Review and photos by Mike "Suicide" Santoro
Columbus, OH - Rock on the Range is quickly becoming the premier weekend rock festival in the United States. On May 17th through 19th rock fans from all over the continental United States and beyond descended on Columbus Ohio for arguably one of the better concert line ups in recent times. This year was my third year covering ROTR and I was pretty enthusiastic about it. With no exaggeration I can comfortably say I have been to well over 500 concerts. I love live shows and especially ones that I can see multiple bands over a weekend. This latest edition of ROTR was incredible in almost every way a concert could be. Multiple stages, variety of acts, spanning different rock sub genres, over three days featuring over fifty bands, great weather, alcohol, women flashing the breasts and of course the co-mingling among some of my favorite artists. This year featured a few acts that dominated the 1990's and at least one that has been a rock fixture since the seventies. There had been some whining online leading up to the show with metal fans saying that the lineup was weak and even the worst one yet. If you thought this, go punch yourself in the face because you are an idiot…maybe even punch yourself three times…one for everyday it sold out.
I arrived into Columbus on Friday early in the afternoon, checked into my hotel room and then drove to meet Johny Chow who is covering bass duties for Stonesour. Chow is a good friend of mine and an all around awesome guy. He is an incredible musician as well as an accomplished artist. I arrived to the Crown Plaza were I met up with him and fellow band mates, Roy Mayorga, Jim Root and a couple guys from the Stonesour road crew and had lunch. Rock musicians are regular people. They are skeptical of people at times, but quite normal. If you ever have the opportunity to meet one, try acting normal. Being a musician is an occupation, it has its ups and downs just like yours. I'm not saying I'm not excited to meet certain artists, I just don't go crazy 'fan boy' on them.
After lunch, we made our way to the venue to catch the show and check out the grounds. This year the layout was improved. Friday's line up was alternated between two stages, the main stage which was the Monster Energy Drink Stage and the smaller more intimate Jagermeister stage. Saturday and Sunday would see the addition of a third stage, the Pabst Blue Ribbon stage. Buckcherry was the first band I watched. They played competently and ran through their hits and the crowd responded well. Next up was Oleander on the Jagermeister stage. They played a decent set; they are back at it again after a hiatus promoting their new album, “Something Beautiful.”
It takes a promoter with brass balls to book Cheap Trick among a crowd full of kids. Most of the crowd was swimming around in their daddy's nut sack when they recorded “I Want You to Want Me.” I chalk this up as a free rock history lesson. I don't think the younger generation understands their music's roots and could use a good 'schooling'. Cheap Trick hit the stage as the 'teacher' and commenced to slapping the crowd around with the some good old rock and roll…and both the band and the crowd knew it. I was delighted to see the crowd respond in kind. By the end of their set there was mutual respect between the band and the young crowd. If you ever get the opportunity to see Cheap Trick, do it. Rick Nielsen is an incredible guitarist. Next, I shot over to the Jagermeister Stage to catch In Flames, who melted the crowds face with a set of thunderous Metal that was flawless.
Korn has been around a while and they have some pretty dedicated fans…a lot of dedicated fans actually. They crushed the skulls of a sold out crowd. Watching the crowd move like a sea in rhythmic fashion to the churning, bass heavy set from these veterans was something to see. Brian 'Head' Welch made his way back into the band and was in great form. For a few minutes, I was even able to overlook his slide into Jesus Metal and departure from Korn.
After the show, we ended up meeting Chow back at the Crown Plaza for drinks. This spiraled into quite an amusing night. We ended up hanging out with Tobin Esperance and Tony Palermo from Papa Roach and Chow and Roy Mayorga, essentially the rhythm section of both Papa Roach and Stonesour. I'm not going to get into the details of the night, but I will say Tony and Roy are two very funny mother fuckers.
I made it to the venue Saturday afternoon, just in time to catch the last two songs of recent Grammy-Award winners, Halestorm. I was pretty pissed off about missing most of their set, as they are a great band all the way around. In my position, I have the good fortune of meeting a lot of bands as they rise from the small time. Some musicians are real undeserving assholes who let fame get to their head before their album sales justify it, and then there are people like Lizzie and company who are just genuinely nice people that love what they do. Anyway, I missed most of their set, but what I did catch was great.
