Monday, May 4, 2015

Rock is very much alive at sold out Carolina Rebellion

There's been a lot of talk the last few years about the death of rock n' roll. There will certainly always be guitar-based rock bands carrying the torch, but the argument is that rock is no longer king instead existing in the shadow of pop, hip-hop, and even mainstream country.

If the sold out Carolina Rebellion hard rock and metal festival at Charlotte Motor Speedway's Rock City Campgrounds this weekend is any indication, those naysayers are wrong. Along with sister festivals like Florida's Welcome to Rockville and the inaugural Northern Invasion in Wisconsin, Carolina Rebellion - now in its fifth year and third in Concord - sold out in advance.

Closing out his set with Slash and the Conspirators Sunday, singer Myles Kennedy, who has played Rebellion four out of five years (with Alter Bridge and Slash), noted how it's grown and thanked the crowd for supporting rock n' roll.

For the bands the sea of heads, which may not yet rival those massive festivals overseas, were an indication of the festival's growth. For fans heading in and out of the festival grounds, it was the traffic that was noticeably heavier especially after Slipknot closed the show Sunday. Some concert goers inevitably missed earlier sets by bands like Stars in Stereo and Young Guns.

Cheap Trick performing on one of the smaller stages between harder rocking youngsters (only by comparison) Chevelle and Papa Roach proved consummate showmen armed with hits like "Dream Police" and "Surrender" and Rick Nielsen's collection of kooky guitars.

While most acts fared well, Saturday headliner Marilyn Manson, who kept disappearing off stage, seem to realize he wasn't at his best (performing like a opening act, I believe, were his words). One devoted Manson fan who has seen him five times described it as horrible (ouch!). That left Korn, who memorably reunited with guitarist Brian "Head" Welch on stage at Carolina Rebellion in 2013, to carry the headlining weight Saturday by charging through their 1994 debut in its entirety.

While veterans like Slayer, Slash, Sammy Hagar and Cheap Trick helped attract an older crowd, the audience stretched from 10 and 12 year old kids to fans pushing 60 thanks to an eclectic bill. There were several returning acts like Halestorm and Korn, a mix of classic rock and thrash (Exodus and Testament), punk and hardcore (Hatebreed, Suicidal Tendencies, and Rise Against), post-grunge hard rock bands that broke in the `90s and beyond, and a handful of newer bands like Periphery and Greenville, SC's Islander.

Sunday's lineup was heavier on female fronted acts with In This Moment, the Pretty Reckless, and Halestorm carving out a midday triple threat on the main stages. With her raspy voice and electric guitar Halestorm's Lizzy Hale is one of those band leaders who seems born for the role as if cranking out riffs and writing songs is her calling.

Acts like Slash, who covered his career alternating between Guns n' Roses' and Conspirators' tunes and including Velvet Revolver's "Slither" in the set, and Queensryche turned in some of Sunday's best performances even without the singers that made songs like "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Jet City Woman" famous. Queensryche's Todd La Torre - backed by original members guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield - scaled the clouds with his wail on songs like "Empire."

Slayer frontman Tom Araya noted the love he felt from the crowd during the band's sundown set Sunday. Fans stirred dust clouds (as they had earlier for Breaking Benjamin) on the Rebellion stage as the band powered through one classic thrash riff after another with Kerry King and Exodus' Gary Holt (who replaced Jeff Hanneman) recreating classic twin guitar leads. Slash sat stage side looking as entertained as the crowd as Slayer ended its set with "South of Heaven" and "Angel of Death."

Bathed in fitting red light, Godsmack, who headlined the first Rebellion in 2011, peppered its set with recent tracks like "What's Next" (from 2014's "1000hp") and shook up its groove-anchored set with a tribal-fueled percussion solo and by briefly touching on classics riffs from "Back in Black" and "Walk This Way."

Slipknot made a triumphant Carolina Rebellion debut by closing out the festival for a field of anxious, if exhausted, fans. The Grammy winners inspired a slew of masks that coincidentally provided relief from the dust bowl at the Rebellion stage. Although its horror-bent and aggressive metal wouldn't exactly be described as beautiful, the theatrical band ended a beautiful weekend that eclipsed 2013's rain and 2014's heat and promised a likely even greener return for the growing festival next year.

(Photo by Joshua Komer)