It’s that time of the year again in Kansas City. No, I am not talking about lovely springtime weather, I’m talking about 98.9 the Rock’s annual Rockfest. This year saw the 24th iteration of this beloved one-day festival.
vterans of this one day extravaganza have come to expect any kind of weather conditions. Held outside in Penn Valley Park, home of the lovely Liberty Memorial, the rolling hills and grass covered landscape can quickly transform into a quagmire of mud, beer, and despair. The grounds have devolved into this muddy hellscape on multiple occasions in the past – so much so that the festival has earn the nickname “Mudfest”.
I approached this concert expecting Mudfest. Temperatures were supposed to be unseasonably cool; hovering around the mid-sixties for the high that day. We had also gotten a few days of rain early that week. I dressed to be prepared – hoodie, leather jacket, flannel and under shirt. I am fully expecting a day of trudging through the mud and being cold.
The day started off with me walking to the show at Liberty Memorial. I live only about a mile away, and thought walking there would be the smartest move. Well, to my surprise, most of my planned routes were blocked off. So I followed the crowd. The line just to get in wrapped around the block. This massive line was not the one I was supposed to be in, though – I had to meet Josh by the box office. So I got to walk past 2 or 3 miles of people all waiting to get their dose of metal.
Being press definitely has its perks. Remember the miles of people? Well, we got into the grounds BEFORE all of them! (Don’t hate, we do it all for you) Once inside, we were treated to a scene that would not be had until the show ended – emptiness. The calm before the store. So Josh, the other photographers, and myself wandered around, getting our bearings, setting up, and waiting for the madness that would soon be Rockfest; and, most importantly, an early start on drinking. Soon, this place would be packed with over fifty thousand people – the largest one day festival in the United States.
By noon, throngs of people started heading into the park. We set up shop at the Worth Harley Davidson stage, where we would spend the majority of the day. After Nivens, a radio personality from 98.9 the Rock introduced himself and welcomed everybody to the show, The Veer Union was the first to take the stage.
TVU formed in 2004 in Vancouver, Canada. The current lineup is Crispin Earl on vocals, Dan Sitttler on lead guitar and backing vocals, Ryan Ramsdell on rhythm guitar, Amal Waijayanayake on bass and Tyler Reimer on the drums. TVU wasted no time opening up the sound to set the tone for the rest of the day. They blasted through songs like “Brave the Impossible”, “Defying Gravity”, and a cover of Faith No More’s “Epic” The band took time to thank the radio station, since the Rock has been playing the band for quite some time now. TVU closed their set with the song “Seasons” from their first studio release.
The Veer Union
Next to the stage was Like a Storm. The band hails from Auckland, New Zealand and was formed by three brothers in 2005. The members are Chris Brooks on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Matt Brooks on lead guitar, Kent Brooks on bass, and Zach Wood on drums.
The show certainly didn’t slow down with the kiwis showing up. They blasted through a great rendition of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” Throughout the set, they even threw in their native instrument the didgeridoo. Who would have thought that would make a fun combination, but I guess that’s what they initially thought when they combined peanut butter and chocolate. Anyway, after some more fun, the band closed with the song “Love the Way You Hate Me”, with the crowd chanting the hate me park with the band.
Like a Storm
Following Like a Storm, the next band up was Red Sun Rising. The band formed in Akron, OH and is made up of Mike Protich on lead vocals and guitar, Ryan Williams on lead guitar, Dave McGarry on rhythm guitar, Ricky Miller on bass, and Pat Garasia on drums. The set opened up with the song “Push”. The continued to rock through a bunch of songs off of the album Polyester Zeal like “Imitation” and “Amnesia” after strongly closing out with the song “Emotionless”.
Between sets, I had some time to kill. I met up with a buddy who came to the show later and we wondered around the grounds. One thing I wish we would have covered more was the Jagermeister stage. This stage was the smallest of the bunch, but hosted a number of up and coming acts. The only downside to this stage was the flooring! While the 2 other stages were using dirt and grass, this stage had big, white plastic panels. I get that this was probably to keep it less muddy, but with the sun shining bright and a warm breeze in the air, these panels acted more like gigantic heat reflectors. Despite this, the bands playing that stage sounded great and drew one hell of a crowd.
Red Sun Rising
After wandering around for some time, I went back to the Worth stage to watch Escape the Fate. At this point, the crowd had grown to epic proportions. Escape the Fate is from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. The band is Craig Mabbit on vocals, TJ Bell on bass, Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft on guitar, and Robert Ortiz on drums. Now I won’t lie when I say that at this point during the show, all the bands started to seem the same. It was 3, and I had been there for a few hours already. Escape the Fate brought me out of the mid show doldrums and revived my spirit for metal. The singer is like a bat out of hell, and the guitarist really knows how to shred. After thrashing through an impressive set list, the band closed with “Wall of Death”. And much like a wall of death, I knew the rest of the night should be spent on the sidelines. The crowds were growing monstrous, and if I wanted to survive the rest of the night in one piece, it would be best to avoid the mosh pits. After all, I ain’t as young as I used to be.
