The weather forecast for May, 30th was a high of sixty seven degrees, overcast, a ten percent chance of rain, and a hundred percent chance of rock. Once again, 98.9 The Rock’s Rockfest was in Kansas City for the 23rd year in a row. Liberty Memorial, and the surrounding park in central Kansas City hosted the largest one day rock festival in America. The reputation of Rockfest the past couple of years has been enough to grant the nickname Mudfest for the massive festival. With the mud in mind, The Pit Crew (the men behind the site, including myself) came more than prepared. I got an opportunity to wander the stomping grounds of Liberty Memorial before the festival opened its gates to more than twenty thousand people standing in line to see, Rob Zombie, Halestorm, Anthrax, Volbeat, and others in the 2015 lineup. Before the festival, the pavement was still visible, the grass was still lush and green, and most of all, I wasn’t covered in mud. All of that was about to change beginning with Lola Black at the Gail Worth Harley-Davidson stage, one of three massive stages.
It was just past noon, and slightly sprinkling, while Denver Colorado’s own Lola Black took the stage to Cypress Hill’s, “I Want to Get High”. Which is ironic because that may have been the same thought of more than a third of the crowd at the time. Members of Lola Black include her beautiful self, Lola Black on vocals, Scooter on lead guitar, Crispy Chris on second guitar, Yosh on bass, and Oakes on drums. The combination of these five bring a ferocious sound to the stage. Lola Black beginning with the first song proves herself as a strong female vocalist. They have a metal punk theme with a hard rock sound that is anything less than generic. The synergy of the members make Lola Black what they appear to be on stage, a metal beast with a beautiful face. Having won various music awards in their home state and now traveling the nation we should expect more big things from Lola Black. Lola Black played a new single called “Looking Glass” produced with Bob Marlett. A clip of the new single can be found on their official site lolablackmusic.com, Unfortunately, the site fails to transpire their awesome stage presence. Opening the Gail Worth Harley Davidson Stage seemed to be a simple task for Lola Black, she rocked a giant brass knuckle mic stand while doing so. Lola Black made one distinction very clear during their short high energy packed set for Rockfest 2015, they have a dark new intricate sound that will launch them to the global front of hard rock.
Now I have to take a moment and say I have been anxiously waiting to see the next band that took the Worth Harley Davidson Stage, Kansas City’s own Sidewise. Nico Manesh rocking the lead mic, Matt Wilikinson on guitar and vocals, Jason Dean with the sticks, Sean Thibodeaux on guitar and backup vocals, and DJ Klinge on bass and once again, backup vocals. Each artist contributed to the array of talented lyrics throughout the set. Sean Thibodeaux and Matt Wilkinson delivered an astute amount of power though their guitars during each and every song. The crowd was dismal and couple hundred people drifted away from the Harley Davidson Stage after Lola Black, but that didn’t stop Sidewise from attracting over a thousand people back. I asked a few of the listeners what they thought of the performance and they were not dissatisfied. During the third song of the set Nico demanded a pit be opened and the crowd listened. It didn’t take long till people were bashing into each other and rocking out with fists high in the air. Sidewise has been making the rounds in the rock community and they certainly stepped up to the plate at Rockfest. A couple thousand people devoted deeply to the rock scene more than enjoyed Sidewise’s set.
Not only did Sidewise deliver musically, they reached a new handful of followers. Towards the end of the festival I noticed quite a few people sporting a new Sidewise shirt. Rockfest was the next rung on the ladder for their new-found national reputation, having already toured Sevendust, and made a splash on Ship Rocked (which you can find out more about in our interview with them). Each member of Sidewise delivers an extremely high amount of energy on stage, and don’t give you a second to get bored. The same goes for their sound, it is uniquely ferocious in the best way possible. If you get a chance to listen to these guys live, get there, you will not be disappointed. Also check out their official YouTube page and like them on Facebook to get a sample of what these guys can do. I personally expect these guys to be on a national tour again very soon. It won’t be before long that these guys are heard on every rock station in America.
I am so pleased I got an opportunity to listen to the next band. I have not heard a single mention about Crobot, and I am very upset for that fact. Crobot is a new global phenomenon in the rock community, with sounds comparable to Wolfmother, Soundgarden, and Rage Against the Machine. Always on tour, Crobot can melt your face with the psychedelic sound and off their off the wall guitarist. Members are Brandon Yeagley on lead vocals and harmonica, Bishop on guitar and vocals, Jake Figueroa a beast behind a bass, and Paul Figueroa on drums.
Frontman Brandon Yeagley has quite the reputation for his power packed vocals and myself along with the entire Rockfest crowd can attest to that. Crobot is undeniably astounding during their live shows. Crobot is gushing with a dirty groove rock sound, and they’re still only freshman in the rock community, having signed with Wind-up Records in late 2013, followed by a self-titled EP in May of 2014. Brandon Yeagley let his reputation precede him on stage during Rockfest. Brandon’s voice is so goddamn clear, and he can really put on a show.
