'Hey, Byers!" shouted Rocket From the Crypt frontman John "Speedo" Reis at Saturday's Riot Fest. "Always great to be back on stage in Byers! With this great Byers crowd! Anyone from out of town?"
No stranger to tongue-in-cheek irony, Reis clearly enjoyed playing off the festival crowd's exuberant response to his San Diego garage-rock band's high-energy performance, even if it was at the expense of an unincorporated town located 45 miles east of Denver, with a population of 1,160, and approximately zero music venues.
But for fans of punk, pop and indie-rock, Byers was the place to be this past weekend. As the last stop on one of the year's biggest touring mega-festivals — the previous two being Chicago and Toronto — how can a thriving Byers music scene be far behind?
The two-day festival took place at May Farms, a 400-acre location that went from Coachella-style dustbowl on Saturday to Woodstock-style mudbath on Sunday, thanks to a half-inch of rain that also resulted in a two-hour evacuation.
Fortunately, I'd opted for the extremely sunny Day 1, not least because the lineup included some impressive reunions. In addition to the aforementioned Rocket From the Crypt's horn-and-guitar-driven set — which was, for me, Saturday's highlight — the festival boasted the third and final appearance by a resurrected Replacements.
The Minneapolis college-rock pioneers, whose original lineup played the best and worst shows I've ever witnessed, have matured since their days of total transcendence and falling-down drunkenness. But given that frontman Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson are the sole remaining members, the cowgirl-garbed musicians still delivered tight, adrenaline-fueled renditions of favorites from their Twin/Tone and Warner Bros. glory years.
Earlier in the day, Superchunk's Mac McCaughan led his band through "Driveway to Driveway" and other signature songs from North Carolina's longest-surviving indie rock outfit. The group is carrying on in the absence of Laura Ballance, who co-founded both Superchunk and Merge Records with McCaughan, and recently announced her retirement from touring due to a chronic inner ear condition.
Which is doubly unfortunate since Ballance is a big fan of both the Replacements and Iggy Pop. "The Stooges are super tough," she told music site Stereogum earlier this year, "partially because I think Iggy Pop is made out of beef jerky."
Indeed, the shirtless and sinewy proto-punk icon was disturbingly fit and in fine voice throughout his set, whether belting out the Stooges' "Raw Power" or crooning his way through smoother solo tunes like "The Passenger."
"Who wants to come up and dance with the Stooges?" he asked the crowd midway through "Fun House."
At least 50 fans accepted the invitation, clambering onstage to party with Iggy and early Stooges cohorts Scott Asheton, James Williamson and Steve Mackay, all of whom were touring with the band a full decade before lone newcomer Mike Watt started his first group, the Minutemen.
Once the crowd was herded offstage, the band broke into a free-jazz coda that served as a reminder of Iggy's avant-garde origins.
Other highlights included 32-piece electronic marching band itchy-O, whose ninja-clad operatives snaked through the crowd bearing portable electronic contraptions that complement the group's Taiko drummers, rock instruments and synth drones. Their guerrilla appearance next to the food concessions proved way more interesting than the Airborne Toxic Event performance taking place on a nearby stage.
Add to that Guided By Voices, whose "Teenage FBI" was still stuck in my head two days later, and it was well worth the long drive. Of course, one never needs an excuse to visit Byers, but here's hoping Riot Fest sees fit to return next year.