Sweden Rock Festival June 4,5 and 6 2015
The Lionsheart attends Scandinavia’s biggest rock festival, Sweden Rock for the fourth time. With some new friends, it was time to travel down to the south of Sweden to meet up with The Meister and his Canadian friend Laura. A trip of nearly 600 km one way in a not too comfortable van.
Wednesday June 3rd
After a lot of negotiations and adjustments at work, I finally got the go ahead and the time off work needed to buy a ticket to this great Sweden Rock Festival for the fourth time – the other years being 2004, 2008 and 2014. I did not have a ticket for Wednesday 3rd because I found that were not really any bands that I wanted to see. Well, Evergrey would have been nice, but not enough to try and get one of those sold out 4-day tickets. Work did not permit me to get Tuesday off either so the choice was a simple one really.
The downside was going in a van with four other guys of which three had a ticket for Wednesday. This meant leaving my home at 5 am in the morning and off I went to the nearby town of Sandviken to team up with Janne Mattsson (editor of Sweden Rock Magazine), former staff writer of just mentioned magazine and record collector en masse Micke Rönn and finally Oscar Grönlund (guitarist of the metal band Stone Division). Having knocked lightly on Janne‘s door it finally opened and I was informed we were going in a van driven by Oscar and that we had to pass Stockholm to pick up Sweden Rock Magazine staff writer Erik Thompson as well. Anyway – more people on the bus meant cheaper travel – more people splitting the gas bill.
Off we were to Stockholm on the highway when we had loaded all our gear in the back. Oscar was behind the wheel for the whole journey down to the festival area. We all thought it would take about 8 hours to drive down and Janne was supposed to work in the magazine’s tent from 5 pm. This would not be possible as it turned out. Our GPS was a couple of years old and the software had not been updated. Big mistake trying to drive around the Stockholm area where there is a lot of construction going on with an old map! We ended up driving back and forth on the highway trying to find the right junction to get off! Finally, after losing a lot of time, we have Erik Thompson on board and now we get stuck in rush hour traffic instead. At the same time, I am trying to make contact with The Meister on how to get into the BnB room. When I arrive they are off to the festival area. It seems he is asleep and jetlagged and I´m getting a bit worried on how to actually be able to enter our room. I finally get an answer around 10.30 a.m. just before it´s time for us to stop in the small town of Mjölby to search for some food. We have a rather funny discussion on male vocals, whether they should be high pitched or not. It turns out Oscar is somewhat allergic to high pitched vocals, but he makes a good effort to sing along to “See You In Hell” by Grim Reaper that is blasting out of the speakers. Janne is a power metal fan and disagrees – and so do I.
The day before (Tuesday) I had to guide The Meister and his friend Laura on what to do with the breakfast being left for them in the fridge in the room. Swedish food written in Swedish is not always easy to make out what to do with. A lot of pictures and instructions later The Meister is full and happy.
Anyway, we found a really nice Asian restaurant in the town center serving a large buffet for a reasonable price. We all eat as much as we can and make our way to the liquor store to get some beers and spirits to keep everyone happy for the rest of the ride and for the festival as well. Really late and not on schedule we continue the ride down to the county of Blekinge and the old town of Karlshamn where I have got my BnB booked. The rest of the guys are then headed to the festival area where they live just 500 meters from the entrance. The weather is really windy and Oscar has to adjust the direction all the time as the van catches the wind and pulls it sideways. Some heavy showers also make the road really wet in places. We are all hoping for the weather to clear up for the festival but the showers continue into the night and will soon make The Meister really wet and frozen. After having stopped for gas I finally arrive at the BnB around 5.30 p.m. and being met by a friendly man called Conny who lets me into the room.
I spend the rest of the evening resting and doing some shopping in preparing for tomorrow when the festival starts for me. I fall asleep well before Laura (who I have not met before) and The Meister come back from the festival area.
Thursday June 4th (Day 1 of Sweden Rock Festival)
With the Canadians coming back really late I´m the first one to rise and while having breakfast they finally show up and its great to make a new friend in Laura and great to see Decibel Geek staff writer The Meister again who I met at Firefest in the UK in October 2014. I´m full of anticipation and today is the day I will finally get to see one of my favourite vocalist of all time Steve Grimmett (Grim Reaper, Lionsheart, Friction, solo artist) perform with Grim Reaper. This is a very special gig as it will feature two guitarists including the legendary original Grim Reaper guitarist Nick Bowcott. Steve´s second band (Lionsheart) is responsible for my nickname of The Lionsheart and you can imagine where this is going… Besides them, there are not many favourite bands on Thursday but Swedish power metallers Hammerfall and headliner Def Leppard are not to be missed!
Armed with a press accreditation we head out to the bus that will take us to the festival area situated in the middle of nowhere in between the small Swedish towns of Karlshamn and Sölvesborg. It feels a bit strange being guided by The Meister to the press zone and getting my wristbands for the festival and the press area. He also shows me where to enter through the press entrance. Laura does not have a press wristband, so we decide to meet up in front of the Sweden stage where symphonic, female-fronted band Delain is currently playing. They sound good, but it´s really not my cup of tea so I soon decide to seek out my friend Andreas Preisig of German label Battle Cry Records. He is always here in his tent selling CD´s – both new and used. I also introduce The Meister to Andreas (or Andi to his friends). I start off by buying the Ten debut album which has been missing in my collection and a Night Ranger CD as well. We have a nice chat about what Andreas has been up to, what his latest releases are and future plans.
