FESTIVAL REVIEW: ROCKLAHOMA 2019

Rocklahoma 2019. Three days in the sun, dust, and more sun over Memorial Day weekend (four days technically if you count the Thursday night pre-party). This was the 12 year of this annual festival and it was set to be one for the books from the get-go. Getting to this massive party was no small task on my part. Driving from New Hampshire to Oklahoma isn’t exactly a relaxing Sunday drive. Two full days of driving, two full-on tornadoes, and 1,700 miles later, I had arrived at my Air BnB in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Roughly 50 minutes outside of Pryor.

Waking up super early to make sure everything was set to go for the upcoming 3 days of shooting and overall festival happenings, I laid out my schedule for the next 3 days. Twenty bands, over the course of three, 12+ hour days in the blazing midwest heat. LET’S GO!!

Friday:

After figuring out where media and press parked their vehicles, we made our way to the Media tent to get situated and figure out our bearings for the weekend. Having gotten there around noon or so, the official festival grounds didn’t completely open until around 2:00 p.m. So this gave us some time to wander around the festival grounds as much as we could to get a feel for the environment. What we came to realize is that this is not your typical music festival. This, is a straight up party, in all aspects of the word! People running around in Pickle Rick costumes, man-thongs, chicken suits, straight up clown costumes… anything you could think of. But that being said, there was definitely no sense of elitism or one genre of music was better than another. This was simply a massive combination of people gathering together to celebrate music as a whole. I ran into people that listen to Slayer, Duran Duran, Dinosaur Jr, The Offspring, Blink 182, Culture Club, Bruce Springsteen, Dark Funeral, Municipal Waste, Death Grips, Poison, Gary Clark Jr.… this truly was a musical melting pot in the most beautiful kind of way.

First up on my checklist of bands to cover was Alien Weaponry. Three guys from New Zealand that punch you in the face with intensity and tone that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to early 90’s Sepultura. Coming on stage backed by Midori chants that immediately put you in a different place, a place I need to visit more often.

Next up was Fever333. This supergroup comprised of Jason Butler of letlive. fame, The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison, and drummer extraordinaire Aric Improta of Night Verses exploded onto the main stage. Bringing an energy that I haven’t seen live in a band since the days of Rage Against The Machine. How Jason managed to run and dive and climb all over the stage in full bulletproof vest and armor is both astounding and awe-inspiring.

Back over on the ZYN Stage was Corrosion of Conformity. A band I’ve always wanted to see live ever since I’ve been listening to heavy music. Easily the oldest group of dudes to perform the whole weekend, but skills is skills. They absolutely brought it and then some. Chunky, ballsy, bluesy metal that does not let up.

Over on the main stage around 7:15, I was immediately transported back to middle school and high school when Buckcherry took the stage. The band ‘Lit Up’ the stage with a setlist full of old school tunes and modern-day classics like ‘Crazy Bitch’, ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’, and ‘Brooklyn’. After Buckcherry, I had to take a break to dump an entire day’s worth of photos onto my wireless drive. Sadly due to this, I missed the legendary GWAR. From what I heard and saw people covered in after their set, it was, well… very GWAR. Blood, guts, beheadings, and other “fluids”.

After I dumped the first half of the day’s photos, I headed back to the main stage to cover a band I’ve seen many many times, Seether. I’ve seen the band multiple times and they had a very familiar setlist, I’ve heard this song and dance before. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still great to see Shaun, Dale, and John doing their thing on stage.

And now on to the headliner of the night and, personally, one of my favorite bands… Shinedown. Opening up with one of their newer singles “Devil” before Immediately jumping into the song, ‘Diamond Eyes’. There was a cool moment during the second song where singer, Brent Smith, had the rest of the band continue to play the song but instructed the entire audience to greet each other. As this band has always been one to form unity through music with it’s the audience. Once the audience became very familiar with each other, the band jumped right into one of their more well known modern day songs, ‘Enemies’ followed up by another newer song, ‘Monsters’. They then proceeded to run through another 10 songs with every possible cut you could possibly want from this band live. Running from everything from their album, ‘Us and Them’ all the way up to their most current album which they are touring in support of right now, Attention! Attention! (Atlantic) and they closed out their show with the title track of my favorite album of theirs, “Sound of Madness”.

In short, day one of Rocklahoma 2019 definitely set the tone for the weekend. And now we are on to Day Two.

Saturday:

Unfortunately, Day 2 started off later than I wanted to because I was, in fact, having trouble with my car on the way down to Oklahoma a few days prior and come the morning of Day 2 of the festival the problems escalated. But once we got my car figured out we headed out to the festival grounds later on in the afternoon. Unfortunately because of the problems my car was having I missed three of the bands I was very much looking forward to seeing open up the festival for the day. Hyro The Hero, Bad Wolves, and Light The Torch. Thankfully later on in the day, I was able to catch up with the gentlemen in Hyro The Hero and Bad Wolves and talk to them for a little bit before having to run off to shoot the first band of the day for me… Beartooth!

Beartooth is an interesting one for me, as I always heard the name, but never actually had the chance to sit down and listen to the music. Bear in mind this is also the band that came in wake of the disbandment of the band ‘Attack! Attack!’ Caleb and the rest of the band roared on to the stage with only the intensity of someone that has been doing this style of music since he was in a middle school could possibly pull off. Playing a solid mix of new and old, granted they only had 7 songs in their setlist, but they still managed to make the entire festival move. Before their third song of the day, “Bad Listener”, Caleb uttered a lovely sentiment of the following… “I know there is a bunch of seats right behind the pit here, but wherever a mosh can be had… a fucking mosh pit WILL be had! This is a goddamn rock show!!”

After Beartooth was done destroying the main stage, I bolted over to the 2nd stage to catch one of my favorite bands of all time… Hatebreed. Now anyone that follows this website regularly may remember my passionate review of this band’s performance at the Worcester Palladium just under two months ago for their 25th-anniversary tour. This stop for the band just happened to be the band’s Oklahoma date for that same tour, so I got to see them do it twice. To quote the Hulk in Avengers: Endgame, “I see this as an absolute win!” Jamey, Frank, Wayne, Chris, and Matt blew up the stage in a way that only they know how. They quite possibly had one of the biggest crowds of the entire weekend! You really haven’t lived or experienced all of life’s joys until you hear, what looked like 3,000 people crowding around one stage, all shouting at the top of their lungs… “Destroy everything that makes us weak!”

Next up, over on the main stage, was Asking Alexandria, who, if you have gone to any version of the Vans Warped Tour, you are most certainly familiar with. I did have a phase with this band back in the early years of college, but I haven’t paid attention to them personally since their album “Reckless & Relentless” so I really didn’t know what to expect. They played a solid mix, at least as solid of a mix as you can get out of 7 songs. But they played old and new, can’t complain at all.

On to the co-headliner of the night, at least for the main stage… In This Moment. This is a band that I have heard so so much about but have never had the chance to really sit down and listen to their music or see them perform live. Holy shit was I impressed! I always knew that this band was very theatrical in their stage set up, but I was not ready for the metal a version of a Lady Gaga to walk out on stage wearing a complete face covering gold mask while screaming along to a cover of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle”. Aside from the theatricals of the opening song, they did not let up on making it feel like you were watching a metal Broadway production in real time. I made sure to stick around for the entire said, granted I only know one song by this band, that being their song, ‘Blood’. But from what I witnessed I can confidently say I am now officially a fan and will be listening to their discography and the very not so distant future.

Closing out the ZYN Stage for a Night 2 was an artist that I’ve known for many many years… Tech N9ne! I’ve known Tech N9ne for years, I’ve seen him perform now over a dozen times, and I always get asked the same thing whenever he appears on the lineup for a show of this nature… “Why the hell is a rapper performing at a rock/metal show?!” This man has the stage presence to headline a festival without any doubt in my mind. The stage presence, the driving force of his songs, the overall interactions that he has with his audience and fans, and most importantly the music. I was rapping along to every word of his set and loving every minute of it. I heard all day leading up to this point “He shouldn’t be here, he’s a rapper. This isn’t going to go well.” Sweet merciful God where they are wrong… He arguably had the single biggest crowd of the entire weekend. If you ever have the chance to go see him or anyone else that’s one his Strange Music record label, GO! You will not be disappointed.

And on to the headliner of Night Two, arguably what some would consider the vinegar stroke of the entire festival. Korn was a last minute addition to the festival, actually. Ozzy Osborne was supposed to headline this night but unfortunately had to cancel all of his 2019 concert appearances because of a nasty fall he had earlier in the year. But Korn came in and saved the day, in spades. Again, another band I have seen many many times in my life. And they have yet to disappoint me lives, maybe it’s me yearning for the days of JNCO Jeans and classic Hot Topic again, or maybe it’s just the fact that they kick ass live. They steamrolled through a huge 14 song set, including a four-song encore that of course ended with their two biggest songs of all time, ‘Freak on a Leash’ and ‘Blind’. Once they’re set finished up, the sprinkling rain that had been persisting throughout the entire set turned into near disaster. As a Category 4 tornado touched down a mere couple 100 yards away from the festival grounds. Festival attendees were urged to stay in their cars or get to any form of stable shelter as quickly as they could. Thankfully by the time the tornado had touched down, I had already gotten back to my Air BnB about 50 minutes away. But the TV had turned on to warn anyone and everyone to get out of Rocklahoma if they were at Rocklahoma as this thing wasn’t leaving. Coming from New England, where tornadoes aren’t really a thing, the haunting sound of that tornado siren going off for roughly four hours in the middle of the night is something that is still going to haunt me for a while. Amazingly, there was no damage done to the festival grounds and everything continued as planned for the third and final day of the festival.

Sunday:

Once again, car troubles started off the day for the final day of the festival, halting us from getting there until around 5 pm. First up on today’s docket is Swedish freak show, Avatar. I haven’t heard from this band since ‘Bloody Angel’ and ‘Hail The Apocalypse’ came out, but I did very much enjoy those songs when they came out, so I was really looking forward to this. They opened up the set with guitarist, Jonas Jarlsby, rising out of the stage on a literal golden throne of guitars. Running through a quick but frenetic seven-song set of new and old. Singer Johannes Eckerström rattled off an enlightening sentiment of self-empowerment – “I’m Swedish, I’m dressed up like a demonic jester, I scream like a banshee, and I am part of a much larger family. We! Are! Avatar! And we’re here for the freaks! We speak for those with no voice, we play for those that have nowhere to go…” This led into them closing their set with their calling card song, ‘Smells Like A Freak Show’.

After a small break at the media tent to get something to drink, as Sunday was easily the most humid of the days there, there was Jackyl taking the main stage. I’ve only ever heard the name of this band and never had any clue what they played. The answer to that question is loud, in your face, and home grown rock and roll. I had no idea until they took the stage, but Jackyl is actually from Georgia. So this was a bit of a homecoming show for them, as they also have played multiple iterations of Rocklahoma in the past. Eddie Trunk (SiriusXM/That Metal Show) was brought on stage to share a swig of Jim Beam Bourbon on stage with singer, Jesse Dupree, before playing what is now my favorite song title ever… ‘My Moonshine Kicks Your Cocaine’s Ass’. Closing out with their signature song ‘The Lumberjack’, Jesse broke out a chainsaw on stage because, just in case you forgot that the band is from the south, there is a fucking chainsaw solo In The Song!

After the dust settled over on the main stage, I made my way over to the ZYN stage for a band that I always wanted to see live, Black Stone Cherry. Hailing from Kentucky and punching you in the face with sound, these guys really know how to put on a show. They had the shortest set of the entire weekend, clocking in at only six songs. Don’t let that fool you, because you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the crowd and vibe that this band drew.

Bush was up next on the main stage! ‘Glycerin’, ‘Machinehead’, ‘Everything Zen’, ‘Comedown’. If you’re a late 80’s or 90’s kid, this was your haven for the day. Nostalgia mode: Engaged. Making their way through layers of fog and smoke, singer Gavin Rossdale, ran through to the front of the stage with a huge smile on his face that was truly infectious throughout the entire set. And then the music started… As a kid that was born in 1990 and was raised on Green Day, Notorious B.I.G., Spin Doctors, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers Band, seeing Bush is like meeting Michael Jordan if you’re a basketball fan. Honestly, not a single bad or negative thing to say about the performance Other than I wish it was longer.

 

Another band I’d heard a ton of noise about but never knew what they were about, Blackberry Smoke. Another band from good ol’ Georgia! When you combine blues, hard rock, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, put them all into a blender full of whiskey and smoke. You get a DAMN good time. As I left the stage and took a more scenic route around the festival grounds to avoid slipping in the mud and dirt that had accumulated over three days, two of which had rain, and freaking tornado, I heard them closing out their set with a cover of the Zeppelin classic ‘When The Levee Breaks’. Aaaaaaand here we are, the final band of the night and closing out the festival in its entirety, Disturbed!

Disturbed, touring right now in support of their latest album Evolution (Reprise). They came out on stage underneath an aura of green light and heavy distorted static, kicking off immediately into the first song of the night, ‘Are You Ready’ off of their new album. They had a 15 song set in only four of those songs were off of the new album, so it was a very good and solid mix of new and old. Having never seen Disturbed before myself, I never really knew what to expect from their live show. After this weekend I can safely say, that David Draiman is probably one of the most well spoken and articulate people I have ever seen and met in my life. The man has a way with words that, honestly made me feel stupid and uneducated. Nearing the end of the show the band played their most popular, newer song, their cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic ‘The Sound of Silence’. And as always, they closed out the night and the festival with the ever-present (for them) ‘Stricken’ and ‘Down With The Sickness’.

Rocklahoma 2019: loud, in your face, welcoming, eclectic, hot, dusty, and (almost) deadly. Three days in the sun with some of the best people you could ever meet. It may have taken a toll on my car and I may have gone on almost no sleep for the whole weekend. But it was well worth the 4,000+ miles it put on my car from New Hampshire to Oklahoma and back. It was the first national festival I ever covered and you can bet your ass, I will absolutely be back next year!!!

…except that damn tornado, screw that thing.

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS SMALL