Saturday had both the PBR and the Jager stage competing for crowds. Essentially we chose one or the other. I chose Motionless in White. These guys are relative new comers to the scene and they are hungry for success. They played a pretty solid set. I am going to look into getting their album.
Bullet For My Valentine never disappoints. I have seen these guys multiple times and every time they are air tight. They played the Monster stage to a sizable afternoon crowd. Next up I had the choice between Black Veil Brides and The Sword. I chose The Sword hands down. Black Veil Brides are a fairly generic goth, screamo, run of the mill metal band that spends more time with their wardrobe than they do writing quality songs, and their attitude sucks. The Sword on the other hand, is pretty fucking amazing. They pull heavy influence from bands like Black Sabbath. They are considered doom metal, if you give two shits about labels. I loved their set and they were on my list of 'must see' of the weekend. They did not disappoint.
Papa Roach hit the Monster stage next and ran through a blistering set to complement the sun beating on the crowd. Admittedly, I was never a fan of the 'rap rock' thing, but their departure from that into more of a mainstream band has allowed them to showcase their chops. They can write a hit, that's for sure, 18 million records sold and they play with the enthusiasm of a band fresh out of the garage. Clutch was next on the Jager stage. This band is like visiting an old friend. They are honest and welcoming; they play a great blue collar set of rock and roll. They are about the music, no makeup, fancy wardrobe, stage props or gimmick…just straight up rock and roll.
Three Days Grace was next up on the Monster stage. They seem to have adjusted rather quickly to founding member Adam Gontier's departure. Bassist Brad Walst's brother Matt, of My Darkest Day is now fronting the band.
Stonesour should've headlined Saturday. They are incredible live and well put together. Obviously Jim Root and Corey Taylor add some popularity to the band, but that shouldn't take the focus away from the talent and songwriting. They are great songwriters and talented musicians. Josh Rand and Jim Root make a great team with amazing metal guitar licks. Roy and Chow crush the rhythm section. Roy is an incredible drummer who is fun to watch. Chow is a fantastic bassist who combines shear talent with veracity in stage presence. Corey? Well Corey is a master at his craft. He is a showman. He is a musician. He is arguably the best front man in Metal and he is also very humble. They crushed their set and really gave the crowd everything they could handle. This was obvious by the mass exodus from the stadium as Smashing Pumpkins took the stage.
I have never been a big fan of the Smashing Pumpkins. I like “Gish” and “Siamese Dream.” I won't argue that “Mellon Collie” isn't a well written album, but Billy Corgan sucks. He has always sucked as a person. He is the artist that gives other artists a bad name. He deserved to see his crowd depart. I was one of them.
Saturday's after party led us to Barley's Brewery in downtown Columbus. The bar owner was a gracious host that led Roy, my travel mates, myself and a couple of others on an impromptu brewery tour. The bar was filled with industry folks and a few of members from various bands speckled throughout. We ended the night at a food truck, eating copious amounts of BBQ pulled pork.
Sunday was supposed to be an early rise for me, as one of my personal favorites Big Wreck was playing at 12:20. Suffice it to say that didn't happen. I missed them and again I was pissed. I don't like missing good bands, but I also don't like missing a good party either.
I did make it in time to see Sevendust which is another one of my favorite bands on the bill. Sevendust deserves to be much more successful than they are. They have a distinct sound, they have incredibly well written songs and the members are terrific musicians. Lajon easily has one of the best voices in Metal today. He crushes it. The icing on the cake for this band is they are genuinely nice people with the drive and determination lost on most acts these days. They played a great set that included songs off of their latest release, “Black Out the Sun.” I would suggest you go buy it, it's awesome.
