By David O’Shea

With early bird tickets having just gone on sale and lineup rumours creeping onto the internet, the buzz for Riot Fest 2015 has begun. There has only been one act officially confirmed for the Toronto date (a reunion performance from Ontario’s own Alexisonfire) and it will be a challenge to match the quality of last year’s bill, a cavalcade of bands and artists that attracted a crowd of teenagers and teenage-nostalgia-seeking adults alike.

Having moved to Toronto from Ireland last year, this mass of teens and post-teens amounted to my very first Canadian music festival experience at Riot Fest 2014. I got to see lots of great bands I’d wanted to see for a long time (Dropkick Murphys AND Alkaline Trio? 16 year-old me can rest easy now), I tried funnel cake for the first time, and I even managed to accidentally rip off a bootleg t-shirt salesman on my way out on the Saturday night (three fake Cure t-shirts for the price of two! Woo!). It wasn’t all jams and jumping though. For one thing, I went solo on the Sunday. Ever go to a festival on your own without even booze for company? It can get lonely in that sea of thousands.

I saw you with the t-shirts, David, you owe me, Regards, Robert.
I saw you with the t-shirts, David, you owe me, Regards, Robert.

But maybe that’s a conversation for my therapist. Putting my personal problems aside, I felt like there were some things that Riot Fest, both the organizers and the attendees, could have done better. There’s still another six months to go before crowds will begin flooding excitedly into the Toronto grounds again, which is plenty of time to look ahead and perhaps improve some aspects of the festival this year…

The Festival Grounds

  • Let me start out by saying that the stage layouts were great. Perhaps it’s commonplace here in North America, but I’ve never been to a festival with side-by-side main stages before. The idea of this is that, while a band is performing, the next act’s road crew can be setting up for their set, leaving little to no time between performances. I wholeheartedly approve of this.
  • However, I thought the festival grounds (Downsview Park) had a general disarray to them. There was very little signage; it took me ages to find one of the stages (there was only four of them!) and I was lucky not to miss the act I wanted to see. There was a noticeable shortage of rubbish bins and the ones that  were dotted around the area were poorly maintained (most of them were overflowing by late-afternoon). The mud got out of control in places and very little was done to combat this (a few measly sheets of plywood that were always congested with people because there weren’t enough of them). The water stations were sparse and difficult to find.
  • I was surprised at how disorganized the whole thing felt. Riot Fest has been around since 2005, and while it has only been held in Toronto since 2012, that’s no excuse for making these small, easily addressable mistakes. I hope the organizers do fix these problems for next year. The festival already has a lot going for it – such as the fantastic lineup and scheduling or the excellent selection of food – and if the aforementioned little messes were cleaned up, it would make the weekend all the more enjoyable.

    FUCK YEAH RIOT FEST by The Flaming Lips @Riot Fest Toronto 2014: Dave MacIntyre
    FUCK YEAH RIOT FEST by The Flaming Lips @Riot Fest Toronto 2014: Dave MacIntyre

Toronto is Ready for the Big Leagues

  • It’s no big secret that Riot Fest’s stint in Toronto is its smallest. It runs for two days as opposed to its Chigaco and Denver counterparts’ three, and has far fewer bands on the bill. I decided to compare the lineups before I went to Downsview Park back in September. Big mistake. The lineups for the other dates, particularly Chicago, were staggeringly better.
  • Weezer, Wu-Tang Clan, Descendents, Failure, Tegan and Sara, The Get Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack, Wavves… And that’s just the bands I wanted to see (though, in my opinion, I have the greatest taste in music in the world). There were so many more acts, some pretty huge names as well as some lesser-known gems. If I wanted to live somewhere where great bands completely skip over my location, I would’ve stayed in Ireland.
DieAntwoord @Riot Fest Toronto
I’ve got four watches on/ do you have the time?

In all seriousness though, I understand that this was probably a booking issue. Bands will tour where it makes sense to tour. The Toronto incarnation is young and arguably still in its teething phase, but I feel like they could justify adding the third day that Chicago and Denver get. If they were to add another day and fill it with acts of equal quality to the other dates, I really feel like it would pay for itself. It hurts to know that you could have seen a band you love if you had lived in another location, so all we can do is hope that Riot Fest Toronto will continue to improve and make it a more attractive booking for agents. I feel that that is up to the promoters, but also largely up to us which brings me to my final and most important point…






Y’all Motherfuckers Need to Step It Up

  • Yes Toronto, I’m talking to you. My biggest surprise coming to Riot Fest was, for the most part, the sheer lack of enthusiasm of the crowds. People seemed to be having fun exploring the festival grounds, but my God, you’d swear the bands weren’t even there the way the crowds were acting.
  • Perhaps it’s because I’m from Ireland where our festivals are generally three- to four-day camping affairs of pure, rain-soaked debauchery, but I found the crowds to be incredibly and disappointingly unenthusiastic. With the exception of a couple of acts (notably Die Antwoord, because their on-stage mental instability is infectious, and The Cure, because The Cure), most bands’ sets were met with a sea of what appeared to be, at the very most, vaguely interested faces. No one was jumping around, no one was moshing, the most I saw was some mild swaying and quiet singing. Did I miss the pre-Riot Fest heroin party?
  • I asked some Canadians, both Torontonians and non-Torontoians alike, afterwards to see if that’s the norm for Canadian festivals. I got a few no answers, but mainly yes answers (particularly from people who hail from outside the province). I refuse to accept that. I went to a Mac DeMarco concert back in November at the Danforth Music Hall and it honestly had one of the most insane crowds I’ve ever been a part of. I know you can do better, Toronto. Don’t make me feel like an idiot for jumping around and screaming like an idiot. A music festival is where we go to have fun and let go. We need to show the organizers and the bands that Toronto is a stop worth making, that we’re worthy of three days and more acts.

I wouldn’t blame you for mistaking my criticism for cynicism, but I truly did enjoy Riot Fest. It’s a great festival, I’d recommend it to anyone who liked even a few acts on the lineup, and it’s got so much potential to be huge. I’m only offering a guideline for Step On mag readers and for us all – promoters, bands, and attendees alike – to step it up and take it to the levels I know it can reach. Regardless, I will be keeping an eye on the lineup announcements with bated breath and will definitely be hitting up Riot Fest again in 2015. Come say hello. I’ll be the idiot headbanging to Alexisonfire as if I’ve been a die hard fan for years.

David O’Shea is a Toronto-based writer from Ireland. He likes female-fronted indie rock and is the only person in the world who prefers the week-long wait between TV episodes over binging entire seasons. You can find him on twitter @davidoshea1

Riot Fest 2014 (Toronto) Gallery by Dave MacIntyre