Photo by Katie Hovland
Riot Fest Preview
Interview with Brendan Kelly
By Bill Jones
Brendan Kelly’s punk roots run deep in Chicago — from now-mostly-defunct projects from his youth like Slapstick and The Broadways, to his three-piece mainstay The Lawrence Arms, to The Falcon and “solo” work under the moniker Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds. So it’s no surprise that Kelly and his bands have been involved with its hometown Riot Fest for years.
When the festival went to a three-day outdoor format last year, Kelly got Slapstick back together for the occasion. And when Riot Fest returns Sept. 13-15 to Humboldt Park, Kelly will be doing double duty — Saturday, Sept. 14, with The Lawrence Arms and Sunday, Sept. 15, for a Broadways reunion.
We got on the phone with Kelly in early August to talk about his involvement with the festival, reunions, the hometown fest and what it means to be “Juggalo approved.”
Let’s start with The Broadways reunion — when was the last time the band actually played together?
We played together two summers ago for the Asian Man 20th anniversary. It was like every band that had ever been on the label back together, and that’s when Slapstick played, and The Broadways played, as well. … Long story short, we did that and we haven’t done anything since. Riot Fest came by and they wanted us to play, and it sounds super-fun, so what the fuck?
What is it like going back to an old project like this and getting it in gear for a big festival?
I think there are a few different schools of thought in The Broadways camp. Dan [Hanaway] is kind of a perfectionist, in general. He really wants everything to be awesome. I think I’m more of the school of thought of, “Well, we’re not going to have that much time to practice, and I really want to have fun. If we have fun, it’s going to be awesome.” But nobody is looking to get nervous. Nobody is looking to freak out over anything. This is a band that we were in when we were super-young, and it’s been defunct for a long time. It’s just really fun to play.
Last year, Slapstick reunited for Riot Fest and got a great reception. Did that play a role in your decision to bring back The Broadways this year?
Not at all. The thing that’s funny is Slapstick used to be a pretty popular band in Chicago. We had some really good shows. Broadways were never popular anywhere [laughs]. We were a very disliked band. We came out, and it was just the wrong era for us, for that kind of music. Any popularity we had we gained after we broke up. So I don’t know what to expect. The show we played in San Francisco was awesome. Kids came from all over the world to see it, and that was super-heartening, but Slapstick getting back together was a no-brainer. I know we’ll do well in Chicago. But The Broadways? Who knows. They put us on pretty late in the day, and it’s a big stage. I don’t think we ever drew more than 80-100 people, ever. So we’ll see.
What was the Slapstick reunion like for you?
For one, there were a lot of people — I heard something like 30,000. That’s a big crowd. It wasn’t like, “Oh, look, just like the old days.” It was like, “Holy shit; there’s a lot of fuckin’ people here.” But it was really fun. All those guys — we grew up together. We were friends in high school. It’s just such a great time to get together and hang out. It’s your old buddies. It’s like a class reunion or something. We’ve all got totally different lives now. Pete [Anna]’s an EMT. Matt [Stamps is] a lawyer in Washington. Everybody’s all over the place. But those are the guys I grew up with, so it’s so much fun to do those songs, those goofy songs we wrote when we were 16, in front of 30,000 people, money aside [laughs]. Most of the security staff at Riot Fest last year were Juggalos, with full-on Hatchet Man tattoos and stuff. When we got off the stage, the security guys, they all came up to us like, “Yo, you guys are the best band at this thing.” I’m like, “You guys are notorious for having terrible taste. I think we were clearly the worst band at this thing, but thanks; it’s cool.” [Laughs] So there you go — Slapstick, Juggalo approved.
What can fans expect from The Lawrence Arms set at Riot Fest?
We’re going to do some new songs; we’re going to do some old songs. We’re just going to try to do a regular show. This is kind of our show for right now. We’re going to be putting out a record either in the late fall or more likely in the early spring. It’s all done; it’s being mixed right now. We’ll be back pretty soon. But we’re not going to play any records in their entirety or shit like that. We’re going to do some new stuff, some old stuff — sort of push the momentum forward, because the last fuckin’ thing I want people to think of when they think of The Lawrence Arms is some kind of legacy act where we go out and play the old hits and never try anything new.
What is it like to be part of this big festival that’s in your hometown, and not only part of it but having two featured acts there?
[Riot Mike Petryshyn] who runs Riot Fest is cool, and he’s a buddy. It’s pretty cool to watch this thing go from one show at the Metro and one show at the Cobra Lounge to this gigantic behemoth of a thing. It’s really a fairly competitive festival. It’s like your Pitchforks and your Lollapaloozas and stuff, but it’s like its heart’s in a cooler place. That’s really groovy. What’s the downside to playing a huge show to a bunch of kids where my friend is one of the people putting it on? It’s awesome.