Published on October 2nd, 2014 | by Thompson
On Shaking Tom May’s Hand and Drinking with Dropkick’s Jeff DaRosa
My buddy’s basement is so dark I slept until 1 PM on Sunday. I had an hour until The Menzingers took the stage, so I ran upstairs and started rolling spliffs. I didn’t bother rolling up all my weed. I just tucked it all into a hidden pocket in my backpack. Luckily, I had a free ride to use on Uber, which was so nice. I arrived with time to get drink tickets, a bottle of wine, and a cool phone wallet from Apothic Wine Company. The bottle of wine cost $25, and although the wine is only worth $10, I got a Riot Fest water bottle to keep.
I positioned myself directly in front of the stage, just a few rows back, and Pete Jones met me as soon as I sparked the first spliff. The Menzingers rocked so hard. They opened with “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” the perfect song for opening a show. A mosh pit immediately formed just to our left, and a stuffed animal was accidentally decapitated by the dancing. I picked up the body of the deceased and tossed it into the air, making it snow stuffing on the crowd.
I didn’t have any problems with The Menzingers setlist. They played “Male Call,” a song I love and knew they’d play for the “country” crowd. They played “Gates” and “Nice Things,” songs I expected and had seen live before. They play well to the crowd, and it was noticed when Pete Jones disappeared into the mosh pit for a few seconds. They also played “Rodent,” my favorite song on “Rented World.” It got me absolutely amped, so the video I took suffered I’m afraid. A rousing rendition of “I Can’t Seem to Tell” got the crowd singing along, as did “The Obituaries.” “The Talk,” again, as expected, rocked so hard, and was a perfect song off “Rented World” for a Riot Fest show. I pretty much nailed their setlist actually. There just wasn’t enough time for them to play “Mexican Guitars,” but I’m going to keep seeing their shows to see that song live. They closed with the catchy and iconic “In Remission,” which made me want to destroy a wheelchair for some reason.
I met Tom May, shook his hand, and thanked him for the performance before Bouncing Souls took the stage, and in that moment, I realized punk rock stars are the most approachable stars out there. That feeling was reinforced when I saw Dropkick Murphys later that night. They’re just like us. They’re here to see their favorite artists, too. Next up was The Bouncing Souls, who May said he was there to see. They were pretty good, but didn’t have the energy of The Menzingers, and for good reason. Lead singer Greg Attonito came off the stage a lot to get the front rows involved, and I think they did a lot of the singing on “True Believers,” which was a riot. I saw Hot Water Music play it in Seattle a year before, but Bouncing Souls put their rendition to shame. “Lean on Sheena” also sounded great live.
The Violent Femmes were terrible. Lead singer Gordon Gano sounds like an overweight, proper Southerner stepping on another Southerner. They’re “Blister in the Sun” got everybody to the stage in a hurry, but the crowd was dispersing three songs into their set. I stuck around and caught one good song featuring some horns, and then I went for a cider at the Strongbow tent.
I took my cider to the side of the Byers General Store stage near the musicians VIP area. All the bands I wanted to see were playing at Byers General, which was nice. There I rolled a spliff and talked photography with a guy who freelances for a radio station in Denver. He said his first photo gig more than paid for his Canon Rebel, which made me want to start working as a freelance photographer. Fuck this writing for nothing gig. He just came from an interview with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, while I was stuck on the other side of the cattle guard with the fans. But I did get to see the best show of Riot Fest Denver 2014.
Spike Slawson is a rock star, but nobody seems to know. His rendition of “Crazy for Your” was better than Madonna’s. Fat Mike made things interesting by inviting NOFX bandmate Eric Melvin up to play the song with Slawson, but he didn’t end up playing one note, making for a hilarious three minutes of awkward dancing finishing with a hug and shoutout from Fat Mike. They went straight into their hit cover “I Believe I Can Fly” from there.
Slawson performed with more energy and has one of the best voices you’ll hear live. The Gimme Gimme show was a collection of solid, danceable tunes from beginning to end. They played “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” off “Love Their Country” for the Colorado country-loving crowd, but my favorite songs from the night were from their new album, “Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!” Their rendition of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” got me singing along right off the bat, and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” will never sound the same again. “Crazy for You” is also on the new album, which is fanfuckingtastic.
I ran into Dave’s friends after the show. They were especially pleased with the performance and were headed for cider at Strongbow while waiting for Dropkick Murphys. There we smoked from a nice vaporizer one of the girls had with her. It absolutely lit me up. We actually got seats, so we parked until “The Boys are Back” lifted me from the haze of vaporized THC and the comfort of a pillow onto the small table in front of me and towards the stage. I had to get a look at the band and confirm if I’d actually been drinking with a member of the band last night. I had. Jeff DaRosa was the man from Brooklyn’s Bar the previous night, joking with the old bartender about his band, Dropkick Murphys. Although I sensed it, my feeling was only confirmed this moment, and only further exemplified how the punk genre features the most approachable, genuine people. Though I’m not a particular fan of Drokick, I appreciated their show more than I had in Minneapolis the first time I saw them years earlier because I appreciated the down-to-Earth character of DaRosa. The rest of the Riot Fest crowd apparently appreciated it, too. It was one of the largest crowds of the weekend – nothing like The Cure, which was uncomfortable, but impressive nonetheless. I felt I’d seen all I needed to, and decided to enjoy Wu Tang Clan from Brooklyn’s Bar across the street. There I got to talking with a cute girl looking to smoke a joint, but when I left to do so and motioned for her to meet me in the empty patio area, she gave me a look of disappointment and didn’t follow, leaving me to smoke the entire thing. I think one of the guys was her boyfriend, who didn’t approve of the idea of smoking in public. It was the second night in a row some shitty, paranoid boyfriend got in the way of me showing beautiful women good times. And each time I could see the longing in their eyes as to where their true interested lied. Girls just wanna have fun, which is why we should do away with the idea of monogamy for good.
But I met one of my rock heroes and drank with another musician at Riot Fest. I saw, quite possibly, five of my top 10 live concerts in one weekend. I spent $180 on tickets, at least $100 on booze, and another $80 on weed and weed treats. I don’t think I’d do it again unless I could camp at the venue. Changing the venue in Denver was unfortunate, but I can understand why it was done. Leaving the parking lot outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High was like trudging through a landfill. I’ve never been a particular fan of music festivals, but after Riot Fest, I can see why they’re so popular. I fear I’m getting too old for that crowd, because despite all the medicine I had, I went home with my back absolutely killing me every night. I guess I’m getting too old for this shit. Perhaps it’s time to pony up and get a press pass so I can sit on my ass and meet my heroes.