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Riot Fest 2019: 10 must-see acts at this weekend’s party in the park

An impressive lineup of newbies, alums and album sets define this year’s music extravaganza.

Luke Spiller performs with the Struts at Wrigley Field in 2018.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Happy birthday Riot Fest! To mark the festival’s impressive 15th year in Chicago, organizers pulled all the stops to mold a celebratory anniversary lineup featuring alums and new blood. Of course all the talk surrounds Slayer’s final show in Chicago EVER ,but here are 10 other bands to check out this weekend.

If you need a schedule, just pick up a can of Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale — in a genius move, the label pulls off to reveal who’s where, when.


Matt Skiba, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 get ready to perform in July on “Good Morning America.”

The affable pop punk trio is one of the select artists on the bill that will perform an album in full, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of its best known record, “Enema of the State,” which produced hits “What’s My Age Again?” and “All The Small Things,” but also look for new tracks from “Nine,” out this month. Featuring one of the best drummers in the punk scene, Travis Barker — healed from the health issues that sidelined the band’s appearance at Riot Fest last year — and a local nod from Chicago’s own Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio) who’s now a permanent member, this will be one of the best ensembles of the weekend. (Friday, 8:45 p.m., Riot Stage)

The Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne rolls in his giant bubble during a 2018 Flaming Lips performance in New York.
Mike Pont/Getty Images

Tonight’s other must-see full album performance comes from The Flaming Lips, delivering a track-by-track set of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” the 2002 oddball masterpiece that pushed the experimental psych rockers further into the mainstream with songs like “Do You Realize??” and was later turned into on an erstwhile musical. Frontman Wayne Coyne always gets into the moment, and we can only hope he gets in that mobile hamster wheel bubble again for this show. (Friday, 7:40 p.m., Roots Stage)

Wu-Tang Clan

Cappadonna (from left), Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan perform April 25, 2019, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

A last-minute addition to the Riot Fest lineup, the prolific hip-hop troupe replaces embattled South African duo Die Antwoord after a hate-filled video surfaced in recent weeks that prompted producers to boot them from the bill. Still fresh from a memorable performance in 2017, the gang’s back in 2019 — as one of the arguably best rap groups of all time, individual members like RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Raekwon have gone on to become massive stars. But when they’re all back together, it’s a pure force. (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Radicals Stage)

The Struts

Do the time warp with this British band that presents the best of a bygone era of glam and arena rock. Frontman Luke Spiller is one of the most enigmatic performers since Freddie Mercury with all the same charm, flamboyance and fearlessness plus incredible vocal chops that have their own built-in mic drop. With hints of Queen, Aerosmith, Bowie and The Rolling Stones, songs like “Could Have Been Me,” “Body Talks” and “Kiss This” are the reinvented gold that has been lacking in modern rock. (Saturday, 6 p.m., Rise Stage)

The Damned Things

The best super groups usually have the most unexpected pairings like this recently reunited hard rock fuser that features Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley, Anthrax icon Scott Ian (also on guitar), Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano and Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley on vocals. Combining the crosshairs of Anthrax’s heavy trash backbone with Fall Out Boy’s catchy hooks, the formula works quite well on tracks like “We’ve Got a Situation Here.” Scott Ian sticks around for Anthrax on Saturday night, too. (Saturday, 3:55 p.m., Rebel Stage)


GWAR performs on day one of Riot Fest in 2016. The band returns this week to the festival with a set on Saturday afternoon.
GWAR performs on day one of Riot Fest in 2016. The band returns this week to the festival with a set on Saturday afternoon.
Lou Foglia/For the Sun-Times

Before Slayer “reigns in blood” Saturday night it will be raining blood over at Gwar. The master provocateurs are kings of the cheap thrill with an arsenal of shock props, theatrical skits (usually involving political figures and cultural targets) and those hideous costumes. And the music is pretty amped too. The rumor is that actor Ethan Embry may appear in the set after the two parties “settled the beef” from the infamous hallucinatory scene in the movie “Empire Records” in this recent interview. (Saturday, 2:45 p.m., Riot Stage)

The Hu

The Hu creates hard rock with traditional Mongolian instruments.
Provided photo

On the heels of World Music Fest Chicago, Riot Fest brings one of the best new international imports to the stage. The Hu combines traditional Mongolian music with heavy rock tendencies for an eclectic mix featuring ritualistic throat singing, screeching guitars and traditional instruments like the jaw harp and horsehead fiddle that the quartet brands as hunnu rock. Earlier this year, the act was named the Official Mongolian Ambassador to the World and has since dominated Download Festival and now Riot Fest, where an eight-piece band produces a full wall of sound. (Saturday, 1:05 p.m., Riot Stage)

Bikini Kill

Riot Fest is unmatched when it comes to featuring impressive reunions including the riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill. Formed in the ’90s in Olympia, Washington, not far from the Seattle grunge scene, Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail were the antithesis of college boy rock with stand-up songs about women’s rights and deserved place, delivered with fiery passion. With new guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle in tow, they return as emboldened as ever in the midst of our current sociopolitical angst. (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., Riot Stage)

The B-52s

The B-52s — Fred Schneider (from left), Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson — perform in 2017 in San Pedro, California.
Matt Cowan/Getty Images

When the new wave group debuted 40 years ago with hits like “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack” it was a game-changer, merging early American rock ‘n’ roll with disco and dance music — and of course campy sci-fi schtick that harked back to the post-war lexicon. The sing-song volleyball style of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sounds just as good as it ever did and will be prime for this communal outdoor setting, which is sadly being touted as their final Chicago show. (Sunday, 5:15 p.m., Radicals Stage)

Nick Lowe With Los Straitjackets

It was fate when the power pop songwriter and prolific producer Nick Lowe — known for scribing “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” for Elvis Costello — teamed up with Los Straitjackets in 2012. What was supposed to be a one-off matchup at a celebratory gig for their shared label Yep Roc turned into an ongoing collaboration with a series of EPs including May’s “Love Starvation / Trombone” as well as combined tours. Don’t let the lucha libre masks fool you — Los Straitjackets are incredible musicians who add well to Lowe’s songbook. (Sunday, 1:25 p.m., Radicals Stage)

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.