ROCK ON THE RANGE 2015: DAY 1 REVIEW

Jason Squires for AEG Live / jasonsquires.com

Jason Squires for AEG Live / jasonsquires.com

Special thanks to ROTR for providing images from photographer Jason Squires. See a collection of photos from some of the bands that played on Day 1 here.

The ninth annual Rock on the Range took place at MAPFRE Stadium (previously known as Crew Stadium) in Columbus, OH May 15-17. Sold out for the third year in a row, attendance was not limited to those in OH as fans from all over made ROTR their destination. (I saw license plates from 11 states, not including OH, just while I was trying to get out of the parking lot Friday night.) With 60 different bands playing over three days on three stages, not to mention a return of the Comedy Tent, the thousands in attendance had a variety of options throughout the entire weekend. New this year was coverage that aired each night of the festival on AXSTV. For those that couldn’t make it to the event, they were able to watch some amazing performances that made them feel like they were part of the weekend.
Gates opened at 11a.m. each day and by 11:45a.m., when the first bands played, fans were ready and waiting at both the Ernie Ball and Jagermeister stages. While Shaman’s Harvest kicked off Day 1 at the Ernie Ball stage, mostly playing songs from their newest album, including their cover of Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana, a good sized line had already formed at the nearby FYE tent. Fans that purchased a CD(s) or vinyl of their favorite bands were given a wristband that allowed them to participate in a Meet and Greet at some point during the day. While not every band participated, there were many who did which caused a never-ending line all weekend.

The kick off for the main stage on Day 1 was led by the yearly Ranger tradition of the appearance of military personnel and the playing of the National Anthem as part of Armed Forces Weekend. As members of the U.S. Army took the stage, the crowd could be heard chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” The main stage opening slot was given to We Are Harlot who made their debut at the festival on a side stage in 2014. Their 30-minute set got the crowd warmed up for the day and included a cover of Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down. During the downtime until the next main stage band, I spotted a circle of people playing hackey sack with a cup. Improvising at its best. No strangers to Rock on the Range, Finland’s Apocalyptica came out guns, err, cellos blazing with songs from their 8th studio album Shadowmaker, that included newest singer, Frankie Perez on vocals for Cold Blood, title track Shadowmaker and older song I Don’t Care. Instrumentals included Inquisition Symphony and a true classical piece, The Hall of the Mountain King. While I was surprised they didn’t play any Metallica songs, the crowd was definitely into their set.

Also new this year was the RISK interactive graffiti art installation located near the FYE tent. Spear-headed by multi-talented fine artist Kelly Gravel, every time you walked past the installation during the weekend, you were guaranteed to see something new as professional artists along with fans in attendance created their own works of art. Each day the wall panels were taken down and a fresh canvas was ready for the next day. It was amazing to see how much the wall transformed each day. It was definitely a cool experience and I hope they bring it back next year. Back at the main stage, Live was playing hit after hit to a packed field. At one point during a song, singer Chris Shinn jumped off stage and down to the barricade to sing up close and personal with the fans. With a massive T-shaped barricade, quite a few band members during the weekend took the opportunity to get close.

After 9 years, I’m guessing those responsible for putting ROTR together probably get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. New this year were two massive video screens that flanked each side of the main stage. Pretty much the full height of the stage, this made each and every band larger than life. I’m guessing this was the biggest benefit for those at the back of the field, which was pretty much always packed. If you were at the main stage waiting for the next band to perform, in the past you were able to watch video of bands playing the Ernie Ball stage, however, you couldn’t hear them. Also new this year, was the addition of audio. This was also the case if you were at the Ernie Ball stage waiting between bands. Not only could you watch the main stage band, you could hear the performance while you waited for the next Ernie Ball stage band to perform. It was pretty late in the afternoon on Day 1 when I witnessed the singer for Dillinger Escape Plan, via video screen, climb the Ernie Ball stage scaffolding. No stranger to crazy antics on stage, it still amazes me when I see him do it. It was also around this time that the first sprinkle of rain fell.

