Its 7 a.m., and my alarm is rudely going off inside this dark room at my hostel. It’s Saturday morning, September 12, and finally THE day that I see The Academy Is… play to thousands of fans at Riot Fest Chicago. I have waited six years to see this band perform.
I was in the second row of their sold out show at The Double Door on Thursday. The room was so dimly lit and buzzing with energy. I could feel sweat dripping down my face as the stage lights went down and signaled the arrival of my favorite band. I could smell the stale sweat off of bodies around me. I felt the pushing of a person up against my back. But Riot Fest is different. It is a festival.
Imagine for a moment a food buffet. Each table is a station for a different kind of food. You have your Mexican, Italian, Chinese, American, breakfast/brunch, etc etc. You get the picture right? To me, that’s what a music festival is like. The different bands all have their own flavor and represent different foods. But each stage is like one table from the buffet. I am at the brunch table (stage). The stage is actually called the Roots Stage.
I crawl out of bed in the dark and say goodbye to Kevin first. He is the Canadian that I met in the hostel. I get dressed and peek out of the living room window. It is raining, gray and drops of rain trickle down the window’s glass from the outside. I groan inwardly as I wait for my friend to join me so we can leave.
Before heading to the CTA, I stop at this corner doughnut shop, Star Donuts. Their pink neon sign glares against a gray background and casts a reflection in the water puddles on the sidewalk. I order a soy vanilla latte and a chocolate frosted Nutella doughnut. I have passed this shop many times in my visits to the Windy City. This was my first time stopping in though.
As the train approaches our stop at Douglas Park, one thing is certain: I am not emotionally prepared for this day. As my friend and I make our way to the festival park, the clouds roll in and out. I fight off bees left and right. Is there a bee problem or is it my hair? I honestly never figured it out. Gates open while the line is still short. The food trucks and stations are all set up immediately inside to my right. I don’t even have time to go try the Guinness mac and cheese because all of the TAI fans make a beeline for the Roots Stage. I get there and caution tape is roping off a massive puddle of swamp mud water. It is in the center of the stage right side. You have to carefully side step it and walk on eggshells but I make barrier for the stage.
Remember the food buffet analogy I mentioned earlier? I am at the brunch stage. I choose that food because brunch is my favorite. Throughout the day, I will stand through salty brunch items, sweet ones, meaty ones, etc. The first band to play is The Ataris. I have never heard of them. The next act is The Dear Hunter. Then The Movielife, American Nightmare, and finally after them is Mayday Parade. I would say The Ataris is like biscuits as a brunch appetizer. They are not bad but maybe not what you really want to hear (eat if you stick with this metaphor). The Dear Hunter is a meaty breakfast sandwich. They are big, bearded men. The Movielife is more pop and like a sweet muffin. American Nightmare is like burnt coffee.
As Mayday Parade takes the stage, I show the most energy I have all day. They are my chance to pump myself up for the main event. As they play through songs like “Jamie All Over” and “Oh Well, Oh Well” I sing my heart out. Then they give the audience a surprise as Dan from Real Friends take the stage. He sings with Derek on a new song from the upcoming album. I finally feel alive after a string of bands I did not know well and dreary rain all day.
The Devil Wears Prada is the only band before The Academy Is…
After they exit the stage and the crew begins to set up for The Academy Is… I start to get a knot in my stomach. I flashback to Thursday night at Double Door but this is different. The sea of people is so massive that I cannot even begin to turn around and try to gauge the size of this audience. I just feel it tighten as we all anticipate William Beckett take the stage.
The band takes the stage at 7:15 p.m. The sun is going down and the crowd is ready. The entire front row has been camped out on barrier since 11 a.m. for this moment. The lights go down, Beckett comes out and the crowd goes wild as the opening chords sound. Then he sings out “Attention, attention may I have all your eyes and ears…” After that moment, I am done for. I sang my heart out harder than I ever have before. I smile the biggest smile I can produce. I get close to crying. I am witnessing history. The Academy Is reunited for a ten year anniversary show at Riot Fest for Almost Here. I am standing front row watching this take place in front of thousands.
Their encore closes with “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands” and then they exit the stage. I leave never having felt so energized and hoarse. I wish you could have seen their set. I wish I could do it justice.
To me, I think I got the full Riot Fest experience. I saw a Chicago based band play for the first time in four years (minus the secret show) for one of the biggest crowds I have been apart of. I lasted through the rain, mud, bees and bands that I never would have seen otherwise. Then I watched this band. As far as brunch goes, The Academy Is.. is a trio of crepes: nutella banana, cinnamon roll and strawberry cream. They are the best part.