Rock On The Range: Adventures in The Heartland.

By Junkman, On-Air Personality
Monday, June 25, 2007 @ 8:45 PM

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The middle part of the United States has always had a love affair with rock shows as long as they have been having them. Supposedly, the first rock n roll show ever, was in Cleveland Ohio, thus, the reason the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame was built there. Midwest fans are rabid for their taste of the loudest and rowdiest music known to mankind, and love to unite in arenas as one, to support their favorite artists. This is “bread and butter” for the summer concert season.

Kicking off this season, on May 19th, was the “Rock On The Range” festival in Columbus Ohio, at Columbus Crew Stadium, home of the Columbus Crew major league soccer team. One look at the lineup of artists, and the chance to get away for a few days, made me decide to make the trip, and soak up a bit of the “Americana”, that sometimes gets lost in the madness that is Los Angeles.

And what a lineup! Scheduled to appear were some of the biggest acts in the business on two stages. A full concert season of headliners in one day, headlined by “That Lil’ ol’ band from Texas,” ZZ Top. As we headed to the parking lot, I could not help but feel like I did “back in the day”, when the big rock festival was my purpose for living. I’m glad to say that feeling is still strong.

I grabbed my credentials and headed to the main stage in time to see Breaking Benjamin rip out a set of their energetic brand of rock that set off the crowd surfers in full force. It was like a day at the beach, male and female alike, hoisted above the crowd and forced over the rail in front of the stage as the equivalent of reaching the shore.

I hung out at the main stage, missing sets on the “Mad Packers” second stage by Whitestarr, 2 Cents, and Operator, (sorry guys, I’ll see you again) but, I was filled in on some of the goings on by a reliable source. (“Dude, Operator brought it ON”!!!!) The reason for this was I did not want to miss the set by one of the hottest acts out there, Buckcherry.

Hitting the stage at about 2:30 in the afternoon, Buckcherry wowed the crowd with their powerful set. Singer Josh Todd, I have said before, is just about the best front man out there at the moment. The band recently played their 200th show on this tour and they are a tight rocking machine. The crowd, especially the women, were very enthusiastically singing the words to “Crazy Bitch”, like it was the National Anthem on 4th of July. Closing their show with the rocker “Lit Up” the band left everyone screaming for more. But it was not to be, because of the number of acts on the bill, sets were shortened, so you will have to see Buckcherry later on this summer for the full show.

I headed to the second stage, outside the stadium for a terrific set from Black Stone Cherry, who I had seen the night before, at my buddies club. (The Wedge in Austintown, Ohio. Great place, thanks Tom…) Hailing from Kentucky, Black Stone Cherry is a very young band that plays a retro style rock that brings to mind early Zeppelin or the Black Crowes, although I hate to compare. Bottom line is, this band kicks ass live, and the sweaty crowd loved it. Drummer John Fred Young is the real deal. This is a band that I think will be a major force for a long time. Check out their self-titled CD on Roadrunner records.

Back to the main stage I went, to catch part of a set by 3 Days Grace, one of the few disappointments of the day for me. The played a very un-exciting set that lost my interest almost immediately. Too bad, because I’ve liked what I’ve heard of their records. The crowd on the other hand, liked what they heard, because they went on having a good time, regardless, throughout the show.

On the other hand, one of the better sets of the day, in my opinion, happened next on the second stage. Puddle of Mudd tore it up with a very cool performance. Their “hit” songs like “Blurry”, “Control”, and “She Hates Me”, brought the crowd up and the girls tops down, as there were more women flashing their breasts during this set then at any other time of the day. Singer Wes Scantlin was clearly having a good time during the festivities, and it showed by his enthusiasm. They have a new CD coming out in July, and from what I heard performed from it, it will be worth purchasing.

Back to the main stage I trudged, to catch Chevelle, who do everything one of today’s bands can do as a 3 piece. Brothers Pete Loeffler, (guitar, vocals) and Sam Loeffler (drums) along with new bassist Dean Bernardini treated the crowd plenty of hits, like “Send The Pain Below”, “The Red”, and “Vitamin R”, as well as the excellent new single “Well Enough Alone”. I had seen them a few years ago, and they have become a very tight unit. I actually had a chance to stand onstage behind the drum kit and scan the crowd, which, by now, had mostly filled the stadium to capacity.

Once more I made the journey to the second stage, past people who, by now were getting pretty wasted in the afternoon heat. Saw lots of folks who had had PLENTY to drink. Hell, beer was still pretty cheap by my LA standards, so I indulged myself in a couple of frosty ones. Closing out the second stage was another band I had seen the night before, Papa Roach.

Singer Jacoby Shaddix IS the show. He is a ball of energy from the get-go. Bouncing around, up and down, constantly. He even jumped off the stage and into the front of the crowd, freaking out the security, but pumping up the fans, who couldn’t get enough, and sang along to songs like “Scars”, “Dead Cell” and, of course, “Last Resort”. Their latest single “Forever” went over quite well with the mostly 20 something crowd at the second stage, which was set up along a parking lot, adjacent to the stadium.

Hinder was the next band up on the main stage, and, although I wasn’t too interested in their record when it came out, I know that women LOVE it. I have met many that have that CD as a mainstay in their car CD players at the moment, so I figured I would check them out and see what the fuss was all about. I had talked to them earlier in the afternoon, and they were nice enough chaps. We even went back to ZZ Top’s dressing room together and met them, which was a thrill for all of us. What we got was about an hour or so of the same kind of fluffy “emotional ballads” (is that what EMO is?) featuring vocalist Austin Winkler, punctuated by the occasionally crunchy guitar riff. As expected, the ladies in the audience screamed and sang the words to songs like “How Long”, and “Lips Of An Angel” from their Extreme Behavior CD, as well as an interesting cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”. Crowd surfing lovelies, flew over the borders with delight, as they gazed up at the band onstage, thrilled that they had gotten so close.

I chatted with many of the people in the crowd throughout the day, and found out that many had, like myself, come from out of state to see the show. I met people from Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, and New York, amongst others. As I mentioned earlier, there was a huge group of HEADLINE acts assembled here. For many, this would be their only chance to see them.

The photo pit in front of the stage filled up quickly as I staked out my position. Next up, Velvet Revolver, ready to give the crowd what we wanted. A balls-out, full throttle, rock show, done by some of the best in the business. This band really needs no introduction, and rightly so. In the past, some people I know in the business have become critical of their live show. But today, with a new CD Libertad about to be released, they unleashed a very powerful show, combining tunes from their first CD, Contraband, like “Do It For The Kids”, “Set Me Free” and “Slither”, as well as a taste of the new songs, such as “She Builds Quick Machines”, the new single.

Of course the biggest reactions from the crowd seemed to be when the band performed hits from their former incarnations of Guns N Roses and Stone Temple Pilots. “Vaseline” from STP and “It’s So Easy” were represented here, and I was glad that the band focused on their recent material as opposed to digging up the past. The Fur coat wearing Scott Weiland is quite the performer, doing his geeky boogaloo throughout the set while striking poses every now and then, looking like the Mike Myers character “Dieter”, host of the fictional dance program “Sprockets”, an old Saturday Night Live skit.

Guitarist Slash, was well…SLASH. He is all about the rock guitar. He just LOOKS rock n roll, and always brings out the riffs onstage. Bassist Duff McKagen and drummer Matt Sorum provided the necessary bottom end, while second guitarist Dave Kushner, while an excellent player and nice guy, was more like an afterthought. Needless to say, they were well received, and got a huge ovation from the crowd, that, by what I was told, was about 30,000 strong. Although Scott Weiland commented once, during the set, that they, “Look like you are sitting down, waiting for a steak dinner to arrive, and I AINT delivering it”…Interesting analogy.

Evanescence followed, and “hit the stage about a quarter to nine”, as the old song goes. Debuting onstage two new members, guitarist Troy McLawhorn, and drummer Will Hunt, formerly with Dark New Day, the band played an outstanding set, although not as hard rocking as other bands on the bill. Recently married singer Amy Lee is excellent. She has one hell of a voice and a great command of the stage, rarely pausing while singing. Opening with “Sweet Sacrafice”, (or was it “Weight Of The World”? I don’t remember.) it wasn’t until she sat at the piano for “My Immortal” about ¾ of the way through the set, that things mellowed out. The hit “Bring Me To Life” did just that, to the sold out crowd. I was not expecting a lot from this band but was pleasantly surprised. I will see them again.

The final act of the day was the one and only ZZ Top. Celebrating bassist Dusty Hill’s birthday, that brought on a sing-along of “Happy Birthday to You”, these guys just do what they have been doing for years, just plain kick ass! Guitarist Billy Gibbons’ guitar sound is unmatched. Although this show was kind of a warm up for the VH1 “Honors Concert/Broadcast a few days afterwards they gave the crowd what it wanted, playing everything you would expect, “Gimme All You Lovin “ and “Legs” to stuff I thought they had forgotten like “Thunderbird”.

As I said before, a highlight for me was meeting the band in their dressing room before the show, (Thanks Pablo!) and expressing my love for what they do. Gracious as can be, they are a band that refuses to “rest on their laurels” and are planning on recording a new CD soon. A summer tour is also planned so please go see them when they visit a town near you.

By now, as you could imagine, I was pretty well spent, as was most of the remaining people in the stadium. Since I was dropped off at the show, I had to find my way back to my buddies place near Austintown, 2 ½ hours away. Luckily for me, I met a couple of people from New York City who were cool enough to give me a lift, (thanks Bill and Bagel) and I was on my way. I finished my weekend the next day at a Cleveland Indians game and hit the Rock N Roll hall of fame as well.

You can be sure that there will be another “Rock On The Range” festival next year, from the success of this years show. Some kinks will have to be worked out, such as getting a better PA system, as I heard that fans in the bleachers could not hear anything. My thanks to the sources that brought me there and back. Check out the official Rock on the range myspace page (www.myspace.com/rockontherange) for more info and a direct link to ALL the bands that played. I am looking forward to a great summer concert season. God bless the all day rock festival!!!

Click on the thumbnail shots for larger pictures.

Photos © 2007 by Junkman

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