Escape the Fate
Drowning Pool was up next on the Worth stage. Back when I was just a young pup, I saw these guys at Ozzfest 2001. This band would be the soundtrack of my first mosh pit, so they hold a special place in my heart. I haven’t really listened to them much outside of high school, but I was pretty stoked to learn that they would be playing. The current lineup is C.J Pierce on guitar, Steve Benton on Bass, Mike Luce on drums, and Jasen Moreno on vocals. The set opened up with “Sinner” and continued it’s hard rock sound with “Step Up”, and “Tear Away” But it wouldn’t be Drowning Pool without the song we all know. The set closed with the crowd going absolutely nuts to “Bodies”
Whew! – Halfway there, you still with us?
6 o’clock has rolled around and brought us Trivium on stage. Trivium is from Orlando, FL and toutes an impressive seven studio albums under their belt. The lineup is Matt Heafy on vocals and rhythm guitar, Core Beaulieu on lead guitar, Paolo Gregoletto on bass, and Paul Wandtke on drums. Opening up with “Strife”, the band made their presence known by thrashing and rocking the Worth stage. With 7 studio albums, there is a lot of content to pack into a festival set, but Trivium did not disappoint fans, playing “Dead and Gone”, “Rain”, and “In Waves”. Notably, I was really impressed by the drum stylings of Paul Wandtke – that dude can really thrash.
At this point in the show, we had to give up our lovely Worth stage and rush over to the main stage just in time to watch Sixx:A.M. Our intrepid leader Josh had been geeking out about this band all day, so I was curious what was in store. The main stage is a lot bigger than the Worth stage. Tons of people crowded around the stage – a sea of bodies anticipating the arrival of Sixx:A.M.
SiXX:A.M, as you may have guessed it, is Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame, as well as DJ Ashba and James Michael contributing to the “A.M.” part of the name. This rock supergroup opened up the set with “This Is Gonna Hurt” The 10 track set continued with “Lies of the Beautiful People”, “Stars”, and closing with “Life is Beautiful” This band certainly embraces the rock and roll aesthetic and is no stranger to the world of metal.
We really had to book it back to the Worth stage in time to see Ghost. Truth be told, this was the band I was really excited to see. They were really the only band out of the day whom I had listened to recently. I’ve watched their videos and really became fascinated with the look and vibe they gave off.
Not much is really told about these guys. They’re from Sweden, and have been together since 2008. They are led by Papa Emeritus (now on their third incarnation of the satanic priest) and the nameless ghouls. What the band lacks in known identities, they make up for in excitement. This was one of the band everyone was talking about. The band performed favorites such as “Cirice”, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, and “Year Zero”. This band is definitely not all looks and stage performance either – the band had a really solid set from beginning to end.
Up next was Seether. This was another band I have seen perform live before. The music itself isn’t something I am into personally, but you really have to hand it to the band. I don’t think I have ever seen another band sound so full with only 3 members. Formed in 1999 in South Africa, the band has enjoyed a lot of success here in the states. Seether is Shaun Morgan on vocals and guiar, Dale Stewart on bass, and John Humphrey on drums. Interestingly enough, this would be Seether’s 2nd time performing this year. Despite the massive popularity of the band, drummer John Humphrey held a drum clinic in Kansas City the night before. For only playing for the second time all year, the band failed to disappoint the gigantic crowd of adoring fans.
Closing out this incredible day of rock and roll music was Disturbed. The band really gained momentum in 1997 with the sickness, and since then have been infecting fans ever since. The band is currently David Draimah on vocals, John Moyer on bass, Dan Donegan on guitars, and Mike Wengren on drums.
Disturbed opened up the set with “Ten Thousand Fists” – which should have been renamed Fifty Thousand Fists, as in the amount of people in attendance for the nights closers. Disturbed continued the closing set with “Prayer”, “Liberate” and a cover of Simon and Garfunkels “The Sound of Silence”. At around this point is when I decided to beat the crowd and start hoofing it home. The advantage to the outside show, though, had me enjoying the rest of the Disturbed set on the walk back. The band returned to the stage with an encore performance of “Voices” and viciously ended with “Down with the Sickness”
My thoughts on Rockfest are this: I originally used to poke fun at this annual event. Since I live so close, I would sit on my porch and watch the crowds go by and wonder what the hell the fuss was about. It’s not really my music scene, so I didn’t understand. This year changed all that. Like the music or not, Rockfest is an event that is a hell of a good time. 98.9 the Rock should be praised for how they put on the show – the drinks are cheap ($5 is the most expensive drink), tickets are reasonable, and the event is an all-day affair jam backed with a ton of bands. We may have reviewed a lot of bands, but that wasn’t even half of the performances of the day. The Rock also makes a huge effort in repairing the lawn at the Liberty memorial – every year, they put down grass to replace whatever had been destroyed. So props to the rock for putting on a show for 50, 000 people to enjoy and have it go off without any major incidents or drama. So if you have the opportunity to go next year, DO IT!
Photos by Josh Chaikin
Words by Dallas Hessel