Monday, May 25, 2015

Rock USA Oshkosh

Rock USA is getting ready to take place with another heart pounding rock and roll lineup that includes Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Breaking Benjamin, Queensryche, Warrant, Avenged Sevenfold, Def Leppard, Jackyl, Styx, Tesla, Dellacoma, Wysteria, Pop Evil, Papa Roach, Dokken, Road Trip, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Vixen, Whitesnake, and Wayland on July 15 – 18 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. For those of you who missed last year's lineup, it was even more hardcore with acts that included Slayer, Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Three Day's Grace, Skid Row, Korn, Seether, Megadeth, Theory of a Deadman, All That Remains, Machine Head, Black Label Society, Halestorm, Hell Yeah, Black Stone Cherry, Like A Storm, Wayland, Beyond Threshold, Jackyl and Almost Kings. This is a festival worth camping at, as there is enough time between bands to go back to camp and prepare for the next round.

Wisconsin in the summer is beautiful to begin with, but you throw in a bunch of killer bands, and friendly people that want nothing more than to have a good time, compound that with some carnival rides, games, ziplining and more, and you have one heck of a swell show over the course of a few days. It's not out in the middle of nowhere, as Oshkosh is a fairly good sized city, with conveniences like shopping, restaurants and more; in fact, the concert is held at Ford Festival Park, which is right by an outlet mall. Other attractions include the EAA Museum, which is located directly across the highway.

Of course, the EAA also hosts their Airventure from July 20 – 26, so if you plan your trip right, you could also camp out with your plane for that. Even if you don't own a plane, you can still watch a series of planes overhead. Experimental Aviation has some really cool stuff to check out there.

Bottom line is if you've never been to Wisconsin, or Oshkosh, there's plenty of stuff to do and see. Rock USA, also known as RUSA, is just the perfect excuse to check out the Midwest and Lake Winnebago. Oshkosh is a college town, so there's plenty of people who are up for having fun.

The music is really worth the visit. There's so many cool things from last year, it's hard to list it all. First of all, there's all kinds of vendors, from Wisconsin cheese to gemstones and freebies, but there's definitely alcohol, and a fabulous lineup of music that will keep you head knocking as you swerve on.

If rock music is not your thing, there's CUSA, or Country USA, held at the same venue. That takes place June 23 – 27 and includes Miranda Lambert, Lee Brice, Eli Young Band, Eric Church, Tim McGraw and a slew of others, as this is the 20th anniversary of the annual concert. Last year, CUSA was more congested than RUSA, but I have to admit, I loved the hardcore that RUSA had to offer.

I dare say that if RUSA had been a touring festival, it would have had one of the best lineups in the country. It was one of the the top shows that I attended last year, and would highly recommend it. Whether you're daring enough to camp, or if you'd rather chillax in a hotel or stay with friends, it is an awesome atmosphere, and walking around by myself, as a single female, not knowing too many people, I felt safe, didn't get swept away by a moshpit unexpectedly, and I had a ton of fun, too.

I would recommend signing up for the VIP experience, as it not only provides bathrooms with running water, which is nice when you're camping, but there's also food. The catering is great. It's not some cafeteria style slop, but a nice catered buffet with sliced meats, desserts and the whole shebang.

Of course, there's plenty of food vendors, including awesome jerky, so it's not like you're going to starve if you don't do the VIP experience, but the VIP does provide closer seating than normal tickets. It's nice to sprawl out, have a seat to sit down in, and be able to get up close and personal. Still, even with a normal ticket, just grab a pop-up chair with a cup holder and take it all in, or dance around.

I cannot say enough great things about last year's lineup. Rob Zombie, you know I'm going to like, as he was responsible for me getting the chance to tour on Ozzfest in 2002 after he pulled me up on stage, so you know I'm going to like him, as he always puts on a great show with a touch of his horror movie influence thrown into the stage setup. Slayer, classic metal, phenomenal, need I say more?

Three Days Grace was the band that took my by surprise. I had seen their former lead singer Adam Gontier at Dirtfest, and I though he had put on a good show, but when I saw the whole band, wow. They had this serious military-like stage show that just commanded your attention from the start.

Five Finger Death Punch I had seen many times before, so I knew they always put on an awesome act that is full of life with Ivan also being a commanding presence on stage. I had met Ivan at DTE the year before, actually with his daughter, as Battlecross had been barbecuing after a show, and he was down to earth enough, and definitely protective of his daughter. Still, I will say, at RUSA, he was the only one that I noted going out to the crowd before his show to sign autographs to whoever wanted it.

Machine Head's lead singer celebrated his birthday at the show, so there were all kinds of people lurking around at the back of the stage as they played. Even though they played earlier in the day, they cranked those guitars up a notch and really gave it their all. You could tell they were having fun.

Black Label Society is another band I have a lot of history with, as I not only toured with them on Ozzfest, but have seen them a number of times since. Probably what stands out the most is seeing them at the House of Blues in New Orleans, hanging out backstage with the guys from Valume Knob, which included Kirk Windstein from Crowbar and Down. They invited me back to a balcony party that Black Label Society was hosting, and I was sworn to secrecy on the detail that happened at that party...

