While Grand Rocktember may cater to an audience with a median age that skews a bit north of your average festival, the second day starts largely the same. The first people on scene are a mix of those who aren’t hungover, those who are still drinking and the event crew. Walking in we were treated to another all female tribute band. This time it was Iron Maidens. Another uncomfortably spot on interpretation from the singer. I do have one suggestion. They should commit to the bit. Eddie should be a woman. Call her Edwina.
Bang Tango is a band who’s name I hadn’t heard in some time. They made some noise on MTV with their single “Someone Like You” then basically disappeared. I have no idea how many members of that original band from MTV are still involved as singer Joe Leste is the only one I can name. He was there and sounded great. They played a bunch of songs the sparse crowd weren’t familiar with. And they played them great. For me, I wanted to see them for one main reason. Would they open with the only song people may know or close with it? They closed with it. It was the correct call.
Then it was Faster Pussycat. Another of the eras raunchier acts and one of my faves of that time. I last saw them live opening for KISS at the long demolished Met Stadium. All the way back in 1990. Now with this band I am aware that singer Taime Downe has long been the lone remaining member. Taime has a very subdued stage presence and that may have been to their disadvantage. My only complaint was much like Extreme the night before, they went a little deep into their catalog. I really enjoyed them, but sometimes less is more. But the classic songs sounded like you remember.
Scrap Metal has sort of become the house band of Grand Rocktember. For those who don’t know, Scrap Metal is the brain child of Gunnar Nelson. Sometimes joined by his twin brother Matthew, Scrap Metal features a revolving doors of guests coming out and playing their hits with Gunnar and friends providing the backing band. Sadly, neither Gunnar or Matthew were able to make it this year as they were doing something in Las Vegas. This year’s all-stars featured George Lynch, Matthew Sweet, Elliot Easton, Pat Travers and others. Every year they play this slot and they seem to help the audience shake off the night before. This year was no different. There was a noticeable difference in the numbers and spirit of the audience when they were done.
With a fired up and ready to rock crowd, Great White had one job. Don’t suck. And they didn’t. While the clear fan wearing your t shirt winner was Jackyl, but Great White or possibly Queensryche came in second. (If you don’t count KISS) Great White has become a machine in recent years. They are almost too meticulous for their blues infused brand of rock. They kept the crowd from wandering too far in preparation of the next act. Warrant took the energy level up another notch. The unmistakably now bleach blonde singer Robert Mason has subtly morphed a bit of Jani Lane into his translation in the classic era tracks. Which I must admit adds to the integrity of the show. And for the one or two recent songs he goes to a place I’ll call more natural. The rest of the band both looks and sounds good. Lets be honest. Looking good may be the biggest hurdle for men their age doing what they are doing. And I speculate alcohol sales started to spike somewhere between Scrap Metal and the end of Warrant’s set. You could feel it.
Skid Row always seems to make me feel like a dick. They are so good, yet I always seem surprised. They really only have two records of any note. But what a one two punch those two records are. The last time they were in Hinkley they were fronted by singer Tony Harnell who I absolutely adore and was an upgrade from Johnny Solinger. He just didn’t seem to fit, which may be why he’s no longer the guy. The oddly named recent addition ZP Theart sounds and feels more natural. If they aren’t going to reunite with Sebastian Bach, this is as good as you will get. Another band that still looks great Skid Row has energy not befitting their years. And they sound so good. One of the few bands this weekend that had my full attention from beginning to end, Skid Row executed a high energy rock n roll show. Guitarists Scotti Hill and Snake Sabo are an underrated duo. Rachel Bolan of course had to sing the Ramones classic “Psycho Therapy”. While I don’t hate it, I don’t know I need it any more. That would be the closest I can come to finding a flaw.
I’m not sure there has been a band in recent memory who maneuvered the change of a revered member more seamlessly than Queensryche. It was ugly for a bit but it really feels like all parties have moved on. Of course I expect there to be an eventual reunion because that’s what bands do. But there doesn’t seem to be a divide amongst the fans. It helps when you find a guy like Todd La Torre who can sing the songs of one the generations most identifiable voices with ease. Even a snob like me has been slowly converted with each performance. They balance their set out with mostly classic songs with a few from the records they have done with La Torre. They opened with newer track “Guardian” and went right into the classic “Operation Mindcrime”. In their heyday, long departed guitarist Chris DeGarmo received a lions share of the credit which is really a disservice to Michael Wilton. Another of the weekends unsung heroes, 70’s arena rockers Styx were the last band of the weekend. They were good I guess but they sound like a band very much on auto-pilot right down to the rehearsed facial expressions. But they played the hits and sounded great.
Odds are good Grand Rocktember will be back for a sixth year. It doesn’t appear to be slowing down. You should come. But be warned. People who come to this show will laugh, drink and hug as they mug for the same group photo they do every year. For those who make this trek every year, this is a weekend they circle on their calendar. They would skip their own child’s wedding for this weekend. As I type this Sunday morning, every available hotel room for next year is probably already booked. As someone who has gone to many festivals in my life, it’s refreshing to see one that doesn’t seem inclined to make it more restrictive or more expensive (in other words less fun) every year. The things that make this the event it is seem to stay in tact every year.