Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fort Rock Review 2017

With another attack at a concert overseas – this time an attack in Manchester, England, at an Ariana Grande concert, which resulted in 52 people injured – one cannot help but think back to the last major terrorist attack at a concert, which was when the Eagles of Death Metal were playing in France.  As it happened, the Eagles of Death Metal were one of the many bands that had played the Fort Rock Festival at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers, FL, the last weekend in April, a precursor for summer music festivals.

The largest rock festival in the Fort Myers area, which has recently turned into a two-day festival, changes slightly every year.  There’s some of the best bands in the rock and metal scene, and the festival is promoted by local rock station 93.7, also known as 93X.  Years ago, the station was a little higher in the numbers, claiming the title of 99X, and while the numbers may have changed, it is still the radio station that rules the rock and metal scene in the Fort Myers area, as it has done so for many years.

When I was 18, I went one of the first concerts at a baseball field put on by 99X, which would have been in 1999, just before I had my cliff diving accident.  At the time, it was when Club Hell was kicking in Naples, a club that was only open on Sunday nights at a place called Hurricane Jane’s.  That venue was short lived, only about six month before the older population of Naples had about enough of the shenanigans of vertically challenged bar tenders dressed up as leprechauns, freaks on stilts dancing with mannequin torsos, and bands that were sexual in natures, such as Florida’s finest: the Genitorturers.

Back in the day, Club Hell had its own tent at the concert, which offered a cool environment to escape the beating sun, and it also featured a little bondage among friends.  When we went into the tent, our eyes were met with black leather, whips, chains, racks, and people begging to be beaten.  You were supposed to be 18 to get into the tent, but I snuck in the girl I was tutoring at the time who was only about 11 or 12-years-old at the time, as it was the first concert that she ever attended.

That same girl now just turned 30, and as she works as my assistant from time to time, I thought it was only fitting that I bring her to the Fort Rock Festival to see how the atmosphere has changed over time.  Of course, there was no Club Hell tent, though I would love to see that brought back, or even any kind of tent that offered things like fans and air conditioning to escape the brutal heat from Florida’s sun.  The media tent did not have any fans, and with the sidewalls they added to the pop up tent this year, it was more miserable, acting as more of a sauna or sweat lodge than anything that would be actually helpful.

We ducked our head into the media tent, but it was too hot to actually do any work there.  Our interviews were all held outside, as it was nicer to broil in the sun and feel a little breeze than to feel the temperature reach higher than the outside temperature inside the oven-like tent that reminded me of those bags that you put a turkey into when you want to make sure that it is evenly cooked.  Note to the people in charge of media relations, add some fans and bottled water for the media tent next year.

With the temperature being about 96 degrees all weekend, and no place to find a fan or air conditioning, we wound up hanging out with some people we knew who were working the cleaning crew.  Why hang out with the janitors?  Well, they showed us some shady spots where we could sit.

Mostly, we hung out backstage, and if we wanted to be in
the shade, the best spot was actually underneath the stage.  People had hammocks set up, hanging from in between the metal supports that held up the stage, and while most of these people were stage crew, they didn’t seem to mind us, so long as we kept out of the way, did not disturb others from doing their jobs, and were mindful of fork lifts.  Sure, we would go out front to shoot the first few songs of each band, and as much as we would have liked to venture into the crowd for the duration of each band, it was simply too hot, and it there was too many people at the sold out show to slime past to try to get into and out of the crowd for each set.

My assistant has Irish skin coloring, very fair skin that burns extremely easily.  On top of that, she was in a car accident a few years ago that took the vision out of her left eye.  While she still has her eye in the socket, she is not supposed to be in the sun for prolonged times, as it messes up her vision in her good eye, so I had to be mindful of being able to have her be in the shade as much as it was possible.

Thus, we hung out backstage.  Yup, we hung with the janitors in between interviewing rock stars, and we chatted with the stage workers, including one local crew member who was instrumental in helping to organize a fundraiser for my assistant when she had her accident a few years back.  When you know the locals, it is a little easier to be able to be ushered around backstage than the average person.

