Penny Rae Hawkins with Dallon Weekes

Penny Rae Hawkins with iDKHOW front man Dallon Weekes

Riot Fest may come and go with the summer, but the feeling that festival inspires can linger well into the fall. This can be attributed to a stellar line-up, which seems to get better and better each year! Here are my top five must-see acts from Riot Fest 2019.

  1. Rise Against

This was the most exciting band for me to see. I’ve been waiting to see this band since I was in high school, and they did not disappoint. Not only was the band incredible, playing classic tracks like “Swing Life Away” and “Prayer of a Refugee,” but the crowd’s energy was unmatched. Within moments of the band’s opening song “Architects,” a mosh pit opened up, allowing attendees the freedom to throw elbows and raise fists however they saw fit. Words from front man Tim McIlrath, spoken from a megaphone at one point, called for action in a world where any voice can matter even when it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. It was as inspiring as it was cathartic, and I have no plans to miss them again the next time they are within driving distance.

  1. The Struts 

Much in the same way as Rise Against, take away several years and some adolescent angst, The Struts were another band I was most excited to see. Their modern, and at times satirical, take on glam rock wasn’t something I had any intention of missing. From the moment the stage crew began building the band’s elaborate set-up, palpable excitement vibrated through the crowd as if connected by a singular fuse. A flag rose from the center of the crowd well in advance for the band to open with their cockiest track “Primadonna Like Me” before launching into a setlist filled to the brim with instant classics. From the piano ballad “One Night Only,” complete with a face-melting guitar solo from Adam Slack, to the kiss-off anthem “Kiss This,” every moment was something magical. When it was time for the set to end, it did in the only way it could: in a shower of confetti thrown by front man Luke Spiller’s own audience of human fireworks.   

  1. I Don’t Know How But They Found Me

The brainchild of former Panic! At the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes and former Falling in Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman, this was a project that had no choice but to be otherworldly. As longtime fan of Dallon Weekes, I was honestly shaking with excitement. Playing tracks like “Absinthe,” “Do It All the Time,” and even “Bike Ride” from the band’s previous project called The Brobecks, the duo proved they were much more than their previous bands. Weekes’s swagger rang true to their band’s lore of a lost 80s synthpop act, while Seaman played with gusto and a perpetual smile that could be felt well beyond the throng of fans. 

  1. Yours Truly

This was one of the hidden gems at Riot Fest this year. While I was waiting in the crowd to see iDKHOW, the Australian born-and-bred band Yours Truly played the Riot Stage with energy unmatched by even some of the bigger acts. Die-hard fans mixed with those completely oblivious to who the band was to create a magical experience. Front woman Mikaila brought love and light to every note she hit, matching contemporaries like Tonight Alive’s Jenna MacDougal or even Paramore’s Hayley Williams. If songs like “Circles” and “High Hopes” are anything to go by, this band has got big things coming well beyond Sydney’s horizons. 

  1. Turnover

Another surprise band for me, especially with the number of fans in the audience exclusively there to see them, was Virginia Beach-based band Turnover. Promoting their latest EP "Parties," the title track as well as “Much After Feeling” and “Plant Sugar” kept every eye in the audience trained on the stage. Between the excitement of the fans and the talent of the band, even as I forged my way to the front of the crowd to see The Struts, I couldn’t help but wonder: who the hell is Turnover and how have I slept on them?

As the festival came to a close, I felt the bittersweet post-concert depression begin to set in. Luckily, memories of special moments of connection with musicians and fans alike, as well as the thrill of adolescent dreams come true, will carry me forward.

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