Brandon’s talent are well met on stage with his guitarist Bishop. I am almost speechless to how amazing that man can shred on the guitar. He has his own style that is so uniquely captivating you want to cry a tear of joy. Bishop plays from the neck of his guitar and has a power stance like I have never seen. I never thought a man could make groovy love to his guitar like that until now. I can’t forget that Jake Figueroa also blew me away with his artistry and bass flips. Each member of the Crobot did exactly what they intended to do, play their asses off.
Next came proud veteran supporters, All That Remains. It was a solid couple hours into the festival, and it was the first mention I heard for the troops; usually support for our brothers goes hand in hand with rock festivals. All that Remains is comprised of front-man Philip Labonte, Mike Martin on guitar, Oil Herbert on guitar, Jeanne Sagan behind the bass, and Jason Costa on drums.
Throughout All That Remains set, the crowd ate up their powerful performance. There were multiple mosh pits in the crowd, and the first real start to the wave of mud covered crowd surfers. All That Remains carved a crystal clear definition of a rock breakdown in almost every song. They played a lot of their biggest hits for the thirty-thousand plus people now at the main stage. This is when Rockfest was really beginning to flourish and become what it’s meant to be, a shit-ton of high energy rock fun. 98.9 The Rock really knew what they were doing this year. All That Remains contributed to that mid-day success. Americans far, wide, and overseas alike would had a hard time saying they did not enjoy the performance by All That Remain’s all-star band. I hope they return next year to motivate the crowd like they did for 2015.
One of the biggest names in rock took the stage in the now late mid-day Rockfest. Halestorm brought the masses to the main stage, and so many people did not expect what was about to go down. Lzzy Hale, the female vocalist for the huge band, is not just a singer; she is bucket overflowing with musical talent. She switched guitars between every song, she was playing them so hard, I’m sure they quickly went out of tune, but when she broke out the double necked guitar and continued to shred, I was more than impressed.
Halestorm is a combination of musical genius included Lzzy Hale, her brother drummer and percussionist Arejay Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger, and bassist Josh Smith. Arejay Hale rocked behind clear drums and was high up on a literal pedistal delivering an overwhelming amount of power to jam packed crowd. It was a real sea of people in front of the main stage and Rockfest wasn’t even close to its final fifty-two thousand count. Halestorm brought a storm of rock to that sea and every member took a bite of the energy. When Lzzy demanded a scream from the sea, they responded.
She as well as the other artists killed the stage in an action packed set. Their was a lot of midwest beasts in the crowd contributing to the atmosphere of Rockfest at that time. I could not believe my eyes when I saw how much people enjoyed Halestorm. I usually hear moderate to average things about them, but Halestorm shattered those views making them one of the best artists on the lineup for the day.
Shortly after Halestorm’s set, I was approached by two Rockaholics, both sporting the most rock and roll hair and jean coveralls at the festival. The two boys looked like they were taking a break from cultivating a massive weed farm, and hadn’t showered in weeks. Which is okay, because they are one of the many embodiment of Rockfest’s great atmosphere. The two boys were the Blakeley brothers and you can bet on seeing them at many more rock festivals in the Midwest. The brothers, myself, and the thousands of people at the main stage could not believe who came to the stage next. Ron Jeremy himself took the stage with owner Dennis Hof of Las Vegas, Nevada’s and America’s most popular legal brothel, The Bunny Ranch. Ron Jeremy not only stunned the crowd with his appearance but played the National Anthem with his harmonica. It was decent for a legendary porn star and the crowd loved it. Ron and his friends got the crowd going for what was set to be a crazy performance from a Kansas City icon.
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Tech N9ne, the world’s most popular independent rapper and crew, drew the crowd at Rockfest to what was now certainly fifty-thousand people. Coming off the release of their new record, Special Effects, Tech N9ne was about to blow the crowd away. I would attribute the massive crowd to the fact that, Tech N9ne brings the most wild of Kansas City to their knees with jam packed performances. Kansas City got its fill when lead rap-master, Aaron Dontez Yates, or Tech N9ne finally took stage. With the least amount exaggeration possible, the crowd was so packed at the time everyone was squeezed together so tightly people were bursting over the barricade to finally breathe, some being taken away in ambulances (stay hydrated at festivals).
Tech N9ne delivered what was expected musically, playing a combination of some of their old hits and new. The crowd was extremely wild while Tech N9ne played songs like, Einstein, Ima Playa, and Areola. This was Tech N9ne biggest show ever played in their hometown in Kansas City. Tech N9ne made their biggest performance one of their best and not only produced quality stage rap but did it professionally. Tech N9ne after 15 years is still not disappointing music fans from abroad. Even if you were there to rock you certain bobbed your head once or twice to the musical genius that is Tech N9ne. In fact, I heard many people there say he stole the show; quite the claim with some of the talent on the bill.
