In which I discuss the phases of the punk via Riot Fest East

Listening to: The rain (it’s just so soothing), various amateur videos taken and Riot Fest and posted to YouTube

Bomb the Music Industry! once posed the question through song lyric:

Remember when we danced at shows/before we all stood in the back?

Well, I remember those shows.  Partly because they’re still occurring.  I rue the day when I find it more appealing to stand far from the crowd with a beer in my hand than to be right up front squashed against dozens of sweaty punks or going wild in the pit without a care for what I look like.

At 22, that’s what these shows still are for me.  And that’s what Riot Fest East was last weekend (also, check out my friend A Yonki’s blog for some freeform, stream on consciousness writing on this theme).

I could spend paragraphs gushing over how incredible Riot Fest was — how amazing it was to see some of my favorite bands again and for the first time, discovering new, ridiculously talented musicians, and just general geeking out about punk rock with friends — but I won’t.  (You’re welcome.)

For the first time:


Instead, I sit here mulling over a question of phases.  Here I was at Riot Fest East, sponsored by Red Bull with special guest appearances by punk rock rum retailer Sailor Jerry.  The place was filled with kids I probably would’ve been great friends with in high school and kids I probably would be great friends with a few decades from now.  Some of my favorite bands were lined up to take the stage that day and I didn’t once second-guess the fact that I had, a couple months prior, paid a massive amount of fees to Ticketmaster for admission to a music festival sponsored by an energy drink company whose product I find repulsively disgusting.

Part of the day made me wish I was 16 again.  Part of it made me wonder what I’ll look like when I’m at shows 20, 30 years from now.  And all of it displayed a phenomenon I dubbed The Phases of the Punk.

I imagine every kid must take the journey from pxnk rawk to Punk during their evolution of discovering, exploring and living punk rock music.  These phases were well represented at Riot Fest.


It was a long, confusing, probably about two-mile walk to get to the front gate of Philly’s Festival Pier, where Riot Fest took place.  I blame it on poor Ticketmaster directions.  But we knew we had arrived at the right spot when not far in a distance, a group of wild combat-booted, ripped-stockinged, denim jacket-wearing punks appeared.

Not one of them could have been older than 18 or 19, and for the most part they looked only about 15 years old.  But they all had that excessively pierced, mildly dyed, “Hey check out these patches with all my favorite bands but really I don’t give a fuck what you think” look.

For a brief moment before we went inside the Festival Pier, I wondered what kind of Riot Fest I really had gotten myself into.  Not a half hour later, though, these same angry-looking kids were happily jigging to Oregon bluegrass punks Larry and his Flask.  To be honest, when I was 16 I probably didn’t look nearly as angry or threatening as these kids, but I did have the strong desire to dye my hair every possible color and generally dress in what I took to be my own punky style.

Everyone has that middle school/high school yearbook photo that they regret, and every punk goes through their young discovering-themselves phase.


Every show, am I right?  This time we got a rooster in a punk rock  DIY jean vest.  I have no idea what happened to him by the end of the night, but I’m guessing he chucked the chicken suit around 4 p.m. after losing about 4 gallons of water through sweat and then proceeded to chug Powerade and/or beer for the rest of the evening.


Here I am, the short girl in her faded, cut-up, tie-dyed t-shirt, yellow bandana-made-makeshift-headband to keep the sweat from my eyes, cut off jeans shorts (not quite jorts), and bright green high top sneakers.  I dressed for this day with only comfort in mind.  I spent no time deciding which band t-shirt would be the most appropriate or whether I should afix a pin or two to my bag or shorts.  My thought process was, more or less, as follows:

Ugh, it’s going to be so gross in Philly this weekend.  Why won’t this weather just let up already? I’m so sick of this humid, muggy summer crap.  It shouldn’t be 80 degrees in Philly in late September.  Now, what can I wear that will allow me to get the most sweaty and smelly in the least obvious way?

I felt a bit awkward when I finished getting dressed that morning and realized I managed to pick an outfit where my shirt and sneakers matched damn near perfectly.  I mean, how un-punk rock can you get?

But on arrival at the fest, it was out of my mind and no longer mattered.  Because here, at the front gate, were the young punks sipping from their alcohol-filled water bottles; the orgcore punkers with more plaid and gauges than I’d ever know what to do with; the rockabilly chicks that look like they were hired by Red Bull (who sponsor Riot Fest) to be there; the kid dressed like a chicken; and the family with their punk rock babies in tow.

But we’ll get there.


This is probably the phase I’m starting to fit into, but I’m not quite there yet.  This is the set I generally associate with standing at the back of the venue holding a beer while singing along to all the lyrics, maybe throwing fists in the air in unity every other chorus or so.  These are the ones who had the best assortment of t-shirts at Riot Fest, too, because they wore all the ridiculously obscure out-of-print shirts for punk bands whose last album came out in 1997.

For instance:

Frank Grimes from The Simpsons as The Descendents' Milo

Frank Grimes from The Simpsons as The Descendents' Milo

Jawbreaker Morton Salt Girl

Jawbreaker Morton Salt Girl

Incidentally, I have the Dillinger Four t-shirt that makes fun of this one

7 Seconds "Walk Together Rock Together"


Some small children were in attendance with their tiny fauxhawks and youth-small sized Descendents t-shirts.  I’m going to imagine the families were more likely there with the bands than random people who bought tickets thinking to themselves, “Hey! What a great idea for a weekend family outing!”  This group of folks in attendance later sparked a discussion between my friends and I over how those kids would view punk rock growing up.  A sordid theory made the rounds in which we pondered whether the children would eventually reach their teenage years and rebel by listening to pop or country music and joining the glee club.

Something to consider whilst singing your baby to sleep with a Bad Religion lullaby, punk rock parents of the world.


The really cool part about all this is that I didn’t see one fight break out or one instance of kids being jerks to each other because of their different phases in the timeline.  Shows and festivals often have a That Guy who likes to start problems and ruin someone’s day, but it seemed as though That Guy wasn’t in attendance at Riot Fest.  That Guy wasn’t there to see the Dead Milkmen, and The Descendents, and Hot Water Music, and Samiam, and so many others.  And that’s what kept the mood up and the punks rolling for ten or so solid hours of blood, sweat, and music.

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