The security was nice enough to hook us up with free meals, so that part was great.  There’s something pretty cool about maneuvering through the maze of underneath the stage, too.  You’re out of the way, but those what if fears of stage items falling are definitely one thing that goes through the mind.

Turns out, those fears were founded.  Luckily, it was not an incident with us, but a band we were supposed to interview had an incident.  Seether wound up having lights fall while they were playing.

It was right after the photographers were sent out of the photo pit.  My assistant and I lingered by the side entrance a few moments longer to watch the band, as I had toured with them on Ozzfest and had been following their progress ever since.  She pointed and asked, “what’s going on up there exactly?”

There was at least 20 guys on the stage, all trying to hold up the black metal framing for the lights.  They had fallen while the band was playing, nearly taking out their new guitar player.  The band never missed a beat, I will give them that much, but it did take all 20 or more guys to catch the lights and carry them out of the way of the band that was still in the middle of playing their song, trying to avoid commotion.

The band laughed about the incident lightly on stage, but it shook them up more than what they let on.  Gigi said the guitar player had his life flash before his eyes, and they cancelled the interview for that day.  Gigi and Bozz help Seether behind the scenes, and we understood that was a pretty scary event.

All in all, Seether played an awesome set, as did their fellow Ozzfest mates Chevelle.  Seether is from South Africa, and Chevelle is a band made up of three brothers.  Both bands were on Ozzfest 2002, and during that time, they were on the smaller stage, playing early afternoon and morning slots, which is such a contrast to where both bands are in their careers right now; they can both sell out shows now.

It is interesting to see bands like Seether and Chevelle grow from being on the smaller stage at Ozzfest.  Over the years, each of them have produced a number of hit songs and albums, and now they are the ones dominating the larger stages at festival and selling out shows of their own on a regular basis.  It’s awesome to look back and see where they came from, compared to where they are now in their career.

When I was touring on Ozzfest, I had interviewed Seether when they did not even have a tour bus at that point yet.  They had a motorhome, which was nice and all, and I remember interviewing them while on my break from working, showing up at their motorhome wearing a scantily clad outfit, covered in a heap of Mardi Gras shiny beads, as I had been doing modeling on a motorcycle on the tour at that point.  That was back in my skinnier days, obviously, and with 15 years that have passed, we all grew older.

Chevelle grew up, too.  I had interviewed them in Toledo after doing the Ozzfest tour, and I had asked them my signature questions about unicorns and yogurt, prompting them to do a shout out on stage about unicorn flavored yogurt.  We took pictures of the brothers acting as if one of them was trapped under a tour bus, joking around, acting silly, and now they’re much bigger, more serious, still kicking ass.

It’s awesome to have that part of history, to be able to look back at how things were before, compared to how they are now, and even my assistant was able to do that at the show.  When I had taken her to her first concert promoted by 99X, which was held at the other baseball field around the corner on Six Mile Cypress, one band that had played at that show was playing Fort Rock, and that was The Offspring.  She was excited to see how the band had grown, surprised at how many more hits they had since the last time she saw them, and she was the one to point out other differences, such as in 1999, I was merely tutoring her while attending Florida Gulf Coast University, and since, I earned my Master’s at the Johns Hopkins University and was now a professor at Southern Technical College in Port Charlotte.

With the focus on education, I thought it was interesting to note that right after the Fort Rock Festival, The Offspring’s Dexter Holland received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Southern California.  His 175-page dissertation focused on the virology of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV (the virus the causes AIDS): “Discovery of Mature MicroRNA Sequences within the Protein-Coding Regions of Global HIV-1 Genomes: Predictions of Novel Mechanisms for Viral Infection and Pathogenicity.”  My research is not meant to be a cure or even an immediate step toward a cure, but I believe that by adding to the vast amount of information that we've learned about HIV in the last 30 years or so, we'll get there,” said Holland.

