Just like the first day of Riot Fest Denver, the second day of the punk-rock celebration in the small Colorado town of Byers was filled with incredible music and colorful characters. But what fans will remember most is the rain — the relentless, freezing and lightning-accompanied rain.
The festival was evacuated around 6:45 p.m. on Sunday due to a severe storm passing through the area, bringing with it high winds, torrential rains and lightning. While soggy people hug out in their cars — or at Byers High School with Arapahoe County Sheriff officers — bands, crews, staff and other evacuees hung out in the catering hall, where there was food, a mini-bar and football on TV.
After more than a two-hour delay, tech crews dried stages off, amps were uncovered and abbreviated sets began at 9 p.m. to a much lighter crowd. The faithful who stayed were rewarded with a blistering set from Rancid, an incredible dance party with Matt & Kim and an electric set by headliner Blink-182.
Here are some of the day’s highlights:
Rancid. I overheard someone saying they were surprised that Tim Armstrong looks like someone’s dad on stage. Well, that’s because Tim Armstrong was born in 1966. And he’s still bringing it harder than most people out there. Rancid took the stage at about 9:40 p.m. and the rain came back about four or five songs into the set. As crews scrambled to cover equipment, the band played on, splashing the puddles at their feet and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Hundreds sang along with every word while getting soaked to the bones.
Peelander Z. The band calls themselves “Japanese Action Comic Punk” and, as ridiculous as that sounds, it is scarily accurate. Peelander Z takes the stage with each member clothed in mono-colored costumes — think Power Rangers on a bad acid trip — and performs a set like a luchadore match with audience participation. High energy, ridiculous antics and solid punk rock. The high point of the set was Kris Roe of the Ataris filling in on guitar so the band could roam among the audience.
Matt & Kim. The Brooklyn, NY-based duo played their hearts out after their set was delayed. Always a crowd favorite for their high-energy performances, they took it to an entirely new level at Riot Fest when Kim danced so hard she actually split her pants.
Public Enemy. What can I say. The S1W’s coordinated steps were not as coordinated. Terminator X wasn’t there, replaced by DJ Lord. Flav’s a little older and Chuck D has a little more grey in his whiskers. And Public Enemy was just as great as they’ve always been, bringing conscious, educational, hardcore and brilliant music designed to make people question their definition of comfort and reality. Sidenote: Hearing “Can’t Truss It” live was the ultimate experience. And major props to Chuck D for taking a moment of silence for everyone affected by the floods in Colorado.
Chuck Ragan. There are so many folk-rock bands getting attention these days, yet no one does it with the brilliant honesty of Chuck Ragan. The gravely-voiced vocalist from punk rock legends Hot Water Music has had a second coming of sorts with solo music and the success of the Revival Tour, an annual traveling punk, bluegrass and alt-country hootenany. When Ragan sings, it’s from his soul. His bandmates — including Denver’s Joe Ginsberg — were right in step during an incredibly tight set on Sunday that had the punks dancing next to the indie kids. In these times currently filled with hipster wannabe bands jumping on the alt-country bandwagon, be sure to not overlook the truth of Chuck Ragan. Give “Meet You in the Middle” a spin and see what I mean. Bonus: Naked Raygun pulled him up on stage during their set to guest vocal on “Mein Iron Maiden.” Doesn’t get better than that.
Blink-182. Blink 182 has never attempted to be a serious band and Travis Barker is arguably the only great musician in the group. And, as such, it’s somewhat unfair to compare them to some of the incredible musicians who played Riot Fest this year. Blink is known for ridiculous pop-punk, and that’s what the band does best. The trio tore through the major hits, hammed it up for the cameras, flipped off the crowd and generally acted like goofballs … and the crowd loved it. Overheard as we were all slogging out through ankle-deep mud: “That was the perfect end to a not-so-perfect day.”
Seth A. McConnell is a staff photographer for the YourHub section of the Denver Post and is a regular contributor to Reverb.