After seven successful years in Chicago, punk festival Riot Fest descended on Toronto's Fort York for a day of punk rock, PBR and poutine, with a lineup that featured a mix of local bands, contemporary greats and a few punk rock legends.
The show started with high-energy sets by Organ Thieves, Junior Battles and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, who played to a small but growing crowd. These sets served as a great example of Southern Ontario's punk scene, and the crowd was generally enthusiastic about what was happening on stage.
With the audience rapidly expanding early on, it was clear that most people wanted to enjoy the full day of music and weren't just coming to see one or two headliners. So the grounds were teeming by the time Andrew W.K. took the stage next for a rousing solo performance, bringing the crowd's energy level to a peak that didn't fade for the rest of the day. W.K. performed with just a piano and backing track, delivering one of the most energetic sets of the day. It's hard to deny the positivity and party attitude that W.K. brings to the stage with him, an infectious attitude that everyone in the audience seemed to share by the end of his set.
Chicago favourites the Lawrence Arms, Gainesville, FL ska legends Less Than Jake and reunited post-hardcore troupe Hot Water Music followed, keeping the energy level high and offering a variety of punk for the audience.
It was clear that a lot of thought was put into designing the lineup of the day, as it moved between all types of punk music, never settling on one type for too long. The stage crew should be commended as well, as changeovers between sets all went smoothly and quickly, which kept the show moving at a break-neck pace.
Toronto's Fucked Up soon took the stage, though vocalist Damian Abraham took his place on the ground in front of the crowd almost immediately, working the crowd into a mosh-pit frenzy as they tried to get up front for a chance to share vocal duties with Abraham. Next up were NOFX, making their Riot Fest appearance despite calls for a ban by some Canadian extremists. True to form, NOFX took the show much less seriously than any of the other bands, spending as much time making jokes as playing songs.
Descendents took the stage for the last performance of the night, and despite some early technical difficulties in the form of a broken guitar string, they played with the same energy as the rest of the fest's bands. However, it was clear that the day had taken a toll on the crowd, who seemed to be having trouble keeping up. The set ended with a special presentation, as NOFX gave a cake to Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson for his 49th birthday.
There's no question Riot Fest delivered a day of great punk music, with each act dolling out a solid set, mostly without any kind of technical problems getting in the way. Each band got the spotlight they deserved, giving fans a great show and less familiar audience members a great introduction.
At its core, Riot Fest was a great punk-fuelled celebration, and with any luck, one that will come back to Toronto next year.
To see Exclaim!'s Riot Fest photo gallery, head here.