Even though the 11th annual Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio turned out to be more of Rain on the Range, it wasn’t a total loss. Minus a couple of bands on Friday night, every artist performed. It was a tough year for the promoters with the death of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (who were supposed to be the headliner on Friday night) and an uncooperative Mother Nature. The official attendance for the 3-day festival was 145,000 – the largest crowd to date. This year also brought about some changes in ticketing. Previously, you brought a paper ticket to Mapfre Stadium and were given a colored paper wristband. The color for each day indicated whether you had stadium or field access. In 2017, an RFID bracelet was mailed to you prior to the festival and you had to register it before you got there. You wore the same bracelet for all 3 days. As with any new process, there were challenges. I saw a few too many stadium bracelets on the field for my taste. I’m assuming some of the security got tired of scanning each individual bracelet and just let anyone onto the field. Otherwise, I think the bracelets were great. I have read that on some festivals, you can pre-load money and other things onto these so I will not be surprised to see that done here in the future.
As Rock on the Range has grown over the years, so has the caliber of talent they attract. It will be interesting to see who the fans place high on their wish list now that their number one, Metallica, has appeared. With the addition of this crowd favorite to the lineup, the festival sold out much faster than I have ever seen it do. All weekend long, the discussions and buzz everywhere were about Metallica……and the weather. I shudder to think what might have happened if this band had been unable to perform.
Another area that has evolved over the years is the food that is available on site. When I first began to attend, the choices mainly consisted of typical stadium food and I think there was one vendor that grilled a few burgers. Since the promoters have been experimenting with food trucks at some of their other festivals, you now have a wide variety of gastric pleasures from which to choose. We tried something different every day and found it all delicious. It has been nice the last few times I have attended to try new foods.
One thing that has not changed is the people. Despite the assorted stereotypes of metal heads, I have rarely found a greater group of people. There is always the jerks that drink too much and act stupid, but by and large, metal heads are friendly and helpful. Oh, and fun! Many show up in costumes just to add to the experience. One year, an entire group of friends dressed as the cast of Alice in Wonderland. This year, I found Waldo, talked to a T. Rex, strolled past Terrance and Philip (from South Park) and watched several superheroes surf the crowd. I didn’t notice as many men in kilts as years past, but I’m sure they were there (or perhaps they were concerned that Mother Nature would reveal the answer to what men wear under their kilts). As packed in as we were everywhere we went, we did not encounter any rudeness when bumping into someone else. During our many rain delays, we were able to meet people from Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Maryland. We all have the love of this music in common so it makes it easier to start a conversation.
Although I do understand how tremendous a responsibility it is to ensure the safety and well-being of that many people in one place, I found the weather decisions from the promoters to be inconsistent. The very first day, we were evacuated from the stadium completely but the second day, we were just told to shelter in place from a similar rain event. By the third night, we were told there was lightning in the area so the show was paused until the threat passed, but no one was asked to leave the aluminum stadium seating or the open field. I, of course, was not privy to the information they were receiving from their on-site meteorologist, but it all was a little bizarre. As I have said, this was the worst year for storms in all the years I have attended so I have nothing to compare it to. Thankfully, the weather didn’t take a deadly turn and we were all able to enjoy ourselves.
I do have to compliment the audio on all three stages. With the exception of Zakk Sabbath, the sound was excellent. There did not appear to be any issues with the video boards or lighting, either. All the pyrotechnics for Metallica went off without a hitch. From a technical standpoint, everything seemed to go smoothly. Considering all the other issues this weekend, it was terrific to be able to count on the different crews to give you the best concert experience they could.
I have learned over the years that festivals are marathons, not sprints. It is impossible to see every band at the festival so you have to choose wisely and take breaks when you need them. I would try a new band here and there or catch a bit of one as I rested or passed through on my way to another stage. Many times, they were simply heavier than I like. Of these, I can say that Amon Amarth was the most interesting. Even on the Zippo Stage, they brought their full Viking ship stage set up. Even though I am not a fan of their sub genre, they sounded awesome and their show, which included a Viking battle, was phenomenal. I can see why they are a fan favorite and would be interested to catch their full show in the future. If death metal is your thing, don’t miss them. Then again, if death metal is your thing, you probably already know about them.
Overall, this was another good Rock on the Range experience. There is always room for improvements but the promoters never cease to find ways to make things bigger and better every year. Considering the hand they were dealt this year, it’s amazing the amount of things that went off without a hitch. I am not able to attend this festival every year, but I am a Ranger for life. And whenever I have the chance to attend, you can bet I will do a report for Decibel Geek afterward.