(Western Publicity) Riot Mike (Michael Petryshyn) sat down with the Chicago Sun Times for an exclusive interview to share his recent diagnosis with Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly known as Asperger's Syndrome), and how music changed his life and made Riot Fest what it is today.
As a child, Petryshyn knew he was different, obsessive in his passions to the exclusion of anything that could distract him. He was introduced to punk rock by older friends around the fourth grade and became immersed to an intense degree in albums, liner notes and anything else he could get his hands on to find out more about the bands, ethos and energy. He was unaware at the time how much it helped him process the complicated emotions and information that surged through his mind. As an adult he was diagnosed with ADHD (a common companion to other neuro-divergent diagnosis) but that wasn't the full story.
A chance discussion with a colleague led him down a rabbit hole of research, and ultimately led to his recent diagnosis, well into adulthood; opening up a series of realizations about himself, his processes, and how much music and the community it has offered most of his life shaped him, and ultimately, Riot Fest itself.
His decision to go public with the diagnosis was formed in the hope to shine the light for people of all ages who might have similar experiences. He told the Sun Times,
"It's for the kids. It's for parents. Like my parents had no idea. I was born in 1978, no one was thinking about this. ... If anything, it was just like I was 'difficult but lovable.' I think that's how my mom described me," he shares. "I think it's important for parents who maybe have children that are diagnosed with autism and thinking what their future can be. You can own your future in a way. ... For parents they don't have to look at it as a negative, you know. Just build the structure. ... It's really about having people around you who will know how to give you the tools."
He also noted that while music is a fantastic therapeutic tool, any passion is worthy of exploration. "If you or your friend or your child discover something that you love above anything else, encourage them, they will find a community and support that everyone needs in their life."
Why Riot Fest? After moving to Chicago to study Philosophy at Loyola, Petryshyn felt at a crossroads he didn't quite understand. He feels that his subconscious was pushing towards getting his favorite bands on stage in Chicago, though it's difficult to define. Just a feeling, in a way.
Petryshyn started the festival as a one time event at the Congress Theater, reuniting The Germs (whose Pat Smear appears this year with the Foo Fighters) with a host of others. His family pitched in, Smear was particularly taken with Petryshyn's mother's catering, including her brownies. Declaring that "Patrick was a nice young man," she baked more after the fest and shipped them to him. No doubt he'll have a surprise batch in the dressing room this year. This is one illustration of how personal the festival is too Petryshyn. His ability to reunite bands (The Replacements, The Misfits, Jawbreaker, etc) where others failed is a difficult to define concept that can only be called authenticity. "Big fest come in with huge financial incentives, where as I come in to talk about my favorite singles, for example, and the promise that we will present them the way they are most comfortable with. It really makes a difference with people who have previous negative experiences or have felt misunderstood. I understand that feeling, and I work to make sure they feel comfortable." I feel the same way about our fans, I want to protect them and the bands in the same way, because they are both validating for all the hard work of putting on and sustaining an independent festival on a shoe string staff.