As I set out in the early morning hours of May 18th from southern New York en route to Columbus, Ohio for the 11th Annual Danny Wimmer Presents Rock On The Range festival located at Mapfre Stadium, I was not only ecstatic that I finally was attending the biggest three-day metal festival in the States, but also carried a sense of bewilderment as to reports of the untimely passing of legendary Chris Cornell. I wasn’t exactly sure as to how this tragedy would play out in the days to come, but I still had a job to do providing the best media coverage possible due the situation. Sponsored by the big names in the festival industry – Monster Energy, Bud Light, Zippo Encore and Jack Daniel’s – Rock On The Range 2017 will forever be set apart from the previous ten years and etched in the memories of all attending.
Kicking off day one and wasting no time, were both hard rock/blues band Goodbye June (Bud Light Stage) hailing from Nashville, Tennessee and Aeges (Zippo Stage), a Filipino punk rock band formed in the mid 90’s. Each in their own rights kicked off an explosive energy in the crowds, only to be matched by one of my favorite bands to witness – Badflower, with their most recent album ‘Temper’ (released 11/2016). These Los Angeles boys fronted by the multi-talented Josh Katz delivered one of the most exemplary performances I’ve witnessed this whole weekend. Their hard-driving blues was met with extreme enthusiasm unlike most in their age class! On the opposite side of venue at the same time, Cover Your Tracks from Atlanta, GA, brought their metalcore sounds to the Bud Light Stage with the ferocity of madmen as Paul Rose (vocals) proved beyond any doubt that this quartet is wasting no time heading to the top in the three short years they’ve been together.[metalwani_content_ad]
First up on the Monster Energy Main Stage was Beartooth, a Columbus, Ohio hardcore punk band founded by Caleb Shomo in 2012. It comes as no surprise that they won the 2016 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Award for Best Breakthrough Band.
Next up on both the Zippo & Bud Light stages at the same time (which in fact was an obvious scheduling problem throughout the whole festival, for the media staff) were the metalcore sounds of Southfield, Michigan’s I Prevail, which I regretfully missed in order to take in all that Bleeker – an Orillia, Canada five-member ensemble known for its notoriously heavy alternative rock/blues rock/post grunge garage band sounds – had to offer. Originally named Bleeker Ridge, their latest of three album drops titled ‘Erase You’ was a collaboration with James Michaels of Sixx AM along with past drummer Dustin Steinke, who later in January 2016 left Bleeker Ridge and joined Sixx AM to play on their first tour. It was then that the band changed its name to Bleeker, blossoming into an up-and-coming headliner band with equal potential to those before them.
With no time to spare, we hustled from the Bud Light Stage across the venue to catch the last of Thrice on the mainstage. With nine studio albums already to their credit, Dustin Kensrue (vocals/guitar) led this post hardcore band from Irvine, Texas, who pounded out their set with non-stop heavily distorted riffs, several lead guitar solos from Teppei Teranishi and the unpredictable complex beat changes of the ever-talented Riley Breckenridge on the skins.
Up next were The Amity Affliction (on the Zippo Stage) and Red Fang. Unfortunately for all attending, in theminutes prior to each taking their prospective stages, the venue incorporated the first of three mandatory evacuations, based upon previously established severe weather procedures monitored by not only on-site meteorologists but First Responders as well. And with just cause I may add, despite the near mob mentality that pursued. This powerful and destructive line of storms shut down the festival from roughly 3:00 pm to 7:15 pm, when authorities finally gave the “all clear” signal and allowed venue gates to reopen, enabling fans to regain admittance from their cars, etc.
Picking up where we left off, Of Mice And Men’s stage crew got their equipment out and uncovered, backdrop banner in place on mainstage, and just before we thought that the bad was about to begin, a very familiar face stepped forth from the shadows, guitar in hand. Low and behold, it was the ever so beautiful and multi-talented Nita Strauss (guitarist for Alice Cooper) leading us into the National Anthem! I stood in total awe as I witnessed not only people paying respect to our country not only by the crowd removing their hats and many placing right hand over heart, but the hush that fell upon the crowd of tens of thousands was unfathomable for a metal fest.
