NOTE: Riot Fest was a two-day music festival featuring styles and genres from the Violent Femmes to Public Enemy. Three cities, Toronto, Chicago, and Denver, hosted the event. The big news was that The Replacements were playing after a nearly 20-year hiatus. Fiction Editor Daniel Gee Husson was there in Denver Sept. 21-22. These are his thoughts.
Ferris wheel blinking, a ride called “Moby Dick” spinning, sun setting, and me on top of a hill looking at three stages of Riot Fest wondering why am I here? I’d seen Superchunk play a song called “Detroit Has a Skyline,” which the lead singer said was also about Denver, and some other forgettable emo/post-punk acts.
Then all three stages went dark.
Purple lights burst onto the middle stage and the opening track from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew blasted from the PA. The mixed crowd had mixed reactions. Some were surprised, wondering what this odd sound was floating across the hills. Some shared secret glances, amused by such an odd contrast to the music of the day.
The music and the lights went out.
Iggy and the Stooges threw themselves onto the stage and their energy commanded that the crowd pay attention. At the end of a long day, they were a shot of speed with espresso on top. The crowd rushed to Iggy, compelled to listen.
I’d come here with friends to see the Replacements and Public Enemy, but Iggy had me in his grasp.
“Come dance with the Stooges,” he said.
And we did. The stage was full of hipsters with skinny jeans and jocks in baseball caps sharing the energy, the vibrancies of this performance. For me, I was no longer in Colorado. It’s not like the rolling hills turned into the Bowery, I was somewhere else entirely.
I jumped off the stage just in time for the solo for “Be Your Dog.” The guitar rolled and stabbed, twisting itself into my chest. The crowd, once rowdy, stood in unanimous appreciation of the guitarist’s work. It seemed at once to go on forever and to be too short.
Once the solo ended, it was Iggy’s turn again.
“There’s a screaming girl in the front row,” he said. “She’s very pretty … But your pretty face is going to straight to hell, baby!” The Stooges crushed the crowd with the beats of “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.” The drums and bass were in our bodies, vibrating from the inside out. It’s one of the most memorable moments I’ve had as a concertgoer.
In the middle of the song, Iggy jumped into the crowd. He was the only one I’d seen that day who dared to crowd surf without security surrounding him. He sang a verse or two, floating on top of the front few rows, before a roadie reeled him back in with his mic chord.
And then it was over.
It wasn’t the Stooges’ music that surprised me. I’d heard “Be Your Dog,” “Passenger,” and numerous other tunes on jukeboxes and sound systems. It was the energy that they brought to the performance and transferred to the crowd that shocked and impressed me. It was the kind of performance that would make somebody run to the nearest record store and buy every Stooges’ albums–the kind of performance that will stay with me.
I imagine myself telling the legend of this show to children and grandchildren years from now. I see in their eyes that they don’t understand. Frustrated, I put on the first Stooges album and implore them to get the energy, the excitement of that night. It’s no use. Only the Stooges on that stage that night could command such energy. Only real artists could take the energy and give it to the crowd. Only people in that crowd can truly understand what a transcendent hour of music and dancing that was.
I’m frustrated now, trying to explain the emotion and buzz that was in the audience at that festival. It was every cliché there is about outdoor shows and aging punk rockers and teenage emo kids rolled together to mean something. It was a shared experience that I’m not sure I’ll ever have again. Hopefully, if I repeat the story enough, it will become a part of me and I’ll be able to recall the feeling I had.
The Replacements, who I was excited to see, played next. They were great, but not surprising. Public Enemy played the next day and I felt like I was back in 1990, which was what I expected. Both bands were really good, but the spark from Iggy and the Stooges made everything seem bland in comparison. Iggy was a habanero pepper and everyone else was vanilla yogurt.
The Stooges show will haunt me, if I’m lucky, for the rest of my life.