FESTIVAL REVIEW: ROCK ON THE RANGE 2017 Live at the Mapfre Stadium, Columbus, OH – Day 3 (Sunday)
Arising with a headache the size of the national debt, I reluctantly poked my head out from underneath the covers to allow my eyes to adjust to the daylight, and the first thing I noticed was that …it was raining. As was to be expected, considering the forecast was calling for today to be the worst of the three days here at Danny Wimmer Presents Rock On The Range 2017. We Rangers have gotten this far and are certainly up for the challenge as the one and only Metallica will be tonight’s headliner and final act for ROTR 2017.
Weighted down with three over-sized portions of sausage biscuits and gravy, we meandered our way through the weary-eyed crowd forming at the gates, at a pace conducive to battle worn soldiers but with the determination of triumphant warriors as we made our way to the media area to get our game on, in anticipation of today’s first act on the Zippo stage – As Lions. With barely two years together as a band, Austin Dickinson (vox) brought this British (London, England) rock quintet to Columbus with one intention…to take no prisoners while thrashing into the crowd with their opener “The Fall” from their album ‘Selfish Age’ (2017). It wasn’t long before their fans showed signs of improvement as heads began to mimic each beat of Dave Fee’s skins and bodies were once again energized and ready to take on today’s lineups. Ending their seven-song set with “The Great Escape”, there was no doubt in my mind that these boys from Britain were what was needed on this brisk overcast morning.
It goes without saying that Rolling Stone magazine not only stated that the Los Angeles based DOROTHY was a band “you need to know”, but also named them #14 on their 50 Best New Artists of 2014 list. This being my first time witnessing Dorothy Martin perform on stage along band members Dylan Howard (drums), guitarist DJ Black and bassist Gregg Cash, was in hindsight one of my top five overall performances this weekend. Opening their explosive eight song set with “Kiss It” (‘ROCKISDEAD’ disc) it wasn’t long before things got down and dirty with the slow yet definitive bluesy beats of “Woman”, “I Put A Spell On You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover), before kicking it up several notches and closing with “Wicked Ones” and “Whiskey Fever”. It’s brilliant performances such as DOROTHY’s, that totally mesmerize me and briefly blind me to the fact that I have a job to do, so without hesitation I find myself in an old man’s running mode as we make our way to the first show on the Monster Energy Mainstage to cover a band that I’ve heard so much about this morning.
American rock/blues band Rival Sons dressed in black belted out a short but memorable bare bones set, beginning with “Electric Man” fueled by the screaming riffs of the talented Scott Holiday, and continued their mid-day assault of unique hits often stylistically compared to the likes of The Animals, Deep Purple and the infamous Led Zeppelin, of which frontman Jay Buchanan nailed it with several Robert Plant style vocals. With five studio albums (the latest titled ‘Rival Sons’ (ep – 2012), there is absolutely no excuse as to why every hard driving rock/blues enthusiast shouldn’t have Rival Sons’ cds/vinyl in their collection, or at least be en route to your local musical outlet.
On each side simultaneously, were Radkey (Zippo stage) and Wage War (Bud Light stage), as Rival Sons was finishing up and stage hands were setting up for Nothing More. Comprised of three brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri – Isaiah (bass), Solomon (drums), and Dee Radke (vox/guitar) brought their brand of garage punk/rock with a spinoff of the 1950’s riffs, but with the fast-paced beat of genuine punk rockers. Wage War, an American metalcore quintet out of Ocala, Florida (2010 as the band Empires, changed to Wage War in 2014), and front by the rough unclean yet explosive vocals of Briton Bond, was on point with their seven earsplitting numbers. Fear not my metalhead friends, as Wage War is scheduled to drop a new vinyl titled ‘Deadweight’ (August 2017), and has already released two singles this past April entitled “Stitch” and “Don’t Let Me Fade Away”, both covered in this outstanding performance.
