Welcome to the first annual ROCK ON THE RANGE. 35,000 fans. Two stages. 11 hours of rock, and Ohio’s chance to prove that there is no better place to hold a major rock festival than anywhere in the world!
Organizers Right Arm Entertainment and AEG Live varied slightly from the festival formula, adding three powerhouse headliners to the bill to go along with established rock acts, up-and-comers, never-weres, never-will-be’s, and of course, no festival is complete without bands that inspire one to leave the festival early.
Sadly, this festival featured none of my favorite type of festival acts, the has-beens on the lineup. Situated within close driving distance of the greater Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Lexington areas, and right around the corner from the second-largest college campus in the country, it’s no wonder the event sold out weeks in advance.
Most daylong/multi-day events see a small trickle of folks coming through the gates early in the morning that gradually picks up to the big rush mid-afternoon. ROTR saw fans arriving five hours before the gates even opened! Buckcherry’s Keith Nelson noted in an onsite interview, “Oftentimes, you get a lot of stragglers, but it looked like it was almost full when we played, so it was good. Great crowd.” Frontman Josh Todd added, “There was some girl by our bus that didn’t make it to the show. She was already passed out. she was a wreck.” Nelson continued, “I think before the first band played they were already dragging people out. It’s a good time.” A good time, indeed.
The afternoon got off to a bit of a rough start when Whitestarr kicked off the day on the second stage. Mid-set frontman Cisco announced, “We don’t know how to play music, we just know how to party.” I don’t doubt the later, and I’m positive about the first. Ok, perhaps that’s a little harsh. But there is good reason Whitestarr was relinquished to the first slot on the second stage. On a bright note for them, their set opener, “Be My Bitch” really sticks in one’s head. All. Damn. Day.
Next up: 2 Cents. You’ve gotta love a band with a drummer that pulls double duty as a frontman. 2 Cents set facilitated the first sign of crowd life. The mosh pits started brewing, crowd surfers began to surface, and devil horns lingered in the air. And while this wasn’t the greatest drummer/frontman band I’ve ever seen, following White Starr will help any band sound better.
As I strolled over to the main stage I began one of my favorite festival festivities: people watching. Though not as fun as spying on the crazies at Bonnaroo or Country Jam, sorting out the diversity in this crowd was quite an adventure. Everyone from the clean-cuts to the frat boys from around the corner, the cool moms that still no how to rock, the uncool moms that nobody has the balls to tell it’s time to give up rockin’, and my personal favorite, the mother/very young daughter pair both sporting tank tops declaring them both to be a “crazy bitch” (in honor of the Buckcherry single). Nice parenting!
Breaking Benjamin opened things up on the main stage with their first-ever single, “Polyamorous.” At least I think it was “Polyamorous.” Standing less than 200 feet from the stage, the vocals were all but muted by the overpowering bass. Those who have seen Breaking Benjamin breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to suffer through frontman Ben Burley’s lion-like roars. I’ve seen this group at least ten times over the past four years, and somehow they never manage to get any better.
Buckcherry really got the show kicked into high gear when they took the stage at 2:20. They were the first act to put the“Rock” in ROCK ON THE RANGE. After a few years away from the band, frontman Josh Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson regrouped Buckcherry, and have brought them back sounding better than ever. Their hit singles “Crazy Bitch” and “Lit Up” really ignited the main stage crowd.
For the remainder of the afternoon, I squiggled back and forth between the main stage and the second stage, catching bits and pieces of sets from Three Days Grace, Chevelle, Black Stone Cherry, Operator, and Puddle of Mudd. All played LOUD. All played PASSIONATELY. There was definitely ROCK on this range. And, that’s all that seemed to matter to the 35,000 strong at Crew stadium. Forget the fact that some of these bands are generic and overrated; forget that it took the sound guy on the main stage half the afternoon to get his act together; forget the bitching and moaning from the 25,000 people who didn’t get the coveted “field pass.” As long as there was rock, nothing else mattered.
I sent my photographer into the photo pit to shoot Papa Roach with a Nikon D50. About ½ a song into their set, I wish I had sent him into the pit to shoot them with a 9mm instead. Despite our grumbling and mocking of the band in the press tent, we (the media) were definitely alone in our distaste for P-Roach. The second stage crowd was an absolute mob scene; people pushing and shoving from the back corners to even get a glimpse of the stage. Like several bands that came before them, the Roaches dissed the hard-working security crew trying to keep order in the mob and help everyone make it to the headlining sets on the main stage in one piece, by demanding they stop their efforts to control the crowd and continue to let everybody beat the shit out of each other in the pit.
**Pardon me for sounding like the fun police. I used to be a hardcore pitster in my heyday until I got dropped backwards, headfirst, down the backside of the crowd barricade while crowd surfing and took a mean landing on my head. This totally changed my perspective on the sport.**
Papa Roach brought down the non-existent roof with their first-ever single, “Last Resort,” and promised that they would return to ROTR next year. Let’s pray that’s one promise they won’t keep.
The organizers did a superb job of plucking three diverse headliners. A supergroup, a hot chick (to break up the sausagefest), and a Rock And Roll Hall OF Fame inductee.
After a long day of bands that were hard to distinguish one from the other, it was refreshing to see a prominent band with staying power take the stage. Velvet Revolver formed from an Axl-less Guns N’ Roses and by orphaned frontman Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots). What at first seemed like an odd pair turned out to be Rock N’ Roll genius on the band’s debut release, ‘Contraband.’ The band rattled through tunes off of said album, as well as previewed material from their forthcoming summer release. VR’s stage presence takes the cake as the best of the day. Weiland quite obviously lacks endolymph fluid in his head, seeing as how endless spinning, twisting, and turning every which way failed to make him the slightest bit dizzy. Velvet Revolver disappointed nobody, except for maybe a handful of uneducated rock goons that showed up expecting to hear a setlist split between Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots tunes. Seeing two prominent figures in Slash and Weiland on stage together was a fucking thrill that won’t soon be forgotten.
The first sight of a performer with boobs jumped onto the stage with Evanescence following Velvet Revolver’s set.
Amy Lee & Co. kicked off their show with three upbeat rock tunes including the single “Going Under” off of the band’s debut album, ‘Fallen.’ When Lee announced, “this is my first show back as a married woman,” she was met with a round of sarcastic booing from the frat boys.
Evanescence is one of those bands that everyone rooted for to make it to the big time. A band hailing from the small market of Little Rock, Arkansas with a gorgeous singer and a rock hard attitude gave them all the appeal they needed to make it to where they are today. Though the band has yet had a hit to equal their success of their breakthrough single “Bring Me To Life” (which sounded very awkward live without the male vocals being performed) and the band’s reputation may have taken a blow when Lee made the private life of ex-boyfriend Shaun Morgan (Seether) public with “Call Me When You’re Sober,” their performance at Rock on the Range proved they are still riding high.
It was disappointing to see almost half the crowd head for the exits after Evanescence performed. If you’ve already put in a 10 hour day, why not stretch it to 11 to see a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act in ZZ Top? The kids just don’t get it. 15,000 was still a strong crowd to help bassist Dusty Hill celebrate his 58th birthday. Dressed in matching black suits, dark sunglasses, and nearly identical chest-length beards, Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons ran through an hour-long set featuring the tunes that put them in the Rock Hall including “Legs,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin.” Drummer Frank Beard (who, oddly enough, is the only member of the band to not sport his namesake) seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Gibbons and Hill dipped and swayed in sync with one another, about the extent of choreography you would expect from a band with a member exactly two years away from hitting 60. Gibbons showed off some terrific guitar solos, including a one-handed one towards the end of the evening. What a way to end the night with a timeless, class act in ZZ Top.