Douglas Park. Chicago. It is the third and final day. Everything up until this point is nothing more than an appetizer, a bonus for the reason I am even at Riot Fest in the first place. It is hot, everyone wears Black. Not me though. I’d rather be comfortable. I have never seen so many Misfits shirts and tattoos in my life. I sit in the grass by the guest press entrance and suffer through my first exposure to the Deftones. Not my cup of tea, but their large draw at the Riot stage would probably disagree. I wonder how many of them are here to see The Misfits? Probably all of them.
The sun sets as I hydrate and eat. I will need my energy. I try to rest my feet because I know what is coming. I speak sparingly, my voice is raw and hoarse, I may be getting sick. I am worried I will not be able to sing along. I make a vow to myself, no matter how great the temptation is, I will not take any pictures or videos with my phone. I will watch the show only through my eyeballs. I will let everyone else take pictures and video for me.
I get a text from my man on the inside. I migrate towards the center LCD jumbotron screen between the two stages, hoping to get backstage but I cannot make contact… With my contact. The Deftone crowd is too dense. There is no longer any wiggle room to negotiate. I retreat.
I meet back up with Charlie, Bob, and Sandra by the Guest Press entrance. We hold a make shift symposium and study the geography of our surroundings. We debate where the best place will be to start the show together and where the best place will be to finish it.
Charlie, Bob and I first met at the Congress theater (RIP) at the end of a Danzig show in 2008. In 2011 we all went backstage at the Danzig Legacy and took turns taking pictures with Glenn Danzig, Doyle, Steve Zing, and London May. And now here we are in 2016 finally seeing the thing we dreamt of most of our lives, endlessly debated, and probably thought could never materialize. We now all know, that NOTHING is impossible. I am glad I am with them. We are together. It is how it should be.
It is mutually agreed that we push forward diagonally stage left (Doyle’s side). Rob Zombie plays next door. All the other bands on other stages finish. Their crowds funnel behind sending us further forward. To call it a sea of people would be an insult. It was an ocean. We chat with our surrounding “community”. A guy named “Karl/Carl” waves a flag with “Karl/Carl” on it. Some drunk asshole thinks he’s Moses and starts violently surging through the ocean of people. He is rough. Everyone near him points and calls him an “Asshole”. Another drunk asshole trails behind, spilling his beer. To our left a void opens up. Two behemoths clash. It is probably a territory dispute. It dissipates. We are all once again left waiting.
I ask Bob the time until the show. Negative 5 minutes. The show has a hard curfew. It can now only be a 67 minute set. The intro begins. It is the kind of music/ambience you hear on a Haunted Halloween CD. A deep, monstrous voice speaks, “I am going to eat you”. The air becomes kinetic before the thrall soon to erupt over the “Ocean”. Sounds. Doyle’s guitar. Jerry’s Bass. The curtain drops. Lombardo’s drums. Glenn is a ferocious wolverine.
Suddenly, Death comes Rippin’.
There is a surge. Everyone I am with fades away. I am now churned by the “Ocean’s” current. I try to weather this force of nature. The crowd tightens. Shoulder to shoulder. The flank that was just watching Rob Zombie must be pushing from the left. I am sucked forward, it loosens. I find myself in the first of many circle pits. I jump around but I do not stay. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Except for negotiating the occasional tall fellow, the closer I get, the better my view. I am a moth drawn to the light.
There are tech issues but the band sounds great. Jerry is right. They are at the pinnacle. Old timers may have seen them back in the day, but never like this. We are at the right place at the right time to see Glenn, Jerry, and Doyle. They play their songs. It inspires unity among us in the “Ocean”. And we sing. We don’t know each other. We might not like each other under any other circumstances, but tonight, we turn to each other and sing the lyrics like we have a thousand times before – On our iPods, YouTube, CDs, Tapes, and Vinyl. We put our arms around each other. Strangers embracing, in disbelief that we are seeing what we are seeing.
Some of us don’t know the words. But it’s ok, they know “Woah, Go, and No” – and that is all they need to join our fellowship. And then there are ones who frown. They don’t sing. They don’t “Whoa”. They have no clue. They know this is an historic event, curious to see what all the fuss is about. They’re on their phones. Or watching the show through them. Thinking about all YouTube hits they are going to get from their cellphone video, that they will probably forget to upload anyway. They are here in place of the fiends who could make it out. The fiends who deserve to be here.