Next up an always a favorite of ours’ to photograph (especially when allowed to do stage shots by band management), and with five studio albums to their credit (’Nothing More’ being most recent – 2014), as well as a release date of September 2017 (‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’), San Antonio, Texas’s Nothing More spearheaded by the exemplary vibrant Johnny Hawkins who in and of himself is one of today’s best showmen in the rock/metal genre. Opening with “Christ Copyright” (‘Nothing More’ disc, Aug. 2013) and continuing to raise the bar with intensity and fervor, especially when Hawkins mounted his steel scorpion tail during “First Of The Year” (Skrillex cover) as Mark Vollelunga shredded his 6 strings with a bevy of riffs and solos. This was their third such performance of this number, the first two being Carolina Rebellion and Rocklahoma 2017. Sheer madness indeed!
Eating totally on the fly today because the overcast skies have finally given way to a more pleasant sunny day (at least for the time being), we picked up the pace as such bands as Dinosaur Pile-Up, Every Time I Die, and the ever-so-waited-for Zakk Sabbath were wasting no time setting up on the small stages. Hailing from Leeds, West Yorkshire, English alternative band Dinosaur Pile-Up founded by vocalist/guitarist Matt Bigland (2007), fired off a short but grunge-filled high volume set to include their opener “Red and Purple” (‘Eleven Eleven’ album), “Anxiety Trip”, and “11:11”. Formed in 2007, these young lads have amassed five extended plays (2008 – 2015) as well as three studio albums (2010 – 2015), and have mastered their own unique blend of grunge/alternative rock with heavy influences of Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana (of course). Regretfully, I missed the southern rock/metalcore/hardcore punk sounds of Buffalo, New York’s own Every Time I Die, established in 1998 by brothers Keith and Jordan Buckley. Hailed as ‘metalcore icons’ and proving so without a doubt with their 2003 album ‘Hot Damn’, they’ve also been known to experiment with mathcore and sludge metals, being a game changer for this unique genre.
Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro was up next on the mainstage, brandishing their heavy metal/alternative rock sounds all the way from Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire with noticeable influences of James Hetfield and Metallica to prog legends Rush. Winning such prestigious awards as Kerrang! Awards for Best Musical Video (2010), Classic Songwriter (2011), and Best Album (2013 – ‘Opposites’), along with numerous NME awards including Best British Band (2013 & 2016), truly separates them from most others. With their seventh studio album being dropped this past July 2016, Simon Neil (lead guitar/vox) accompanied by James Johnston on bass/synthesizers/vocals, drummer Ben Johnston alongside touring members Mike Vennart (guitars) and Richard “Gambler” Ingram on piano and rhythm guitar, will be out and about touring more this year…or so rumor has it.
One could not escape the reality of the onrush of fans leaving the concourse and concession area(s) as they made their way to the Zippo stage amidst the threatening sky above, to take part in the soul-shredding/string screaming performance of the one…the only…Zakk Sabbath! Fronted by everyone’s favorite was the Vahalla Viking himself – Zakk Wylde (born Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt, 1/14/67 in New Jersey), ripping into the first of five songs (Black Sabbath covers) with the opener being ‘Supernaut”. Sporting his newly unveiled Wylde Audio axe, accompanied by bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson (also played on Rob Zombie’s solo albums and currently with Ozzy Osbourne’s band), and drummer Joey C metal madness ensued with an undeniable intensity fit for these rock icons. Wrapping up their explosive electronic assault with both “War Pigs” and “N.I.B.” with Wylde systematically shredding his six-string mercilessly, without ever using a pick (another Zakk trademark – strums with thumb and forefinger nails). I’d love to comment on his intense expressions while playing behind his back, or playing with his teeth (“Children of The Grave”), but unfortunately even media people (journalists) cannot always get front and center of each performance. However, I can attest that from where I stood off from stage right, most of the time all I could see was long wavy dirty blonde hair constantly in motion across Wylde’s face. In the end, it truly didn’t matter what was seen, as it was the maniacal music resonating in the venue that soothed the soul.
