Memorial Day weekend. Most see this as the kick off to the summer. Well, if anyone knows how to kick the summer into gear, it’s Rockford, IL’s WXRX radio station and all the other fine folks that put on Rock Monkey Ruckus. This was my second year attending and once again, I had a blast. The biggest difference from last year was the addition of a second stage which allowed for almost double the amount of bands from the previous year. It also made for a non-stop day since there was just about 5 minutes between when one band stopped playing and the next band started.
Unfortunately I missed the first two bands of the day, Hillbilly Herald and Gemini Syndrome, but by the time I arrived at the Budweiser main stage, there was already a very large crowd ready and waiting for Wayland. Known as the band that is “Always On Tour” their fan base was out in full force. With songs like Fire Down Below, Welcome to My Head and Nobody’s Perfect, their set was one rock hit after another. The band as a whole really work well together, but singer Mitch Arnold really kept the crowd pumped up. He moved around the entire stage, jumped off risers and poured his heart and soul into each and every song he sang. To see this much energy early in the afternoon really set the tone for the day.
Next up were Shaman’s Harvest on the Jagermeister stage. It had been awhile since I’d seen this band so they were high on my list to check out. They did not disappoint. Their set was full of low raspy vocals that you could tell came from the heart, tons of rippin’ guitar solos, big drum beats and a song called Country As Fuck! Of course, the biggest crowd reaction came from their most famous hit Dragonfly, with singer Nathan Hunt on acoustic. By the end of their set, I’d say they had more than a few new fans.
I headed back to the Budweiser stage for 10 Years. Jesse Hasek is known for some interesting wardrobe choices on stage, but I don’t think anyone quite expected him to come out wearing white pants, a white shirt with red hearts, a red jacket and a red cowboy hat along with white heart shaped sun glasses. He also introduced the band as Herpe and the Heartbreakers. Their set started off a little slow but it didn’t take long before they really kicked it into high gear. Even though bassist Ryan Collier walked out on stage with a cane due to an injury, that didn’t keep him from rocking out with the top half of his body as his dreads were flyin’ off and on during their set. Even guitarist, Ryan “Tater” Johnson, did his fair share of jumping and spinning around on stage.
No matter if they were playing songs like Dancing with the Dead or Beautiful this Rockford crowd was into it. On more than on occasion Jesse jumped off the stage and down to the barricade to stand closer to the crowd. He even used the crowd to steady himself while he stood on the top of the barricade rail during Wasteland. However, it was during Shoot It Out that Jesse actually climbed onto the crowd and was kneeling on the hands of everyone underneath him. As he swayed back and forth it was almost as if he were riding a bull while trying to keep his balance. He then crowd surfed a bit before the show was finally over.
I headed back to the Jagermeister stage for Beware of Darkness. A band from L.A. slowly but surely making their way up the Rock charts, they put on one hell of an energetic show. As a 3-piece, they each have their own presence on stage. Whether it is singer/guitarist Kyle Nicolaides’ vocals and sometimes aggressive and creative guitar playing or bassist Daniel Curcio’s Ramones-esque look and vibe on stage or Tony Cupito’s maniac style of playing, these guys know how to rock a stage. The real clincher was closing with Howl from their 2013 release Orthodox. The crowd that started off with a sense of curiosity ended amped up.
Once again I was back at the main stage for David Draiman’s new project Device. David walked out on stage and the crowd roared with cheers. He walked to the edge of the stage with a mic in one hand and his arm raised showing devil horns with the other hand as if to salute the crowd. They played songs from their self-titled release, but a few surprises were in store. The first was when Gemini Syndrome’s singer, Aaron Nordstrom, came out to sing on A Part of Me. Adrian Patrick, singer for Otherwise, also came out to sing on Haze. They also covered Lita Ford’s Close My Eyes Forever. Will Hunt was another mad man drummer with his hair flying nonstop during their set that I barely saw his face. Then there was Virus, the sole guitarist on stage, who also helped with backing vocals. He definitely brought that Rock ‘n Roll vibe to the band. I should also mention, it was during Device’s set that it started to rain. No worries though, this crowd wasn’t going anywhere.
Back at the Jager stage, the rain continued, and I was very impressed with the music of Longreef. I was a little surprised to hear they were originally from Sydney, Australia. Although, lead singer, Josh Barker, looked like he belonged on a surf board. But make no mistake, his presence on stage was well received and the band just plain out rocked! There’s a lot of energy in their songs and performance. This is definitely a band to keep an eye out for if they come to your town.
Back at the main stage, the rain had eased up a bit and would eventually stop closer to the end of Candlebox’s set. What can I say about Candlebox that most don’t already know? They are just a great Rock ‘n Roll band. With a powerful vocalist in Kevin Martin and a two guitar attack from Peter Klett and Sean “Memphis” Hennesy, you cannot deny the staying power and longevity of this band. Heck, they’re celebrating 20 years together! That says a lot. Of course, the biggest sing-a-long of the set came during Far Behind.