I am closer. “We are 138” is about to begin. A girl? takes an IPAD out of her bag. She starts recording. It blocks her face from the stage RIGHT in front of her. She is happy to watch through the screen. It blocks my view. I talk to the back of her? head, “Hey, I’d lower that if I were you, it’s 138, I am about to lose my mind”. She? doesn’t even turn around. But instead turns slightly to the side and scoffs. A loud crescendo of chords. Silence, and then like a baseball chant… 84,000 people all sing that we are “138”. The song rips wide open. I jump in front of ipad idiot and do exactly what I said I would : Lose my mind! From behind I feel punches and slaps on my back. I jump up high like Air Jordan (at least in my mind) and soldier on forward into another circle pit.
A guy who has no business crowd surfing, crowd surfs despite gravity’s insistence otherwise. He is concerned for his well being. I am concerned for mine. I try to have nothing to do with it but somehow find myself holding him up with both hands (I do have help) but still, It makes me feel like Superman. I pass him on. Something drops. I pick up delicate aviator sunglasses. I try to return them to the surfer by placing them on his face. As he floats away he lets me know they are not his. Somehow I never seem to completely run out of energy. I may have depleted my onboard reserves, but I am now tapped into the music. Nothing can stop me.
I am closer still. For a brief moment, I almost break my vow, I almost take a picture. I don’t. Layers of various condensed liquids cling to my person. More liquid falls on my head. I smell it. Thank God it is not beer just water. It is refreshing. So is the cool breeze that occasionally graces us with its presence. Somehow I have found the ability to sing without any voice. Anything less then singing would have been unacceptable. Dehydration headaches (from trying to sing as loud as possible) have begun. Certain sound levels make it momentarily unbearable. I press on, hoping to squeeze every last drop of excitement from the show.
We are close the the end. We ALL sing “Astrozombies”. I close my eyes in the middle of the chorus. I have ascended to musical Nirvana as I “Whoa” with one of my all-time favorite bands. Because when the Misfits play, Glenn doesn’t sing at you. He sings with you. And we sing with him. Then we sing “Skulls”. It’s awesome.
It is the end of the show. “Last Caress” is everything you could hope for. Danzig and Doyle play a game of chicken to see who is going to false start? the song. The band’s whole mood is jubilant and playful, except with the tech stuff.
The set ends and the band walks off for a hybrid moment. When they return, Jerry takes a moment to thank the fans with some poignant words. Glenn shares a tidbit about the origins of the “Bullet” EP cover – how he sent Jerry to “borrow” a picture of JFK from the library. Glenn reminiscences about how they were ahead of their time. They smile and fist bump. The camaraderie is amazing to watch as the crowd picks up on it with some applause. If you don’t know the name of the next song they played… Then why the fuck are you reading this?
I am now 25ish feet from the stage. And it is here I will remain. They play “Night of the Living Dead”. Glenn tells the “Ocean” that they’ve ran out of time. He asks us all, “What do we think of that ?” And then, “You know that we don’t give two fucks. We’ll play more songs”. And we all cheer. They launch into “She”. Unlike Denver, we bear the fortune of hearing “Attitude” and the “Ocean” churns one last time. Jerry throws his bass guitar high in the air. It breaks. Lombardo throws drum sticks. Jerry first tosses the bass headstock with cyclops skull into the crowd. He then thinks it over only for a moment before tossing the WHOLE bass in after.
Now the show is over. The “Ocean” calms and recedes, leaving the savage remains of carnage from the brutality witnessed. I traverse the front railing to meet my inside man. People shine lights down to reveal PILES of shoes, clothing, and other various personal effects. The PILES of shoes and socks is astounding. People search for their keys, wallets, and cellphones. I joke about finding a piece of Jerry’s “Devastated” bass guitar. A friend would later tell me that he witnessed six people holding onto the bass headstock with the cyclops skull. No words uttered. Just six angry dogs with an equal claim on a bone.
I make to the barricade. I get backstage. I touch Glenn’s giant “mother-fucking pumpkins”. He is right, they are awesome. They are light and seem to be made of fiberglass. I shake Doyle’s hand, thanking him. I thank Jerry Only for an incredible show. He is warm, friendly, and gregarious. I am marveled that he gives me some of his time despite just finishing the show. He takes a picture and signs my Lombardo setlist. I will be framing it.
My night is complete. I am glad I saw the show from the trenches. Anything else would have been less, as it was the only way to take in. And so, I leave Douglas Park with an experience that few in the past have had, but for some reason – optimistically, I think more will have in the future. I meet back up with my friends and tell them about my backstage adventure. We get Mexican Tortas from a food truck by the California Pink line stop. It is a night I will never forget. And now, I want everyone’s skull.