What appeared to be the most anticipated performance of the day came with Breaking Benjamin. Recently reunited, it was no surprise that the field was packed as if they were the last headliner of the night. Seriously, the crowd was insane for them. After the first couple of songs, So Cold and Blow Me Away, singer Benjamin Burnley spoke to the crowd. Apparently there was question, but pointed out it had been confirmed that Breaking Benjamin were the first band to play the main stage at the very first Rock on the Range back in 2007. As the crowd cheered loudly he told the crowd, it was because of them that they were still around nine years later. They continued with new song Failure before going into Breath and a loud crowd sing along. Benjamin must have noticed someone down front didn’t look so good because he asked, “Are you alright?” and tossed a water bottle down front. As if the band performing wasn’t exciting enough, a cool moment came when Benjamin said, “This is for the empire,” and they launched into a mostly instrumental medley that included the Star Wars Imperial March and Tool’s Schism. Benjamin sang a portion of Nirvana’s Smells Like Team Spirt before playing an instrumental portion of Pantera’s Walk. The crowd continued to go nuts. Benjamin commented they were going all the way back to 2002 with Polyamorous. For I Will Not Bow, Benjamin jumped off the stage and down to the barricade tossing bottled water to people and he stayed down there singing for the entire song. Before their last song, Benjamin commented on what an honor it was to play for everyone. “You f*cking rock! The best God damned audience any band could ask for.” Their set ended with The Diary of Jane.

The most interesting band of the day had to be Yelawolf on the Ernie Ball stage. Part hip-hop, part country, park rock n roll, he was definitely interesting, slightly addicting and intriguing. Comprised of a guitarist, a bass player (both upright and standard electric) and a DJ, the band could make a lot of noise. Did I mention they were addicting? They also made you want to move, jump around and get crazy. At one point Yelawolf explained the combination of their sounds. They were a product of Hank Williams, Pantera, NWA, and Public Enemy. They really slowed it down with a country tune, Devil in My Veins from his last album, Love Story. I thought he might have lost the crowd, but everyone was into it. The last song of the set is what I would describe was a rap song with a bit of country flare. Push ‘Em had the place going crazy.

Back at the main stage, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, no strangers to Rock on the Range, kicked off their set with You’re A Lie from Apocalyptic Love. This lead into Night Train (GNR), Back From Cali, which Myles changed up the lyrics as he sang, “Rock on the Range had so much f*cking heart,” before going into another GNR song, You Could Be Mine. They only played one song, Bent To Fly, from newest album World on Fire, before going into Anastasia, from the previous release. Fans got excited, because Slash played a double-neck guitar on this one. Boy did he make it sing. During the opening notes of Sweet Child O’Mine, the crowd went crazy. Myles lead the crowd in singing along and everyone happily obliged. “F*cking beautiful Columbus. Well done.” Myles also commented about the 70,000 people in attendance. Say what? I’d believe it though. They ended their set with Velvet Revolver’s Slither and GNR’s Paradise City.

Prior to Marilyn Manson’s set I noticed bottles were no longer being allowed on the field. Anyone with a bottle had to dump their contents into a large plastic cup. It was quite annoying and time consuming, but people did as they were asked. I’m guessing it was due to the last two bands performing on Day 1, as this was no longer enforced during the rest of the weekend.

