Riot Fest 2014 lineup analysis: More big names, but missing surprisesBy James Garcia | May 14th, 2014 | 4 comments
With the Riot Fest lineup announcement on Tuesday afternoon comes the one burning question on everyone’s mind: Is this a list of acts worthy of driving an hour into the plains east of Denver? Let’s start at the top of the Riot Fest Denver 2014 poster and work our way down.
At the top we have the big boys, a mix of legacy acts (the Cure), indie-rock acts (the National) and alt-rock bands that have always had a strong Colorado following (Social Distortion, Weezer and Rise Against). It’s a nice variety, and one that will bring in a spectrum of fans. But it’s missing one blaring ingredient when compared to last year: a surprise. In 2013, Riot Fest gave fans the first three Replacements reunions. News of the band playing live together made headlines and sold tickets on its own. We understand, it’s not easy to get a reunion like that every year, but even something unexpected and unique could have pushed this lineup to the next level. With 2013 being the first Riot Fest in Denver, fans here have an expectation for something surprising. We could even consider Pussy Riot being added to the Chicago festival somewhat unexpected.
But it appears that organizers spent their money on the second line. Instead of throwing dollars at an expensive reunion act, they brought a number of big, diverse bands to fill the higher half of the bill. It’s stacked with impressive with acts like The Flaming Lips, Primus, Gogol Bordello, Wu-Tang Clan, TV On the Radio and Slayer. These are all known to be fantastic live bands, and all hitting the same Riot Fest vein.
With the exception of Dum Dum Girls, the Orwells, Big Freedia, In the Valley Below, My Body Sings Electric and a few others, the bulk of the lower portion of the lineup seems somewhat lackluster. Likely a majority of the Riot Fest budget went to those first few lines, leaving less money to spend on the type bands you’d expect to fill the bottom half of the lineup.
While one doesn’t expect a festival like Riot Fest to be stacked with hip-hop acts, it would have been nice to see the genre represented a little better. Wu-Tang Clan, who is coming off of a year near the top of major festival lineups, is a perfect choice — one could even argue far better than Public Enemy in 2013. Die Antwoord has the Riot Fest attitude to fit in, and it’s a nice gesture to put the hometown act 3OH!3 on our lineup. Otherwise we’ll have to count mostly on Wu-Tang and Die Antwoord to leave the hole in May Farms.
Denver’s indie side feels like a slap in the face when compared to Toronto’s lineup. They get Metric, Billy Talent, Death Cab for Cutie, Death from Above 1979 and The New Pornographers. But as with past years, the Denver lineup leans more toward the pop-punk side of things than indie, with the likes of Weezer, NOFX, New Found Glory, the Used and Taking Back Sunday. Some notable “whatevercore” bands like A Day to Remember, Bring Me the Horizon and We Came as Romans will put on a good show as well.
From the larger Chicago lineup, we’re really missing out on The Offspring, Jane’s Addiction, Tegan and Sara, Mudhoney, Kurt Vile, Wavves, The Pizza Underground (yes, Macaulay Culkin’s band), Mastodon, Naked Raygun, Superchunk and Andrew W.K. But honestly, Denver’s lineup feels much more evened out between the genres and less stuffed with lower-level bands, which ostensibly means more time to spend with the acts you’re paying top dollar for.
As with past years, Riot Fest continues to be a predominately non-electronic music festival, which is a nice change in Colorado. With the exception of the UMS and Westword Music Showcase, most Colorado music festivals tend to lean toward electronic, bluegrass, pop or acoustic. So you won’t find Skrillex anywhere near May Farms in September (unless he and his former band From First to Last show up for whatever unholy reason, but let’s pray that doesn’t ever happen).
Overall, despite a few missing genres and a lack of creativity, the top billed bands are more than enough to warrant the drive out east, especially when organizers have promised to fix some of the transportation headaches from last year.
James Garcia is a community reporter at the Loveland Reporter-Herald and a new blogger at Reverb. Follow him on Twitter @JamesGarciaRH.