As if on cue, the clouds began to dissipate and the yellow orb slowly shone down upon the crowd just in time for the lovely Taylor Momsen to grace our presence along with band members of The Pretty Reckless, as they opened with their number “Follow Me Down” (‘Going to Hell’ album, 2014), before beginning the slow but forceful “Hangman”, in which Momsen’s vocals penetrated our very existence. Ben Phillips put on an exquisite display of guitar mastery, along with Jamie Perkins on the kit and bassist Mark Damon holding down the rhythm section as The Pretty Reckless ended with Audioslave’s cover “Like A Stone”. Finally breaking a sweat in the hot May sun, I scrambled to grab a quick coffee at the concession stand and make my way back to the Zippo stage for the final song “Limerent Death” performed by the unmistakable Dillinger Escape Plan. This American metalcore band (1997) from Morris Plains, New Jersey is no stranger to the big name American festivals, and can be seen annually at the GwarBBQ Festival outside Richmond, Virginia. With six studio albums to their credit (the latest being ‘Dissociation’, 2016), these pioneers of mathcore (rooted in both hardcore punk and heavy metal), frontman Greg Puciato and guitarist Ben Weinman put forth an elaborate display of comradery and true unification fit for these bad boys out of Jersey.
The next band nearly ready to take the mainstage is without a doubt, one of my all-time favorites and very first time witnessing the zany antics and phenomenal bass string picking of the infamous Les Claypool, lead singer of Primus. Beginning with the hilarious “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers”, the crowd reacted with energetic enthusiasm as the crowd surfers (to include the young Amish man seen throughout this year’s festival). Larry “Ler” LaLonde tweeked the guitar strings with his signature screeching riffs throughout their seven-song set especially with the last number “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver”. No set can be complete, however, without Primus’s classic “My Name Is Mud”, in which Claypool outdid himself with exemplary string slapping madness while standing nearly motionless (another Claypool trademark).
In need of some comic relief on the endlessly long weekend, we decided to catch the next act of the off-the-wall standup comedy of the outrageous Jim Breuer, located in the Comedy Tent opposite the Media Area. It was the perfect break from the somewhat chaotic scenarios brought forth due to inclement weather, and we can’t thank Dawn Lemay of Florida Rage Radio enough for inviting us to tag along! The most memorable skit pertained to him meeting Ozzy Osbourne on Ozzy’s private plane, and the conversations that followed. I was fortunate to video this and is now uploaded into my Youtube account for all to view. Breuer will not only cause your face to hurt from laughing, but if one isn’t careful, one may event wet themselves!
With the skies darkening and the threat of rain in the not-too-distant future, stage hands for Volbeat (mainstage) wasted no time setting up and sound checking the band’s instruments. Originating out of Copenhagen, Denmark (2001), Michael Poulsen (vox) and Volbeat unleashed a fusion of rock and roll/rockabilly and heavy metal, as they tantalized the ever-growing crowd with opener “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” (‘Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie’ album, 2016), creating a frenzy among the fans with the hard driving thrashings of Rob Caggiano’s (Anthrax 2001 – 2005) ESP Custom, Rob Caggiano Signature EX model guitars, along with the chest caving bass of Kaspar Boye Larsen and skin pounding of John Larsen. After just wrapping up their fourth number “Sad Man’s Tongue” (w/Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” cover into) all hell broke loose, as our finicky festival friend Mother Nature reared her ugly head and caused Volbeat to stop performing and begin postponements. What began with the signs of a third venue evacuation, turned out to be just the postponement thus allowing us Rangers to remain in venue. In hindsight, this most probably prevented a near riot among concert goers and was graciously received by all attending. After nearly an hour and a half , the “All Clear” notice was issued and without hesitation, stage hands quickly uncovered equipment and Volbeat was once again delivering a stellar performance to the rain-soaked fans, starting up with “Black Rose” (2016), followed by “16 Dollars”, “The Hangman’s Body Count”, (‘Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies’ disc, 2013), before closing with “Still Counting”, wrapping up a rather eventful ten-song set.
