Riot Fest Essentials: We Learned The Hard Way So You Don’t Have To
Attending a music festival is a wonderful experience––the bands, the people watching, the carnival rides, the greasy food––but things can easily take a turn for the worst if you’re not prepared. As a Riot Fest 5th timer (do I get a special jacket for this?) and the perpetual mom of my “Riot Family,” I’ve learned over the years what items are essential to having a sanitary, organized and worry-free Riot Fest experience. Some of these essentials I’ve been bringing to Riot Fest every year since 2012, chosen from day one due to my compulsive and excessively-organized nature, but others emerged as necessities over time, often due to wee mishaps along the way.
Whether you’re a Riot Fest first timer or just looking to steal some tips from someone who’s kept a slew of Riot Children (actually adults who just require a lot of supervision) in line for 5 years, I couldn’t pass up the chance to share my top ten Riot Essentials™ and hopefully save you some headaches, because well, somebody had to learn the hard way, and that somebody just happened to be me.
1. Empty Water Bottle
I’m a New Englander, so like Chicagoans (did I say that right?), I know that September weather can be crazy AF. In my four years of Riot Fests, the days have been everything from 50º and raining to 90º and sunny and pretty much everything in between. Regardless of what Chicago fall decides to bring us this year, one thing’s for certain: you’ll get thirsty. Whether because you’re moshing, crushing Dos Equis or just out in the hot sun all day, the good people of Riot Fest are always kind enough to put water filling stations around the park so you don’t have to waste all your cash on bottled water to keep yourself hydrated. Bring yourself a big ol’ water bottle (empty, because they know what you’re trying to hide in there…), and save your money for better things like giant juice boxes of wine or Cheesies sandwiches.
2. Hand Sanitizer
As wonderful as music festivals are, let’s be real, they’re filthy places. Mud, port-a-potty doors and other peoples’ sweaty bodies are just a few of the many things you’d rather not touch before grabbing a between-set snack, so a little bottle of hand sanitizer will become your new best friend and help keep your Riot Fest weekend 99.9% germ and bacteria-free.
3. Portable Phone Charger
Particularly if you’re going to Riot Fest with a group that’s going to split up throughout the day, keeping your phone charged will be key to staying in touch with your Riot Family. Especially for those of you who are big photo / video takers, your phone won’t stay juiced for long, so invest in a portable charger to make sure you don’t get left without photos or separated from your Riot Family.
4. Band Aids
Well, this one I learned the hard way… Yes, bandages are also handy for minor Riot injuries, but I once made the grave mistake of attempting to break in my new Converse on day one of Riot Fest, and let’s just say giant blisters + sneakers + being on your feet all day do. not. mix. Lesson one should really be not to wear new shoes, but in the event that you wind up with blisters, cuts, or anything of the like, your body will thank you by day three for having a stash of sturdy band aids in your Riot Pack.
5. Rain Poncho
Getting back to my first point re: preparing for Chicago weather (it’s an important one), inevitably it’ll rain at Riot Fest when you’re least prepared. Even a regular rain coat starts to soak through eventually if it’s pouring hard enough, and the last thing you want is a little thing like a monsoon putting a damper (pun intended) on your Riot Fest experience. Do ponchos look absurd? Absolutely, just ask my dear friend Madeleine (pictured). But will they keep you covered and dry while you dance and sing in a downpour? You betcha, so swing by your local drug store and pick up a silly plastic poncho, because trust me, it’ll be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.
6. Travel Tissue Packs
Unless you shelled out the big bucks for Super VIP, your bathroom experiences at Riot Fest will be primarily, if not exclusively in port-a-potties. Now on day one, they may not seem so bad, but once those things have been used and abused for three days straight, a flushing toilet will have never sounded so luxurious. While certainly less than ideal, the port-a-potties are survivable so long as you have hand sanitizer (see number 2) and toilet paper, which by Sunday can sometimes be in short supply. Enter tissues, the saving grace of TP substitutes and the source of many a bathroom line friendship over the course of Riot Fest weekends.
7. Waterproof Footwear
As noted in number five, staying dry during Riot Fest can sometimes be a challenge and a become major downer if you’re not prepared. Having watched a number of people leave the park early due to the discomfort of wet and muddy feet, or ruin multiple pairs of shoes throughout the weekend, I have found the ultimate pair of Riot footwear that I now swear by… *drumroll* rubber Dr. Martens. Docs are hardly a rare sight at Riot Fest, but their Drench style is 100% waterproof and will stay on your feet even through the stickiest of mud pits, which have been known to take a shoe casualty or two. Bonus: when you get home, you can throw them in the sink or hose them off outside, and voila! Your boots are as good as new!
8. Extra Pairs of (Cheap) Sunglasses
Another lesson I learned the hard way, sunglasses are very easy to lose at Riot Fest, especially if you’re planning on hanging out in or around the pit. My very first day of my very first Riot Fest (aw) my beloved shades fell victim to the flailing arms of a fellow Riot Fest-er and just like that, I was sunglasses-less. The next day, I resorted to purchasing a replacement pair from a vendor booth that had the words “shut up and mosh” written on the stems (ironic, considering I’ve never actually moshed in my 27 years of life), so now I always bring backup pairs, less I ever need to “shut up and mosh” again.
In addition to the water refill stations, the good people of Riot Fest are also kind enough to offer you a location to store all your junk while you roam around the park all day, and I’ve taken advantage of it every year. For a mere $40 all weekend, you and your Riot Family can reserve a safe space to put your new merch, sweatshirts, or anything else you don’t want to lug around for the entire weekend and access it anytime you want. Since the lockers have combinations instead of keys (you’ll get a bracelet with the combo on it), you can share with your group and not worry about anyone being locked out. For an extra $10, you can also add unlimited phone charging (see number three) if you’re the type to blow through a full portable charger battery too.
10. Schedule and Map
Ok, stay with me on this one, because I saved the best for last. Especially if it’s your first time at Douglas Park, there’d be nothing worse than getting lost, going to the wrong stage, or forgetting what time your favorite band takes the stage (trust me, I’ve had nightmares about it). Introducing Google Sheets, the holy grail of Riot Fest planning tools, especially if you’re going with a group, as you can share the sheet with each other, edit and add notes as needed. My typical Riot Fest spreadsheet (yes, spreadsheets can be punk rock, get over it) includes 5 tabs; one for each day, an “at-a-glance” view of every band we’re seeing in chronological order, and lastly a map. After deciding which bands your group wants to see, making a spreadsheet (color coded, if you’re feeling crazy) for each day with the stages and set times, and your must-sees highlighted will keep any day-of debates or questions to a minimum. Once the set times are announced, Riot Fest also offers a handy custom schedule tool on their website to take the sheet-building step out of it, but planning out your daily itinerary in advance and keeping a map handy will ensure you don’t miss a minute of the action.
Any Riot Fest essentials on your list that we missed? Tweet ‘em out and help your fellow Riot Fest-ers!
(Note: none of the items mentioned are sponsored or endorsed by Riot Fest, I’m just a big believer in the power of rubber boots, sharable spreadsheets and a really good grilled cheese)