill, including Blondie and the Violent Femmes who’d played the Chicago Riot Fest but weren’t there that day. I had almost forgotten they were playing so it was a great surprise to see them for the first time.
It had started to drizzle a lizzle at the end of PE’s set but, right as I met up with YDG reader and San Diego stranger Martin Weinstein, the wind picked up and we saw a bunch of trash go flying across a hill. As we walked over to watch FLAG, who sounded monstrous, I saw a few flashes of lightning in the distance. The wind had just blown away the stage’s side banners and it felt like my contact lenses might go with them when they cut the power to the stage and announced that the National Weather Service had declared it unsafe and that everyone had to head to their cars until further notice. In the chaos, I managed to find the rest of our posse quickly and we rushed backstage just as someone they knew pulled up in a minivan and yelled for us to get in.
While thousands of poor people had to walk a mile back to their cars and wait, we were whisked to a central barn to hang out with all the bands. For my punk loving friends, it was an unreal chance to chat with buddies and heroes while eating free food and drink. I got to see the Kitten folks before they used my phone to get a taxivan to come pick them up and catch their flight. The organizers and hosts were doing a great job of keeping everyone safe, happy and informed. You could see people on laptops, sending out notes on Twitter and Facebook while redoing and printing new band schedules as the rain started to let up. After a couple of hours, we all headed back and the masses all returned to the festival grounds.
While Greg had been sidestage taking amazing pictures all weekend, I was finally getting my first VIP view. As we walked up the stairs to see Bad Religion, I saw a volleyball fly behind the stage followed by the sound of thousands of disappointed people chanting “WILSON! WILSON! WILSON!”. Having JUST seen Castaway for the first time, I put two and two together, ran back down the stairs, grabbed the ball, squeezed by security telling us to back up, walked onstage and gave ’em back their ball, just before the band walked onstage. Biggest…cheer….ever. Punk anthems never sounded so triumphant as they did playing to a field full of people who thought their weekend had just been cut short.
As we started to walk from behind the first stage over to the third, the skies EMPTIED. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it rain that hard in my life. We made it to a small tent near the stage where Rancid was playing and found other people like us, just seeking shelter. After awhile, I figured there might be some coverage onstage and made a break up the stairs. The sides of the stage were packed so I ended up with a few other folks behind the band’s amps watching them play to a deafening throng of kids as SHEETS of rain came down on them. It was an amazing sight and a perfect ending to a great weekend.
You don’t think we’d actually stay for Blink 182, do you?