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By Junkman, On-Air Personality
Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 12:07 AM

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At Metropolitan Park, Jacksonville, Florida 4/27-29 2018 All Photos By Junkman

Festival season is here again, and I ventured down to the “Sunshine State” for three days of what I consider the best festival line-up of hard rock assembled in 2018. Produced and created by Danny Wimmer Presents ( www.dannywimmerpresents.com) and sponsored by Monster Energy Drink, Welcome to Rockville was attended by an estimated 90,000 people on the spacious grounds of Metropolitan Park, located right next door to EverbankField, home of the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Three stages, spread out among the massive grounds, with the overpass of Gator Bowl Blvd running through the center, that doubled as a huge shade area.It provided space to showcase 55 bands to a sold out crowd throughout the weekend. The Monster Energy stage was in the stadium parking lot. The Metropolitan Stage was in a grassy field that also housed a large VIP area, and the “River Stage” was in a park area that overlooked the peaceful St. Johns River.

Plenty of libations filled the grounds. Lots of beer and booze choices, naturally. In addition to music, attendees were able to try a taste of Jacksonville with some of the city’s local favorite restaurants, cuisine and food trucks. Specialty beverage experiences for those 21+ included Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards Wine Garden (owned by Maynard James Keenan, co-founder of international recording acts TOOL, A PERFECT CIRCLE and PUSCIFER), and the Heavy Tiki Bar (a tropical oasis filled with killer island cocktails and shade), as well as Mrkt N Jolt which offered hot coffee, cold brew or other sundry items. My frequent visiting sites for the weekend included old favorite, the “Cousins Maine Lobster” truck, and the incredibly tasty seared ahi taco’s that were provided by Jacksonville Beach’s “What’s the Catch?” food truck, which was actually a vintage “Airstream” trailer. As for beer, Orlando’s “Broken Cauldron Brewing” and their “Ruckus Red” was my personal beer of choice.

Again, the grounds were enormous. Sponsors Monster Energy had a large, two story viewing pavilion, which was overshadowed by a huge Ferris wheel that, unfortunately, partially blocked the view of the Monster Stage. I thought that perhaps the placement should have been reversed. The main stage port-o-potties were also right next to the viewing stand, and were quite unpleasant when the wind kicked up. But, the organizers DID have the forethought to have shade canopies distributed throughout the lot, as well as a handicapped viewing stand, with a slightly elevated view for those that are disabled. “The Music Experience” tent housed musical gear vendors such as Yamaha guitars with experienced techs to let visitors play and ask questions while checking out the latest gear. There was even a “30 Seconds to Shred” contest for people to show off their guitar playing skills.

The music is what brought everyone together. The three day lineup was one of the best line ups I have seen assembled for a rock festival. Friday’s early sets by MDFK, PALISADES, and the delightfully Texas style grunge of TEXAS HIPPIE COALITION got things going. Rockin’ afternoon sets by ATREYU and TRIVIUM got the motors running. POWER TRIP, one of the most exciting acts out there, was brutal. PARKWAY DRIVE and THE USED thrilled their fans with energetic sets and set the table for some of the more established bands like HALESTORM, who it seems are ALWAYS touring, and once again, slayed the crowd with yet another set filled with great songs and a prime performance.

Opening with a brand new song “Black Vultures” from a promised soon to be released record, HALESTORM is the perfect band to kick the “prime time” of the festival into gear. An 11 song set that featured Lzzy Hale and company at their best. Highlights included such favorites as “Love Bites ( So Do I)”, “It’s Not Me” and the set closing “I Miss the Misery” and terrific musicianship from band members Hale and her drummer brother AreJay, as well as guitarist Joe Hotinger, and bassist Josh Smith. Clearly they are crowd favorites at every festival I attend, and rightly so.

Las Vegas rockers FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH are another band that is incredibly popular in the hard rock genre, particularly because of their interaction with the crowd, tonight pulling crowd surfers and kids onstage to join them, as they blasted out FFDP favorites like the set opening “Over and Under It” and their cover of BAD COMPANY’s “Bad Company” that singer Ivan Moody always dedicates to members of the military and their families. They even played a couple of stripped-down acoustic numbers, “I Apologize” and "Wrong Side of Heaven” that spotlighted guitarists Jason Hook and Zolton Bathory, as well as uber-bearded bassist Chris Kael.

Promoting their latest release When Legends Rise, GODSMACK was one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend. Celebrating 20 years as a band, they got right to the new material as they opened up with the title track and “Eye of The Storm” in a hail of flashing lights and fog that brought the Jacksonville faithful to a new level of excitement. Singer Sully Erna had them in his sights all set long, and delivering the goods like “Cryin’ Like a Bitch” and “Awake” and the always fun to see drum battle with drummer Shannon Larkin, “Batella de los tambores” in which Erna and Larkin face off against each other.

The biggest star of the day of course, was headliner Ozzy Osbourne and his band. This was the first stop on his epic “No More Tours 2” global run, and the jovial “Prince of Darkness” and company packed them in on the Monster Energy stage. Opening with “Bark At The Moon” it was typical latter career Ozzy, meandering around the stage, and exclaiming “I can’t hear you” so many times that you just wanna have a talk with his monitor guy. Most of his solo hits, such as “I Don’t Know” and “No More Tears” were represented in his fourteen song set, as well as a visit to his BLACK SABBATH catalogue with “War Pigs”. An interesting run through of his mid solo career material happened mid-set with snippets of “Miracle Man”, “Crazy Babies”, “Desire” and “Perry Mason” led into a long solo by guitarist Zakk Wylde, who took a stroll through the crowd as well as a bit of crowd surfing. After an encore of “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and the predictable sing along of the chorus, Ozzy finished the set by again revisiting BLACK SABBATH with the classic “Paranoid” and, just like that, Day One of the festival was over.

One of the things that I love about large festivals is seeing acts for the first time. I got that, right from the get-go on the Monster Energy stage. Day Two of Welcome to Rockville turned me on to the talents of TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN. Hailing from Nashville Tennessee, these 4 piece band of retro-rockers blew my mind with their brand of bluesy hard rock. I was thinking BLACK CROWES and AEROSMITH influences, and, speaking with them backstage afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that their lead guitarist is none other than Graham Whitford, son of AEROSMITH’s Brad. A very tight band, and I loved everything they did. They bring terrific songs and great live show. I’ll be checking them out again, first chance I get.

More energetic early sets by JOYOUS WOLF, and THE WILD!, led to some of my favorite acts of the day, Ohio’s RED SUN RISING, who I see becoming one of the “next big thing” bands in hard rock, as well as the always entertaining AVATAR, who upped their game to adoring fans on the Monster Stage with their costumes and humorous stage show, which featured guitarist Jonas Jarlsby adorning a crown and sitting on a throne, center stage. More classic mid-day performances by touring veterans SEVENDUST, POP EVIL and ASKING ALEXANDRIA pumped the huge audience up non-stop. By mid-afternoon, the place was packed. Despite the cancelled performance from the popular KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, the party continued with spirited sets by BLACK VEIL BRIDES and HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD.

On the Metropolitan Stage the re-united STONE TEMPLE PILOTS ten song set was one of the days most anticipated. New vocalist Jeff Gutt got right in the face of the audience, leaping off the stage during “Vasoline” and jumping into the pit, then standing on the barrier to sing directly in front of them. The band cranked out hit after hit such as “Plush” and the set closing “Sex Type Thing” and even threw in a new one “Meadow” from their latest release. I enjoyed Gutt and give him high praise for his performance. He had HUGE shoes to fill, singing for this popular band and the legends that had held the vocalist role before him, and he did so as well as anyone I could imagine.

I raced to the River Stage to watch a few numbers from the always interesting BUTCHER BABIES, and they were in the midst of a swirling, crowd surfing mosh of fans who gave screamers Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd plenty of love while the BB’s band were blazing onstage both temperature and energy wise. To say it was a “scorching set” would be an understatement in many ways.

Meanwhile, on the Monster Stage the “ever popular with the millennials” BREAKING BENJAMIN thrilled their fans with their set, and I was told that their merch sales were doing “above and beyond business.” I saw hundreds of kids sporting their shirts. The band's thirteen song show featured a great cover of METALLICA’s “Sad But True” as well as an outstanding performances of the hits “Blow Me Away” and the set closing number, 2006’s “The Diary of Jane”, which was my first introduction to them, way back when, at another Danny Wimmer produced festival. Lanky BREAKING BENJAMIN lead singer Benjamin Burnley really is a great front man, and the band is incredibly tight.

STONE SOUR simply destroyed on the Metropolitan Stage. They were the last act of the day on that stage and one of the most exciting as well. Coming right out of the gate with “Whiplash Pants” from the 2017 Hydrograd record, that got the party started. Non-stop, in-your-face thrashing metal at its finest. Driven by the foundation of the incredible rhythm section of bassist Jonny Chow and drummer Roy Mayorga, and led by the strong vocals of the iconic Corey Taylor, STONE SOUR “ruled the roost” as far as Day Two of the fest was concerned.

Great sound and lighting added to the performance which featured such SS classics as “30/30-150” and "Song #3". Taylor even manned a confetti-shooting bazooka, clearly having a great time onstage as he personally engaged with his audience. He is well loved, and STONE SOUR’s fan base is very loyal to everything they get hit with. Music, water bottles, as well as acknowledgement from the always moving Corey Taylor are many of the things that were flying into the crowd. Just an excellent performance from a great band, and by the time they wrapped up their set with “Fabuless”, again from Hydrograd, the weary crowd looked spent from the beatdown they had just experienced.

From beatdown to letdown was what I got from AVENGED SEVENFOLD, the final act of the night on the Monster Stage. Singer M Shadows was having all kinds of trouble with his vocals most of the night. The band even stopped playing about halfway through their set during “So Far Away” due to an injured person in the crowd, most likely from crowd surfing and being dropped on the asphalt, always a possibility at shows like this. I was personally spent and decided to head out early and found a great brewery across the street from the venue where I could actually have a craft beer and see the show on the stage’s big screen from the rooftop bar at Intuition Brewery. It was a great place, with great beer, and the perfect nightcap after a long day.

For the first time in 2018, the festival was expanded to three days. Good idea, as the third day was outstanding. I started my day at the Metropolitan Stage witnessing a “Sunday Service’ from FIREBALL MINISTRY. A straight up rock trio that, led by Reverend James Rota II, woke the early risers up in a big way with a fierce but quick set of good ol’ of American roots rock.

More grungy early sets from THE SWORD as well as RED FANG kept the early crowd entertained, with a loud, thundering beat that even had the crowd surfers standing and watching, and grooving to. Not much to the stage show. These bands let the music do the talking instead. QUICKSAND, as well as THE FEVER 333 also rocked the Metropolitan and River stages respectively as the park was starting to fill up with fans eager to involve themselves in the sights and sounds.

At around 3 PM, there was electricity in the air as all eyes were on the Monster Stage for the appearance of one of the most exciting and talked about young bands today, GRETA VAN FLEET. Hailing from Detroit, the three brothers Kiszka- singer Josh who’s 21, his twin brother, guitarist Jake, their 18 year old brother Sam, who plays bass and keys, as well as their drummer friend Danny Wagner are touring on the heels of their double EP release From the Fires/Black Smoke Rising and selling out every show.

Today they took the stage like old pros and completely floored the place with their tight six song set. Opening with “Highway Tune” the retro rock sound and fresh faces were quite a contrast. Excellent stage presence quieted many a skeptical older person in the crowd, many of whom I have heard muttering the words “copycat” and “nostalgia”. What I witnessed was a fresh energetic look at what has been missing in rock for way too long. Josh, smiling the whole set, nailed every number with his sonic delivery. Jake was in constant motion and the fringes on his jacket danced as he rocked back and forth, totally in sync with his brothers. By the time they finished with the radio hit “Safari Song”, bassist ’s bare feet were black, and the crowd was red, from the sun and temperature rising from such a great set.

After that explosive set the band THRICE, who followed on the Metropolitan Stage, was quite a letdown. Virtually no interaction with the audience from any of the band members, who seemed content staring at the necks of their guitars and/or shoes, as they played a sludgy eight song set that made me head to the food trucks. They have some good songs, but their performance onstage could use an overhaul as far as I was concerned. Things did pick up a bit with interesting sets from both the heavier BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE as well as the always funky CLUTCH, who got the sweaty crowd dancing as singer Neil Fallon did the boogaloo while belting out a fun set of old and new material, including “Gimme The Keys” from their forthcoming new release.

Back at the Monster Stage it was time for a true nostalgic set from legendary British punker BILLY IDOL and his band, which featured guitarists Billy Morrison and the one and only Steve Stevens, who has played with Idol it seems for an eternity. They wasted no time at all revving up the crowd, opening with “Shock to the System” which was followed by the classics “Dancin’ With Myself” and “Flesh for Fantasy” from the glory days of the 1980’s. Idol, looking fit and still sneering in his 60’s kept the crowd entertained all through the set, and his band showed off their instrumental skills, especially Stevens, as he teased the crowd with a bit from “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun movie from the 80’s into the final song “Rebel Yell” which had the entire audience singing the chorus. After encoring with an acoustic intro, Stevens led the band into “White Wedding” and Idol, now smiling instead of sneering, had conquered yet another audience, as he has done for years.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE closed down the Metropolitan Stage with their brand of basic rock and roll, and it was fine to see, but I have seen them before and only caught about half the show. For some reason I was not approved to photograph them and security for them was a bit over the top. I know the band has been in the news the last few years for all the wrong reasons, but today that should have all been forgotten. The band did perform an 11 song set for an enthusiastic crowd and included favorites like “No One Knows”, “Little Sister” and the set closing “Song For The Dead”.

“Have we ever played Jacksonville before? I don’t think we ever played here before,” FOO FIGHTERS leader Dave Grohl wondered. The answer was no, and the band more than made up for it with a spectacular, almost two hour, nineteen song show that proved why this band is at the top of the rock world. The perfect band to cap off a three day celebration of all that is good about a genre of music that, in some places isn’t as popular as hip-hop or dance music. None of that mattered today, and the FOOs were the icing on the rock n roll cake.

Opening with “Run” from their latest release Concrete and Gold the FOOs immediately had the sold-out crowd right where they wanted them, blasting out the hits like “All My Life” and “Learn to Fly” early into the set before dipping in to their huge catalogue of material, which also included a great version of “Rope” and the inspirational “Walk” from 2011’s excellent Wasting Light release.

The fun really happened about mid-set when during Grohl’s patented “bandtroduction” out came BILLY IDOL to join them for an interesting take on John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”. Keeping in the spirit of fun, none other than actor John Travolta came out onstage as the band broke into “You’re The One That I Want” from the movie Grease and somehow merged it into a medley of “Imagine” into VAN HALEN’s “Jump” into the RAMONES classic “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Only a band as daring as the FOO FIGHTERS could attempt that bizarre mix and get away with it.

Not to be outdone, drummer Taylor Hawkins popped out from behind his kit, and sang lead on a nice cover of QUEEN and David Bowie’s hit “Under Pressure” with Grohl behind the drums. Already in a state of euphoria, the crowd roared as the band went full steam ahead with “Breakout” followed by Grohl and his guitar doing the FOOs classic “Times Like These” before the rest of the band, Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel and guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shifflet, shifted the song into high gear, and continued for the rest of the set, burning through favorites like “Breakout” and “Best of You" before somehow ending the set with “Everlong”. To say the band “blew the roof off the place” would be an understatement. They were the perfect band to finish up an incredible three days in the Florida sunshine, and the FOO FIGHTERS can stake their claim as one of “the best, the best, the best” bands on the scene today, as well as the last number of years. Bravo, gentlemen!

And, that was that. An absolutely incredible weekend with some of the finest acts in the rock world all packed into one place. My thanks to all at Danny Wimmer Presents as well as all those that made it possible for me to attend and file this report. I hope you enjoyed it. Go to www.dannywimerpresents.com and enjoy some of the other festivals that they will be bringing to you this year. Maybe I will see you.

Check out some more photos from the festival!
All Photos By Junkman

Photo Gallery 1
Photo Gallery 2

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