Q: What’s four years old and slays people yearly on its birthday? A: Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio. This yearly two-day music festival has quickly become the premiere destination for rock bands that don’t care about “Top 40” radio status and, instead, focus on producing music that the true fans of rock and roll crave. Three stages with bands revolving for 13 hours straight, two days in a row? I call that heaven… and the best stress-relieving vacation ever. In the previous three years, these bands have included Motley Crue, ZZ Top, Velvet Revolver, Kid Rock, Stone Temple Pilots, Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Slipknot, Korn, Alice In Chains and approximately 100 others that you may have heard of.
Honestly, when I first heard the lineup for this years show, I wasn’t overly excited. I’d seen many of the bands several times each and the ones that I hadn’t previously seen weren’t exactly on the top of my “must see” list. Little did I know that there were many unforeseen surprises awaiting me in Columbus on May 22nd and 23rd. I’ll get to those momentarily, but it’s not like I was worried. Getting to hang out with two of my best friends at a festival could never be a bad thing… and you find those hidden gems by living life, not planning it.
Saturday morning, which we’d been looking forward to for months, finally showed up… and we were on the ball. We HAD to be there early enough to be close to the main stage by the time that the first band came on. Going into the weekend, I’d wondered why one of my absolute favorite bands of the last ten years was opening the show… but I quickly realized that it was to get everyone ready for what was ahead. So, we get through the mile-long line of traffic going into the parking lots and eventually get in the seemingly mile-long line of people waiting to get in. That’s when I realized that I forgotten the extra batteries for my camera. Not good when you’re planning on walking out of the day with 500 pics… but oh well. Nothing could ruin the day. Then I realized that I forgot my cell phone. Doh! But oh well. Nothing could ruin the day. Fortunately, nothing did.
Alright… we made it to the main stage on time and a few minutes later, Sevendust came out to get our blood flowing. Sevendust has been around for 16 years and is one of the many nationally known and successful bands out of Atlanta, GA. I see them every time they come through my town but that didn’t keep me from making this one of my must see shows of the weekend. They just released their 11th disc (Cold Day Memory) a month ago and, considering it is my favorite 7D release in four years, I was dying for them to get the party started. They definitely didn’t disappoint as they ripped through several songs off of the new record, including the new single, “Unraveling”, along with many of their tried and true ones like, “Denial”, “Driven” and “Praise”. For those of us who were on time and primed, it was the perfect beginning to two days of great music. The only thing that would have been better is if they’d come back for a second set later in the day.
Following 7D on the main stage was another one of my personal favorites, Drowning Pool, who came to Ohio on a mission to show how hard Dallas rocks. A lot of people criticize this band and claim that they’re not the same as they were before their original frontman, Dave Williams, passed away in 2002. True… they’re NOT the same. That definitely doesn’t mean that they can’t move a crowd and they did happen to land one of the best hard rock singers in the business… previous frontman from Soil, Ryan McCombs. Not the same band? Correct. Not a great band? See them for yourself sometime and you’ll realize that they are amazing. The band just released their second CD with Ryan on vocals and it has some truly great tracks throughout. They rolled out several of their new tunes and kept the crowd hungry with favorites like “Bodies”, “Sinner”, “Soldiers” and “37 Stitches”. Awesome.
CJ Pierce shreds to the masses at ROTR 2010
From there we headed to Side Stage 1 for a new band called Halestorm, fronted by an amazing talent in Lzzy Hale (that’s not a typo). They’ve been on the national circuit since ’07, building a large following along the way. Lzzy’s rocker voice and awesome guitar chops “wowed” me, to say the least. Coupled with her brother, Arejay, and his incredible talent on the drums, they were one of the biggest surprises of my weekend. So much, in fact, that I bought their debut and self-titled CD as soon as I got back to Texas. Check it out… it’s good stuff. I’ll definitely be seeing this band again and will try to find a youtube video of Arejay’s drum solo, where he breaks out Flintstone sized drumsticks that are about two feet long, each… and he rocks with them. You have to love someone who does something different.
