RIOT FEST featuring DESCENDENTS, NOFX, FUCKED UP, HOT WATER MUSIC, LESS THAN JAKE, ANDREW WK, THE LAWRENCE ARMS, MOCKINGBIRD, WISH ME LUCK, THE ORGAN THIEVES, and JUNIOR BATTLES at Fort York Garrison Commons (250 Fort York), Sunday (September 9), gates at noon. $39.50. RT, SS, TM. riotfest.org. See listing.
For a city with a vibrant local music scene and a strong club circuit for touring acts, Toronto has always been missing one thing: a proper outdoor multi-day summer music festival. Despite Virgin's best efforts (the company brought the Virgin Festival to Toronto from 2006 to 09), logistical and bureaucratic challenges have kept us from establishing anything on the scale of Osheaga in Montreal.
This year, however, has seen a number of single-day music festivals take root, including Sunday's Riot Fest.
After eight years of establishing itself as Chicago's premier punk rock festival, the hard-edged-music meet-up makes its Toronto debut, bringing along a solid lineup of genre stars like California pop punk pioneers Descendents and NOFX, posi-minded party-starter Andrew W.K. and local hardcore heroes Fucked Up.
"I could see Toronto becoming another flagship for us," says Riot Fest founder Michael Petryshyn, who grew up just south of the border in Buffalo. "I started Riot Fest to suit my own tastes - mostly punk, hardcore, ska and a little bit of metal - but it's grown and broadened a lot in the last few years. That's the kind of vision I have for Toronto."
Petryshyn says these days Riot Fest draws three crowds: punk rock lifers, Warped Tour youngsters and Pitchfork hipsters. That broadened appeal caused acclaimed Chicago music scribe Jim DeRogatis to accuse the fest of abandoning its underground, DIY roots, but Petryshyn is thrilled with Riot Fest's newfound diversity.
Bespectacled Descendents drummer and festival veteran Bill Stevenson is, too. His band's brand of melodic frustration anthems is well represented on the bill, though a full spectrum of punk styles is included.
"Some of my fondest memories of shows have been in clubs of no more than 500 capacity," he says. "But at a festival like this, a person can go see multiple bands of all sorts and only have to spend one day doing so."
Toronto's event is more homogeneously punk than its larger Chicago counterpart, which happens September 14-16 and includes Built to Spill and Elvis Costello. But that seems par for the course at Fort York's Garrison Commons, whose re-emergence as a 2012 summer concert venue has brought out a number of niche day parties, from the EDM-focused Full Flex Express to the Canrock commemoration of the War of 1812 and the ska-punk blowout Sublime Summer.
"We're treating this year as a pilot year, presenting a range of concerts and events in order to determine what fits and what doesn't," says Alok Sharma, Fort York's supervisor of special events. "Fort York is like a blank canvas with a lot of green space. As long as [the event] is a good fit with Fort York and the integrity of the national historic site is protected, you'll continue to see diverse and unique programming at the Fort."