By 8pm, intro music and fog flooded the main stage for Marilyn Manson. With both side stages finished for the night, the stadium was packed as everyone tried to find a spot on the field or in the stands. While swinging his microphone, Marilyn Manson’s back was to the crowd for pretty much the whole intro of the song. He yelled into the microphone before screaming, “COLUMBUS!” As he turned around to sing Deep Six from his latest album, The Pale Emperor, his eye area was covered in blue make-up, creating a type of mask, his lips were covered in deep blood red lipstick, and his gold teeth shined brightly whenever he opened his mouth. Dressed in all black, including a long coat, he gave the crowd the show they wanted.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Manson show without some shock and awe and it came rather quickly. After the second song, Disposable Teens, I noticed Manson broke a glass bottle on the drum riser. It didn’t take long before my thoughts came true. With his knife shaped mic in one hand, he used the glass bottle to carve into the skin on the top of his hand, before going into No Reflection. As his hand bled, at one point he smeared the blood across his forehead. By the end of the song, he spoke to the crowd, “Columbus. Rock on the God damned Range!” He talked about being asked if he wanted to play Rock on the Range this year and he wasn’t sure. But then he remembered how loud everyone was and agreed to do it. He said he wanted to hear that same loudness. The crowd cheered and he approved by saying, “Thank you, thank you.” He continued, “I know you came to see the mOBSCENE and you’re going to see it now.” He had switched to a brass knuckles mic at this point and at one point was singing with his mouth full of the set list he had ripped off the monitor. In fact, all during his set, he did a lot of crouching down on the monitors.

He went way back with Lunchbox (1994) and I spotted at least two mosh pits. During this song was the first of two times Mason jumped off the stage and down to the barricade to sing up close with the fans. Once back on stage, he used lipstick to draw a circle around the outside of his face and a line through it. He said, “It means don’t do me,” and they went into The Dope Show. He danced around Twiggy and played a tambourine before tossing it into the crowd. During Rock is Dead, I spotted a girl crowd surfing in a wheel chair. She would be spotted off and on during the weekend and it was cool as hell! Manson played two covers, Sweet Dreams and Personal Jesus, which included a pulpit and more lipstick over his mouth and cheeks. Before Beautiful People, his face was pretty much covered in black make-up and once again he made his way down to the barricade to sing up close to the fans for a majority of the song. They closed with Irresponsible Hate Anthem which had Manson standing on the side of the kit and playing drums for a bit before eventually knocking over a cymbal and mic stand.

I can almost guarantee the majority of the people in attendance Friday night were there to see Slipknot. After about a 30-minute wait, Van Halen’s Running with the Devil started playing loudly through the speakers and I noticed there was one lone crowd surfer making his way to the front. Eventually Slipknot’s intro, XIX, started and immediately phones were in the air recording. Corey Taylor yelled into the mic, “Rock on the Range!” As they started the first song, Sarcastrophe, the two percussion risers that flanked either side of the stage were spinning while elevated approximately 15 feet in the air. This led into The Heretic Anthem and Corey telling everyone to get their devil horns in the air. The red lights and pyro made for an ominous visual. Every band member on stage was amped up and the energy flowed from the stage to the fans and back again. The crowd surfers were plentiful and the intensity both on stage and in the crowd never let up. Corey spoke to the crowd again, “Is that the way you crazy motherf*ckers want it tonight?” Before the start of the next song, Corey said one name, “Mr. Seven,” (Mick Thompson) and the crowd really lost it at the opening notes of Psychosocial. At one point in the song, it sounded like the entire venue was clapping along. Chris Fehn and Shawn “Clown” Crahan eventually came down off their risers and marched around the stage wearing and playing marching snare drums.

Once again Corey spoke to the crowd, “We’ve been waiting a long, long, long f*cking time for today. And I can finally f*cking say, hello Columbus, this is Rock on the f*cking Range!” After loud cheers from the crowd, he mentioned it had been far too long but they were back. He asked if everyone was happy to see Slipknot and there were even more cheers. He commented, “First of all, there is a lot of you crazy mother*ckers. Give me all the light you got. Let me see my f*cking family.” As the field was flooded with light, you could clearly see an insane amount of people on the field. As they were going into the next song, The Devil in I, there was a close up shot of Corey’s mask on the gigantic screen. There is nothing quite like seeing his mask larger than life. Especially since he had removed the top part of it, which gave it a much creepier look. Once again, there were red lights and pyro throughout the song. After the song, Corey called out how crazy the crowd was as he had noticed pits all over the place and how loud 70,000 people sounded. He then asked who owned their new album, .5: The Gray Chapter. After a lot of cheers, he thanked everyone for supporting the band for so long. “We have been thru hell and back, but we made it through and you crazy mother*ckers were waiting for us on the other side.” After thanking everyone again they played another new song, AOV, and Corey said he wanted to see everyone lose their f*cking minds. Clown and Chris’ risers were spinning again. I wondered if maybe too fast because during Wait and Bleed, I saw Clown knock one of his beer kegs off while the riser was still elevated.

