10 Things I Learned at Riot Fest Chicago

My flight landed in Phoenix late Monday night, and I'm still adjusting. It hasn't fully sunk in yet that I just saw The Replacements and The Pixies back to back. The Broadways reunion really happened. Debbie Harry is super adorable in person. My feet are still throbbing, and I'm pretty sure that lingering sick feeling is dehydration, but this wonderful music festival wrapped up only a few days ago.

My six-day trip to Chicago was comprised mostly of the festival and catching up with some old friends, both locals and Phoenicians who took a moment to figure out the L-train system. Like most out-of-state music festival trips, it was a learning experience.

10. Malort isn't that bad. Apparently Malort is a big thing in Chicago. It's a liquor made out of wormwood that's only available in the Windy City. One of the first things my friends asked upon my arrival is if I'd like to try it. They warned that a lot of people didn't like it, but people say the same thing about Everclear. Plus, I'm a try everything twice type of gal, so why not?

To my unrefined palate, it tasted like a shot of just about any other strong liquor. All I tasted was alcohol and a little burning. It had a strange after taste, but nothing I'd describe as disgusting. That weird taste is wormwood, the same ingredient in absinthe. And no, I did not hallucinate, but I also only had one shot.

9. Most people could care less about my favorite bands. That was the best Glassjaw set I've seen yet, but Pennywise drew a larger crowd. I thought the Rancid vs. Public Enemy conflict was no contest, but lots of people still watched Rancid. Most of all, Sublime With Rome actually has a following. I had no reservations about leaving AFI to see The Broadways, which put me in a much smaller crowd.

8. Trying to leave a crowd apparently makes you an asshole. AFI is a good transition point here, because some people have no desire to move, even if they're past the soundboard and see a line of photographers approaching. If someone is walking away from the stage with a big camera in their hand, chances are they're trying to get out of the crowd. That does not warrant shoving, spitting, or spilling your drink on them--all of which happened to me or someone I know at Riot Fest. I'm still shocked that a man shoved me hard enough to knock me off balance during Saves the Day.

7. Chicago rain is much different than Phoenix rain. In the Valley of the Sun, rain is a big deal, even if it only lasts for an hour or so. Rain was in the forecast for Sunday, and us desert-dwelling folks are accustomed to wearing jeans and a hoodie when it gets cold. The kicker is, none of those things work well in the rain or the mud. It rained most of the day, leaving me with shoes full of mud and fearing for the life of my camera. But when the rain cleared up, it was beautiful.

6. Do touristy stuff. I don't care how lame it seems, touristy stuff attracts tourists for a reason. I dedicated a day to it, taking an architectural cruise, wandering around downtown, going up in the Sears Tower (which is apparently now the Willis Tower), and closing out my night with The Book of Mormon. And guess what? I had a blast.

5. When in doubt, just walk. Chicago has great public transportation, and most of it runs 24 hours. This is convenient most of the time, especially after a night out, but it's nearly pointless after the festival. Riot Fest's site encouraged crowds to take a bus down the main street on the south side of the festival, Division. The Division bus was detoured at the end of the night, causing buses to overflow. With a dead phone, it's not easy to hail a cab or find an alternate bus that runs 24 hours, so sometime it's just easier to walk to your destination--even if it's three miles away.

4. Midwestern people rule. For a big city, Chicagoans are very friendly and don't seem to mind out of towners. I never had somebody turn down giving me directions or recommendations for things to check out. I sat down at a couple of bars and made conversation with strangers--and the conversations continued past the usual niceties.

But then again, that isn't too difficult when a Beach House song plays in a dive bar.

3. Liz Lemon's "I can have it all" works, at a price. One of my favorite scenes in 30 Rock is when Liz Lemon quickly eats a sandwich to get through TSA , because it sounds like something I would do. I was dreading a few of the festival conflicts, namely The Lawrence Arms vs. Blondie and Public Enemy, and The Broadways vs. The Pixies.

These decisions are easy for most, but what would you do if Blondie and The Pixies were playing at the same time as your favorite band, who has not come to Phoenix since 2009, as well as said favorite band's former band, which played its first show in over a decade in its hometown?

The first conflict was The Lawrence Arms and Blondie, which overlapped 100 percent. I'd been to a Larry Arms after-show the night before, but it was really freakin' good, and the band was a big deciding factor in me coming to the festival. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoy Blondie and was disappointed when the band canceled its Foundry on First show. I made my decision at the very last minute, slipping into Blondie's photo pit for the first couple of songs, and I'm glad I did. Debbie Harry looked and sounded awesome. I sprinted to The Lawrence Arms' stage across the festival, and sure enough, I made it.

I managed to watch both of The Broadways and The Pixies from a distance, so guess what? You can have it all.

2. Mainstream pop-punk fans are the worst. It goes without saying that screamo fans are obnoxious, which is why I steered clear of bands like Pierce the Veil and The Devil Wears Prada. Most pop punk fans are innocuous enough, so I assumed that Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy's fanbase would be full of young, excited, and mostly female fans.

There was plenty of screaming, but plenty of injuries as well. My Saves the Day shove had nothing on the people getting carried out on stretchers during both headliners' sets. The Blink-182 fans I encountered early in the day were rude--I understand that getting a close spot is fun, but don't spend all of FLAG's set bitching about how the band is old.

P.S.: Wearing a Blink-182 shirt to a Blink-182 show makes you a tool.

1. The longer you wait to see a band, the more you'll (probably) enjoy it. I hadn't seen Brand New for a good four years or so, and the anticipation made it all the better. I never thought I'd be able to see The Replacements live, and like My Bloody Valentine at FYF, I feel privileged to be able to see rare performances like these in person.

At the same time, I think I would have enjoyed The Pixies a bit more if it was my first time seeing them. I caught the band on the Doolittle anniversary tour (yes, with Kim Deal) and it was everything I expected it to be. This time around, I longed for more Doolittle songs and didn't expect much from Kim Shattuck, though she did a great job.

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