Photo: Sam Shapiro
Monster Energy’s Welcome to Rockville celebrated their eighth birthday this year. The festival, which features the greatest in rock and metal bands, made its debut in 2011 as a one-day festival. Since that time, it has grown exponentially, with fans traveling from all over the world to attend. While the promoters have always done an incredible job with the lineup, they went above and beyond this year.
Welcome to Rockville 2018 brought a healthy balance of musical legends as well as new, up-and-coming artists. They also added a third day to this year’s festival, ensuring fans were able to squeeze every last drop out of money well spent. The three-day festival introduced a new layout, with the Monster Energy Stage placed in the Everbank Field parking lot. While I did hear a couple of differing opinions, overall, this was a much-welcomed change. With 90,000 people in attendance, it made the most sense for ensuring everyone’s needs were accommodated. The change also helped combat the inevitable bottlenecks occurring when you have that many people trying to move from one stage to the next. Since the new layout funneled people across the street, festival-goers were also able to find some shady relief under the overpass, which is critical for surviving three long days in the sun.
I will be honest; I didn’t see a single band all weekend that disappointed me. Since we would be here all year if I told you about every act that played, I’m going to try to limit my words and just tell you the highlights. If you were there, though, you know even that feat is going to be tough.
Day 1: Friday
It was a hot day in downtown Jacksonville, with an even hotter lineup of acts scheduled throughout the day. Highlights of the day included Texas Hippie Coalition, who brought their own self-patented “Red Dirt Metal” to life. The fans were really starting to roll into the festival at this point, with most cutting loose in exactly the way THC intended us to – with a cold drink and heads banging to the music that brought everyone together. Five Finger Death Punch was a band I’d always wanted to see, but never had a chance to see live. Their talent, combined with musical range and diversity was just what I needed after a challenging week.
Having been fortunate enough to attend an Atreyu show many years ago, I was super excited to see these guys back in action. From beginning to end, they had the crowd riled up, moshing, and singing every word. They were the perfect act to precede Friday’s long-awaited legend, Ozzy Osbourne.
Photo: Ross Halfin Photography
Ozzy Osbourne, armed with original lead guitarist, Zakk Wylde, kicked off his No More Tours 2 tour in Jacksonville. Like me, many Ozzy fans have waited years and years to see this musical legend perform. Osbourne and Wylde played to a sold out crowd and kept the energy going throughout their one and a half hour set. His performance included “Suicide Solution,” “Shot in the Dark,” and “Paranoid.” My personal favorite was their epic, fifteen-minute “War Pigs” performance. With more than four decades in the music industry, it’s amazing to me that so many of us still needed to check Ozzy off our bucket lists. It was the perfect end to a phenomenal first day of music.
Day 2: Saturday
Saturday’s schedule promised to deliver another head-banging good time. Avatar was the second act on the Monster Energy Stage and they were absolutely incredible. Aside from the music itself, one of the things I love most about this genre of music is how much thought and care many of the bands put into their performances. Avatar is a perfect example of this. The first single off their recently released album, Avatar Country was titled “A Statue of the King.” These guys embraced the story from beginning to end, with guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby sitting on a throne and donning the royal crown. The crowd proved themselves worthy, eagerly pledging allegiance to the crown. They boasted of being accused of looking and sounding like a freak show…and I loved every second of it.
As Avatar was ending, I made my way to the River Stage for He is Legend. These guys were so full of energy, there was no way to avoid enjoying their set. Every head was banging; every hand was in the air. Sevendust was on deck next and they played a stellar set. It’s rare that bands in the metal genre receive the accolades they deserve (in my opinion). Sevendust is one of the few that has defied the odds and received a Grammy nomination. It was really fun to hear their Grammy story – how many of us can claim to be within “spitball distance” of the great Stevie Wonder?! Their new album, All I See Is War is due out on May 11, 2018. You can pre-order and stream it here.
Palaye Royale was one of my favorite bands of the weekend. The Nevada-based trio had all the elements I look for in a Rock band. “Mr. Doctor Man” and “Masochist” were the two songs that sealed their fate with me – I plan on catching every live show I can and am interested to see where their career goes. Stick to Your Guns was another weekend favorite for me. Their song “Married to the Noise” really resonated. Lead singer Jesse Barnett dedicated the song to his sister, who raised him on this genre of music. He said he “has always found a home in this music” – I concur wholeheartedly, Jesse.
Stone Temple Pilots were welcomed by a huge crowd at the Metropolitan Stage on Saturday afternoon. They ran through almost every song that STP is famous for, along with several songs off their new album. While it’s not quite the same without frontman Scott Weiland, I thoroughly enjoyed their new take on these old songs that take me back to my teens and early twenties. Breaking Benjamin was up next and they played an impressive set. Their mashup of Tool > Nirvana > Rage Against the Machine > Metallica is something I won’t ever forget. Avenged Sevenfold closed out Day 2 with a dynamic, old-school sing-along that got the whole crowd involved. Just to give you an idea as to how electric this set was, my co-worker said he enjoyed the entire set from his front porch, several miles away.