Of course, another major event happened after the Fort Rock Festival, leaving fans in disbelief, and that was the apparent suicide of headlining band Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell.  It happened right after a sold out show at the Fox Theatre in Detroit with fellow Fort Rock artist The Pretty Reckless.  Family members said that Cornell took an extra helping of his prescription medication Ativan, and a side effect of the drug is suicidal thoughts and tendencies, which apparently may have influenced his decision to hang himself in his hotel room’s bathroom at the MGM Grande in Detroit.

After family members called, worried, a friend broke down the door to Cornell’s room, as well as another inside door, only to find him with a chord around his neck on the bathroom floor.  Looking back at some like “Fell on Black Days,” some say that Cornell had sung about depression and suicide before, perhaps foretelling his own death.  It was also interesting to note that Cornell had compared Seattle to being like a Northwest version of Detroit, calling it a rock city, and his last song played was a 13-minute blend with Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying,” which is even a more creepy foreshadowing of death.

Ironically, Soundgarden was the only band that my assistant and I fought our way into the crowd to watch.  Neither of us had seen Soundgarden before, and we were both fans of the many hits of the band, as well as Cornell’s other projects like Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo projects.  Perhaps my first introduction to the band was a promo video (by video, I mean a VHS) that had been sent to me when I was about 13 that had the song “Jesus Christ Pose” featured alongside hits from fellow record label mates, such as Therapy? from Dublin, Ireland, as well as Paw and Monster Magnet.

I must have played that tape out.  That was probably some of the first promotional material from a record label that I ever received, and it probably influenced my decision to get into doing music journalism.  While I loved Soundgarden growing up, I was too young to go to too many concerts back then, according to my parents (believe me, I tried), so I was not able to see Soundgarden back then.

I remember seeing Cornell’s shockingly light eyes contrasting against his locks of wavy dark hair.  Really, it was his vocal range that I was most attracted to, as he had a set of pipes on his that was not like most musicians at the time.  I appreciated his vocal skills and constantly looked for his newest releases.

I turned people onto Soundgarden, and when they liked that, I turned them on to Temple of the Dog.  I would make them watch the movie “Singles,” and I would play them the soundtrack.  Growing up in the 90s, Chris Cornell was a big part of the grunge scene, and I definitely sported the flannel look back then.

So yeah, you can be sure that I made my assistant follow me into the crowd to watch Soundgarden.  The only thing that sucked was that it meant we were not in the photo pit, as we had tried to get up as close as we could in the crowd while the band before, A Perfect Circle, was finishing up on the adjacent stage.  We were lucky enough to find some cool people to chillax with in the crowd, and none of us thought that would be the last time that we would lay eyes on the musical legend, as he would be dead soon.

We were not the only ones looking forward to watching the set, as mosh pits exploded around us.  People were eager to release energy by moshing and dancing.  Every song, people were singing along as if we were all gathered around a bonfire at summer camp, everyone knowing all of the words by heart.

It’s such a tragedy to think my first time was my last time seeing Chris Cornell with Soundgarden, but looking back, I’m glad we decided to fight our way through the crowd to watch it.  We might not have gotten the best photos of the show, but at least we got a couple, and more importantly, we were able to dance around and sing to the song we had grown up with during the band’s heyday in the 90s grunge.

There were so many bands at the festival, that it’s hard to pick a favorite, as so many put on some amazing shows.  Each of the bands could have been the headliner, as there were so many big name bands packed together on the stages, as they have done for years.  It is ironic to think that the Eagles of Death Metal were there, and the world was still reeling from that terrorist attack at their concert, only to discover another attack would happen in England only a few weeks after the Fort Rock Festival.

Even though Josh Homme and Jesse Hughes have both contributed to Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal is a far cry from that band.  They have collaborated with likes of Jack Black, Dave Grohl, and Kat Von D, just to name a few of the many.  This makes for a sound that is constantly changing like a living, breathing organism, a musical unit that has taken upon a lifeforce of its own and is worth seeing.

An interesting side note is that the Eagles of Death Metal shared a musician with Mastodon at Fort Rock.  With facial tattoos and ginger coloring, sporting a tie-die shirt and heart glasses, it was easily recognizable that he played for both bands.  It’s funny to note the names that Eagles of Death Metal uses for each of its ever changing members, and people don’t always know they are who they are.