Another band I toured with on Ozzfest was Seether, and I loved watching the South African guys come up through the ranks over the years. On Ozzfest, they were an opening band, and I remember interviewing them, back in my younger, sexier years, dressed in what I was wearing while working as a Harley Girl on the tour, which basically included a bikini top. Back then, they were blushing, but now, they're at the top of the lineup, with a slew of hits to their credit, and their show is even better with age.

Megadeth brought the fire like they always do. They've been one of my favorites since way back, and with as many years as they have under their belt, their stage show was pretty fun. They highlighted all the times they were mentioned in TV shows like Beavis and Butthead, as well as movies like Wayne's World, showing clips of when the band was mentioned as they played, an appreciation homage.

One band I have always appreciated was Skid Row, and I will admit, their former lead singer was the first person I have ever been starstruck by when I was first starting out in journalism. Even though their lead singer has changed, the music is just as good as ever, and before I even went to RUSA, I had to interview them. After coming back from sound check, dinner and a photo shoot, Dave “Snake” Sabo of Skid Row called from York, England, to talk about the key qualities of a lead singer, the difference between writing for Skid Row and writing for movies, and personal injuries.

Author Marisa Williams: You grew up in Sayreville, NJ, but is that where you live now?

Dave “Snake” Sabo of Skid Row: No, I lived Sayreville into my 20s. After that, I lived in Holmdel, NJ, then I lived in Los Angeles for 12 or 13 years, and now I live in Long Island, New York.

Marisa: Were you impacted by Sandy?

Skid Row: We had a little impact from Sandy, but not as much as you would've thought. My family and myself were really lucky. There was a lot of damage in surrounding areas, but we walked out virtually unscathed.

Marisa: Promotions are calling Skid Row a New Jersey-based band, but didn't Sebastian Bach, who replaced Matt Fallon in the original Skid Row lineup, have ties to Canada and Detroit?

Skid Row: He grew up in that area, yeah. When we found him and contacted him though, he was in Toronto. Rachel and I started the band in '86, and we were based out of New Jersey all those years.

Marisa: When you were looking for a new voice for the band, what were some of the key qualities you were looking for, how did the selection take place and how did things vary musically from when Sebastian Bach joined the band versus when your current lead singer joined?

Skid Row: A person has to have a great range and a great tonality to their voice. They also have to be able to do the songs justice and also have their own personality when they sing those songs. They also have to be a dynamic stage performer as well. Most important is having fun, an unstoppable desire to be successful and perform great music. You have to be able to get along, travel around the world with them, and get used to that, hopefully becoming closer friends as time goes on. The selection was all word of mouth. I remember we had mentioned in Metal Edge, in an article that Jamba Joey had done, we mentioned that we were looking for a singer, but it was word of mouth. Friends of friends got in contact with Sebastian and Johnny, basically, and we flew them to New Jersey, jammed with them, felt everything out. In both instances, it was the right choice. Both have amazing ranges, can sing with a great amount of passion and range. That was big, because the songs on the first Skid Row album and Subhuman Race are not easy songs to sing, and when people came in, you have to do those songs and be respectful of the notes and melodies. Johnny has all those qualities but his own tonality to his voice; obviously, we made a decision years ago that he's the guy, and he still is.

Marisa: How do you go about writing music? What comes first for you: drums, guitars, vocals or something else? Has the process of writing changed for you over the years at all?

Skid Row: No, it's never been by design in any way. It's basically, Rachel and I get together and show each other the different riffs we came up with, lyric ideas, melody ideas, fly back and forth with it, start discussing what we like and don't like. For us, that's way it worked from day one, and still is today. We could be at sound check, play a riff, and someone will ask, “is that yours?” Okay, cool. We'll put on the Dictaphone, and when we start to write songs, we'll go through riffs. It inspires something. That's the way it always works, not okay, you do lyrics and I'll do music; it's mutual contribution from both of us.

Marisa: How does writing and performing for Skid Row vary from music for films like The Still Life?

Skid Row: There's a huge difference. One is that you're writing for yourself. Skid Row is a selfish process. It's songs we want to love, sit there and be proud of, live with for the rest of our lives. Once we accomplish that, we believe it's ready for the people of the world to hear, but it's selfish. Film and television is different, because you're helping to have someone find their vision, not your vision. You just help facilitate it. You write what you can to bring a scene or sequence to life - even more than director or music supervisor is thinking - and then let go of it. You get so used to everything being your own, and you have to let go and move on. It's an interesting feeling, and it goes completely against what happens when write for your own band.

Marisa: I was looking online, and what the hell did you do to your ankle on the 2000 KISS Tour?

