All photos by Dan DeSlover – Concert Capture
Music fans from across the U.S. converged upon the small town of Pryor, Oklahoma for the annual Rocklahoma music festival on Memorial Day weekend. The three-day event took place Friday through Sunday, May 25-27, and included its best lineup to date. Prior incarnations relied on 80s hair-metal bands, whereas the 2012 bill featured artists that varied from old-school bands such as Queensryche and Megadeth to Southern rockers Jackyl and Black Stone Cherry to Christian artists P.O.D. and Red. Creed, Rob Zombie and Chickenfoot were featured as Main stage headliners over the three respective days.
Major artists were spread over two adjacent stages, Main and Hard Rock, such that music alternated virtually non-stop from 4:00 p.m. until well past midnight every night. A pair of smaller stages, Retrospect Records and Axis Campground, provided additional performances from smaller local and independent bands. VIP tickets offered reserved bench seating and standing room pit access for the Main stage, while the remainder of the festival grounds were grass-covered, general admission spaces open to all ticketed patrons. Roughly 20,000 fans graced the wide open fields each day.
Adelitas Way returned to Rocklahoma and opened the Main stage on Friday with a full-throttled set that got the early crowd primed for a weekend of music. They played at their typical frenzied pace despite a heat index over 90-degrees. Frontman Rick DeJesus got more people moving after he staid, “Fill this front up so I can jump off the f–king stage.” They did and he kept his promise by crowd surfing after they closed their set with “Invincible”. Cavo followed with a 45-minute set but lacked Adelitas’ enthusiasm despite an otherwise solid performance. Chevelle brought back the energy but suffered from sound problems near the front. Vocalist Pete Loeffler was often drowned out from the bass that resonated from concrete slabs that defined the Main stage pit.
Friday’s highlights were appearances by Slash [show review], featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, and Creed [show review] who each produced sets of the highest caliber. The lineup was wrought with irony in that Myles Kennedy also performs with Alter Bridge (a.k.a. Creed sans Scott Stapp). Mark Tremonti, guitarist for both bands, later tweeted, “Great to hang with Myles and Slash. This was the first time Scott and Myles had a chance to meet!”
Redlight King gave a standout performance on the Hard Rock stage on Friday. Canadian musician Mark Kasprzyk fronts the new band, having found previous success touring as Kazzer. Redlight King goes beyond the radio friendly rock hit, “Bullet in My Hand,” with the chill rap “Old Man” that’s influenced by Neil Young’s classic hit. Kaz had great stage presence, while his smooth rap and capable voice are a complete package.
Saturday’s lineup stepped it up a notch. With Anti-Mortem and Trivium on the bill, fans were going get a taste of the hardcore. The latter annihilated the Hard Rock stage, generating the largest most pit of the weekend. When it appeared as though Trivium had hit their stride, they closed their set with an explosive rendition of Metallica’s “Creeping Death.”
Main stage artists Pop Evil, 10 Years and Theory of a Deadman provided a more mainstream rock experience for those not wanting to mosh. Pop Evil put in a strong ten-song set with hits “Hero,” “100 in a 55,” “Boss’s Daughter” and “Last Man Standing.”
10 Years always play with an acute determination and Saturday was no different. Both vocalist Jesse Hasek and bassist Lew Cosby were shirtless by the end of their set in the blazing Oklahoma sunshine. They performed a couple songs from their forthcoming album, Minus the Machine. Hasek joined the crowd to sing “Shoot It Out” amongst the fans, at least as far as his mic cord would take him.
The Darkness reunited recently and the English outfit turned out their trademark 80s-meets-90s hairmetal laced with Justin Hawkins uber-falsetto vocals. Hawkins appeared in his Evel Knieval-styled leather pants and strutted about with a smile that went ear-to-ear. For many it was a new experience but others were stoked to see The Darkness back together.