After what seemed like an extended eternity along with Mother Nature not wanting to cooperate, it was finally time. The time we had all awaited for and braved elements not familiar to most festival goers, and that time was…now, as James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and the demonic drumming of Lars Ulrich of the legendary (1981 – present) San Francisco based band Metallica walked on stage in unison and greeted the crowd, commending us for being hardcore and determined not to let the weather dampen our spirits. Then as if struck by lightning, Hammett led this fabulous quartet with their single “Hardwired” (‘Hardwired To Self-Destruct’, 2016), with earsplitting riffs and solos, spilling forth from one of his many Gibson Les Paul/ESP KH-2 and KH-3 signature model and occasional Fender Stratocaster (white). One must simply admire Trujillo while attacking his axe with the veracity of a madman, low creeping across the stage complimenting everything Ulrich was to pound out on his elaborate array of purple Tama drums and Zildjian cymbals. His rare display of genius was witnessed during their sixth number “Now That We’re Dead”, in which Lars went into an extended solo, to the amazement of all. From “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “The Unforgiven”, to favorites such as “One” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” in which Hammett and Trujillo followed up with solos including “I Disappear” and “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”. There wasn’t one classic hit omitted from their 2+ hour eighteen-song performance. What’s that you say? What about Mr. James Hetfield? Say no more…as I was leaving the metal master for last. Hetfield dressed in black leather pants/vest and black long tee, sported his one of a kind brilliant white Gibson Les Paul Custom “Iron Cross” as he joined forces with Hammett during “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and brought out his white Gibson Flying V during the last song of the evening – “Enter Sandman” (with the “Frayed Ends of Sanity” outro), thus ending what turned out to be an epic ‘balls-to-the-wall’ performance by one of the music industry’s most sought after and probably the most followed by their fans in decades past, and in the years to follow. With the stage dimmed and vacant all that remained was the massive brilliantly illuminated “METALLICA” logo behind the stage, while the crowd slowly exited, as I could hear several diehard fans singing verses from “Nothing Else Matters”. That alone spoke volumes.
Before I wrap up the review, it would be just plain wrong if I didn’t give a shout-out to several of the vendors who were exemplary in the fashion they handed having to set-up and break-down their stands every time the storms set in. A special thank you goes out to Island Noodles for allowing us to cut ahead of a never-ending line of customers (you folks rock!), the awesome folks at the Zippo Encore booth and their “heads up” info on the acoustical performances in the Zippo Sessions Tent, and certainly a round of applause needs to go out to staff at the FYE for an outstanding job handling the onslaught of fans wanting the latest cd’s and having them signed. Last but certainly not the least, was our favorite – Oli’s Tots located at the West Lot Food Court, serving up some of the best tater-tots smothered with savory toppings such as cheese, chili, and so much more!
All in all, Danny Wimmer Presents The 11th Annual Rock On The Range 2017 (Sponsored by Monster Energy, Jack Daniels, Zippo, Bud Light and AEG Presents), went off better than expected due to circumstances with occasional moderate discontent being voiced by attendees each time an evacuation/postponement was enacted, I was overly impressed as to how the venue staff with the help of local law enforcement was able to direct people out of main area, through the venue itself and into waiting cars without an incident. That also brings to light the compassion and caring of many of the fans toward each other, as if we united into one big family. Another observation I repeatedly had was how well the venue as well as the portable toilets were maintained, and is highly commended. Security and all EMT personnel also presented themselves as overly caring individuals, even during the rigors of handling the crowd surfers.
Concluding my first ever Rock On The Range experience, all I can honestly say is that this was a one-of-a-kind experience, with the most unique and diverse music genre North American has to offer. It goes without saying that ROTR continues to live up to its global reputation as the #1 Biggest Metal Festival within our borders! I would be lying if I didn’t consider giving this once a year extravaganza a 5 out 5-star rating; however, I will award a solid 4 out of 5-star rating to be fair.