Rock on the Range 2017
North America’s biggest rock festival. A beautiful sight.
We’re closing in on May, and that means that Rock on the Range 2017 is quickly approaching. ROTR is North America’s biggest rock festival and year after year, it has hosted the best lineup, the biggest crowd, and the best organization of any festival attended by The Music Pill. Quite simply, it sets the standard.
This will be the ninth straight year that The Music Pill is lucky enough to attend this great event, and I can assure you that there’s no shortage of excitement in this camp! In fact, we’re desperate for any excuse to turn our attention towards anything ROTR, and because of that, we’re releasing our in-depth Rock on the Range 2017 Lineup Analysis.
The past few years, we’ve channeled our obsessive focus on the weeks leading up to ROTR by providing a detailed lineup analysis. The analysis below is for people who may not know all the bands in this years lineup, newcomers to the ROTR festival, or other people who are desperate for a legitimate excuse to focus on how amazing this festival will be.
The Rock on the Range 2017 Lineup Analysis below provides a detailed look at the landscape for this year’s ROTR. We provide commentary on what you might expect based on previous experiences, other shows and tours we’ve seen, and the current status of the bands. The bands are grouped by the slot they were given: the headliners, the top-tier bands, and the mid-tier bands. In addition, we include some bands that have something to prove, and suggest some can’t miss shows that may not be on you radar.
Before we get started, two initial thoughts on the lineup as a whole.
First, it’s noticeably heavier than previous years. The category of “Halestorm/Shinedown/Pop Evil/Breaking Benjamin” has significantly less representation, where heavier bands like Deafheaven, Dillinger Escape Plan, Amon Amarth, and Gojira are abundant. This festival lineup feels much more like last year’s Chicago Open Air than it does previous Rock on the Ranges.
Second, this year is absolutely stacked with bands that have never played ROTR before. After 10 years of 40-60 bands, it’s impossible not to have repeat bands. (For example, Papa Roach, Korn, and Chevelle have 15 appearances between them). This only matters to those of us who are repeat attenders, but it’s still something to be conscious of for the festival organizers. This year, 35 of the 59 bands playing this festival have never stepped foot in Mapfre Stadium. That’s an amazing contingent of brand new faces around the festival that I can’t wait to see perform. (For a comparison, there were 25 new bands in 2016 and 26 in 2015.)
Alright, on to the analysis!
Rock on the Range 2017 Headliners
There’s no question that the feature story for this year’s lineup is that on ROTR’s eleventh year, we finally get to see legendary Metallica to headline the whole shebang. This year’s Rock on the Range sold out in record time – nobody wants to miss this Metallica show. I anticipate it being huge – you can expect a 2 hour show with fireworks, pyro, and the most amazing environment you’ve ever seen. This will be a show that you will never forget. They will play some new material, peppered in with songs like freaking Enter Sandman (slight chills just typing that). To make Sunday even more ridiculous, Volbeat, will lead in for Metallica. I have absolutely no doubt that Volbeat will deliver a high quality show and do a great job of setting the stage for Metallica. It’s about time that the US gives them some due credit – their song library is fantastic, their sound is unique, and their shows are a ton of fun. If you haven’t seen Volbeat, look for this show to be surprisingly fantastic.
Saturday affords the opportunity to see another ROTR Korn show. If you read this blog (and you definitely should read this blog…), you know that there have been some absolutely spectacular Korn shows at ROTR. At ROTR 2011, they put on one of the most intense and insane experiences I’ve ever had. I expect no different this year, especially with an extended set time and a great new album (2016’s “Serenity of Suffering”). Preceding Korn is The Offspring, which is a bit of an unknown for me. I certainly have sentimental attachment to the Americana album, but I haven’t seen this band in a decade. When in doubt, I blindly trust the ROTR organizers, so look for this to be another surprisingly great show.
To start the weekend, we have the opportunity to see two 90’s favorites in Soundgarden, and Live. I think this is a perfect match – the bands both have roots in the grunge movement and both elicit a ton of sentiment from two decades ago. These two bands also have parallel histories – they enjoyed wild success early on, broke up for a lengthy period that saw the lead singer tour solo (Chris Cornell and Ed Kowalczyk), and both have reunited and returned to the touring circuit. I look for this to be a more laid back headlining set, not nearly as pummelling as Metallica and Korn, but every bit as skilled.