Day 3: Sunday
I used my Sunday morning coffee time to reflect on the last two days of music. How in the world were they going to top it? This turned out to be a special day for me, however, as my thirteen-year-old son (FINALLY) asked that I take him with me to see our favorite band, Clutch. As a live music fanatic, you can imagine how disappointed I’ve been all these years that he hasn’t taken the same interest. This day had suddenly turned into something he and I both would remember for the rest of our lives.
I can’t think of a better way to kick off the last day of Welcome to Rockville, than with Fireball Ministry. They blazed through their set with infectious energy that got me primed and ready for the day ahead. The Sword has always impressed me, reminding me of the hard rock I was first introduced to as a kid. If you haven’t had a chance to see them live, do yourself a favor and catch them on their current tour.
I love it when I catch a new band at the beginning of what is sure to be a successful career. As I walked onto the lawn of the River Stage, I was shocked at the number of people already in place, waiting for The Fever 333 to take the stage. When vocalist Jason Aalon Butler appeared in all black, including a black execution hood, with hate speech blaring over the speakers, I knew we were in for a powerful show. Thirty minutes was not enough time with these guys. Their energy, talent, and compelling message were inspiring. Their sound was a perfect blend of punk rock and hip-hop, and their message was clear – in a world more divisive than ever, it’s up to us to band together and make a change. Their newsletter, 333 Times, says it best – “Rhymes and riffs incite more change than bullets and bombs ever could…#strengthinnumb333rs.”
Leading up to Sunday, Greta Van Fleet was one of the most anticipated bands for quite a few. As soon as Josh Kiszka belts out his first tune, it’s impossible to not feel nostalgic about the early Rock n Roll days. While you cannot help but notice their Led Zeppelin-like sound, they aren’t trying to recreate the past. They’ve added their own twist to a traditional sound, creating a style all their own. Turnstile was the perfect band for me to see just before my favorite band took the stage. Feeding off their spirit, the crowd had a circle pit going throughout the entire set.
Photo: Jazmin Monet Photography
With my son now exposed to (almost) everything that a hard rock show has to offer, we headed over to the Metropolitan Stage. After finding our spot close to the front, we made friends with everyone around us. There was another boy about his age who had never seen Clutch before either. As “We Need Some Money” by Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers began to play, his mom and I high-fived for positively influencing our boys musically. Then, the mayhem began. With the circle pit a foot from us, my boy sang almost every word to every song. He had a beaming smile across his face for the rest of the day. He even went on to face his fear of heights by going on the ferris wheel with me. I may still have a few lessons to teach him about music, but it was so fulfilling to share that experience with my favorite person. Clutch is the band that is there for me when I’m angry, sad, frustrated, and elated. I’ve been through a lot with them over the years, and I know they were there for my son during some tough times. It is only fitting that they were there with us for this momentous occasion.
After this bonding musical moment, I wasn’t sure things could get any better. I’m happy to say that I was wrong! With a career spanning over forty years, Billy Idol has been dubbed the “original punk rocker.” It was only fitting that he be a part of Welcome to Rockville’s biggest and best year thus far. Being able to share special songs like “Rebel Yell,” “Eyes Without a Face,” and “White Wedding” from my youth made my day that much more extraordinary.
Photo: Steve Thrasher Photography
I’m going to be completely honest here. I have never really gotten peoples’ obsession with Foo Fighters. I’ve followed Dave Grohl’s career since the early 90s. I’ve seen his band smash guitars and light drums on fire onstage. While I never thought that was one of his finer moments, I do believe his Nirvana experience was an integral part of making him the musician he is today. Becoming an overnight sensation would change anyone. What he chose to do after Nirvana could have gone either way. I’ve followed his career since that time and have always been impressed. Not only is he an incredible musician, he is the consummate professional. I regularly hear stories about Dave and the rest of the Foo Fighters that remind me how exceptional they are. But, I’d never really connected with them musically. I promised my friends who are die-hard fans that, if they ever came anywhere near us, I would see them live.
There are few things that leave me speechless, but this performance was one of them. It’s REALLY powerful to be in a crowd of 90,000 people who are all singing along to every word to every song. It’s really powerful to see someone you’ve respected for twenty-five years command an audience like Dave did that night. And, from what I hear, every show they play is like this. Yes, they brought out Billy Idol. They even briefly brought out John Travolta. That was all fun and memorable. But, for me, the nostalgia and pride I felt that night was something I’m having a difficult time putting into words. I say this all the time and this show was a great reminder – until you have seen a band perform live, do not write them off. Give them that opportunity to really show you what they’ve got. I’m grateful I did.
Rock shows are truly a unique and special experience. I’ve noticed it time and time again – more than any other genre, they are such an amalgamation of so many different types of people. I people-watch more than any other show or festival. I’m not there to judge; it literally just makes me so elated to see that many people come together for their love of music. Sex, race, political views, and sexual orientation. None. Of. It. Matters. Whether you’re in the pit, a crowd surfer, or short a dollar on that last drink you want to buy; everyone comes together and helps each other out. It’s really easy for outsiders looking in to judge us. But we all know the truth. We are the enlightened ones. We are the people who are going to enact change. We are all one and, together, we can conquer anything.