Once again, clear skies continued for Otherwise at the Jager stage. This is one hard working band. Playing songs from True Love Never Dies they immediately got the crowd worked up. Each band member brings his own energy to the stage and when you combine all that, you have one explosive performance. The crowd was eating it up. Probably the craziest moment of the day was during the second to last song when bassist Vassilios Metropoulos left the stage and went into the crowd. However, that’s not the crazy part. The fact that I found video footage of what he was doing since I couldn’t see him, is awesome. Check out this video shot by a fan of Vassilios playing bass with a mosh pit going on in front of him! Now THAT was the crazy part.
They closed with Soliders which included a double jump off their road cases by singer Adrian Patrick and of course, Vassilios.
Back at the Budweiser stage the crowd was patiently waiting for Black Stone Cherry. Guitarist Ben Wells walked on stage and greeted everyone with a smile and a devil horn hello. It didn’t take long before they were all plugged in and rocking the socks off of everyone in attendance. For those that have never seen BSC before, they come out hard and fast. With Ben’s high kicks and flying hair and John Fred Young’s crazy style of drumming and intense faces they definitely set the tone. Chris Robertson belted out his vocals with as much passion as I’ve ever seen all while showing an emotion and deep connection while playing his guitar. Bassist Jon Lawhon continues to show that he cannot be tamed and played with such a wild intensity. Playing hits such as Blind Man, It’s in My Blood and Rain Wizard, a cool moment in the set came when they covered Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way. At one point Ben mentioned they had been at home this year writing a new album and that it kicked ass. They gave a big HELLYEAH shout out to the Armed Forces then ended their set with Lonely Train. However, before they left the stage, Chris called out for 30 seconds of death metal and the band played fast and crazy and the show was over.
Local Chicago band, The Last Vegas, closed out the Jagermeister stage. Chad Cherry & Co. brought their style of music to this Rockford crowd. Playing most songs from their newest release Bad Decisions, this band knows how to light up the stage. Much to my surprise, Johnny Wator was playing guitar with them again. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing him on stage until he wasn’t there. Hopefully he will be back full force from now on.
The time had come for the last two acts of the night at the main stage. First up were Sick Puppies. They held nothing back opening with War and Cancer. They also treated everyone to not one, but two brand new songs. No Going Back and Die To Save You were both well received. All day fans were crowd surfing or moshing so it came as no surprise when a pit opened up during Odd One. There were even a couple times when Shim Moore had everyone jumping up and down. For those that have not see Sick Puppies before, I have to say, Emma Anzai has to be one of the most badass bass players out there. The surprise of the night came when they covered All My Life by the Foo Fighters. They left on a high note with Going Down which just left the crowd wanting more.
There’s nothing like riding the high of great day of music as the last band takes the stage. Buckcherry pulled no punches starting off with Ridin’, Rescue Me and then All Night Long. It was a nice little variety from their many releases and the band was full of energy on stage. Fans were treated to Wrath from their new album Confessions before going into a couple hits from 15. Then once again, they took everyone back to their first two albums with Slammin’ and Dirty Mind. Love when they pull out those old tracks! By this point, I do believe the rain had started coming down again, and heavier than it had been earlier in the day. However, from what I could see, not many people left. They were going to tough it out. As they say, come hell or high water, they were staying. Buckcherry, being no strangers to playing in the rain, carried on.
I have to say, even though Buckcherry have been performing for the better part of 15 years, they never let up. They still play with an energy and emotion that is energetic and passionate. From Josh Todd’s vocals and charismatic and active performance, to Jimmy Ashhurst’s low tone bass playing with that ever sly smile from time to time, to Keith Nelson’s amazing guitar collection, I mean, mad guitar skills and serious focus, to Stevie D’s equally awesome guitar playing and his somewhat reserved demeanor, to Xavier Muriel’s monstrous drum beats. The way they interact on stage with each other, you can tell they are brothers.
Of course, the crowd went crazy during Lit Up and everyone was jumping. After two more new songs, Gluttony and Nothing Left But Tears, it was time for their most popular song, Crazy Bitch. People always go crazy for this, but I can imagine it has to feel pretty good seeing fans go nuts over your songs. Josh also introduced the band, but I’ll let you figure out who he’s referring to: Jimmy 2 Fingers, the Filipino Nightmare, the Italian Stallion and the Spanish Fly. They briefly left the stage and then encored with another new song, Greed.
All in all, was it a long day? Yes. Did it rain off and on? Yes. Did bands give 110% all day? Yes. Did people appear to be having a hell of a time? YES. Putting on a festival like this takes a lot of work but on the other hand, it takes fans attending to make it really all come together. I saw the day as a total success and I personally can’t wait to see what the line up will be next year. There’s no where to go, but up!
Keep up with the bands below: