Rock on the Range review
It is, as they say, hard to argue with success.
Rock on the Range wrapped up its 10th year with its second consecutive sold-out three-day weekend. I've covered about half of them, so I've made a couple of determinations. A) I am not necessarily the target market for this festival, and that's OK. B) I can still carve out a pretty nice rock festival weekend.
This weekend, armed with the experience of ROTR past, I did just that. Here are some highlights and field observations.
I had another obligation and wasn't able to attend Friday. I missed headliners Shinedown and Disturbed. I am pretty OK with this.
One luxury of being a local, a ROTR veteran and a member of the media: I know a full day at the fest can be exhausting, so I opted for a half-day on Saturday.
I arrived around 4 p.m., got my press credentials and scoped out my day. Within about five minutes, I saw a gentlemen rousing from a semi-conscious state just long enough to puke a bit. It's good to know some attendees are still going hard all weekend.
I caught a bit of Steel Panther's throwback glam - which was great fun, but not as much fun as its self-aware (and self-deprecating) stage banter - before my first real target: Ghost. The Swedish metal band, known for its masked members and Satanic-pope singer, also reflected a tough conflict, playing against Clutch.
I've seen Ghost in the daylight before at both Rock on the Range and Lollapalooza in 2013. It's still a trip, and the band's second stage crowd was sizable and midday rowdy. The catchy riffs and tongue-in-cheek nod to rock's love affair with Satan are always welcome.
While metal supergroup Hellyeah was sandwiched on the main stage in between, the second stage was also the place to be for an intense set by Lamb of God. They're veterans at this game by now, but Randy Blythe still brings a frenzy.
When I say I'm not necessarily the target market for Rock on the Range, I base this on the acts that seem to draw the largest crowds. This year, as in 2014, one of the largest crowds on the main stage at Mapfre Stadium was Five Finger Death Punch. Five Finger Death Punch is what would happen if an Affliction T-shirt became a band. Let's just say I don't get the appeal.
I didn't have especially high hopes for Rob Zombie, but his Saturday closing set was everything a headlining set should be. His aesthetic of horror movie chic, industrial disco groove and California hippie (a la the Manson Family) was big and infectious. Zombie strutted in fringed leather bellbottoms and rocked a Nosferatu-inspired mic stand. And he's found an ideal guitar partner in John 5 (formerly of Marilyn Manson). The Zombie set was pure, unexpected fun from end-to-end.
This is one of the strangest and best one-day lineups in the history of this festival, in my book, and probably the one with the most overlap of something like Coachella. Again, here's evidence I'm not the target market.
I kicked off the day a few hours into the fest with an early afternoon set from British glam revivalists the Struts. Singer Luke Stiller has a joyous enthusiasm and moves like Jagger (and Freddy Mercury). This is rock 'n' roll at its pure essence. God bless these kids.
More props for third-stage act the Shrine, a stoner metal three-piece with a '70s California surfer vibe perfectly suited to a day that baked away the rain and chill of the previous two.
Death From Above 1979
It's been a couple years since Toronto duo Death From Above 1979 reunited, but the pair's glorious racket makes me so glad it did. The band was great during a 2015 opening stint for Deftones at the LC, and it was great here. (Later I caught singer/drummer Sebastien Grainger watching the Deftones' set from the field in relative anonymity.)
The stacked Sunday lineup didn't leave much room to breathe. I went from the stoner/doom metal of Austin's magnificent the Sword to the psychedelic nostalgia rock of Wolfmother to the boisterous SoCal punk of the still-going-strong Pennywise. This rapid-hit stuff is what great festival days are made of.
Which brings us to another divergence of my tastes and the ROTR crowd at large. Bring Me the Horizon was described by a friend as a "Hot Topic band," but I didn't expect the frenzy it'd inspire in that main stage crowd. I watched a sea of crowd surfers and circle pits from a comfortable distance while enjoying a hot dog. That was weird.
At the Drive-In
I left one of the largest crowds of the weekend for one that should have been larger than it was. While many in attendance for At the Drive-In on the second stage had 16 years of pent-up anticipation, I'd seen post-reunion ATDI and had tempered expectations after a fairly lackluster set at Lollapalooza in 2012. Lackluster this was not. From opener "Arcarsenal" to closer (duh) "One Armed Scissor," it was a blistering blast of vintage ATDI where you didn't know if the band was going to break something or break up onstage. This set stands as the weekend's highlight, and any ATDI fan who paid for a three-day pass just for this may have still gotten his or her money's worth.
In my last personal highlight, Deftones took the main stage on the heels of the release of the excellent new album Gore, but played to the festival crowd with a career-spanning set. I maintain that this band somehow remains underrated.
I'm not sure when the Red Hot Chili Peppers transitioned from Funky Monks into a mid-tempo, Dave Matthews-esque jam band, but, again, people seem to love it. Watching a swirling sea of humanity and an endless supply of crowd-surfers was a trip, but not enough to stick around to wait for some Blood Sugar Sex Magick tracks.
Bottom line: The organizers of this festival know their audience, and they know what they're doing. And while it's not local hipster approved, there's a good time waiting for those who will seek it out.