Many thought that by moving Rockfest to the Kansas Speedway, away from Liberty Memorial, that mud would be avoided once and for all. Though the stages, and most of the vendor booths were on concrete, much of the seating area was still on grass, and a nice set of thunderstorms ensured that my shoes would track mud onto the carpet later that evening. Thankfully, though much of the southern part of the city was hit with a power outage that lasted most of the day, Rockfest would remain unscathed. The show would go on.
Celebrating 26 years, Rockfest drew some 30,000 attendees, significantly less than the 50,000+ we’ve grown accustomed to, in year’s past. A change in venue certainly hasn’t helped things, and a large number of metalcore acts on the bill didn’t encourage others to travel the extra distance. They’re right, though. It would be a day of non-stop rock, spread across two stages, a good quarter mile apart, going from 12-midnight.
With beer, and food being plentiful, a few things were lost from the transition to the Speedway. First, the rest rooms. Sure, there are great facilities in the grandstand area but, can’t some port-a-potties be brought in next time? I know I’m not the only one who was tired of trudging the distance every time I had to pee. And the water…what about a few more water stations? Having a handful of water fountains, also at the grandstand, to service 10’s of thousands is far from ideal.
One thing that was a welcome change from last year – TV screens in the VIP tent showing a camera feed from the stages. Unfortunately, the smaller stage lacked the screens for people in the back, and on the larger one, the screens weren’t elevated until Ghost, the second to last act of the night, took to the stage. Making viewing for anyone not within the first few rows impossible.
While there were some bands that have made the Rockfest rotation a bit, like Five Finger Death Punch, other bands very familiar to the Kansas City area made their first appearance. While previous years have been criticized for not having enough different bands, this year could be criticized for not having a major draw.
Butcher Babies, who are regulars at places like Aftershock, and The Riot Room, who appeared at the Midland while supporting other major tours made their first Rockfest appearance. The crowd didn’t seem to mind. And it’s hard to get upset seeing Sevendust, not only does Lajon now call Kansas City home, he’s pretty badass. And his kid’s joining him on stage was a touching moment, making the normally raucous event a friendlier, family affair.
Stone Temple Pilots returned to Rockfest for the first time in nearly a decade with new singer Jeff Gutt. He’s definitely found his footing with the band, and does his best to make the songs his own, but whenever any new singer comes in, it’s difficult to grow accustomed to the change. The band remands tight, and Jeff commanded the stage during their set.
A surprise addition to the line-up, stuck in the mid-afternoon, was Motley Crue’s Vince Neil. With the band no longer touring, it was a chance for those who’ve never seen the band, to see the front man in action. With a tight band backing him up, and providing backup vocals, Vince carried on as well as he could have, singing Crue’s biggest hits, and even a Zeppelin cover, but it’s probably best just to remember him as he was. It’s nice to see a legend, though.
The biggest criticism of Rockfest may be just that: the talent. While a festival like Northern Invasion gets Tool as its headliner, and Fort Rock gets Ozzy Osbourne, Kansas City gets Five Finger Death Punch, and Ghost. While both bands are great in their own right, to have them as a headliner is a tad weak. Kansas City is a good market, and could definitely do better. With so many other large bands on the festival circuit, it couldn’t be too difficult to bring other top talent in. If the number of acts on the bill were cut, the money saved could certainly go towards a major headliner.
Rockfest will always bring the crowds out, and people will always party hard. It’s a great excuse to go out, listen to some music, drink all day, and hopefully not pass out. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. But the music is still important. If money is an issue, having fewer bands, playing longer sets, could mean more money towards bigger bands. Maybe someone will figure this out before attendance shrinks too much. If you’re looking for more bands, variety, or bigger names…it might be worth looking into another festival on the World’s Loudest Month circuit. The dwindling attendance seems to underscore this.
Photos by Josh Chaikin
Words by The Angry Music Critic