Then it was once again ‘game on’ as lead vocalist and bassist Aaron Pauley and his gut pounding metalcore band from Orange County, California hit the stage. Of Mice And Men only had a six-song setlist due to schedule changes (post storm), beginning with “Bones Exposed” and ending with “The Depths”. These fine musicians had their work cut out getting the crowd back in-sync after four hours of downtime, but confronted the situation like giants and pulled this task off effortlessly. Motionless In White took the Zippo Stage shortly after with an explosive seven-song set, bringing life back into the drenched side stages as well as the first witnessing of continual crowd-surfing, especially with their third song “A-M-E-R-I-C-A” and without fail their last titled “Reincarnate”. Chris Motionless and the boys took charge and not once let up on their metal assault on all attending.
Briskly walking from the Zippo back to the mainstage through mud and an endless sea of fans, we made it just in time to catch the ingenious Gavin Rossdale and his British rock band Bush (England, 1992). Starting with “Machinehead” and ending with “Come Down”, they covered their A-list of hits to include “Everything Zen”, “Swallowed”, and an R.E.M. cover of “The One I Love” – a tribute to Chris Cornell, with Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ snippet. A very sobering moment in not only their performance, but the day as a whole. On their heels back at the Zippo Stage, Sum 41 tore into their nine-song set with such classics as the “Hell Song”, “Fake My Own Death”, and by the time they were beginning “We’re All To Blame”, security brought in over a dozen extra bodies to help with the cattle line of crowd-surfers, one being the infamous Mankini (google him). And as luck or lack thereof had it, their performance ran the same time as Gojira, which we opted to pass on only because we’ve covered their outstanding performances in the past.
Just 25 minutes in Sum 41’s set, frontman Pete Loeffler and the members of Chevelle brought their post-grunge/alternative metal from Grayslake, Illinois, opening with the first of ten songs titled “Another Know-It-All” (one of my personal favorites). As the crowds began to press forward towards the rails, not wanting to miss a beat, it was obvious at that point that the fans all but forgot about the inclement weather and the inconveniences it brought on earlier. In true closing fashion, Chevelle wrapped up with one of their all-time greatest hits, “Send The Pain Below”. One simply cannot get enough of the boys from Illinois![metalwani_content_ad]
With only minutes to spare, we surprisingly made it back over to witness the last act of the evening on the Zippo Stage – San Diego’s Pierce The Veil. While not exactly my cup of tea, I cannot help to admire their collection of awards and nominations from 2010 through present. Ripping into a shortened set, these musical maestros ignited the tiring crowd with such classics as “Bulls In The Bronx” and “King For A Day”, with a collaboration with Caleb Shomo of Beartooth in their rendition of “Caraphernelia”.
Last but by far not least, Live took the mainstage as day one was wrapping up. Right from the start as they began to play “All Over You”, it was visibly apparent that the fans were ecstatic to see them, who just recently reunited with vocalist Ed Kowalczyk after nearly an eight- year absence. From the all-time hit “Lightning Crashes” (closing song) to their covers of “I Walk The Line” (Johnny Cash), and “I Am The Highway” (an Audioslave cover), the mood slowly began to become more somber as their set was close to ending, as Soundgarden was to have take stage afterwards. As the lights dimmed, and the faint sounds of the stage crew partially breaking down Live’s stage, a slow transition took place leading into a beautifully memorable tribute to the late Chris Cornell, with the simplest of a black stage drop set up with just two guitars and a massive images of Cornell pasted across video screens while Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” performed by Jeff Buckley played. With video and sound bytes from Cornell’s own version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and vocal track to “Black Hole Sun”, I doubt if there was a dry eye in the entire venue. It was at this precise time that Corey Taylor along with guitarist Christian Martucci, came on stage, performing acoustical covers of “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd) and “Hunger Strike” (Temple of The Dog). Such a memorably fitting tribute to such a talented and legendary artist.
Looking back on Day One of Rock On The Range 2017, I have concluded that despite the terrible weather, schedule setbacks and the passing of a great musician, it was without fail one of the best days for Rock and Roll history. Neither blackened skies nor Black Hole suns could put a damper on the spirits of all attending. Rating this event due to many unforeseen circumstances initially seemed overwhelming, but in all honesty, I couldn’t give any less that a 4.5 out of five 5. It was and is a day that I personally will hold close to my heart forever.
Also check out our Photo Gallery of the day here!