Skid Row: Truth be told, I was walking across a floor in the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas. There was a spill there, and I didn't see it. I fell in a certain way, and my left foot bent exactly backwards. It broke every bone in my ankle. There are three major bones, and I broke all of them. I had to have 9 screws and a metal plate inserted into me, and I was in a cast for quite some time. Unfortunately, I still do have problems, but I can walk and do what I need to do.

Marisa: How did you get started in music? Did you come from a musical family? What were your biggest musical influences?

Skid Row: I'm the youngest of five boys. In that household, there was an unbelievable amount of music being played everyday, from R and B, soul, pop, surf music, beginnings of heavy metal, Elvis, Beach Boys, Otis Redding, first Black Sabbath album, Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors, Janis Joplin... As a child at five-years-old, I always loved music; it affected me in such a beautiful way, influence number one. As I got older, I indulged myself in music 24/7, and I discovered other bands. At 13, I went to see KISS at Madison Square Garden and came home a changed boy. It took me a while to figure it out, but I knew I wanted to perform music. Nobody else in my family had been a performer, or musician, or anything like that. It was out of the blue, but it was the best decision I ever made. After that, I grew up in a town with Jon Bon Jovi; he and I were best friends. He was a mentor and still is to a certain degree. Having that influence as well, music surrounded me and engulfed me completely.

Marisa: What instruments do you play, and how old were you when you learned to play them?

Skid Row: I like to play guitar. I figured it out that I'm the worst bass player in the history of life. That's just the way life is sometimes. I'm just a guitar player. I don't pretend or play keyboards; at least, nothing substantial. I don't sing very well, so that's it. I started at 14 and a half with a cheap acoustic guitar my brother attempted to play and threw in a corner with no desire, but I picked it up and started playing.

Marisa: What's the coolest thing about your latest project?

Skid Row: The coolest thing, number one, is that we are going about it in a different way. We will be releasing three EPs over the course of 12 months, nailing it back to five or six songs. It doesn't get old quick with an audience. Well, it still might, but we really wanted to have more content in a quicker fashion. We will never write 12 to 14 songs every six months; over saturation is problematic. Five to seven songs, three times, fans have music over the course of the next year. When you go on tour, you have to have intentions. We have 20 seconds to get someone's attention, and once it's gone, you're done; you've lost them. Release it. People have it in their minds for four to six months. Move on. It's an exciting process. Writing these songs has been a blast. There's no pressure to write 14 songs, attempt a tour, and if the record flops, you gotta come up with 14 more and another tour. This is more conducive way to create quality music and tour without killing ourselves and being redundant.

Marisa: What is the scariest thing about being on the road?

Skid Row: I've had plenty of stitches and broken bones, so I'm not scared of that. The scariest thing is nobody shows up to one of your shows.

Marisa: What do you consider to be your career highs and lows?

Skid Row: Career high: our second record debuted at number one. All records are a labor of love, but Slave to the Grind was really. So much of everything I had went into that record. There were so many sacrifices made by everyone in the band to make that record, and to see that all pay off as number one was something else. I've been to so many shows, touring with KISS was a dream come true. For me, the bottom was shortly after the KISS tour, around 2001 to 2002. I had an illnesses. What I was going through was different. It was a difficult time physically, mentally and emotionally. For a while, I couldn't play guitar for a year or so. That was the low point; you're in such a space that you want to drink yourself to sleep. When the one thing you always relied on, when you can't do that any more, and luckily, I could rehab back, but that's a huge bite out of your soul.

Marisa: What's your favorite way to travel and why?

Skid Row: I do like flying. Everyone has their issues, one way or another, with fear, but I love flying. It's fast, but I love taking the train, too. Where I live, I'll take the train from Long Island to Manhattan, and I love it, so...

Marisa: What's your favorite place to travel to, and is there anywhere you have not been to that you would like to go to?

Skid Row: My favorite place... I have so many favorites, but New York, traveling back home. I love Tokyo, Prague, London, Brussels, South America, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Chicago, the Midwest, but I'd say it's coming home to New York. There is one place I've never been. I've never been to Alaska. I find it so amazing, because we've been to Iceland, but not Alaska. I would love to add that to a tour.

Marisa: What's your biggest musical fantasy?

Skid Row: To sit in a room and get guitar lessons from Randy Rhodes.

Marisa: If you were an unicorn, and you could be any color but white, what color would you be and why? Would you have any special powers?

Skid Row: I would be black and red. My body would be black, and my horn would be red. My horn could dispense beer upon the masses. On the ground, my horn would be like a tap, where you could pull it, and beer would come out for all my friends. I would be able to fly from pub to pub, from town to town, to dispense my own beer to my friends and family.

Marisa: If you were yogurt, would you be mixed fruit, fruit on the bottom, what flavor and why?

Skid Row: I would be a fusion of vodka. Greek yogurt with vodka and moonshine soaked blueberries.

Marisa: Closing thoughts and additional comments?

Skid Row: We will tour the world like the crazy idiots we've always been. We've always been thankful for the support. It has always been humbling and means the world to us.

The author of 100 books, Marisa Williams earned her Master's in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University; for more on Marisa, visit,,, and

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