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Riot Fest Founder Says New Fest Stays True to Punk Rock Roots

By Victoria Johnson | May 21, 2013 6:23am | Updated on May 21, 2013 11:25am
 Riot Festival co-founder Mike Petryshyn watched his small punk fest turn into a big Chicago attraction.
Riot Fest 2013
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HUMBOLDT PARK — In 2005, Mike Petryshyn thought it would be cool to get his favorite punk bands together for a show.

Organizing the whole thing was a headache, but he stuck with it. Now, he is running one of the most highly anticipated festivals in the city — and that is no small task.

With last week's Riot Fest lineup announcement, the music festival showed it had grown up in a big way, and the inevitable comparisons to fests such as Lollapalooza and Pitchfork began.

Riot Fest co-founder Petryshyn, however, said there's no comparing them.

"I mean, they're one of the biggest festivals in the world," he said of Lollapalooza. "In my eyes, Lollapalooza is a mainstay in Chicago, and what we do is obviously some [genre] crossover with bands, but they have a way broader range than we do."

Still, being compared to one of the biggest music festivals in the world is not too shabby for the festival that started at the Congress Theater in 2005 with a handful of influential bands.

"I just thought it'd be fun to get my favorite bands and put on a show," Petryshyn said of that first year.

He didn't even plan on doing it again, the now 34-year-old said. The stress was too much.

But after a few months, he was ready for more — and the early '90s seminal Chicago punk band Naked Raygun agreed to reunite for the 2006 Riot Fest.

"That changed everything," Petryshyn said. "Riot Fest became its own thing."

Things have grown steadily since then as Riot Fest first expanded to other venues, including the Double Door and Subterranean. Last year, they added multiple stages, food and carnival rides for a weekendlong extravaganza in Humboldt Park, where the Sept. 13-15 fest will be held this year.

In 2008, they also started adding more genres, though punk rock remains a guiding force with this year's lineup, which includes Blink 182, Motörhead and Blondie.

"I see a line between it all," Petryshyn said. "Motörhead's a metal band, obviously, but they lend themselves to the punk scene very well."

That goes for the hip-hop acts, too, he said, particularly when it comes to the biggest hip-hop name at this year's fest, Public Enemy.

"That band is punk rock," he said. "When they came out man, it was a game changer. It's like when the Sex Pistols released 'Never Mind the Bollocks.'"

This year's event also will feature an expanded carnival with more rides and side shows, something Petryshyn said he'd always wanted to do.

"You don't have to be stuck listening to a band you don't want to," he said. "You can go off in this other world and eat corn dogs or vegan brats and jump on a Ferris wheel or another ride."

Ticket are going for $129 for a three-day pass. When those sell out, only the most expensive $149 three-day passes will be left. There also are VIP three-day pass tickets starting at $224.

Meanwhile, Petryshyn said they'll be announcing the mysterious third headliner in the next couple of weeks, along with "a lot more cool stuff."

"We're going to be teasing," he said.