Corey started singing Vermilion on one of the top risers at the back of the stage before finishing it while crouching down low on the center middle monitor at the front of the stage. His actions were pretty emotional towards the end of the song. I guess when you cant see facial expressions due to the mask, you have to get your emotions across with body language. They played another new song, Killpop, with more pyro, before Corey asked everyone to make a lot of noise for all the bands that kicked their ass all day. They picked it back up with Before I Forget and Corey instructed everyone to jump, sing and those their minds. The addition of Clown’s backing yells just added to an already intense song. The crowd pretty much took over singing the first couple of lines of Duality and Corey let them. I’m also guessing, even though you couldn’t really see his face, I’m sure Corey had a smile a mile wide. More pyro flooded the stage and Clown beat on his beer kegs with a baseball bat and I swear Jim Root’s head was going to just rip off his neck due to his ferocious head banging.

Once again, Corey referred to the crowd as family and hoped everyone was having as much fun as they were. He then proceeded to tell the crowd some good and bad news. Bad: they only had a few more songs. Good: they had a few more songs. He said they were going to take everyone back to 1999 and he wanted to see the place absolutely f*cking explode. The fast-paced Eyeless just continued to fuel the chaotic crowd. Halfway through Spit It Out, which already had the crowd singing the chorus loudly, there was a break in the song as Corey asked for the lights to be turned on. He asked how many people had seen them before and a fair amount of people cheered. When he asked how many were seeing them for the first time, a more surprising amount of people cheered. He said it didn’t matter if they had been with them for the last 16 years or the last 55 minutes and added, “This is where we all go down in Rock on the Range f*cking history tonight.” He commanded everyone to get down on the ground and there was no hesitation as the majority of the crowd crouched down. He said they were going to set the record in America that night in Columbus OH. After most of the people had crouched down, he reacted with, “Oh my f*cking God. You gotta be f*cking kidding me. That’s f*cking beautiful man.” He then gave the instructions. “When I say jump the f*ck up, what are you going to do?” The crowd yelled, “Jump the fuck up!” He said many had tried imitate but no one had duplicated the original, there in Ohio. He said, “On my signal, unleash hell.” As he was also crouched down, he continued singing the song where he left off before eventually yelling, “Jump the f*ck up!” As he himself jumped up, so did the crowd as they sang, Spit It Out!

For the next song, Corey said, “How about this one,” and spoke, “DADADA, DADADA, DA, DA, DA, DA, DA. You know which one I’m talking about?” Based on the crowd’s reaction, and much to Corey’s surprise, the crowd clearly knew the song. “You are out of your f*cking minds mother*ckers,” The band ended their set with Custer. While the band left the stage for a few minutes, the fans in the stands started stomping their feet on the metal bleachers. They played (sic), where, at the end of the song, I noticed Clown holding his fingers up with a peace sign while looking up into the sky. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking of Paul Gray. Corey spoke once again, “From all my brothers here on stage, thanks for keeping the spirit alive here at Rock on the Range.” He asked, “You ready for your anthem?” and told everyone to put their middle fingers in air. They ended the almost hour and a half long set with Surfacing, which included one final dose of pyro throughout the song.

As we were leaving the venue, I noticed the Lost and Found line was pretty long. I’m guessing all those crowd surfers lost a few important items. It took approximately 1-1/2 hours before we were out of the parking lot. I don’t recall it ever taking that long before, but again, there aren’t normally 70,000 people at Rock on the Range all trying to leave at the same time.

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