One of Rockfest’s regulars, Papa Roach was up next to take the reins of the massive crowd. Papa Roach did just that, riding the crowd to their fullest extent. I didn’t expect Papa Roach to be anything less than a good time, and my expectations were exceeded, surprisingly. Papa Roach, even though considered by some to be overplayed, delivered a hell of a show. It wasn’t but one song into their set that they addressed their old school side and played their original hits. Papa Roach was all over the crowd, and even though the stage was high it didn’t stop Jacoby from embracing the crowd head on. After Tech N9ne’s explosive set Jacoby took a minute to talk about them, and even went as far as requesting a tour with Tech N9ne, which may never happen in our lifetime. Papa Roach played some new songs from their new album, F.E.A.R (Face Everything and Rise) including a new track Gravity. Gravity was mentioned by Papa Roach as something different from their original sound. It was certainly different from their typical, now mainstream, old school rock. It had a hard rock sound, accompanied by non-traditional synths and instrumental breakdowns. Even with the multiple new songs debuted to the thousands of people at Rockfest, Papa Roach continued to play their classics including, Last Resort, and ended their set with To Be Loved.
Dusk was falling on Rockfest, and the stage lights were getting brighter. Voltbeat was about to take the stage, and the crowd was getting ready for the Danish superstars; the crowd’s anticipation was getting increasingly high. I could feel it. When the global phenomenon that is Voltbeat took the stage, the crowd went wild. By that time in the day, I had talked to multiple people that travel far with Voltbeat on their minds.
Voltbeat is a Danish metal band that formed in Copenhagen in 2001. Something about lead singer Michael Poulsen’s voice makes the band stand out at the top of the metal charts. By the time the third song was done, the crowd was doing backup vocals for Voltbeat, and I couldn’t help but jam right along with them. Unfortunately, my personal account of Voltbeat’s set was cut short for time constraints, and scheduling to see the legends that are Anthrax.
It took a little bit of time for the techs to transition the stage from the previous band for Anthrax. Such is the dilemma with 15 bands on two stages. Even after they were introduced as “one of the big four” it took another 10-15 minutes for them to take the stage. I can cut the ol’ boys some slack, though; I wouldn’t doubt that they were taking every minute to warm-up, stretch, and breathe before what could only be described as a holy metal experience.
Anthrax was closing out the Gail Worth Harley Davidson stage, and they did it with a metal fury that is their own. But we would expect nothing less from Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Joey Belladonna, and Jonathan Donais, would we? From Day one, Anthrax has transformed metal, and to this day continue to dominate it. Festival goers, young and old, flocked from the main stage to see these legends show that, even pushing 50, the young pups still have a lot to learn from them.
Vocalist Joey Belladonna was all over the place; not only belting his heart out to the multitudes, like some sort of prophet delivering a gospel of metal, but he matched and raised their energy. The meanest pit of the day could be found in Anthrax’s crowd. Shirtless men used the pit as a proving ground for the thrash metal gods that are Anthrax. Anthrax lit up the back of the festival with a massive fire of energy which was hard for anyone to match, including Rob Zombie.
It was completely dark by the time Rob Zombie was set to take the main stage at Rockfest 2015. Zombie’s set was similar to, if not the exact same one they had used in previous years. Classic movie monster backdrops, and the words Suck, Crush, Cut, Die and others like that adorned the three platforms spread across the stage.
The theme Rob Zombie was sporting this year was an All-American one, sporting not just the stars and stripes (with matching top hat), he opened with Grand Funk Railroad’s American Band. He also played some funk to start his set off right.
Rockfest was Rob Zombie’s first show in eight months, and it was apparent they didn’t do much in that time. Zombie was adored by the fifty-two thousand people, and he played like he meant it; he was focused, even telling the techs to “turn on the fucking lights.” Being washed in a sea of red and green, it was hard to tell if they ever did.
Rob Zombie certainly had one of the more detailed stages, and one of the more calculated performances of the festival. I felt the vibe they were going for. The crowd experienced the same feeling, and it seemed as though after the first couple of songs, people were beginning to exit Liberty Memorial. Rob Zombie finished their set, and did not repeat have a repeat of what happened least year in Cadott, Wisconsin, where he had to cut their performance to two songs, citing throat issues.
All in all, 98.9 The Rock’s Rockfest 2015 was pretty solid, the same could not be said for the ground. I don’t think I saw any green grass while leaving; everything was saturated in mud, and it tracked all the way downtown, to the various parking lots. The final attendance count exceeded 52,000 rock fans, which is pretty remarkable for a one-day festival in Kansas City, and a clear indicator of the power of music.
The reputation Rockfest built from being one-day rock festival in the United States brings many expectations with it, I think anyone attending would have to try hard to be disappointed with the festival. I can honestly say that I see this festival being an integral part of, not just World’s Loudest Month, but rock scenes across the board, as long as the rock community shall live. I know I’ll find myself back there within the next few years: the crowd, the bands, and the atmosphere are a must experience event for any lover of rock.
Review by Kyle “Speedy” Scranton
Photos by Josh Chaikin