The unknown; one can never really anticipate that which is unknown. Such was the case for those attending the inaugural Rock ’N Derby Festival held over a long weekend late in May, 2016. Word of this festival hit the streets many months ago, and the anticipation thereof caused mild anxiety. As nail-biting as it was Your Humble Narrators’ first experience camping at a music festival for several days, East Coast USA residents don’t get the chance to attend events like this very often, if ever. By the time we were able to procure our camping spot, tent camping was sold out. So, we decided to go with vehicle camping. If you had a vehicle large enough to sleep in, you were good to go. If not, you had to get creative. We put a small tent in the back of an open pickup truck. But, to be honest, the vast majority of people camping in vehicles, once settled in, were pretty much doing whatever they wanted. As long as we kept enough space for emergency vehicles, we were left to our own devices. Of course, this was after the parking debacle which forced us to move our vehicles into other spots, losing the neighbors we had already gotten to know. Strike one.
After about two hours of sleep and a re-arrangement of the neighborhood, the partying commenced in the camping area. Note to festival organizers: it might be nice to have something for the campers to do to keep occupied so they’re not all smashed before the concerts even start; a food option at the very least. That being said, the first act of the line-up didn’t hit the stage until 5:50 p.m, when Pop Evil graced the Derby Stage. The energy was high throughout the venue, and so were most of the patrons. Belting out fan favorites like “Footsteps”, “Boss’s Daughter” and “100 in a 55”, Pop Evil lived up to their name; the evil side of pop metal. Their songs were catchy, sing-along love songs, for the most part, which were perfect for the spring/summer, semi-rural setting in Upstate New York.
Following Pop Evil was hard rockers Clutch, straight out of Your Humble Narrators’ home state of Maryland. Having had a chat with guitarist Tim Sult prior to their set, it was mentioned that not a lot of people have even heard of Clutch, so it was really great to see the amazing fan response they received during their set. It’s quite easy to say they gained a lot of new fans that evening. Rolling through songs like “Gravel Road”, “Sucker for the Witch” and “Minotaur”, Clutch delivered a commanding performance, expertly mixing clearly audible influences from hard rock to blues, southern rock and beyond. They closed out their set with what could be their most recognizable track to date, “Electric Worry”, which blazed with that bluesy southern inspiration.
It was about this time that it became apparent that the entertainment structure of the festival just wasn’t the best. The festival boasted three stages with live music, the drawback being that all stages were live at the same time, meaning all the performances were overlapping each other by some degree. Since we stayed for the entirety of Pop Evil’s and Clutch’s sets, we missed the bands that were playing on the other two stages. For fans of multiple bands, it can be a tough decision as to which one wins out.
Having decided which band won out, we stayed put for the indomitable Lamb of God. Opening with “Walk With Me in Hell”, Randy Blythe took no prisoners with his trademark demon-like screech, along with Chris Adler on drums, Mark Morton and Willie Adler on lead and rhythm guitar respectively, and John Campbell on bass. We’d seen this band a few times now, and they killed it every time. When they launched into “512”, the crowd went wild. This song is definitely on its way to being a LoG classic.
Unfortunately, again, due to the structure of the band set times, we left before LoG concluded to saunter over to the Rock ’N Stage to catch Parkway Drive. Flanked in purple lighting and a fair amount of fog, Parkway Drive rumbled forth like a runaway locomotive. The vibe was electric, from the fans to the band and back again. There was plenty of jumping, fist-bumping and crowd-surfing going on. This was the first time we got to see how security was handling crowd-surfers, and it appeared as though they may not have been trained to properly handle a crowd-surfer safely. I saw several people get taken out by flailing feet in the photo pit. All that aside, Parkway Drive exacted a great performance, showcasing songs from their latest album ‘Ire’. With songs like “Vice Grip”, “Crushed”, “Bottom Feeder”, Parkway Drive displayed the incredible talent that has attracted the success, critical and commercial, that they so deserve.
Again falling prey to the tight band schedule, we sacrificed Parkway Drive’s last song to return to the Derby Stage for Friday night’s headliner, Five Finger Death Punch. It was undoubtedly 5FDP’s night, as nearly the entire grassy area in the vicinity of this stage was packed with people. Everywhere one may have gone around the grounds of the festival or in the camping area, it was 5FDP on the stereos and iPods, as well as seas of 5FDP t-shirts. The crowd started to stir when the very capable and organized crew brought Ivan Moody’s shiny chrome skeleton mic-stand out on the stage. We stared at that shiny mic-stand for what seemed like an eternity, when Five Finger Death Punch exploded onto the stage opening with “Lift Me Up”, following in succession with “Hard to See” and “Never Enough”. Ivan Moody was in top form. His steps were deliberate, his voice was clear and his heart was on his sleeve, almost literally (see photos). He even mentioned his inability to pronounce the name of the town we were in (“Skat-eh-coke”), calling it, among other things, “Skatty-kook” and “Shaggy-cock”. Nice to know he has a sense of humor.
After steamrolling through “Got Your Six”, “Bad Company” and “Jekyll and Hyde”, Ivan went through his favorite addition to the show, bringing the kids (and their parents) in the audience up on stage to sing a collaborative rendition of “Burn MF”. It’s always freaking adorable: half the kids were scared to death, while the other half were just excited to be up there screaming “BURN MF!” (with their parents’ permission). 5FDP rounded out their set with “Wrong Side of Heaven”, “Battle Born”, and two of their most commercially successful singles, “Coming Down” and “Under and Over It”. They were tight and fierce, dispelling any thoughts to the contrary.
Upon our walk back to the camping area after the last set, we came across the Arena Stage and Scott Stapp, singer-songwriter and former frontman of post-grunge stars, Creed. I really hate to be repetitive, but sticking around for one band made me late for another. We happened across Scott during the song “Torn”, easily my favorite from Creed’s repertoire. We hung out with Scott for the remainder of his set, singing along to songs like “Higher” and “My Sacrifice”, which were hits for Creed during the height of their popularity. After Scott Stapp’s set came Schism, a Tool cover band that played well into the wee hours of the morning. They sounded great from the camping area as exhaustion set in, forcing us to drag ourselves back to the neighborhood. Luckily, we had a slew of GREAT camping neighbors that literally made our entire weekend a blast. HUGE shout-out to our new friends Anastasia and Chris, Phil and Rachel, Molly and Paul, Kyle and Candy, Daddy Dave, Nick and Eric, Alex and Brian, and Eric and John in the Cool Bus for making the five days and four nights at Rock ’N Derby a life-changing adventure that we’ll remember forever. Let’s do it again next year!
Stay tuned for our Day Two coverage! Also check out our Photo Gallery of the show here.