Mastodon is another band that I have covered time and time again.  My first time meeting them was on their tour bus at Ozzfest, but it was the year after I had toured the country working on Ozzfest.  I met them at the Columbus show for Ozzfest the following year, dropping something off at their bus from a Sicilian dude, but that was such a short interaction, it might as well not even count for too much. 

Covering Mastodon at the Mayhem Festival, I had interviewed their drummer, who also sings, and that’s what really gave me more respect for the band, as I got to understand the storylines behind their songs a bit more when I interviewed the band a few times.  Being a writer, having a storyline concept is something that I admire, so that scores points with me.  I mean, the band is great, sure, musically, but I appreciate the extra afterthought of not just having a chant, but actually telling a story within a song.

As far as stage show with flash and trash, as some like to call it, I would have to say that In This Moment brought back their sexy stage girls with an even tighter set than they had played at the Fort Rock Festival a couple years ago.  There’s something about scantily clad chicks welding knives and dancing around with distorted posture that gets people’s attention, and I can appreciate good stage show antics.  The fact of the matter was that their set was better than it was a couple years ago, and it was good back then, so the fact that the band is constantly striving to improve says something about their work ethic.

Compare that to the other female-fronted band The Pretty Reckless, and the stage shows are as different as night and day.  Ironically, both bands had played the festival a couple years ago, and their stage shows were both different a couple years back.  Both of them put forth effort to change it up, which is always appreciated, but even with the differences, both bands are simply completely different.

The first time The Pretty Reckless played, they had almost this hippie vibe to the stage.  This year, they had more of a rocker edge with more black leather, as opposed to flowing hippie style, but they didn’t bring out any additional stage eye candy, feeling their female lead was sexy enough, which is true.  Not saying that one band was better than the other, just that they both went about their stage shows totally different, with In This Moment having that sexy additional element, and The Pretty Reckless basically rebelling against that by simply relying more on their music to speak for itself, as opposed to flash.

When a stage show is stripped down, meaning it does not have dancers, lasers, pyrotechnics and whatnot, it forces the audience to really pay attention to the music itself.  Having distractions on stage like pyrotechnics and dancers provides more eye candy, so the audience might not pay attention as closely to if a note is hit wrong, as they are focused more upon other stuff on the stage.  Not saying one approach is better, just different, and having a stripped down show that is more raw leaves the audience better able to critique the show, as they don’t have those other distractions from the music itself.

That being said, even without those additional elements on stage, The Pretty Reckless still did an awesome job, and I don’t think too many people had too much to critique in a negative fashion.  You still have a blonde bombshell to focus on, so there’s still that element of sexiness.  They played awesome.

Motionless in White, another band that had previously played the Fort Rock Festival, must have taken some notes from In This Moment, as they added a sexy element this year, having a girl on stage wearing a clown mask to amp up the audience.  Motionless in White was a band that had some of the makeup elements to create a mood previously, and while they still wore makeup, they didn’t wear quite as much as they had before, and they added this sexpot chick to the stage element.  Again, they improved their show, tightened up their sound, and one of my students said that she has been a fan of them for years, and that their sound is improving right along with her music knowledge, so she is growing with them.

It’s interesting to note those musical improvements over the years, as well as improvements to their live show.  They were another band that was great before, but you can see the improvements just in a short couple of years.  It makes you proud to watch a band like that improve before your eyes over time.

Three Days Grace is another improved band.  Not that their original lead singer was bad, as he has a set of pipes on him and has some stage antics that include climbing up the side of the stage if he needs to, but the not so new lead singer has an almost militant commanding stage presence.  I saw Adam Gontier do his solo project at Dirtfest in Birch Run, MI, a few years back, and he was good, but when I saw Three Days Grace at Rock USA Oshkosh in WI the following year, I understood the difference between them.

