In its fifth year, Riot Fest, Chicago's multi-band, multi-date, multi-venue celebration of the punk underground past, present and future, is incontrovertibly one of the premier gatherings of its kind in the U.S., if not the world. But founding promoter Michael Petryshyn hardly has slacked off on his efforts to present a broad sampling of the best of the many variations of sounds that fall under the broad "punk" moniker.
In fact, Riot Fest 2009, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 7, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 11, arguably is the strongest overall lineup the fest has yet presented, with everything from old-school hardcore to new-fangled emo-punk, melodic pop-punk to abrasive noise-punk, and grungy streetpunk to goofy indie-punk well represented.
As in the past, ground zero is the charmingly seedy Congress Theatre. But this year, gigs also are taking place at Metro, Subterranean, Beat Kitchen and the Liars Club.
A look at some of the key acts listed by venue follows the jump.
Murder City Devils
The Congress Theatre, 2135 N. Milwaukee (all ages)
Headlining night one at the Congress on Friday, Oct. 9, are the ferocious Seattle garage-punks Murder City Devils, the reunited Philadelphia-based goofballs the Dead Milkmen and the reunited Chicago punks Apocalypse Hoboken. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the rock kicks off with the Frankl Project and Riverboat Gamblers.
Topping the bill on the middle night at the Congress, Saturday, Oct. 10, is NOFX, the San Francisco band that has sold an astounding 6 million albums worldwide through underground channels, and which has consistently stretched the boundaries of the genre. The other standout on this evening is Shot Baker, the Chicago quartet that forwards the classic Windy City punk sounds of Naked Raygun and the Effigies, while the lineup is completed by Off With Their Heads, Youth Brigade, Street Dogs, 88 Fingers Louie and Cock Sparrer. Doors open at 4 p.m.
The irascible Ben Weasel
On Sunday, Oct. 11, while many veteran fans might quibble about the current lineup of Screeching Weasel excluding co-founding guitarist John "Jughead" Pierson, any opportunity to hear reclusive bandleader Ben Weasel tear through the group's many pop-punk anthems is a cause to cheer. In addition to the headliner, the final Congress bill also includes suburban Illinois' emo-leaning Alkaline Trio, the always entertaining and justifiably legendary Pegboy, and the Arrivals and She Likes Todd. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Metro, 3730 N. Clark (all ages)
More intimate and better-sounding than the Congress, Metro starts its Riot Fest offerings on Wednesday [Oct. 7] with a strong double bill topped by reunited Texas art-punks/multi-media terrorists the Butthole Surfers and The Bomb, the mod-leaning quartet fronted by Naked Raygun vocalist Jeff Pezzati. Doors open at 6 p.m. tonight and for all of the Metro gigs, and the first night's opening act is the wonderfully named House That Gloria Vanderbilt.
Pezzati returns to Metro the following night to headline with the mighty Naked Raygun, the legendary Chicago punk group of the '80s that may grace us with some of the new material it reportedly has in the works, in addition to classics such as "Rat Patrol" and "I Don't Know." It will follow another revered Chicago punk name from the past, Rights of the Accused, after the show kicks off with Wax and No Empathy.
Saturday, Oct. 10, offers a second chance to see the Dead Milkmen as they top a Metro lineup that also includes Teenage Bottlerocket, Anxiety High and, my pick of the night, those irresistible purveyors of great pop-punk, the Teen Idols.
Closing things out at Metro on Sunday, Oct. 11: Fear City, Flatfoot 56, Lower Class Brats and another appearance by Cock Sparrer, London streetpunks whose roots stretch back to the mid-'70s.
Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave. (17 and over)
Both Subterranean Riot Fest shows--on Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10--are headlined by the Aggrolites, the Los Angeles band that's one of the most wide-ranging of any ska-punk group in terms of incorporating many varieties of soul and reggae sounds. Opening for the West Coast quintet on Friday are Deals Gone Bad and the Pinstripes, while things kick off on Saturday with Cobra Skulls and Chicago's always endearingly sloppy and chaotic Beer Nuts. Doors open at 9:30 p.m.
The Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont (all ages)
Finally, though it's the smallest of the Riot Fest venues, the Beat Kitchen has one of the biggest coups of the fest, with the uncompromising Nevada hardcore punk band 7 Seconds headlining the first of the venue's two shows, on Thursday, Oct. 8. The gig is sold-out, the doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the bill is completed by Das Kapital and Vortis (which, in the interest of journalistic disclosure, includes this columnist on drums).
The second Beat Kitchen Riot Fest gig takes place starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and features Virginia's melodic hardcore punks Strike Anywhere as headliners, with Ruiner, Crime in Stereo and Polar Bear Club opening.
Completing the Riot Fest festivities, the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western, will host two screenings of the documentary film "Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records" at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and Sunday, Oct. 11 (admission is $7; $3 with a Riot Fest wrist band), and the Fireside Bowl, 2648 W. Fullerton, will present Riot Fest Drunken Bowling starting at 10:30 p.m. later on both of those nights. Oh, and insiders advise to watch for after-party activities at that venerable punk watering hole the Liars Clubs, 1665 W. Fullerton, yet to be announced on the festival Web site, www.riotfest.org, which has the full schedule and links to more info on most of the bands.
Tickets for Riot Fest are available via www.ticketweb.com, with a limited number of five-day passes still on sale for $110; three-day Congress Theatre passes for $70; four-day Metro passes for $75; single-day Congress passes for $25 and tickets for the Subterranean shows at $12.