It’s been said that great music has no expiration date. The lineup for Grand Rocktember seems to validate that. Either that or we all have horrible taste in music. Day Two of Grand Rocktember IV. The sun cracks the sky and enters through the seams of tents, windows of campers and hotel rooms. Slowly the campers track through the dewy grass on a mission to find a cup of coffee. The casino restaurants start to fill up as survivors of Day One search for nourishment and the aforementioned coffee. In a few hours, we would find out how day two would stack up against day one.
First up is Gabbie Rae. The crowd was still leisurely filtering in during her set. Again the weather was perfect. And as hungover as some of the early arrivers were, people were still smiling. The enthusiasm was a bit light during Gabbie Rae’s set, but you started to feel the energy return to the Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater midway through Vixen’s set who had a nearly complete original lineup with the only missing member from the Rev It Up era being guitarist Jan Kuehnemund who passed away in 2013 when she lost her battle with cancer. The band has carried on in her honor and a bit surprisingly brought some life to the Grand Rocktember crowd early in the afternoon.
Following Vixen‘s first rate performance was KIX who was a favorite of mine in the 80’s. They too feature a classic lineup that is sans only one member from their heyday. Bassist Donnie Purnell and the rest of the band had some sort of falling out. I believe something to do with creative control and songwriting. Don’t quote me on that. I do know that when the band reunited in the early 2000’s it was without Donnie and has remained as such. I’ve never seen KIX but I have heard plenty about their show. And they lived up to their reputation. Just a fun kick ass rock show. Plenty of hits for us old timers. And while the lines on his face may show some age, lead singer Steve Whiteman’s body hasn’t got the message. Sometimes you see an artist or band that has been doing it for so long they almost have a master tradesman look to them. KIX was that.
Slaughter was late to the party for this genre. Releasing the platinum record Stick It To Ya just in time to sneak under the closing garage door of 80’s metal. I saw Slaughter twice in 1990. But since that point guitarist Tim Kelly was killed in a 1998 car accident and drummer Blas Elias has left to join Blue Man Group. Filling their space is guitarist Jeff Blando and drummer Zoltan Chaney. I liked Slaughter back in the day and while they had a tendency to drag out the ends of every song in what had to be an effort to fill time, I liked them this day as well. Singer Mark Slaughter looked and sounded fantastic. Bassist Dana Strum played the part of rock star. But the real hero was drummer Zoltan Chaney. Which came as no surprise as the band behind Mark Slaughter is also Vince Neil’s band. Seeing Zoltan the night before got me pumped to see him again. He’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it. Go to youtube and search his name. You will be amazed.
Scrap Metal is a cover band featuring the Nelson brothers Matt and Gunner and a parade of sunset strip heroes. They were also at Grand Rocktember III and frankly a lowlight of that weekend. This year they started out their set with local guy Bruce Naumann who fronted the late 80’s band Hericane Alice. While I thoroughly enjoyed them opening the show with Bruce and his band’s song “Wild Young And Crazy”, it was clear much of the crowd had no idea who he was or what song it was. Their loss. Then came Jeff Scott Soto who most in attendance had never heard of. A truly amazing singer who’s played with just about everybody. When it comes to talent he is a heavyweight. He just never made a mainstream name for himself. After that was Kip Winger who looked and sounded good but unfortunately played Winger songs. (I kid because I care) Which got us to Lita Ford who played a song from the Runaways before going into her two solo hits “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eye’s Forever”. The latter being a duet with Jeff Scott Soto. Technical difficulties ensued which made their set drag a bit. I enjoyed Scrap Metal more this year but it still came across a bit unnecessary.
KISS and Motley Crue were my two favorite bands for most of the 80’s. But these next two bands came close. Dokken has made some minor news recently with the confirmation of the classic lineup reuniting for a few shows in Japan soon. But apparently us Grand Rocktembers don’t get that treat. I’m going to use this moment to say I don’t think it matters here. Over the two days walking around the amphitheater, you see a lot of smiles. Every time we ran into someone we knew the conversation would turn into some sort of nostalgic flashback of good memories. Every band received great crowd reaction. People who come to this event every year come to have fun. It’s that simple.
Point being when the corpse of Don Dokken strolled onto stage none on hand seemed to mind or possibly notice that George Lynch and Jeff Pilson weren’t there. Don’s voice seemed to make it through about 4 songs before his larynx went on strike. Even with that, no one seemed to mind. The band behind him meticulously kept the show going. Until an amp blew. Then another. And I believe, then another. At one point Kip Winger was on stage trying to help. Eventually, they got a working guitar rig and finished the show. Which brings us to my most anticipated part of the festival.
I won’t go into much detail but RATT as currently constructed is its own train wreck. Drummer Bobby Blotzer is the only official member. He is currently battling three lawsuits from other members. And a few weeks before this show three of the four touring musicians he has with him quit. Along with his manager. The second to do so in less than a year. I predicted they wouldn’t even make this date. But he pulled in some help from friends in other bands and showed up with a functioning band to play us the smooth sounds of RATT. While I can’t support this band as RATT, I will say they sounded great. It was a great set and featured a little bonus for me. Something called “Blotz TV” was on the setlist. Which was a point in the middle of the show where Bobby came out and explained to the crowd why he was going out as RATT without the other members of RATT. But he kept it so vague that unless you pay attention to this stuff like I do (and if you don’t you’re better off) that you had no idea what he was talking about. For most in attendance, it was the drummer from RATT coming out and saying he loves RATT. He loves us. And he’s going go back and play drums the rest of the night.
In the spirit of the event, I thought RATT was great. The 15-year-old in me was a bit insulted but I was there with everyone else singing every song. And there was a fleeting moment that it seemed Bobby was in on the joke. Like waving a giant middle finger to the other members of RATT was his plan all along. I might be giving him too much credit.
The last two bands of the weekend were Loverboy and Night Ranger. Lighter bands than the rest of the bill but Loverboy seemed made for this crowd on this weekend. The Canadian soft-rockers had everyone singing “Working for the Weekend”. A surprisingly fun set from a band that really sounded tight. Night Ranger, on the other hand, was less impressive. The band that practically invented the ‘fly in date’ lived up to their reputation of sounding like a band that only sees each other when they walk onstage. It’s too bad because they have plenty of hits and they typically get a headline slot at these types of events. It would be nice if they actually rehearsed once in a while. They went through the motions as the crowd started to filter out. Off to their hotel rooms, campsites or maybe just a bite to eat. Saying goodbye to Grand Rocktember IV and goodbye to summer.
Grand Rocktember is so much fun it’s becoming a pretty hot ticket. I spoke to many people Saturday who had already booked their hotel rooms for next year. So if you’ve ever thought you might want to go I suggest strongly you do. And start planning now. Having done it twice now I can’t imagine not coming back. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to summer in Minnesota. See you next year.
All photos by Bakko Photo 2016.