Matt Walst brings a little harder edge to the band in my opinion.  Perhaps he is comfortable dominating the stage with his brother, bassist Brad Walst, and maybe they bring that family chemistry that is not usually found amongst strangers.  Whatever the reason behind it, Matt brings an element of something to the band that Adam might have had a little of, but it’s like an extra helping of it with Matt in charge.

Don’t get me wrong.  Adam is great, and I would definitely recommend seeing him perform, but if you look at the hits that Three Days Grace has had with the different singers, you can see their difference in style.  In my opinion, Matt brought some darkness from My Darkest Days, making the band heavier.

Another band that has marked improvement was Starset.  They had also played a couple years ago at the festival, and not as many people knew of them back then.  Now, they have a major hit on the radio, and though they had radio airplay before, with a bigger hit, more people were able to recognize their songs and sing along than they did a couple years ago, which is nice to see an improved audience reaction to a band over the course of a couple of years, and I’ll be curious to see more from them.

Papa Roach was another band that I have covered previously at a slew of festivals, including at Fort Rock, and each time I see them, they seem to get better and better.  They keep producing radio hits, and the crowd continues to react to them.  From forming in 1993, to having a triple platinum album in 2000, and even recently having another major hit off of their recent album “Help,” this is a band that refuses to slow down, having hits that are different from each other but awesome nonetheless; I can appreciate a band that changes up their sound, as opposed to playing the same chords for every song.

Of Mice and Men was another band that I was excited to see, as they might not have as many radio hits as Papa Roach, for example, but they continue to evolve in their sound.  They might share the same name as a 1937 John Steinbeck novella about the Great Depression, but this metalcore band is probably not so depressed since reaching a million plays on their Myspace profile, uploading a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and getting signed to Rise Records, releasing their self-titled debut in 2009.  They had some lineup changes, but the band continues to strive for the American Dream and evolve greatly.

Nothing More, who just played Rock on the Range, will be getting ready to play Rocklahoma this weekend, as well as Chicago’s Riot Fest a couple weeks after Labor Day in the fall.  They have radio hits that get caught in your head, and you just can’t help but crank up the radio and sing along with them.  Seeing them in person is no different, only there’s more room to dance around as you sing along.

They’re tackling modern day issues in their videos, bringing a whole nother layer to the songs you hear on the radio.  It’s interesting the approach they take, combining these elements, and I have a feeling this is another band that will continue to make strives in the world of music, even though they’ve been around since 2003 and have six albums.  What’s interesting is watching their lead singer climb on a drumming contraption that is almost fashioned like a stand up jetski, where he can seemingly ride and play this custom made percussion instrument that blends technological elements with drumming.

In Flames was one of the bands that we were lucky enough to interview.  Who doesn’t like Swedish metal?  They have been around since 1990, chipping away at the metal scene, scratching their name into the wall, winning four Grammis Awards (the Swedish equivalent to the Grammy Awards), as well as Best International Band by Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards in 2008, and they have released 12 studio albums, including “Battles” in 2016, ensuring that Swedish metal stays on the map.

This is yet another Ozzest alumni that has grown considerably through the years, another band that it is interesting to sit back and watch over the years with different band members adding their own elements.  They don’t show any slowing down with age, as they are still able to rev up the crowd and make them dance like puppets, crashing into each other in mosh pits and surfing on top of the crowd.

Twins Rich and Ryan Meyer formed the band Highly Suspect with their best friend Johnny Stevens in Cape Cod, MA, a place I used to live for a short while.  They relocated to New York, starting out as a cover band, and their first studio album was only released a couple years ago in 2015.  Still, they were nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and they held a pretty good slot at the Fort Rock Festival.

Women in the crowd were overheard talked about the good looking younger members of Highly Suspect.  They did have energy on stage, putting on a pretty good show for a band that’s newer than some of the other bands at the festival.  They are definitely cranking out radio hits exciting people.

One band that is not a stranger to radio hits is Alter Bridge.  Though some people might not recognize their new name, the band is comprised of many of the members from the band Creed, a band that rocked the radio frequency waves for years with hit after hit.  Please note, this band is not a Creed re-hash, and they did not sit there and play Creed’s greatest hits, as they have plenty of their own.

