Chicago’s Riot Fest has continually nailed the algorithm for music fest excellence. For context, this summer felt like a homogeneous glut, offering the same headliners hopping coasts for the same experience. Instead of diving deep into one genre, the emphasis felt more like booking bands guaranteed to land ticket sales devoid of curatorial cohesion. Don’t get us wrong: we love Chance the Rapper, Lorde and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but a lot of our live galleries this summer could only be told apart by outfits instead of lineup.
But like New Orleans Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, Riot Fest isn’t afraid to reach deep into the decades and pull up die-hard bands that you won’t find at Coachella or Lollapalooza. Pop-punk forefathers Jawbreaker played live for the first time in more than 20 years and American Football/The Promise Ring forebears Cap’N Jazz even popped up. If you don’t recognize those bands, that’s OK—we promise that your cool dad hoarding boxes of Thrasher in the basement sure as hell does. The more ubiquitous bands that played—Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age—made sense in the context of a dirty descent into storied punk, industrial and beyond. Even the genre pivots from Vic Mensa and Wu Tang Clan felt special, because they hadn’t hopped through the standard litany of fests this summer.
Photographer Sarah Hess captured the feverish live performances allthreedays at Douglas Park. But between photo-pit hustling, Hess also dived backstage to take a line of portraits showing these bands at either their goofiest (Andrew W.K., Beach Slang, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Regrettes) and most chill (about everyone everyone else). Check out her work in the gallery above.