For our 15th anniversary, we asked fans to vote for the top 15 Riot Fest sets of all time. The response was overwhelming—thousands of you voted and left heartfelt notes on what made your favorite show so special.
Below, we’ve shared a handful of fan testimonials—first dates, proposals, cherished memories with friends—with the top 15 performances ever, as voted by our fans. Thanks for all the memories. We’ll see you in Douglas Park this September to make some more.
15. FALL OUT BOY (2013)
I was 16 at the time, and I sold my phone so I could buy tickets for Riot to see my favorite band (FOB). It was the first time I was allowed to go to a concert and that night I felt alive.
– Christina O.
My #1 Riot Fest set of all time. It’s always great to see a Chicago band and for them to be able to achieve the goal of getting the Stanley Cup to Riot Fest, that was amazing. They put so much heart into their Chicago sets that I still get chills thinking about that show.
– Kelly G.
I thought they were broken up forever. Seeing them back together was so nostalgic. They played all the classics. How many other Riot Fest bands brought the Stanley Cup with them on stage? They did a great job representing Chicago.
– Nicole A.
14. AGAINST ME! (2013)
Against Me! it was my first time seeing the band since Laura’s transition, and I made it a point to see them so I could see Laura perform as her true self, singing her truth. Seeing her on that stage, I could tell she was truly happy. It was also my first time hearing the electric version of their then-new song, “Fuckmylife666.” I was proud of the whole band that day, and the crowd was spectacular.
– Lisa M.
When Laura Jane Grace sang “Black Me Out” I couldn’t stop jumping. It put the entire rest of the weekend at a high. It was the first time I saw them after she came out as trans and their whole set was just a statement inclusivity and acceptance to me.
– Christina H.
#1 was definitely Against Me! in 2013. Just as Pints of Guinness was starting, the rain started coming on down a little bit and it was just the most fun and incredible mosh pit of wonderful people smiling and laughing and dancing together, and it was the same afternoon I met one of my now best friends who lives several states away. Just amazing. Can’t wait to see them again this year.
– Christopher P.
13. JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS (2013)
She is an absolute embodiment of a Riot Grrrl. A true rebel who didn’t go away when people tried to make her leave. Her music is rad and her attitude is something to feed off of.
– Shannon H.
They played one of the smaller stages in the corner early in the chilly evening. It became jammed packed as more and more people gathered. You could you feel the energy of the crowd anticipating the start of the set. The band exploded when they they began their set with the first power chord of “Bad Reputation.” It was non stop excitement, movement, crowd surfing and song chanting there on out, start to finish! Joan, the Blackhearts and the audience were on fire!
– Deborah N.
Joan Jett is the definition of rock star. I still remember the energy of the tightly-packed crowd as she played “Cherry Bomb.” Her music gets me in the gut. It felt amazing to be a woman in that audience!
– Erin E.
12. DROPKICK MURPHYS (2012)
Dropkick Murphys music gives us an historical account of where we’re from, a thought provoking look at where we are, and an honest opinion of where we’re headed. And the kids today need the optimism and energy of loud guitars.
– Jason C.
Was my first time in a mosh pit. As a female, they always scared the shit out of me. But it was actually one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. A bunch of guys even helped to protect me when my shoe came off. It enforced that the punk community is in it together, looking out for each other.
– Rebecca D.
The Dropkick Murphys in 2012 for sure. I attended the festival that year with my dad, and this was the first time he had seen the Dropkick Murphys perform. Seeing his reaction when they hit the stage was priceless and I will never forget it.
– Matt M.
11. SOCIAL DISTORTION (2014)
First, I love Social Distortion, and second, my 5 year old daughter was on my shoulders pumping her arms and my 8 year old daughter was against the barricade rocking out. We all loved it.
– Travis S.
Social Distortion in Chicago 2014. I loved my first Riot Fest, but this was the best moment. I rode the Ferris wheel the whole time and it was badass. They killed it.
– Nick D.
Seeing Social Distortion live was a huge thrill. I remember when Tim, a friend, brought Mommy’s Little Monster over when we were in college in the 80s and I couldn’t get enough of it. It opened a whole new genre of music to this day.
– Renee L.
10. SYSTEM OF A DOWN (2015)
I met my girlfriend of four years at Riot Fest. Our first kiss was shared in the System Of A Down mosh pit, September 12th of 2015. I’ll never forget making out in the middle of a circle pit while everyone around us was moshing.
Right before System Of A Down’s set began, I was in the middle of a ocean of people waiting to see them, trying to get signal on my phone so I can meet up with this girl I’ve only known for one day. I keep calling and calling her on my phone hoping the signal would pick up and finally connect. I was starting to lose hope and almost gave up. Dropped calls after dropped calls, I finally get through to her and the first thing I tell her to do is yell out my name. Within a matter of minutes I hear someone yelling out my name so I turn around and look, with a face of disbelief and shock, I see this beautiful women running up to me with the biggest smile on her face and hugs me, grabbed my hand and started rushing through crowds of people so we could get as close to the front for S.O.A.D. set as possible. As soon as they strummed the first couple of chords for their opening song, that’s when the make out session began. I’m not a person who believes in fairytales or love at first sight, but this was love at first kiss.
After that memorable night of kisses in the pit, I knew I had to make this gorgeous woman my girlfriend. I asked her out at 5:45 am, September 13th. We now make Riot Fest a traditional thing and have gone every year together since we’ve met. This is why System Of A Down’s set from 2015 is my number one of all time.
– Anthony M.
I’ve never been part of a crowd that moved as one cellular unit. I’ve been to countless concerts and festivals and never had that environment ever been replicated.
– Jesus V.
9. IGGY AND THE STOOGES (2012)
This was our second time seeing Iggy Pop’s set while on the ferris wheel—only this time, my husband proposed to me up there (while he was playing “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” haha). Happily married now, and great memories.
– Chasidy D.
This is my favorite set that I’ve seen over the years of going to Riot Fest, from the multi venue days to now. I haven’t missed many. I remember every detail of the Iggy Pop set. Waiting up front and missing Gogol Bordelo’s set just to be up close. Everyone I talked to around me, being propelled by the crowd lifting me nearly off my feet, getting so close I could see his sweat… my husband and I have told the story over and over to friends. And the details never fade. The rush and thrill of seeing an idol so up close. Riot Fest makes memories, and it’s made some great ones for me.
– Lisa H.
8. TAKING BACK SUNDAY (2018)
They just made me feel nostalgic. It reminded me of when I would lock myself in my room and dance around when no one was looking. My teen years are just so memorable.
– Marlene G.
Taking Back Sunday because I had been listening to them for YEARS. Like we’re talking over 10 years. It took my back to the MySpace scene days and it was everything I needed. Nostalgia at its finest.
– Alison O.
I remember a time in my life where I couldn’t fathom being where I am in life now & honestly couldn’t even see myself living past 18 years old. It sounds extremely cliché, but music has aided me in overcoming every dark part of my life. I remember seeing Taking Back Sunday at Riot Fest and thinking about how far I had come and how much I had grown. I was no longer a pre-teen/teen listening to this band to help me forget the things that were going on around me. I think there were a lot of people there with similar thoughts to my own and there was this feeling of nostalgia, but not in the bad way. It was a really amazing feeling.
– A. S.
7. BLONDIE (2018)
Her song “The Tide Is High” is an extremely nostalgic song for me because the first time I heard it was when my dad put it on a mixtape he made for me. Seeing her perform it live last year in Chicago was undoubtedly one of the best days of my life.
– Emily K.
Watched my nine year old daughter dance like her mother. She has no rhythm.
– Timmy P.
Blondie, hands down. I’ve been listening to the beautiful punk queen Debbie Harry 30+ years since I was in the womb. My 80s college-aged parents were uber fans and would play her and other legends daily and into the evening. We would have nightly dance parties to put my sister and I to sleep in our elementary school days. Blondie was a staple in our household. My go-to regular karaoke song is “Heart of Glass” and I’ve always idolized Debbie’s unique style and fuck-it lifestyle. Getting to see her live rocking it on stage in her 70s was a dream come true.
– Adria M.
6. NO DOUBT (2015)
First off, what a badass reunion. Looking back now, of course it’s special knowing they’re (almost definitely) not making any more music, but that show made it feel like it was okay. It was good closure, and seeing them live was better than any new music they could’ve given us.
Also… when and where else would you EVER be able to see Gwen Stefani, Ice Cube and The Academy Is… in the same place? Never before, and never again.
– Megan A.
The energy of Gwen and the band was infectious and the crowd was amazing. When Gwen climbed the scaffolding on the side of the stage it was just icing on the skatastic cake. Just some good old school ska.
– Jason M.
No Doubt. They were my everything growing up. Gwen Stefani was my hero. To see her live, all of them, with as much energy and badassery as the videos I’d watch on MTV… Gwen climbing that stage was my top moment.
– Stephania B.
5. RANCID (2013)
I crowd surfed for only the second time in my life at age 44… everyone was so fun and “supportive” (until they dropped me in the mud!!!).
– Brian R.
It has to be Rancid. In the 90s my cousin dated Lars from the band. For their set, her and I and her 4 year old son (not Lars’ son) stood up front. Her son had a little green mohawk and was all smiles when Lars made eye contact with the little guy. He recognized my cousin and the band let us sit on the side of the stage for the rest of the set. Afterwards he hung out with us and was just cool as hell. It’s always good when rock stars aren’t assholes off stage. Dude was a good fucking person.
– Carl F.
It was my first Rancid show and I had a blast. I lost my Chucks in the pit and had to continue the festival with no shoes. I went to all the march tents and no one was selling shoes. Not even sandals. I tried to buy shoes off other Riot Fest guests with no luck. And it was my 30th birthday weekend. A very memorable show!
– Christopher M.
4. BECK (2018)
I’ve been to Riot Fest every year since my 20th birthday. It almost always falls on my b-day weekend (Sep. 14th), and Beck is someone who I’ve always dreamed of seeing. From his country, to acoustic, to club albums, he’s always reinventing himself, and seeing him this past year was a transformatory experience. (Not eluding to his incredible outfit changes. That sequin blazer though.)
– Brittany K.
One of the most fun, high energy sets I’ve ever seen, topped off with an amazing rendition of “Cars” with Gary Numan.
– Paul C.
Beck, this past year. During his set I had an overwhelming sense to call my dad and tell him I was sorry for bad past decisions and let him know he is the best. I was unable to call so I texted him this and he texted back that he forgave me and as long as I’m happy he would be happy. Beck brought my father and I closer. It was a moment that still makes me tear up thinking about it.
– Betsy P.
3. THE CURE (2014)
They had been my favorite band for years and I had dreamed of seeing them but didn’t get the opportunity until Riot Fest. I was able to bring my dad, which was really special because he was a longtime Cure fan and the one who had turned me on to them, and he had never seen them before either. Their set was amazing. and perfect, I felt like I was in a dream the whole time and was able to completely let myself go. Earlier in the day I had mentioned that I really hoped they would play Disintegration but I wasn’t counting on it, and what do you know, THEY DID.
– Savannah T.
This was a 2 hour set that spanned the band’s entire career. The outdoor, nighttime setting was a perfect backdrop for their music. Robert Smith connected with the audience, and it was an incredible experience for a lifelong fan.
– Alison D.
I’ve been a fan since the 80s when I was in junior high, and it was the first time I was able to see them. What made it even better was that I attended Riot Fest with one of my best friends who had introduced me to The Cure way back when… It was absolutely fantastic!
– Kristy B.
2. THE ORIGINAL MISFITS (2016)
Growing up, I listened to the Misfits almost all of the time… non-stop. However, in the back of my head I was always disappointed knowing I would NEVER see them play live with Glenn Danzig. No way, too much bad blood, too much history, it was not going to happen.
Then Riot Fest comes in and saves the day (or lifetime) by announcing their reunion. Never have I felt such a rush of adrenaline when they blasted into “Death Comes Ripping” and put on one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.
– Mike G.
Seeing the original Misfits reunited at Riot Fest in 2016 was one of my favorite concert experiences of all time. Never in a million years would have I expected Glenn Danzig to get on stage with Jerry Only and Doyle Von Frankenstein ever again. It was shocking and surreal to say the least!
– Tania S.
It’s a show I’d never been able to see before since I’m coming up on 25 now, and was awesome to be able to see them live and on stage together. Kinda felt like being a part of history in a sense.
– Heather V.
1. NINE INCH NAILS (2017)
I’d always liked them, but that set blew my mind. I think I pretty much listened to almost exclusively NIN for the next year or so. I became a huge fan and I caught their 3 shows at the Aragon in 2019. So grateful I caught their set at Riot Fest.
– Laura H.
Reznor and Co. came out to set to destroy. Playing a little something from all of their albums coupled with the visuals, expectations were exceeded. Opening with “Wish,” closing with “Hurt,” add a Bowie cover in the middle… damn near perfect!
– Marshall N.
It was my husband’s last concert with his best friend, whom he had been attending with for years. He was 56 and dying of brain cancer, losing his ability to walk, losing who he was. He had a mobility scooter and could not get to the show fast enough; music was his escape, and his favorite bands were playing. His friend walked beside him with childlike excitement, and as we reached the spot near the stage, Mitchell started to cry knowing it was his last show. Music was his love, and seeing NIN as his last show following Ministry was pure heaven for us all. He got up at one point and stood with his friend as I watched and let him be normal for just a few minutes. He sang, he danced, and he was lost in feeling normal for the first time in 8 months. The music was loud, the lighting going crazy, and he was himself before he got sick, even if it was just through a song. It was amazing and I was so happy he was able to get there for this moment and to be normal again. His friend of 30 years was with his buddy again doing what they loved together. 4 weeks later, we would find out that his cancer had invaded both sides of his brain, and he passed away January 6 of 2018. He lived just a little over a year from first diagnosis and we filled it with everything he loved. Riot Fest with Jeff was at the top of that list. I still wear the wristband on my keychain as a constant reminder of the last concert we saw and how happy he was. NIN was one of his favorites and filled his soul that day.
– Jill T.