– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
AT&T Center / San Antonio, TX (Sunday, May 29th, 2016)
Driving down to San Antonio, it was kind of hard to believe that it had already been a year since the last River City Rockfest. It felt more as if it had been just a few months before, but yet here was another Memorial Day weekend, meaning it was again time for hard rock and metal music lovers from around Texas to congregate at AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The hot and humid weather wouldn’t even be a slight deterrent to all the faithful as they gradually filed in, the spacious parking lots that were turned into the festival grounds for the day bustling early on as those who brought chairs found their spots to camp out for the next eleven hours, while others grabbed the few shaded areas that existed.
Still, the front of the main stage, right by the barricade, was the most coveted spot, and it disappeared early, with Johannes Michael Gustaf Eckerström encouraging everyone to pack in close. The frontman for Avatar succeed in drawing people as they took the stage just a few minutes after the gates had opened (which was at noon), as he and his fellow band mates treated everyone to some aggressive Swedish metal, complete with a carnival-esque aesthetic.
The got the festival off to a great start, abounding with energy, which only fueled all the early birds and immersed them deeper into the mindset that the day was all about: cutting loose, having fun, and enjoying some killer music.
Following them on the Bud Light Stage was Pop Evil; and first out was their brand new drummer, Hayley Cramer. Despite the incredibly large shoes left by former drummer Chachi Riot, she more than held her own, seeming like an ideal fit for the band, her style of playing mixing well with their hard rock sound.
They opened strong with “Deal with the Devil”, mixing in some new material from last year’s “Up” while also focusing on the older favorites, such as “Torn to Pieces” and “Trenches”. Leigh Kakaty, Matt DiRito, Nick Fuelling, and Dave Grahs all went full throttle, pushing the bar up a little higher from where it had been set by the first act of the day, the crowd loving every second of the set that passed too quickly.
One of the best bands to watch this day was DevilDriver, simply because their adoration for their fans was so genuine. Dez Fafara was constantly thanking the crowd for supporting them, noting they weren’t a band most radio stations would play, but because of that die-hard support their new record, trust no one, was performing so well on the charts (in terms of sales).
Another fun band to take in was HellYeah; vocalist Chad Gray emerging from the back stage already covered in faux blood, his shirt stained, while it had dripped and subsequently dried all over his face. With one of Texas’ favorite sons, Vinnie Paul, back behind the drum kit, they offered up plenty of more classic material, despite the fact that their new album would come into the world in mere days. “Human” was the only new song they squeezed in; Gray occasionally taking time out to speak to the crowd, like when he mentioned how heavy metal had saved his life in his youth and how it’s a brotherhood more than a genre.
Taking the AA Best Bail Bonds stage shortly after they finished was Texas Hippie Coalition, and from “Hands Up” to “Pissed Off and Mad About It”, they had the spectators cheering them on, proving a dose of Red Dirt Metal was precisely what River City Rockfest needed this year.
SIXX:A.M. had a surprisingly early set this day, hitting the stage around three. At least it seemed early, unless you knew they had another festival show in Dallas that night.
DJ Ashba, James Michael, and Nikki Sixx (along with their fellow band members) earned some of the loudest fanfare of the day, as they churned out an even spread of songs from the newly released Prayers for the Damned as well as their fan favorites. It was a great show they delivered to the ever growing number of onlookers, having no trouble pumping the crowd up as they raced through their music that carries a message with it.
The Sword showed off a different brand of hard rock, being more raw and forceful as they laid down a blistering set, before all eyes turned back to the main stage for Bullet for My Valentine, who was doing their final show in the U.S. of this current tour.
All day the chatter had seemed to indicate them as being one of the bands patrons were most looking forward to, and they did not disappoint the thousands of pairs of eyes that were glued to them. The energy was running high, with Michael Paget and Jamie Mathias thrashing around often, while Matthew Tuck broke away from the microphone every chance he could, tearing it up on his guitar.
They got quite a lengthy set as well, playing nearly a dozen songs, which appeased every BFMV fan.
Trips to the FanDuel Stage were seldom this day, and actually one was made exclusively to see The Heroine.
The San Antonio natives are one of the best rock bands in Texas, with their live show being what never ceases to amaze.
Much of the attention was focused on Lynnwood Presley King, the frontman often tossing his mic stand around, though he held onto the slack from the mic cord, reeling it back in as he more or less turned it into a dancing partner for the afternoon.
The rest of the band certainly did not disappoint either, only proving why they are such a notable up-and-coming band as they showcased a cohesive performance where one of the keystones is pure, in-your-face Southern rock ‘n’ roll.
Taking a very similar approach (although in a completely different genre) was Hatebreed, who came out guns blazing when they took the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage.
The metalcore band fronted by Jamey Jasta had the crowd singing along from the opening number, highly encouraging it as he often aimed the microphone outwards, pointing at the audience. A mosh pit was something else he wanted to see, a smaller scale one getting started by those who wanted to participate. Thus was the beginning of the headline quality acts, the bands that had the fans eating out of the palms of their hands.
Megadeth was certainly one of those bands, one everyone was clamoring for by the time their set time rolled around.
