Riot Fest Toronto – Festival review and big photo gallery

September 14, 2012
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NOFX at Riot Fest Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music ViceNOFX at Riot Fest

The Gig: Riot Fest Toronto
Where: Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto, Canada
When: Sunday 12 September 2012
In One Word: Raging

Opening the day were Toronto bands including Organ Thieves, Junior Battles, and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck. It was great to see that the festival has included some Southern Ontario talent on the bill.  It was greater still to hear that people had arrived early to support them.

Speaking of supporting local punk: kudos to Andrew WK.  I’m not talking about his Riot Fest set (it felt like the wrong festival for his music), but his DJ set later that night at local record shop Hits & Misses.

It’s been a tough year for Toronto’s punk scene, marked by the closure of pillar venues and local shops like Hits & Misses. Large festivals will continue to come through town, and putting local artists on the bill is helpful. Recognizing the work that community members do – record stores, venues, promoters, and bands – is essential to keeping music accessible and affordable everyday. (Hits & Misses is open for one last day on Saturday 15 September – if you live in Toronto, come out and buy something.)

The Lawrence Arms at Riot Fest Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

The Lawrence Arms, known for their outspoken politics and criticisms of the business of music, made no attempt to hide their feelings on stage at Riot Fest. The band’s long-standing dispute with The Warped Tour is the most controversial, for what they saw as the festivals’ negative impact on the punk genre. And on Sunday no band was spared. “We’re the best fucking band at this whole festival”, joked singer Brendan Kelly, before announcing that Lawrence Arms were having a firesale. Their t-shirts were $5 cheaper then any other artist at the festival.

“That’s 4/5’s less than the other bands here.” Business of music indeed. There is no question the crowd loved the banter. The same people around me who yelled back at the band’s witticisms sang along to every song. The audience was starting to get riled up now.

Less Than Jake were as nostalgic as they were fun.  They played songs from their better-known releases Anthem and Borders and Boundaries, songs I haven’t heard live in at least 10 years. Pardon my French: that was at a Warped Tour. Less Than Jake were by far the most polished performance of the day. As they approach their 21st anniversary as touring band, I was reminded of how much I love their live shows and why I would continue to go see them in concert.

Hot Water Music at Riot Fest Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

The band I was looking forward to the most was Hot Water Music. Unlike every other band on the bill, I have never had the opportunity to see Hot Water Music live, but have been listening to their music for years. Maybe it was the wrong venue, or the wrong line-up, but it lacked a lot of enthusiasm and raw emotion that I love from records like Caution or No Division or Till The Wheels Fall Off. 

Fucked Up at Riot Fest Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

When I moved to Toronto in 2003 Fucked Up were playing in tiny back-room bars, and their ascent had barely started. There was a lot of stylistic cross-over on local bills, so regardless of what type of punk you liked there was a good chance you’d run into them somewhere. Reading about their success, and watching them play increasingly larger shows means – even as we lose venues and shops in the area that the music relies on  – a good thing has come from the local scene. A band survived and thrived beyond the normal expectations. The crowd embraced it on Sunday. “This is my favourite Toronto show ever,” said lead singer Pink Eyes, and he may well have been being sincere.

Descendents at Riot Fest Toronto - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

By the time NOFX were on, the ground was turning to soft mud, the temperature was dropping rapidly, and people were losing patience and energy. Most stayed and fought the fall chill as Descendents played out to a tired and muddy – but still jumping – Riot Fest crowd. Fat Mike and others could be seen on the stage side jeering them on. Even if I hated some of the acts, couldn’t afford the beer, and picked the worst possible shoes to wear: Toronto’s first Riot Fest was fun, unpretentious, and I’d go again if they let me in after reading this diatribe.

© Gena Meldazy, Music Vice

Riot Fest Toronto photo gallery – all photos by Music Vice editor Brian Banks:

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