Overall, I think this is another stellar job by festival organizers selecting headliners. I know many people will complain about repeats – Korn, Soundgarden, Live, and Volbeat are all repeat headliners. I also know that people think of bands like Tool, Iron Maiden, or others that have yet to play at ROTR and salivate (there’s even a list of “Notable Acts that have Yet to Perform” on Wikipedia – which goes to show you how many freaking bands have played at ROTR – it’s easier to list the ones that haven’t…). For my money, the organizers have put together a great weekend of monster headliners, and I have no doubt the big shows at this years ROTR will not disappoint.
Five Finger Death Punch headlines Rock on the Range 2016. Photo by Adam Meyer
Top Tier Bands
This is what separates the men from the boys. All festivals can pull together a set of great headliners. What makes a festival fantastic is the quality of the bands in the heart of the lineup. Usually, this category of bands really stands out with stellar performances by bands who haven’t quite broke the headliner ceiling, but are primed to do so. There’s countless examples of bands in this section that delivered unbelieveable shows, but I’ll spare you and focus on this year.
We start off with a contingent of ROTR rookies. Amon Amarth brings their brutal Nordic metal show, and it will be consistently intense. Because they aren’t headlining, they may have to leave their giant viking stage set behind, but that won’t make the it any less amazing. If you haven’t given them a shot, this is a great opportunity to see one of the best death metal bands in the world. Stoner-rock legends Primus and scottish Alt-Rock outfit Biffy Clyro are also making their ROTR debuts. It’ll be interesting to see how the crowds react to these bands – they are both non-traditional ROTR bands. Finally, Pierce the Veil is one of the best post-hardcore bands around, and I was thrilled to see the monster slot they were given. PtV has been dominating the Warped Tour and small headlining circuit for years now, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can impress the ROTR faithful. My (unfounded) suspicion is that they will headline a side stage, and it might be one of the better side stage shows of the weekend.
More seasoned ROTR bands Seether and Papa Roach both bring their shows as well. Both of these shows will extremely engaging and stacked with familiar songs. However, will they be good enough to set themselves apart from more unique bands? That remains to be seen.
There are two shows that I believe will dominate this category. First, Coheed and Cambria will absolutely blow your mind. Their front man, Claudio Sanchez, is one of the most talented singers, songwriters, and guitarists there is, and their shows are incredible. There are few things more beautiful than seeing “Welcome Home” in person. My expectations for this show are sky high. (Note to Coheed: If you don’t want high expectations, don’t play shows like this.)
The other band that stands out to me in this section is Gojira again. Hailing from France, they are also in the “best in the world” conversation. They played at Chicago Open Air last year, and their technical prowess and intensity holds up against any band I’ve ever seen. It was a truly fantastic experience. I have every reason to believe that their signature riffs will ring true in Columbus just as they did in Chicago.
The ever-packed side stages of Rock on the Range never see a shortage of fans ready to explode!
Mid Tier Bands
This is where ROTR gets variety – from a genre perspective, the bands slotted in the middle of the pack are all over the place. Continuing the theme of a heavier lineup, bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and In Flames will bring some heat to this middle section of the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if Dillinger has a stronger crowd this year. They’ve played before at ROTR to lukewarm reception, but that was a significantly softer lineup. It’s no surprise that Dillinger didn’t land well with Shinedown fans….will they resonate with a more metal audience?
For those that like the punk spectrum, Sum 41, Taking Back Sunday, and The Story So Far should keep the day interesting. Speaking of punk, last year’s ROTR featured a heavy dose of punk, and
This section also features some high quality straight up rock bands. Rival Sons, Skillet, and Starset all bring quality rock shows that have graced ROTR before, but never disappoint. I had the opportunity to see Skillet recently on a headlining tour, and it was their strongest show to date.