Megadeth and Rob Zombie closed out the Main stage with a vengeance, while Volbeat was sandwiched between on the Hard Rock stage. Megadeth’s technically challenging riffs have been a mainstay of their sound for the past three decades. Guitarist Chris Broderick is the perfect complement to Dave Mustaine’s over the top fretwork. Dave Ellefson returned to his rightful place on bass for the last album. They gave a headline-worthy show and primed the crowd for Zombie.
Volbeat took charge of the Hard Rock stage and lit up the crowd for 45-minutes. The Danish rockers finally broke through to U.S. audiences with their latest Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. Their style can best be described as Social Distortion meets Slayer, with catchy hooks and uptempo transitions that pairs like fine cuisine. Their live show takes it to the next level and they impressed a huge crowd.
Rob Zombie’s music from the macabre capped the night in spectacular fashion. Lights, fire, smoke and a stage-show that showed the Hollywood side of Zombie was a feast for the senses. This was a set that was best seen from a distance, those sitting too close had to constantly move their heads back and forth to keep up with Zombie’s frenetic pace.
Sunday saw Rocklahoma return to its roots, leaning toward classic rock with some Southern rock thrown in for good measure. Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry paired well with Jackyl. Both had the crowd begging for more.
Puddle of Mudd usually give an upbeat performance, frontman Wes Scantlin has been known to climb scaffolding during their show. However, Scantlin was anemic, barely moving beyond center stage during their 45-minute set. Despite his lethargic presence, his voice was sharp and they gave an otherwise solid set.
One of Sunday’s highlights was an early evening appearance by Aranda. They hail from Oklahoma and rewarded their local fans who made the trek to Pryor. Brothers Gabe and Demeon Aranda share vocal duties, each garnering a hit with rock radio with their current, independent release Stop the World.
Art of Dying have been moving up the rock food chain with heavy rotation on rock radio and an abundance of touring (2011 UPROAR, 2011 and 2012 Avalanche). Good music with matching personalities, Art of Dying are living a dream and show no signs of slowing down.
Sunday closed with Seattle rockers Queensryche leading into Chickenfoot‘s headline set. Geoff Tate’s operatic vocals are the basis of their sound, but their intricate melodies punctuated by Scott Rockenfield’s incessant pounding on the kit are intricately tied to Queensryche’s unique style. Rather than opening with an upbeat track, they chose to start with the slower-paced “Get Started.” Tate’s vocals were completely lost to the music, showing up only briefly during the quieter “Silent Lucidity.” Tate was obviously flustered, shrugging to the crew at side-stage between songs. He was obviously belting it out but his voice just wasn’t projecting beyond his monitors.
Supergroup Chickenfoot had a huge fan presence. Sammy Hagar (vocals), Joe Satriani (guitar) and Michael Anthony (bass) were joined by Kenny Aronoff on drums. Founding member Chad Smith is currently on tour with his Red Hot Chili Peppers, a valid reason to be excused. Hagar is known for his dynamic performances and that’s exactly what Rocklahoma received. Satriani is a guitar legend and a treat to watch perform. Hagar and Anthony have a chemistry that dates back to their time together in Van Halen. Calling their live show rock solid would be an understatement. No need for fancy effects, Chickenfoot simply came out and put the the rock in Oklahoma.
Though Rocklahoma lowlights were far and few between, the primary issue that frequently occurred was sound quality from Main stage vocal performances. Given that some artists had pristine sound, our conclusion was speaker placement coupled with the concrete channel directly in front of the stage greatly affected vocal sound quality. Chevelle, 10 Years, Megadeth and Queensryche were adversely affected, even prompting Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate to comment how this year’s crowd “sucked” relative to their 2009 set. Many in the front were calling out for the band to “turn up the mic” to no avail.
Several guitars, signed by an entire band, were auctioned for charity each day between the later sets on the Main stage. Creed, Slash, Chickenfoot, Rob Zombie and Motley Crue (from the previous year) fetched thousands of dollars apiece, ranging from over $4000 to $7000 apiece, with Slash pulling in the most money for the cause. The final item for bid was a 2012 Rocklahoma tour poster that was signed by every band member that performed on the two large stages over the three days, generating another $5000 in donations.