Last night (August 24) was spent at the extremely hyped-up Riot Fest, which took place at Fort York in the heart of downtown Toronto. In case you've never heard of Riot Fest, I'll give you a brief summary of its history. Starting in 2005, it was a multi-venue weekend of primarily punk and rock bands – including big names like Dead Kennedy's, The Misfits and The Bouncing Souls. With a growth in popularity, they decided to move things over to Humboldt Park in Chicago and have since expanded to other cities (Toronto, Dallas, Brooklyn and Denver). Unlike most festivals like Warped Tour or Heavy Toronto/Montreal, Riot Fest has added carnival rides and other assorted entertainment booths and sponsors.
This year's Riot Fest in Toronto was headed by pop-rock/post-hardcore legends A Day to Remember and Pierce the Veil, bringing in hordes and hordes of young teenage girls that took up all parking spots within a 25-mile radius – a radical change from the 2012 Toronto Riot Fest lineup which consisted of Descendants, NOFX and Fucked Up. This is a major change that many could persecute as being a bit of a sellout move on the Riot Fest organizers part, but each year, the festival has a slew of different genres thrown into one festival. Considering the huge difference in the number of bands in the Chicago and Denver lineups compared to the Toronto ones, it's only fair that each year would be something different.
Steven Pongrac (the editor-in-chief of Me Gusta Reviews), my friend and I began our two-hour drive to the festival – only to spend an extra hour trying to find parking anywhere near the venue. Toronto's ridiculous traffic (and traffic laws) in the downtown core is nothing to joke about, and while we spent this extra hour searching for parking, we came to find that we missed Real Friends' performance which began at 2:30. Unfortunately for the festival organizers, Fort York is located almost directly beside the Canadian National Exhibition – which brings in several thousand people each day – leaving absolutely nowhere to park even remotely near the venue. This resulted in long walks in the heat and several semi-frustrated concert-goers.
After finally arriving, we located the media/press tent almost immediately, and receiving our tickets and getting into the venue was almost instantaneous – which was a breath of fresh air and a positive note following our previous bad luck with parking and heated walks. Immediately after entering, Toronto's very own Structures began their set and we headed over there to see what they were up to. Also being from Ontario, we've had numerous encounters with seeing Structures over the years, so it's sort of a proud moment to see these fellow Canucks playing in front of such a large crowd. Opening with "At Las[T]" and playing several other songs off of Divided By – including "Hydroplaning," "Clockwork," "In Pursuit Of," "Relapse; Signs" and closing it off with "Encounter" – I was genuinely impressed with the band's choice of songs; however, I was a bit disappointed with the crowd reaction and the overall vibe that could be felt by everyone watching. Perhaps it was just early, but I expected more from the crowd – especially considering they were the hometown band of the day. The crowd was relatively disappointing, but Structures put on an excellent set.
After graciously thanking the crowd multiple times, the ever-so-humble Structures exited the stage and made way for one of my personal favourites of the day, The Ghost Inside. Opening up with "Dark Horse," the band showed nothing but pure energy, gratitude and emotion throughout every single song of their set. Continuing through the set with crowd favourites like "Faith Or Forgiveness," "Between the Lines," "Unspoken" and "The Great Unknown," it was nothing short of spectacular – both from the crowd and from the band members themselves. As The Ghost Inside finished their set with "Engine 45," I watched as more than half of the enormous crowd sang along with vocalist Johnathon Vigil as the final chorus hit and ended in sheer beauty.
At this point, I was starting to get a little irritated and overwhelmed with where the front of the stage was placed; it was directly in front of a dusty, dirty patch of land filled with wood chips that created an enormous cloud of dust that was inhaled by the crowd from the beginning of the festival until the end. Whether or not the stage could have been placed somewhere else is up for debate, but that was definitely one of the main negatives of the festival. I had dirt everywhere on me and I inhaled so much of it that I spent half my time covering my mouth with my shirt, arm or hand when I wasn't trying to enjoy myself during a set.
Then we felt like it was time for a break and we spent this time quenching our thirst and listening to Grade and Mayday Parade from a distance. It wasn't too bad, but the crowds seemed very unenthusiastic – which is odd, especially considering Mayday Parade is the hub of pop-rock fan girls everywhere. Perhaps they were overshadowed by people coming to see A Day to Remember and Pierce the Veil, but their sound was on point. Still, once again the Toronto crowd was a bit of a let down. What's the point of watching the band if you can't show any support? Maybe some clapping, or a little "woo" or two once in a while? Perhaps I'm just old fashioned and try to appreciate everything I watch.
I have to take this moment to applaud the organizers of Riot Fest on their ability to work with so many food and beverage vendors in Toronto. The food variety was a big surprise, and the prices of said food and beverages were inflated as one could expect, but it was nothing too outrageous or abnormal for a show/festival-goer. The sheer amount of places to eat allowed for smaller lines and more time to eat in between your favourite bands sets, rather than eating while you're trying to watch a band.
Next up was Every Time I Die, another relatively closely spawned band hailing from Buffalo. Since my last time seeing this band was during last year's Warped Tour where their set was cut short, I had been waiting a long time to see these guys. Keith Buckley and the rest of the Every Time I Die crew came out on top with their energetic performance and crowd interaction. I was impressed with Keith's passion to want to interact with his fans. Whatever he wanted, he definitely got. If he wanted a circle pit, there was a circle pit, and if he asked for some crowd surfing, that was basically your cue to put on a helmet and keep your eyes peeled for flying bodies. Unfortunately for me, the band seems to play such a small number of songs from the latest release, Ex Lives – which happens to be one of my personal favourites from the band. I respect them for paying homage to the older songs that helped them gain popularity, though. I guess Every Time I Die and Structures just feel differently when it comes to playing newer or classic songs during their sets.
With each band averaging around 30-40 minutes for their set – except for Pierce the Veil and A Day to Remember – it was at this point that we made the tough decision to call it quits for the day, take what we had experienced and head on home. We couldn't justify the two-hour wait to see A Day to Remember when putting the three of us together have seen them multiple times. Maybe if we had enjoyed Pierce the Veil's music we might have stayed, but since we don't, staying was completely redundant. We had interviewed Real Friends earlier in the day (which can be read here), got to see some truly great bands and participate in some gnarly mosh pits, so the day was a total success in our minds. We are sure that Pierce the Veil and A Day to Remember put on fabulous sets; from the highway, we could see the stage and the lights, and it looked like it was one radical time for both the bands and the fans.
We appreciate the organizers of Riot Fest giving us the opportunity to attend and review their festival; it was an experience we surely won't forget. Additionally, a huge thanks goes out to Dan and Kyle of Real Friends for taking time out of their day to let us interview them – and for warding off the Riot Fest employee that interrupted us during the middle of the interview (it's okay, though, because everything turned out alright in the end). The festival was organized extremely well, though; everything was incredibly easy to locate due to numerous signs and large banners pointing you towards whatever thing you were looking for. The vendors – including the food/beverage ones as well as the clothing companies that had great things to showcase and sell, and some for really good causes – were also a nice touch and one more step up the ladder for the little guys. Riot Fest Chicago takes place September 13-15, while Riot Fest Denver takes place between September 21 and September 22. Mark your calenders!
Links: Riot Fest Website