Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Dave Burke (Photographer/Live Gig reporter)
Now in its eighth year, Oshkosh Wisconsin’s annual Rock USA seems to have completed it’s transformation from a broad rock festival to a predominantly hard rock and metal showcase. Breaking away from earlier incarnations that boasted more diverse lineups that included the likes of Korn, Cheap Trick, Journey, Five Finger Death Punch, Kid Rock, Slayer, KISS, Motley Crue, Styx, Hollywood Undead, Van Halen and Avenged Sevenfold.
This year’s three-day line up continued the trend set in the recent past that focuses predominantly on the artist that came to fame no earlier than the 1990’s and who lean more toward the heavy. For 2018, Godsmack, Marilyn, Manson, Rob Zombie and Shinedown were to top the bill, alongside 90’s “alternative” stars Bush and Stone Temple Pilots, fan favorites Seether, Halestorm, Sevendust, The Black Dahlia Murder and a host of other contemporary metal and hard rock artist. The notable exceptions to this trend, the pop-punk of Sum 41 and rapper Machine Gun Kelly. Kelly was easily the most polarizing artist drawing raucous support from many and cries of outrage that hip-hop dared be included at a rock festival from others.
Though it may have lacked in perceived musical diversity, by all reports this was the highest attended year in Rock USA history.
From its inception, Rock USA has featured a Main Stage surrounded by VIP reserved seating for those willing to spend on a premium ticket as well as a first come first served more modestly priced general admission experience situated behind the reserved seating. In 2017 a general admission pit requiring an additional “pit pass” ticket was added that pushed the reserved seating back about 10 rows and allowed fans to purchase access to the GA pit on a per band basis. Though there was no official announcement it appeared that the GA Pit was expanded this year pushing the reserved seating back a few rows again.
In addition to the main stage and a “party tent” featuring local bands, a second stage located in the general admission area of the festival grounds was added cutting downtime between acts to no more than 20 minutes and allowing those who didn’t hold VIP or Pit Pass tickets front row access to some of the day’s artist.
Though the mid-July heat, humidity and severe thunderstorm warnings didn’t keep fans from swarming the 350 acre Ford Festival Field in record numbers, there were, unfortunately, a couple “casualties” of Friday’s inclement weather. After thunderstorms caused the temporary evacuation of the festival grounds both Marylin Manson and Rob Zombie’s performances were ultimately canceled due to safety concerns brought about by rain and sporadic lightning, much to the crowd’s dismay. As is common in our modern age, angry fans wasted no time voicing their displeasure via social media.
Zombie and Manson were the two performances I was personally most looking forward to, having never seen Marilyn Manson live and always enjoying Rob Zombie’s live show. With those two off of the table, I would say that Bush and Stone Temple Pilots were the standout performances. STP’s new frontman Jeff Gutt, who finds himself in the unenviable position of replacing the band’s charismatic original vocalist Scott Weiland, did an admirable job both vocally and performance wise. It would be easy for detractors to complain that Gutt does too much of an impersonation of his late predecessor, but what he’s doing definitely seems to be what the band needs to continue.
While it’s easy to “armchair quarterback” an event, Rock USA’s promoter Hypervibe does an admirable job of bringing nationally known and up and coming metal artist to a smaller market every year. Offering 3 days of music, multiple ticketing and on-site camping options, as well as a various food beverage vendors in a safe and well-policed venue with easy on and off major highway access.
Go to rockusaoshkosh.com to stay up to date on ticketing and line up announcements.