Live Festival Review and Photos: David Locklear
You can always feel the energy crackling in the air when you approach the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Carolina Rebellion each year. Just getting gas, beer, and provisions at the gas station a half-mile from the festival site, like-minded rock and metal enthusiasts from all corners of the world are scattered everywhere and you really feel at home.
John and I find ourselves in the very desirable media parking lot with only a short trek into the concert grounds where we will spend the next few days. We have already set up several onsite interviews with Red Fang, Butcher Babies, and Counterfeit. We make contact with the Rebellion’s logistical genius, Kristine, and she sets us up in the media tent where we make ourselves at home with some other fellow media soldiers.
It’s warmer than this time last year when the whole of the crowd for the 2017 Carolina Rebellion dressed for warm weather and had their collective asses frozen off by the death rattle of winter. Even Joe Elliot of Def Leppard commented from the stage he thought the south was supposed to be warm. But the rain had barely made a threat and sunshine was going to make the Carolina Rebellion it’s dry and dusty home for the next few days.
We have everything set up-microphones, back up cameras, Wi-Fi, streaming-and ready to do a live stream interview with Counterfeit vocalist, Jamie Campbell Bower. But when the Wi-Fi goes a little squirrelly, we find ourselves scrambling to do a poor job at plan B by streaming through my very professional iPhone:
God bless him and his patience with us.
Right after the interview, we went down to catch their set on the Gold Stage and a very sizeable crowd had already gathered and was eagerly awaiting their set. Counterfeit’s sound leans heavy on hard rock with a pop-hook sensibility, which is more in line with John’s tastes, whereas my metal and rock tastes tend to skew much more doom/sludge/Sabbath. But I have to admit that Counterfeit do what they do well: they brought energy, fun and gave off an enjoyable sense of controlled danger with their playing. And their songs really are catchy as hell.
Thankfully, the trek to the Rebellion stage to catch Sevendust was just a few short paces away-that is if you know how to navigate through an ever-thickening crowd. It was early afternoon, but the sun was already claiming victims as many patrons were several beers deep into the day and scrambling for relief under the shadow of any covering they could find. There was an odd tenderness to seeing many people’s laps acting as pillows for other’s to lie on.
Once we successfully weaved through the minefield of bodies, we arrived at the front of the stage just as the band ripped into the opening chords of “Dirty” from their new album, “All I See Is War” and seamlessly jump right into one of my old school favorites, “Denial”.
After Sevendust closed with the crowd favorite, “Face to Face”, we had to make a conscious effort to eat and rest. One problem we always seem to encounter when covering multiple day concerts like this is that it’s easy to get so caught up in the dizzying business of covering as much as you can, that we forget basic things like ‘eating’ and ‘hydration’. After guzzling some water and a beer, then scarfing down an apple with some beef jerky, we headed over to the Zippo tent to catch a Zippo Session, which is an acoustic set by a surprise guest in an undisclosed location on the festival grounds.
Settling next to a small platform hidden backstage with about 50 other concertgoers, Sirius XM’s metal DJ, Jose Mangin, announced an acoustic set with Stone Sour. The place went apeshit. Armed with their guitars, Corey Taylor and Christian Martucci played Stone Sour’s mellower tunes such as “Through Glass” all while engaging in goofball banter with the audience, even demanding one of the guys in the audience to “show us your tits!”
We headed back to the Rebellion stage for Parkway Drive’s set but allowed more time to get through the crowd now, seeing as many of the once slumbering bodies had risen and begun mixing with late afternoon arrivals, in essence doubling the crowd of sweat covered bipeds. (That’s not a dig, I was gleefully one of them.)
Parkway Drive is a band that I have respected, but their music never really grabbed me for whatever reason. I have several friends who have tried to get me into them, but it just never clicked. So here I stood in the pit, as they grabbed their instruments and began to energetically crush their instruments with a real sense of joy in what they do and I was…still not grabbed by their music.
It’s not a criticism. Matter of fact, I wanted to find myself getting what their diehard mosh monster fans in the crowd seemed to understand, but I just didn’t. It’s not them, it’s me.
The band did notice several times during their show how into their music the crowd was and were genuinely humbled by it. Singer Winston McCall smiled with genuine appreciation many times and even commented while laughing, “You guys are the best! You kicked up a fucking dust storm!” He wasn’t joking: the ground was bone dry (a complete reversal from last year’s cold mud) and a thin tan cloud hovered directly above the crowd.
As the sun began to hang low in the sky, Stone Temple Pilots took to the stage and opened their set with, “Wicked Garden”, as their new vocalist, Jeff Gutt, peacock his way around the stage. The band were incautiously in strong form, as they played some of their tried and true classics, “Interstate Love Song” and “Plush”, but also some of their heavier offerings, “Dead and Bloated” and, a pleasant surprise, “Down”, from their often overlooked album, ‘4’.
Gutt slinked his way around the stage, closely emulating the moves of Scott Weiland, almost to the point that he lost his own identity. But one difference is that Gutt really seemed to enjoy the fan interaction and reactions, even running up to the crowd and singing along. When Weiland was alive, he seemed put off by a lot of the attention that came with being a rock star, so Gutt seems to be forming his place in the band as the opposite of prickly introvert.
As the sun settled in and darkness covered the grounds, the multiple lights from all of the stages, the Ferris wheel and glow-sticks hanging from the bodies of thousands of rock and metal fans, began to pepper the night with a peaceful artistry. We made our way to the Carolina Stage for a band I have been excited to see live since middle school: Alice in Chains.
While there is a school of thought that continues to label them a ‘grunge’ band, I always felt that the darkness and Sabbathian pace of AIC’s music never stood comfortably next to Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Those bands tended to wallow in lyrical self-cutting, while Alice looked grimly at the world and existentially asked questions they knew there weren’t any answers for. You could almost hear the drugs in Layne Staley’s voice as he attempted to numb the hopelessness.
When Alice in Chains announced their new vocalist, William DuVall, after Layne’s passing in 2002, many were skeptical that it could still be the same band without Staley. But the resulting album, “Black Gives Way To Blue”, proved that the spirit of the band was still intact and could still make the music their fans love.
The Rebellion crowd roared excitedly when they took the stage with “Check My Brain” and deliberately plowed through their set, with walls of lights illuminating the band rhythmically with the songs, making you look just a little harder at the stage to catch a glimpse of them play. DuVall was energetic stomping around the stage, while Cantrell played it cool and close to the vest, looking like a power chord sheriff keeping his town in order.
They played the staples (“Them Bones”, “Would”), deep cuts (“Bleed the Freak”), a new track (“The One You Know”), and closed out with (what else?) “Rooster”. I’ve heard “Rooster” enough times in my life that I never have to hear it again, but listening to the crowd chant the chorus energetically really gave it new life.
As the day crawled to an end, the swarm of bodies dispersed in all directions throughout the Rock City Campgrounds. Although the energy of the festival never actually sleeps, a calm hovers over the night. And as the party continued for the diehards, but we passed the hell out.