Riot Fest boasts an insane lineup this year, from The Replacements to the Pixies. And uh, maybe Jesse and the Rippers?
Mike Petryshyn is tired, man. For the last year, he and his small staff have been working their asses off on putting together this year’s Riot Fest. With only three days until it kicks off in Toronto, they are in the home stretch.
Riot Fest has come a long way since Petryshyn and his business partner, Sean McKeough started it in 2005. The last few years in particular have drawn attention due to the festival’s landing of some hugely notable acts—bands who’ve long been broken up, bands who haven’t played a show in years, bands who hate playing festivals.
This year, the music festival/carnival will be making stops in Toronto, Denver, and Chicago and boasts an insane and diverse lineup, with bands like Blink-182, Rancid, Public Enemy, Pixies, and someone else...who is it? Oh, right. THE FUCKING REPLACEMENTS, who every festival and concert organizer has been trying to convince to reunite for years, most of them probably offering up their first born children. But Petryshyn got them.
Despite landing bands like The Replacements, Descendents, Elvis Costello, Weezer, The Misfits, Bad Religion, Iggy and the Stooges, Gwar, Screeching Weasel, and Dead Kennedys (just to name a few) over the years, Petryshyn remains humble and somewhat fanboyish about it. He has also been branching out, opening a club in Chicago, and is privately very generous in his endeavors.
We recently wasted an hour of his very valuable crunch time with questions about Twitter, the Warped Tour, and Jesse and the Rippers, who maaaaaay show up this year. Maybe.
Noisey: Only three days until Riot Fest. Are you in freakout mode yet?
Mike Petryshyn: Oh yeah. Without a doubt.
What are you most worried about?
I guess just for everything to run smoothly. The booking and all the promoting and all that kind of stuff is pretty much done. It’s just all logistics at this point.
The Riot Fest lineup is sort of all over the place as far as bands go. Who do you see as your core audience?
It’s hard to say. We’ve been doing this for a while now so there’s definitely a core crowd that’s been with us for almost a decade and that’s kind of been the more punk world. Rancid and FLAG and Descendents fans, that kind of stuff. But we’ve been kind of branching out the last couple years and I think the big thing was, we didn’t want to become a 35-year-old jaded dickhead. That’s not punk rock. There are bands out there in the Warped hemisphere that I listen to but there are kids who attach themselves to them and there’s a lineage to all of that. I’m in a pretty lucky position where I have 40 years of music to play around with.
So you don’t see yourself as a Warped Tour for the older crowd?
No. It’s a completely different beast with us. I think our feel is quite different.
Big festivals like the Warped Tour get a bad rap for killing smaller club shows. Are you worried Riot Fest is getting to that level?
I mean, I’m a partner in a club and my partner owns another club so we’re in that world.
You opened a club in Chicago, right?
Right, it’s called the Concord Music Hall. It’s gorgeous. We love it. So this whole notion of killing the clubs, I’ve checked everybody’s schedules for the fall and everyone seems to be doing a lot of business. If anything, with more and more festivals coming into the States, maybe we’re finally catching up on that stuff, where there’s a healthy festival season and great clubs.
Mike Petryshyn, chainsmoking away his anxiety.
Let’s talk about the Replacements for a second. That was a big get for you as a Replacements fan.
Can you tell me about how that came to be?
I mean, everybody has their wishlist of someone they want to approach every year. And usually you get a quick answer, "no," or no response at all. We’d been talking about the Replacements for years now and it’s sort of always been the pipe dream. But this year, it caught legs. We worked on it and worked on it and worked on it but ultimately it was their decision. It’s not like I took something out of my pocket and put some magic dust on it and convinced them. When it comes to this stuff, it’s a band decision.
I heard they turned down bigger offers from festivals like Lollapalooza.
Well I don’t know about that. I don’t know if that’s just in the rumor mill but whatever other festivals offered or didn’t, I don’t know.
I don’t think they’ve publicly stated it, but it feels like the Replacements’ interest in reuniting might have to do with raising money for Slim Dunlap who has been suffering health problems. Thoughts?
I think that’s more of a band question. Like I said, we’re just providing a platform. Obviously, they got back into the studio and did the Songs For Slim stuff which is awesome. But for them to reunite solely for that, I mean, I don’t know. All I know is that we provided a platform and are lucky to be in this position. It aligned for us. It’s a really huge get. And I don’t know that there’s another band like this out there.
Who else was difficult to get on board?
I don’t think of it as necessarily “difficult.” Some stuff took longer than others but there were a couple of surprises this year. Definitely the Pixies. I didn’t expect that one to happen. And when it did, we were all elated. Violent Femmes, another big one for us. They’re only doing a couple of shows this year. I think last year left people scratching their heads a little bit. These indie dudes and girls who work all year on this stuff, how are they able to pull off a 30,000 person fest? I think bands and managers started talking about it more.
How has it been received when you have a mix of bands where you’ve got Fall Out Boy but also the Replacements?
I think there’s enough for everybody. We know we’re servicing different crowds. There’s the “Warped” element to Riot, there’s the…”Riot” element to Riot, there’s the “Pitchforky/indie” stuff at Riot and we even have a little hip hop this year.
Who’s on your hip hop list this year?
Atmosphere, Public Enemy, Dessa. So there’s enough for everybody. And to think that people, especially when it comes to kids, they think that they only listen to one kind of music. When I was a teen, I listened to punk and hardcore and kind of snubbed my nose to everything else, because it wasn’t punk rock. But kids today look at music differently. Festivals pretty much are the new record store. Like last year, the Descendents probably had the biggest crowd of the entire weekend. Some people left by then because it was at night, but there were probably 26,000 people watching and a lot of them were the kids who were like, “Why is this band closing this stage before Rise Against and why is everybody so damned excited?” I’d rather have a 17-year-old kid who’s there to see Pierce the Veil get into the Violent Femmes than some dude who saw them in 1986 and thought they were better then. But we welcome everyone. Drop your bullshit at the door. I don’t give a fuck if you only listen to vinyl. Grab a fucking corn dog, ride the ferris wheel, and watch Gwar.
So no Brooklyn date this year?
We did like, 5 cities last year and it was just too much, man. There aren’t many of us doing this. It’s a lot of stress. I wanted to stay in Canada. Me growing up in Buffalo had something to do with that. And obviously, we’re keeping Chicago. But we kind of made the lineup bigger. We were thinking of Denver for a while. Just because their music scene is...they have a full music scene. I mean, people go to shows there.
What about next year?
We re-evaluate that stuff in October. We give ourselves a week break and then start planning for the following year.
What have you added or changed from last year that you’re most excited about?
We definitely added a shit-ton more rides for Chicago. We have a butter sculpture coming in.
A butter sculpture?
We have a John Stamos butter sculpture. We ran this contest to do a full, life-size body sculpture. We had the fans vote on whether it was gonna be John Stamos, Oderus [Urungus of Gwar], or Andrew W.K. And Stamos killed it.
This, but made of butter.
Obviously. Speaking of, there have been some rumors that Jesse and the Rippers will play Riot Fest this year. Any truth to that?
You know...I don’t know. We have our fingers crossed on that, that John Stamos does come. There was some talk about it. He’s having fun with it too. But you know, he’s a busy dude. He’s filming stuff.
Plus he’s got twins at home, a radio show, living in his brother-in-law’s attic...
[laughs] Well, I’ll just say, he’s having fun with this. Everyone we’ve talked to who has a relationship with him, they all say the same thing, that he’s a really nice guy.
He seems like it. What do you think the crowd’s reaction would be to him showing up?
People would lose their minds. We’ve been doing this for 5 months and not a day goes by where Stamos doesn’t enter some conversation. Yesterday was his birthday.
How old is he? He doesn’t age a single day.
He was born in the ‘60s. I don’t know, 53, 54?
[Editor's note: He just turned 50, which is actually 30 in Stamos years.]
I’ve heard you’re also the person behind Riot Fest’s very popular, very interactive Twitter account. Is that right?
I’m not. The person who does that is anonymous. [laughs]
Mike, be honest with me. Is the person behind the Twitter account John Stamos?
[laughs] I can confirm that it’s not but that would be fantastic.
Dan Ozzi has been to Riot Fest once and it got rained out. He is bad luck, he guesses. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi