Rock on the Range 2016
Day 1: Friday, 5/20/16
Mapfre Stadium – Columbus, OH
Simply put, this is one of my favorite weekends of the year. For eight straight years, a contingent from The Music Pill has been traveling from all over the Midwest to meet in Columbus, OH the weekend before memorial day for North America’s biggest rock and metal festival. The weekend features nearly 60 bands on three stages over three days, and boasts a complete sell out audience of 120,000 for the weekend. It’s become the pinnacle of the concert season for me, and provided the setting for some of the most unique, memorable, and amazing shows of my long concert history.
Rock on the Range 2016 was no different – the festival celebrated it’s 10th anniversary this year, and did so in style by putting together their most unique and star-studded lineup yet. Staying true to it’s identity, the ROTR festival featured bands from countless sub-genres, resulting in a weekend that everyone could love. The three day festival boasted headliners of Disturbed, Rob Zombie, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Music Pill was there to capture it all.
As I’ve done the past couple years, I’ll do three separate posts – one for each day of Rock on the Range 2016. My hope is that by reading this, you either get to relive the madness that you experienced a few weeks ago, or you weren’t there, and you get so bummed that it finally convinces you to give ROTR 2017 a shot. If I’ve done that, I consider this coverage a major success.
So lets get rolling! Below is a detailed analysis of which shows were rock solid, which were slightly disappointing, and which ones blew my mind.
Rock Solid Shows:
This day came out swinging, as right out of the gate we were treated with Monster Truck’s soul-crushing southern rock. This is a band that was first introduced to me at ROTR 2014, and one I’ve been tracking ever since. This particular show was every bit as good as the one two years ago, as Monster Truck boasts a new album and an improved sense of stage presence. Songs like “Don’t Tell Me How to Live”, “For the People” and “Old Train” started the day off right, and a friend of mine hit the nail on the head when he said “Man, I could listen to this music all day long.” Monster Truck is a great band – if you aren’t familiar with them, let me help educate you. This show was awesome.
Continuing to wear the crown of “most criminally underrated rock band”, Sevendust played another great mid-day set on the main stage, as they have done several times before. Hard hitters like Praise, Decay, and Pieces woke up the audience, and when they closed the show with Face to Face around 1:30 on Friday, it marked the first time that this year’s audience completely lost their minds. At some point during the show, Singer Lajon Witherspoon made a comment about the 20th anniversary of their first album coming up, a testament to their experience on stage. I’ve seen Sevendust countless times, and not once have I ever been disappointed. This was no exception.
Memphis May Fire
I’ve been wondering for the past couple years who would be the next band to make the jump from the Warped Tour circuit to metal’s main stage, and I was thrilled to see that ROTR gave Memphis May Fire a shot. The metalcore space is over-saturated, but MMF does it as good as anyone and there’s no question that they took advantage of this opportunity. Even though it was early, it was impossible for me to stand still during songs like “Alive in the Lights”, “The Sinner”, and “Vices”, especially during the tasty breakdowns. (Breakdowns are often times way overdone, but MMF uses them strategically and because of that, they are a real asset). Vocally, Matty Mullins dominated, striking a brilliant balance between devastating screams and uncommonly pure cleans. They also had a bigger than average crowd for this show, even though their show conflicted with Asking Alexandria on another stage, which gives me hopes that their ascent will continue. Here’s hoping. Great show.
I thought this Trivium show was great, primarily because of the song selection. Their five song set included In Waves, Strife, Dead and Gone, Rain, and Until the World Goes Cold – a rather unique show for Trivium. As much as I’m an old school Trivium fan (can I get some love for Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation?), I really enjoyed getting to hear a few new tracks live. Matt Heafy and the gang sounded crisp and sharp, and it was a blast to listen to. The crowd for Trivium was huge (shown above), indicating that I’m not the only one that thinks Trivium deserves more respect in the US than they get. This show was the very definition of rock solid, and I would pay to watch again tomorrow if I could.
A few years back, when David Draiman was coming off of his stint with Device, I was afraid that we’d never see Disturbed in their full glory again. This show definitely proved that theory wrong: Last time I heard Disturbed sound this good was over a decade ago. Draiman absolutely killed this show, whether he was singing Disturbed classics, (like Liberate, Stupify, and Ten Thousand Fists), or coming up with something entirely new. One interesting note – some of the best parts of this show ended up coming in the form of cover songs:
- Draiman did a stellar rendition of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” with a keys accompaniment that was really great.
- They also covered U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, which was an interesting choice for Disturbed, but ended up working really well.
- The unequivocal high point of the show was when Disturbed called out Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach) to sing Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of”. A surprise choice of a song, but it couldn’t have worked any better. Shaddix destroyed the vocals and the place went nuts. It was awesome.
Overall, high energy, high octane show that was really enjoyable, but I felt it got overshadowed by Shinedown. My energy was dwindling during this show because of an illness I was overcoming, so I worry that I’m not being fair to Disturbed, but I’ll see them again at Chicago Open Air in July for a do-over.
I hate focusing on negatives on a weekend full of so many great shows, but I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t at least mention these.
- Sick Puppies brought their new singer, and he did a commendable job, but I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a small step down from Shimon Moore, especially on vocal heavy tracks from Tri-Polar. I still enjoyed the show, but they’ve got a way to go to get back to where they were.
- Avatar is a fantastic band, and their hard-hitting Swedish metal and wild theatrics make their show an absolute must see. They blew my mind the first time I saw them at Rock on the Range in 2014, and I’ve been tracking them ever since. The 2016 version of Avatar’s show was still good – but it felt slightly less twisted and insane than the first one I saw. That being said, Smells like a Freakshow and Hail the Apocalypse are still stuck in my head, so I feel a bit guilty including them on this list.
- Machine Gun Kelly performed to an absolutely PACKED crowd on the side stage. I was shocked to see the following he has pulled – and there were moments of his show that were extremely good. However, there were also some songs that landed completely flat on me, and an awful lot of dead space while he described how much he loves crystal or climbed the stage structure to hang upside down for no reason. Strong upside, but still work to do to here.
- A Day to Remember also got mixed reviews at ROTR. I heard two people (including Lou Brutus) say that ADtR had one of the best shows of the weekend, but I disagree. I’ve seen several ADtR shows that were better than this one (including a Warped Tour date and at Rock on the Range 2011) For me, they are still suffering from an identity crisis: Are they the post-hardcore “Downfall of us All” band, or the pop-punk “All Signs Point to Lauderdale” band? I enjoyed this show, but their sets feel discombobulated to me. To be totally honest though, I love the confetti. Every time.
I’d be lying if I said that Andrew Watt was a name I knew prior to the ROTR lineup announcement. However, I’ve learned one thing over the years: if you see someone on the bill at ROTR that you don’t recognize, they are probably amazing. Off we went to the third stage to check out this guy play, and woah did that theory hold true. Watt is a heck of a guitar player, but his vocals were downright incredible. He proved this by executing near-perfect covers of Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love and Sabbath’s War Pigs. He also had some originals that I really liked, which made me do a bunch of follow up research. (Check out “Ghosts Inside My Head” for a quick taste of what he sounds like). I also later learned that he has been in bands with musicians like Jason Bonham (Led Zepplin) and Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), showing that he’s obviously connected in the industry. Color me impressed – can’t wait to see where Watt ends up going.
Sixx:A.M. has been the ever-elusive band for me. I’ve been a big fan since “Life is Beautiful” hit #2 on the charts in 2007, but they just haven’t toured. Finally, I got my chance at this year’s ROTR, and I was not disappointed. Nikki Sixx and company played eight songs: “This is Gonna Hurt”, “Lies of the Beautiful People”, and “Rise” were all highlights, but the whole set was solid. Because of the musicians in the group (Motley Crue’s Nikki Six and DJ Ashba), I had little doubt that they would be solid musically. However, one major question mark for me centered around the vocals – I’m pleased to report that James Michael sounded really great. Backup singers aside (they were mostly echoes), his voice sounded pure, even on songs up in his high register. This show happened during the time of day where the weather started to turn, so the audience wasn’t as into the show as they should have been, but I loved it. My perception has always been that Sixx:A.M. was just a side project, but if the group gets serious, look out.
Old school thrash – you gotta love it. I’ve seen Megadeth perform a handful of other times with somewhat mixed results, but for this show Megadeth put all the pieces together and delivered one of the most memorable shows of the weekend. For starters, the song selection was perfect for me – Hangar 18, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells, and Sweating Bullets all made an appearance, indicating a preference of greatest hits over new material. (The crowd LOVED this). Musically, I can’t overstate how clean the show was – hearing live solos and fills played with album-quality precision was just incredible. The exceptional drumming was especially impressive, given that this was the first show with a new drummer (Soilwork’s Dirk Veruben is filling in for Chris Adler while he fulfills commitments with Lamb of God). Visually, Megadeth took advantage of being the headliner on the second stage by bringing their entire production, and it made a big difference. The visual effects that they were able to pull off given the limited space on stage afforded Megadeth high production value without losing intimacy. It was really spectacular.
The final piece of this show that made it stand out was the audience – having that many people crammed in resulted in the most intense crowd of the day. The mosh pits were brutal, and the pulse in the crowd was electric. The show was so good, it has me listening to 80’s thrash in the car, and that’s a pretty massive feat.
Shinedown set a new bar with this performance. I’ve seen Shinedown several times, but somehow, they turned up the dials and squeezed everything they could out of this show – and the result was just incredible. I don’t think of Shinedown as a particularly “hard” band, but they took this giant stage and giant audience, and delivered one of the most intense shows ROTR has ever seen. It was really fantastic. Songs like Diamond Eyes, Cut the Cord, and Asking for It started the show off strong, but it was the middle of the show that nearly tore the place down. Brent Smith talked to the crowd between songs for a minute or two, and then walked to the edge of the stage and said:
“You ready? Everyone – Take a deep breath……… Let’s rage. ONE TWO THREE GO!”
The intro to Enemies hit, and the place went absolutely ballistic. Total chills ensued. Forty thousand people jumped in unison and shook Mapfre Stadium. It was really a sight to see (video here – it’s insane). The intensity really never sagged from there – even when they slowed the energy down to play songs like 45 and Simple Man, the audience was on edge and completely consumed.
Individually, Smith was really impressive – he’s in the best shape of his life after overcoming a major addiction battle (to substances and food), and it shows in his performance. With seemingly endless stamina, he was in non-stop motion, running all over the place while belting huge choruses. I also loved watching drummer Barry Kerch – he was very animated and having a blast behind the kit.
This show really had no weak spots – it was an hour and 15 minutes of high energy awesome music, served up to a rabid ROTR crowd in the pouring rain – I can’t imagine a better environment to watch a rock show. Shinedown closed the show with Sound of Madness, thanked the crowd, and walked off. It was a show to remember.
That closes out Day 1 of Rock on the Range 2016. Stay tuned for more coverage coming out soon! Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts! What did I get completely wrong? Also, chime in below if you saw a great show that I didn’t comment on. Because of the way the schedule is done, it’s impossible to catch them all! Cheers.