Their stage props made things look more like the interior of some alien spaceship, being pretty cool looking, parts of it displaying video as they tackled a variety of songs from their career.
Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro ensured it was a shred fest, with roaring riffs permeating every song they churned out, while David Ellefson and Dirk Verbeuren of Soilwork constituted their striking rhythm section.
“Sweating Bullets” was an early favorite, while “Fatal Illusion” and “Dystopia” were a couple of the new songs they worked in to the show that encompassed about an hour. Not only was it an incredible performance they gave spectators, but to an extent it was even a clinic. At least that’s how those in the audience that were musicians themselves viewed it.
It was staggering the amount of people who then made the short jaunt over to the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage for P.O.D..
I’ve seen them draw some impressive crowds at other festivals, though this one seemed to take the cake, the sheer number of people making navigating through to visit any of the food or beverage vendors a near impossible task.
The fans were going crazy, which only seemed to make Sonny Sandoval more eager to interact with them. It didn’t take him long to leave the stage and head for the barrier that separated the crowd from the stage, reaching out to everyone as he sang.
It felt like a shorter set that they got, though they worked in just about everything people had hoped to hear from them. To no surprise, “Youth of the Nation” and “Alive” garnered the biggest responses from the spectators, collectively being a great way to wind down the show.
With that, all eyes then turned back to the main stage, were Scorpions were getting ready to hit the stage for the final show of their current U.S. leg of their tour. A tour which was celebrating fifty (now fifty-one) years together.
Scorpions are one of those rare bands that everyone knows. I mean, I think everyone has heard “Rock You Like a Hurricane” at some point in their life.
Their set was a testament to that longevity and the legacy they’ve created over the past five decades, the five-piece ensemble unleashing a barrage of hits on the audience who continued screaming for more.
Their set coming complete with a drum solo was eventually rounded out by the encore they had allotted for, returning to the stage for “Still Loving You” as well as that one song everyone had patiently been waiting for.
“I guess it’s time to rock you like a hurricane, huh?” remarked Klaus Meine, getting the largest rise out of the audience of the day. That song still sounds stellar all of these years later, just hammering home the fact that it’s a timeless rock number, and live, Scorpions still have an ever potent sting to deliver.
Darkness had blanketed the festival grounds at this point, and once the remaining rays of the sun disappeared, Sevendust took the stage, closing down the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage.
The bands’ banner with the album artwork for Kill the Flaw wasn’t visible to the patrons, nor were the five musicians, as a white sheet concealed the stage. You could glimpse their silhouettes, though, as back lighting illuminated them all.
They were part of the way through their first number before it finally fell to reveal them, Clint Lowery, John Connolly, and Vince Hornsby covering ground as they tore it up on their guitars and bass, respectively.
It was their final show of the current leg of their tour, and they seemed determined to make it as explosive as possible. For a band of Sevendust’s caliber, that’s not hard to do, the group commanding the attention of all watching as they jumped around and raced about the stage, mixing in some new songs, like “Thank You”, in with a few old favorites during the 40-minutes or so that they had the stage. Old favorites like “Decay”, which at least feels like it has been around longer than just a few years, having quickly become a staple in their set.
The closing slot went to Disturbed, who was making their first trip to San Antonio since ending their hiatus last year, with the release of Immortalized.
There was no doubting that was whom the masses had turned out for. Many of the patrons that had been there all day were acting as if they still had all the energy in the world. From jumping around to shouting at the top of their lungs, they were ecstatic over the fact that David Draiman, Dan Donegan, Mike Wengren, and John Moyer would soon be on stage.
Disturbed did not disappoint them, either, coming right out of the gate with “Ten Thousand Fists”. In an age where it’s more typical for a band to open with a new song, or more likely the lead track from their current album, it was nice to hear them do a classic, securing their hold on the onlookers. Only then did they work up to some newer tracks, like “The Vengeful One” or their hauntingly beautiful cover of Simon & Garfunkel “The Sound of Silence”.
I don’t imagine the fire was used at their smaller scale tour back in the spring, though it helped make the show all the more epic this evening, occasionally spurting out from the massive structure the drum kit sit atop.
By the time “Down With the Sickness” was over the audience was feeling satisfied, having gotten an incredible show from Disturbed, and those troopers that had been out there for all eleven hours of the day had gotten the full experience of one of the best music festivals in the state of Texas.
With four years now under its belt, River City Rockfest has definitely cemented its place as in institution in San Antonio as well as the Texas festival scene.
For those unable to travel out of state to take in one of the primary festivals that constitute Worlds Loudest Month, this is a great way to bring a taste of that experience to the people of the Lone Star State, getting to see some of the bands that have been a part of the other fests. And with it all being confined into one day it’s even easier for people to attend, even if they travel a few hours to be there.
This year and the one before have been the only outings I’ve made to the event, but out of those two, this year definitely topped 2015. Not just in the fact that nearly 28,000 people ventured out to it, but in the fact that the excitement never seemed to wane. It was high from the start of the day and only built up as things progressed, each act raising the bar a little bit.
I’m already eager to see what 2017 holds for River City Rockfest, and with it marking the fifth installment of the festival, you can bet it should be a little extra special.