To say I was hyped to see The Deftones would be an extreme understatement. We got back to the main stage in plenty of time to get a close position and they came on right on time. The ‘Tones haven’t toured in over three years and just released their first CD, “Diamond Eyes”, in over four years, so the crowd was expecting something special. The cause for their hiatus is a heart-wrenching one, as their original bassist, Chi Cheng, was hospitalized for still-ongoing brain trauma following an auto accident in 2008. Once again, I was looking for something special. Unfortunately, they came out and played mostly their slower, more melodic tunes which, for a hard-rock show, didn’t seem to fit right. Aside from the rocker “7 Words”, it was mostly a sleeper of a show. I’m still planning on seeing their full set while their on tour later this year… and the new record is amazing… but this set just didn’t keep my adrenaline (ironically, the name of a previous Deftones record) as amped as the other bands playing on the same stage.
So, about 2/3rd of the way through The Deftones, we headed to Side Stage 1 for Killswitch Engage. Killswitch has been one of my favorite metal bands for years and have many great releases under their belts, so I was buzzing to see them live for the first time. We got a great spot right in front of the sound tent and set up shop next to the area that would be the best mosh pit of the weekend. Killswitch came on and I was totally glad to see that they had their lead singer, Howard Jones, back in front of the band. Howard had voice troubles a couple of months ago and hadn’t been touring with them lately but he came back the show before this one so… score. They were almost as insanely good as the crowd was simply insane and I have to put this set in my top 3 for the whole weekend. They ripped through all of the best tunes, like “My Last Serenade” and “Rose of Sharyn”… but the crowd about lost it when they announced their last tune, written and recorded by the recently passed Ronnie James Dio. It was an incredible scene when they ripped into “Holy Diver”, with the crowd singing every word at the tops of their lungs. It should also be noted that Dio was THE creator of the now standard “rock horns” that you see at shows. Think about that next time you’re flying them towards a stage and you’ll realize that Dio will always be a part of rock and roll. Killswitch Engage’s set was so good that I almost forgot how much good rock there was left… but there was still mucho music to be had.
Three Days Grace is the next band worth mentioning. They were surprise #2 for the day and, although I’d never had any desire to see them, I was totally rocked by all of the hits these Canadians threw at me. As a frontman, Adam Gontier is as good as it gets… a great entertainer with a big voice and an even bigger stage presence. As dusk fell in Columbus, I realized, “Hey, I know a lot of these songs”, and proceeded to get down with the sweaty masses. Rolling through “I Hate Everything About You”, “Pain”, “Never Too Late” and “Animal I’ve Become”, 3DG owned the stage and not only rocked their fans, but won new ones as well. Yet another band that I’ll gladly see again. So far, this day’s nearly perfect.
Adam Gontier of Three Days Grace at ROTR 2010
The closer for the show on Saturday was Godsmack, who I’d seen opening for Metallica a few years ago, but who I’d never seen headline (other than on DVD). I knew what to expect, though… a slew of rock hits and an awesome dual drum solo between frontman Sully and the amazing skinsman Shannon Larkin. We got all of that and more. Supporting their new studio record, “The Oracle”, they played all of the new singles that they’ve recently released, such as “Cryin’ Like a Bitch” and “Whiskey Hangover”, along with all of the standards… “Voodoo”, “Speak”, “I Stand Alone” and “Keep Away”, just to name a few. When they finally hit the drum solo, two drum risers with matching drums were wheeled to the middle of the stage. Both kits rotated and what started out with Sully going crazy on various percussion evolved into a drum war between two amazing drummers. Fifteen minutes later, they had gone from trading licks to rocking out full throttle on a drum version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, going into an even cooler rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and finally culminating in a stretch of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”. They even threw in a little bit of the Rush classic “Tom Sawyer” as an homage to Neil Peart. The drum duel alone is a reason to see Godsmack… throw in all of the hits and it’s an easy 5-star review for their set. You definitely want to check them out if you ever get the chance.
Shew… so we made it through Day 1 and headed to Steak and Shake for some food and recuperation. Day 2 would come quickly and, although the body tells you that it still needs rest after what you did to it yesterday, the show must go on. We bypassed day two openers and cello rockers from Finland, Apocalyptica, in favor of a stress free morning getting to the show. In hindsight, I really wish I’d seen their set… but I think I still made out okay. So we realized, once getting to the parking lot lines, that everyone else seemed to have had the same thought… bypass the first band and get there in time for Five Finger Death Punch.
FFDP has formed a following in the last few years that’s pretty amazing. I first saw them at The Curtain Club in Dallas with about 35 people around 2006. Since then, I’ve watched their crowds get bigger and their booking value skyrocket, seeing them headline the House of Blues in Las Vegas in December of ’08 and the House of Blues in Dallas this past February. This band probably has connected with more true metal fans in the last two years than anyone and the crowd was ready to go crazy with these guys from Los Angeles. The boys in FFDP definitely delivered, with lead singer Ivan Moody calling for the “most crowd surfers at once during the festival” right before lighting into “No One Gets Left Behind”. They jammed through all of their singles and left the crowd hungry for much, much more. Fortunately, the crowd didn’t have to wait long.
After cruising the side stages and not hearing anything that inspired us, we headed back to the main stage to check out Bullet For My Valentine, a Welsh metal band. I’d only heard of these guys but figured from the fact that 1/4th of the crowd was wearing their t-shirts that they weren’t to be missed. I couldn’t have been more surprised with what I saw and heard. When the first riff hit, I looked at my friend and said, “This is gonna be cool.” They were amazingly tight for a metal band, with two equally shredding guitarists carrying the guitar medleys and a killer groove laid down by their awesome rhythm section. The crowd dove right into that groove, too, with massive mosh pits forming on both sides of the stadium floor and crowd surfers taking to the sky. The energy through their set was only paralleled by that of Rob Zombie and Killswitch Engage and I walked away as a new fan. I bought their first CD, “The Poison”, as soon as I got home and it hasn’t come out of my CD player, yet. I can’t wait to see this band in a club! You might just want to do that, too.
A common scene at ROTR... the moshpit
The next notable set that I saw was another band I had never seen. I’ve heard of Mushroomhead for years but if you had asked me what kind of music they played, I would have had a difficult time answering. I knew that I needed to check them out, though, and was amazed at how much electricity was in the air as the crowd waited for them to come on. When they finally did, I quickly got the appeal. Their music is a blend of heavy metal, alternative and electro-industrial, with groovy hooks splatted throughout. The fact that they all wear masks and makeup, much like fellow rockers Slipknot, adds to the entertaining metal band from Cleveland. I found myself wishing that I knew more of their music but that didn’t keep me from getting a little muddy during their set at the Jagarmeister Stage.
From there I headed back in and we found a great spot for Slash… and then stayed there the rest of the day. So, if there was one band that I was eagerly anticipating some new music out of, it was Slash and Company. I’d read that one of my absolute favorite singer/songwriter/guitarist’s was going to be touring with Slash for the summer and was glad that my presumption of Myles Kennedy being there was correct. They came out and proceeded to steal the weekend for the next 50 minutes. Moving back and forth between new tunes, including one of my new favorites, “Starlight”, and previous Slash standards such as “Paradise City”, “Mr. Brownstone”, “November Rain”, “Slither” and more, Slash and friends had the entire house digressing to the days of GnR. At one point during “Paradise City”, I felt like I was in the video that I spent my early 20’s rocking out to. I hadn’t really thought going into this weekend about the fact that Slash was going to be there and what that might mean musically but, for those who haven’t heard his new record, there were a lot of surprises and the set cemented Slash in my mind as one of the best guitarists ever. There can only be one Slash and he rocks.
Myles Kennedy and Slash rock the crowd during ROTR 2010
By this point in the weekend, I was seriously running on fumes… but we journeyed on with a fantastic set by Seether, best known by most as the rock band that covered “Careless Whisper” last year. As they came on, we joked about how lame it would be if they played it, as they have an easy hour and a half of songs that kill… but when they broke out with it, they had the whole place singing. It was one of those cool moments that I definitely couldn’t have foreseen. Not only did they give us that but they tore through all of their hits, including “Broken”, “Gasoline” and “Remedy”. I’ve seen Seether before and they seemed to be running a little low on energy but it didn’t seem to keep me or the other 30,000 in attendance down. Frontman Shaun Morgan should have some new songs in the works and, as soon as I hear them, I’ll let you know what I think… but I have a feeling that they, too, will touch a chord with me. His songwriting has a way of doing that, which is why his set was so good.
And then there were two… one that I couldn’t wait for and one that I was only fairly enthused about. Why did Limp Bizkit play after Rob Zombie, King of the Metal Slasher Film Vibe? The best I could tell, it was so the hard rockers could head out early and not have to live through a Limp Bizkit set if they didn’t want to. Makes sense to me… especially after the hour that it took to get out of the parking lot after night 1. So, as the sun went down, the one and only Zombie took the stage.
Zombie gets the crowd moving two songs into his ROTR '10 set
There’s one thing that I love about a Rob Zombie show. He always brings the intensity, he’s an entertainer and in the near twenty years that I’ve been going to his shows, either in a club or an arena, he never disappoints. This evening was no exception and, in fact, he somehow managed to surprise even me with his stage setup, which must have cost a small fortune. Touring in support of his new album, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, his set was full of all things that make a crowd go crazy. From giant moving robots to video excerpts looped from B-list horror movies, to massive plumes of pyrotechnic flames throughout the show, he proved again that he is to metal what Alice Cooper used to be to rock. Through new songs like “Sick Bubblegum” to classics like “Dragula”, “Superbeast” and “Thunderkiss ’65”, the rock didn’t let down for a second. Zombie’s guitarist, John 5, was his normal energetic, charismatic and flawlessly heavy self and it’s no surprise that everyone I’ve heard from that was at the show put this one set above all of the others. So to a lot of people, Zombie closed down ROTR the way that it was meant to be closed… with an hour set of driving, danceable, over the top rock and roll. For a lot of people, Zombie had raised the bar for a band that hadn’t played in public for several years. I know this… if I had been Fred Durst watching from the wings, I would have gone, “Oh damn… we have to follow that???”.
And so everyone seemed to initially stick around for Limp Bizkit… and they waited… and they waited. The fact the Limp came on about twenty minutes late didn’t gain any crowd appreciation, but when they finally came on, they came on strong. I was almost too tired to be up in the crowd but I went back in shallow and on the right side, thinking that I’ve at least got to get a few pics of the band who’s first CD was one of my first music marketing ventures with Universal Records. Looking back, that was a long time ago and I was also anxious to see if, after a very long absence, they could still get the crowd moving like they used to. Well, they showed everyone that they can pick up right where they left off, although I still think it was a strange choice for ROTR. Rolling through “Nookie”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “My Generation”, the Bizkit pleased their fans and maybe even quieted some of their critics. As for getting back on my feet and getting some shots, I have to say that a few pics that I got from their set were among my favorite. About half way through the Bizkit action, my feet were screaming at me to leave and, right on cue, my friends called and said that their feet were done, too. So that was it for the 2010 Rock on the Range. We got out ahead of the crowd and got to Steak and Shake before the rush. A perfect ending to a near-perfect two days… and I’m already looking forward to next year. See you in 2011, Rangers.
Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst in the sea of Rangers
Until then… keep your music true and turn it up until it moves you.