With the band being named after a bridge on Alter Road in Detroit, the guys got back to their roots with a different lead singer and a totally different vibe.  They rock a little harder than Creed, at least in my opinion, opening up the gates to a flood of different fans.  Alter Bridge is a talented group with honed skills that will suck in listeners, as they have mastered the art of what it takes to make great songs.

Another major band at the festival was A Perfect Circle.  It had been more than a decade since I first saw the band at the UNO Arena in New Orleans with my ex-boyfriend, who is now on Phil Anselmo’s label.  Back then, the lead singer was shrouded in shadows, silhouetted against a backdrop, making it hard to make out Maynard’s face, and I feared that the band would do something similar at the festival.

My fears were unfounded, as the sun shined brightly, making everyone in the band visible.  It was a different experience from seeing them in a dark arena.  With more than a decade that has gone by, the songs were just as strong as ever, marinating like a good wine, only growing better with age. 

Interesting to note, Maynard does actually own Merkin Vineyards, and he is not the only musician dabbling in the wine industry, as Megadeth, who performed last year at Fort Rock, also has its hand in wine; Dave and Pam Mustaine own Mustaine Vineyards, and their SHE-WOLF Tempranilla Rose was recently awarded the Platinum Award, or Best in Show, at the San Diego International Wine Competition, as well as the Double Gold, or Best in Class, Award at the California State Fair Wine Competition and Best of Class at the 2017 Pacific Rim International Wine competition.  Both Maynard and Dave’s wines have fun names, as Merkin Vineyards, located in Arizona, has programs such as the Chupacabara program, which is produced using French/Alsation fruit to create “Shape Shifter” blends of wine, as well as the Tarzan/Janes, which is the Spanish/Iberian program: .

If you’ve never seen A Perfect Circle, do yourself a favor and check them out.  Seeing them in an arena is a little more intimate, but the energy of seeing them in the blaring sun was pretty amazing.  Maynard was all around the stage, and you really can’t help but get into the show with that high energy.

Beartooth was one of the newer bands that I was eager to check out at the festival.  Having heard them on XM’s Octane, I was curious to see what they would be like live, and they did not disappoint.  They have a new video out for their single “Sick of Me,” which follows people overcoming depression.

“Depression and anxiety isn’t something you just get away from,” said frontman Caleb Shomo. “It’s just inside you. For me it’s just always in my brain churning. It’s about fighting it and overcoming it, you can’t run away from it.  You have to deal with it. This song is a big way to help. At least for me, music has been implanted in my body and what I’ve connected with. When I go on stage everything goes away. If you can choose that you will not let depression and anxiety run your life, you’re going to make it. It’s your body and your life and your choice.”

All That Remains is another band that brings a lot of energy to the stage.  They will be sharing the stage this summer with Seether, Three Days Grace, and Five Finger Death Punch, just to name a few.  Each time I see this band, I am more and more impressed by them, so add them on your concert to-do list; check out their new album Madness, and find them at the High Elevation Festival in CO and more.

The headliner on Saturday had probably the largest history in the rock industry of all the bands, Def Leppard.  With the older population in Florida, there were more people that knew of Def Leppard than any other band at the festival, and there were many true hardcore fans that boasted that Def Leppard's music was the only true rock at the show.  Even though the band has a vast history, the members did not show up supported by walkers; they rocked as hard as they ever did, with age seeming not to matter, and they were there to school a few people on what rock started with.
People pushed up to the front, clamoring to try to get close to the band.  Women digressed into the mentality that eager teens in the 80's had when big hair rockers were the best thing since sliced bread.  I think everyone in the audience knew almost every song, and there's something to be said about an audience that can sing along to every single song that is being played by a band.

There’s so many bands that are packed into two days at the Fort Rock Festival, I could write pages more.  Just know that this festival is literally the best rock festival that Southwest Florida has to offer all year.  Each year, it continues to grow and sell out, so start planning early for next year’s festival.