By Michael Nameche, Director of Development
CCH’s decade-long partnership with Riot Fest has resulted in a cumulative total of more than $260,000 raised to fight homelessness, and innumerable strong alliances formed. The value of the exposure to Riot Fest fans each year has been incalculable because we know that punk rockers make great activists!
2021 is no different, as Team Riot Fest decided that CCH and some Douglass Park community groups will receive the proceeds from the Thursday preview night ticket sales.
But the story of how it began takes us back more than ten years ago with a chance encounter at Hopefest, CCH’s annual benefit concert, featuring Patti Smith.
Dem Hopkins had come to the Park West to support CCH and enjoy one of his favorite artists. Inspired by the show, he decided to stage his own benefit concert for the Coalition, featuring a reunion of bands that used to play at his punk rock club back in the late 70s/early 80s. The name of the club was Oz, and interest in the bands that called it home turf had recently been renewed thanks to a documentary released the year prior on the early Chicago punk scene, You Weren’t There: The History of Chicago Punk 1977 – 1984.
Seminal bands like Naked Raygun, Strike Under and Effigies all regularly played at Oz before it closed its doors for good in 1981. Dem had always eschewed offers and pleas for a reunion show before, but suddenly the time and the cause seemed to come into alignment. “I never wanted to do a reunion show until I decided that the money raised would support the work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.”
When Dem called CCH to introduce his intention, he reached me, a lifelong Naked Raygun fan, on the other end of the line. By chance, I was even wearing a Naked Raygun shirt under my sweater when I picked up the phone. When the phone call ended, I had a wide smile on my face. I wasn’t content with CCH just being the beneficiary of this concert, I wanted to help make it a reality!
Dem and I met for the first time at Hot Doug’s to enjoy some delicious encased meats. While waiting in line, we decided to try to gain some advice from the organizers of Riot Fest in order to create the best conditions for success. We didn’t know anyone that worked for Riot Fest but we emailed Mike “Riot Mike” Petryshyn anyway as a hopeful shot in the dark and got a response just minutes later. Riot Mike graciously agreed to meet with us and hear our plans.
While I was present at this meeting held at the Cobra Lounge, I don’t remember having an opportunity to say much as Dem relayed stories of the Chicago punk scene’s early days and Mike would counter with stories of what those same bands were up to currently. “My immediate impression of Riot Mike was of his deep respect and passion for the both the music and the artists,” Dem recalls. By the end of that meeting, Mike made a very generous offer: The Busted at Oz reunion show would now be the opening night of Riot Fest in September 2010, just four months away.
If Riot Mike and Dem only knew what they had signed up for. “The Busted at Oz concert quickly became the most challenging event I had worked on up until that point,” Mike said, “introducing the past to the present day has its headaches.”
There were venue changes, lineup changes, and old tensions had a way of coming back to the surface. Drummer Jim Colao was looking forward to reuniting with his old bandmates in Naked Raygun, when he broke his arm bicycling a week before the concert. The show was beginning to feel cursed. But the tickets were all sold to eager fans and the show must go on. “Working with Mike, it became clear that the bigger the obstacle presented to him, the harder he would fight to overcome it,” Dem remembers.
The show was held at the Double Door and it when it was over, that might have well been the end of the story, but Riot Mike had big plans ahead. Two years later, Dem had joined the CCH Board of Directors and Riot Fest surprised the Chicago music scene by moving the festival outdoors to Humboldt Park and scaling way up, including a full-scale carnival experience as well as great acts like Chicago’s own Rise Against and Iggy & The Stooges. “Riot Fest needed a charity partner and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was my first and only choice,” said Mike.
I am happy to report that the first outdoor Riot Fest enjoyed beautiful weather and great attendance and that it raised over $25,000 to support our work. And since that first year in Humboldt Park, CCH has remained a grateful partner through the next decade. We started asking Riot Fest artists to supply CCH with memorabilia, and every year our tent had to expand as we would gather more autographed guitars, concert posters, and other cool prizes to give fans a chance to win and take home. It should be no surprise that GWAR and Andrew WK – the two acts that are present every year – were always willing to generously donate a unique piece of memorabilia.
It was very affirming to see familiar faces return to our booth year after year and the generosity of fans continued to grow. We created the $100 Club where our volunteers would treat our most generous supporters to a hearty Naked Raygun chorus of Whoa-Oh-Ohs (the one from “Soldier’s Requiem”). Riot Fest even managed to get the nice people at Arcade Emporium to create a video game arcade in our tent for a few years as well! It was hard but rewarding work to bring the fun to the festival grounds.
We are so grateful to the hardworking staff of Riot Fest for always thinking of ways to promote and support the work of the Coalition. We see your passion, we see your effort, and we will be cheering you on until the stage lights go dark on Sunday!