Steel Panther. Steel fucking Panther. What the fuck can I say about them? They are outrageous. If you haven't heard of them, get your ass over to YouTube and search them. Play anything, it won't matter. They are fucking awesome. Seriously….go YouTube them. After Steel Panther fucked my ears real nice, I went over to the PBR stage and caught Ghost. This band came on the scene out of nowhere and nobody even knows who the hell they are. They are pretty rad. They dress like some crazy metal druids and they play rather haunting doom metal. They will be around for a bit because they are good and fun to watch.
Those of you, who know me or have followed my reviews, know that I despise religion in my metal. It’s like salt in your coffee, it just doesn’t belong and the mere idea is just plain fucked up. Skillet is the latest of the growing list of preachy Christian rock bands. They are over the top with their stage production and very mediocre musically, regardless of their religious leanings….anyway fuck them. They should've never been on the main stage. While I'm having a bitch moment, let me take the time to publicly tell Dime Bag's wife to fuck off. Jeff Hannemen just died and we don't see his wife parading around like some 50 year old Hot Topic reject, exploiting her deceased husband's notoriety for attention. I could rattle off about fifty or so incredible rockstars that died who's significant others aren't clamoring for celebrity status. She's proclaiming herself as 'Dime Bag's Hag', has a nice ring to it…and it fits. It's great if someone wants to give her backstage passes, but please, pretty please, take your haggard ass out of the spotlight and off of the stage. I probably wouldn't be so ticked off if it weren't for the fact that she is all 'chummy' with Phil. Dime is most likely turning over in his grave.
In This Moment was next and they are certainly gaining some attention. They played the PBR stage and as much as I like Middle Class Rut, I wonder how many people actually saw their set. Maria Brink is an amazing front woman who plays into the male fan's libido like a champ. She is pretty hot and she knows it. This could be a negative if she couldn't sing, but she can. In This Moment is a talented band that you will see more of. Volbeat hit the Monster Stage and nailed it. They always play a solid set and this day was no different. I really enjoy their musical style and Michael Poulsen is a great front man. I would encourage you to check them out.
Gavin Rossdale was in a band before he became Gwen's husband. Gavin used to rock in the 90's. Gavin still rocks. Bush kept the crowd on their feet and to make sure of that Bush played 'Come Together' by the Beatles and Gavin went deep, deep into the bleachers to sing with the fans. Great showmanship and a stellar set. Glad to see them back. The weekend was winding down and I was losing steam. I wandered into the back artist lounge and ordered a shot of Jager and a Jameson neat. I just sat down when I was informed that Lamb Of God was on the PBR stage. I slammed both drinks and sprinted to the stage only to miss my opportunity to photograph them. Pissed off again, I sauntered to the back of the crowd and watched the performance. They killed it. Randy Blythe had just come off the heels of a murder charge for allegedly shoving a fan in Europe, who subsequently died from his injuries. He was cleared of charges, but not of the stress of it. He gave a couple of powerful statements, dedicated a song to his deceased fan. Great Metal band and class acts.
Alice in Chains is back. They have actually been back for a bit. This was their second time playing ROTR. It is a shame Layne was a druggie. My eight year old is even pissed about it and he wasn't born until long after Layne died. Jerry Cantrell is a talent who knows talent. Birds of a feather flock together. He found William Duvall. Close your eyes and listen to him sing and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between him and Layne. This should not take anything away from him. Duvall is an incredible musician. They just released their second album with Duvall, “The Devil Brought The Dinosaurs Here.” I can't say enough about their performance. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were two of my favorite bands in the 90's. I couldn't get enough of them. I'm glad they're back together and playing. Soundgarden might have been my favorite Seattle band of the grunge movement. Chris Cornell is unparalleled in his vocal abilities. The fucking guy hardly has to open his mouth to emit some of the most melodic vocals. Soundgarden closed the show like only an act of that caliber could. Everyone stayed until the final song.
Columbus is a beautiful city which plays a gracious host to one of the best organized and well orchestrated weekend concert festivals since Lollapalooza. I would consider Rock on the Range the Lollapalooza of the hard rock genre. I would do it all over again, and I intend to next year…and if you're smart you will too.
Special thanks to Kristine Ashton-Magnuson for the press credentials. And also Johny Chow for being the coolest dude in rock!