12:52pm: Diarrhea Planet is the perfect Riot Fest welcome. They’re rock, they’re punk, and they’re fun as hell.
1:11pm: I spot my first mohawk of the weekend. It’s tall, purple, and glorious.
1:14pm: There’s a small but diehard crowd for Fu Manchu to start, but by the end of their set the crowd has grown, perhaps as mesmerized by the impressive head-banging as I am.
1:30pm: A little rain, but nothing compared to past years.
1:41pm: A dude selling cheap-ass ponchos for $5 is making bank right now. Mine is less for the rain and more for GWAR’s upcoming set.
1:51pm: “I don’t know why I’m starting with a bit…” Dan Deacon kicks off his set with humor followed by his trademark curated dance party. “Dance as if the media actually covers the pipeline crisis,” he jokes and the crowd explodes into wiggles, hops, and gyrations.
2:12pm: Experiencing a technical issue with his computer, Dan improvises, singing a capella stream-of-consciousness: “This is why you create bands with your friends instead of relying on machines made abroad by slaves…” He has the crowd roaring with laughter and should perhaps consider a side career in comedy.
2:39pm I’m standing here in the GWAR photo pit, my body and camera equipment covered in a protective, waterproof shield in anticipation of their standard goo splattering of the audience. A security guard walks up to me and another photographer and warns, “Watch your backs in case they [the fans] start jumping.” Super. Six minutes until the shock rockers hit the stage.
3:02pm: Twenty minutes into GWAR’s set and Obama’s already been beheaded and Hillary Clinton has out-dueled Donald Trump in a battle to the death. That was until her boobs were ripped off by GWAR’s current frontman, Blöthar. Fake blood is being splattered everywhere—some fans are literally soaked in it—and will let it dry and wear it proudly for the remainder of the day.
3:19pm: The Meat Puppets are on and the sun is shining and it’s just a feel-good moment here at Riot Fest.
3:35pm: The Meat Puppets end their set with a string of songs from their 1984 album, II. I’m literally giddy hearing “Oh, Me” and “Lake of Fire,” and they even throw in a cover of The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.”
4:13pm: A steady haze of smoke rises from the crowd throughout Julian Marley’s set, most of which is devoted to covering his father’s seminal album, Exodus. The musical vibes match the scene, as the sun is settling into the golden hour.
5:27pm: The Specials live up to their name. They are so full of sounds and melodies that they almost seem genre-less.
5:57pm: Glassjaw’s crowd is jacked up. One dude keeps begging lead singer Daryl Palumbo to sleep with his girlfriend. “F**k my b***h, Daryl! Please!” he screams. The band laughs it off before plunging into their intense set.
5:59pm: Overheard: Two guys are returning from the port-o-potties and one turns to the other and says, in a thick British accent, “I’ll tell you one thing, the hand sanitizer smells bloody brilliant.”
6:31pm: Dan Deacon is now having technical difficulties playing his second set of the day, this time in the tiny tent sponsored by StubHub. I use this as an excuse to hop on the ferris wheel at take some aerial photos of the scene.
7:10pm: “WEEN! WEEN! WEEN!” the crowd chants. The band responds by full-blown weening out. Crowd smiles are abundant.
7:25pm: Sweden’s Refused is putting on the set of the day so far. They have so much energy it’s ridiculous. There are high kicks and jumps and twirls every other minute. It’s awesome.
8:20pm: In the distance Social Distortion sings “Story of my Life.”
8:55pm: The Flaming Lips always put on a performance. “It’s like we’re inside a rainbow,” another photographer astutely described as balloons bounced off my head and rainbow confetti fell around us. “Oh Yoshimi,” Wayne Coyne sang as giant caterpillars swayed beside him.
9:10pm: NOFX has the biggest singalong of the day happening and perhaps the biggest crowd of the day at the somewhat intimate Rock Stage. Fat Mike is screaming into the mic while guitarist Eric Melvin leaps around. They still rule—always have, always will.
9:17pm: “Why is Chicago the best fucking rock city in the world?” Pierce the Veil asks the crowd as I head toward the exit. Day 1 is in the books.