Who will rule the Mid-Tier category? No doubt Nothing More. I’ve been saying this for years – a Nothing More show s absolutely one of a kind. It’s completely unpredictable, and approached in such a unique way that it will be something you never forget. Runner up here goes to Thrice, who recently reunited and put out a stellar album. You’ve probably heard Black Honey already, but if you haven’t, stop reading and go listen to it. While you do, picture yourself standing in the front row. I can’t wait.
Point to Prove
Rock on the Range is also a major opportunity for bands to shine. These bands need to take advantage of the opportunity to prove that they belong with the elite. I’m rooting hard for them to deliver, but I’m not convinced they will.
- Of Mice & Men has been a favorite of mine for a long time. However, vocalist Austin Carlile was forced to leave the band in December because of health related issues. As talented as Carlile is, that’s a huge loss for any band. Guitarist/vocalist Aaron Pauley will take over all vocal duties. I’ve criticized Pauley before, but also given him credit for massive improvement. Can he carry the band, or will we all just be saying “Man, if Carlile was here….”?
- Bush is a great pairing with Live and Sound Garden, but their show has left something to be desired in recent years. Quite simply, they just haven’t done enough to separate themselves from the white noise, and especially at a festival like this with so much variety, Bush has not been memorable. Will they change the cards, or will they continue to get overshadowed by more talented and relevant bands?
- The Pretty Reckless is a solid band that’s been on the rise recently, but I’ve never seen them slotted this high (fourth on the final day). That’s a HUGE opportunity – the crowd will be massive for that show. Can they live up to the expectations?
- DED has a great song out right now called Anti-Everything, but a really solid show here would prove that they are more than a one-hit wonder, and that their album (released July 2017) deserves some attention. Are they legit?
- Deafheaven is a talented black metal band, but their show at Chicago Open Air didn’t hold a candle to bands like Meshuggah and Gojira. Can they show that they deserve to run with the big dogs?
Chaotic Rock on the Range side stages set the tone for an amazing weekend.
One of the unfortunate realities of this great festival is that sometimes you have to choose between two bands playing at the same time. Because of this, I always want to share some earlier shows that I think will be fantastic. In fact, I’ve been a long proponent that the real magic at ROTR happens early in the day, on the side stages. Here are The Music Pill’s recommendations for early-day shows that will blow you away. Whatever you do, don’t fool yourself into thinking that that last beer in the parking lot is worth missing these shows. I promise it’s not. (Of course, the set times aren’t out yet, so no guarantees that these will all be possible.)
- A Rock on the Range veteran, Kyng will play their third show at the festival, and it’ll be the third show they crush. They play straight up old-school heavy metal with a melodic twist that will hit you right in the face. Their sound is just fantastic.
- I’m an absolute sucker for metalcore with frustratingly-catchy choruses, and nobody does that better than Beartooth. Their show at Chicago Open Air last year left me absolutely exhausted, in the best possible ways. Check this show out, I’d be shocked if you don’t love it. Here’s a taste.
- Norma Jean is a metalcore band that’s been around since 1997. The lineup has evolved over time in a way that no original members remain, but their sound remains. Metalcore owes nearly everything to bands like Norma Jean. Call it a hunch, but I see this show being a home run.
- Red Fang has a Mastodon meets grunge sound that is incredibly catchy. Their show has been strong in the past, and they have a new album that just dropped in December 2016. They will play Prehistoric Dog, and a handful of other great songs, and you’ll walk away glad you got the chance to see them.
- Dorothy is a female-fronted band with incredibly catchy rock songs. They played a really great show at ROTR in 2015, and since then have continued to write great material. Don’t go in expecting someone who is going to transcend and redefine music. However, their show will make you laugh, bang your head, sing, and embed songs in your head for weeks. What else can you ask for?
- Every Time I Die has made a living with a show that kicks you right in the teeth. Their punishing sound has long been a favorite of mine, and there’s no chance they deliver anything but a stellar show.
That concludes our Rock on the Range 2017 Lineup Analysis. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. What bands should I have covered that I skipped? What do you agree with, and where am I totally wrong? Who are you most looking forward to seeing?
Most importantly – can’t wait to see my ROTR brothers and sisters.
Cheers to May!!
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