The Meister tells me that Deception might be a band to see so we head off to the small Rockklassiker stage inside a tent. They play a more modern flavoured heavy metal that I soon find not to be me my cup of tea so we decide to take a walk over to the 4 Sound stage where Steve n´Seagulls are playing. They mix all kind of strange noises with their old school rock. They sound pretty dull to me so The Meister and The Lionsheart decide to check out the VIP/Press area to discover what is inside there. The Meister guides me around to what is basically a large bar, some pin ball machines and a press tent where you can charge different things like your phone (which will come in handy many times the coming days) and it has a separate wi-fi net that works a little better than the generic one for the festival visitors.
We take a stroll to see if we can find any interesting show before Grim Reaper and we end up in the Rockklassiker tent to watch the young, all-girl three-piece band called Browsing Collection which catches The Meister´s attention. Maybe it’s because he likes girls. They are part of a new project called NEMIS (New Music In Sweden) which promotes young talent and aim to give young bands a chance to play at this huge festival). They sound good and The Meister is caught and decides to buy their CD.
We decide to have a beer and wait for the first ”must see” band of the day – NWOBHM cult act Grim Reaper. Usually labeled Steve Grimmett´s Grim Reaper today´s highly anticipated gig will be more of the original Grim Reaper because it is to feature original guitarist Nick Bowcott. We head over to the 4 Sound stage in time to take place right at the fence to get a good view. See separate gig review-Grim Reaper Live at Sweden Rock! After being blown away by Grim Reaper, we feel a bit hungry and decide to take on one of the large burgers being served inside the festival area. It actually tastes pretty good but lacks some fries and salad. With The Meister professionally being in the restaurant business, I ask him for his opinion and he seems to like the burger. Soon we will find and even better place that we will repeatedly use during the festival.
Time for some more beer before I split from The Meister to head out to the signing session area to meet the guys in Grim Reaper and have my CD´s signed. There is a fair amount of people lining up with vinyls and some with CD booklets in their hands. I spot Janne from Sweden Rock Magazine and travel partner in the back of the tent and send a short nod his way. He says something about me and Grim Reaper that I cannot really hear.
This is a great moment for me to finally meet one of my favourite singers and guitarist that I have listened so much to growing up. I really don´t know a lot about the new rhythm section of the band, but it will be great to meet my long time heroes Nick and Steve. I put forward as many booklets as I dare. I would not want to anger the security guys and gals that tightly watch every move you make. First up is Steve and he wants to flip the booklet and sign the front page which I am not too keen on (not destroy the cover artwork!) and after I give directions he signs the back of both booklets as well as his solo CD (especially brought to get guitarist Ian Nash‘s signature as well). I get the debut album and Rock You To Hell booklet signed. Nick wants to know my name so I tell him. Then he writes ”C U in hell Michael” on the booklet and signs it. I thank the guys for a fantastic gig and move on to Ian who signs my Steve Grimmett solo CD. I am quite particular on the issue of the member actually playing on the CD that is about to be signed. I thank the new guys for a great gig and after they confirmed they don´t play on any records I move on to let more people through.
Before I head back to the VIP area I catch the last couple of songs of the Airbourne gig and I can see they are really enjoying themselves. I have not personally really got into them and the long jam they end the concert with is not going to change that fact. I head back to the VIP area to meet up with The Meister for a beer and chat before it is time to prepare for Swedish power metallers Hammerfall who play the Sweden stage around half past nine in the evening. But before that we discover Texas Longhorn which serves burgers, coleslaw and fries the Texan way. It suits both me and The Meister fine so we often use them during this festival.
The weather is actually really good, but it soon starts to get cold very fast when the sun sets. See separate gig review of Hammerfall–Hammerfall Live at Sweden Rock! I try to translate the talk in between songs to keep The Meister updated on what lead vocalist Joakim Cans actually says. They play through most of their hits and of course end with ”Hearts On Fire”. When they finish it is time to just walk across the field to the main stage just opposite to catch Def Leppard. It is quite easy to get really near the stage and we get a great spot to see. Def Leppard plays a great gig with all their songs focusing in on their 1980’s albums and the 1999 album Euphoria, most notably the single “Promises”. Vivian Campbell looks healthy again and fit and Joe Elliott‘s voice is in great condition. The great choruses hint that there must be some backing tracks at work here. Anyway, they fulfill all my expectations like they did in 2010. All talk about Joe´s voice not being in good condition are proven to be untrue. Laura has declared she will stay to watch Michael Monroe so I head back to the bus and our BnB together with The Meister to get some sleep before a busy Friday starts.
Friday June 5th (2nd day of Sweden Rock Festival)
I initially had an idea of catching Dare but I´ve seen them at Firefest and they are on at noon already. We all know this is going to be a long day with H.E.A.T. closing the day after Mötley Crüe so we decide to head out to the festival area a little bit later this day. The sun is burning from a clear sky this day so the weather will be perfect and it is still not too hot. The Meister and I enter through the press entrance and Laura makes it all the way round to the main entrance. The entrance is just beside the Sweden stage where Alestorm is playing to a capacity crowd despite being very early in the day. I have seen the band before and I have not come to terms with the raspy vocals of Christopher Bowes and I stay only for a couple of songs to confirm this is still the case. Their pirate inspired kind of Power metal should otherwise suit me fine but it still doesn´t. I take a stroll to the Battle Cry Records tent once again which is just beside the Sweden stage and have a short chat with their CEO Andreas Preisig. He is busy selling CD´s so we decide it would be a good start to the day to have a beer and what could be better than the less crowded VIP area?
After having a conversation with a couple of guys in this area, it is time for me to head out on my own to attend the Mad Max signing session. I brought most of their CD´s, both the 80´s albums and some newer ones. I´m early so I get the third spot in line and stand there waiting in the burning sun. Not too many people show up for this signing session (the time was changed at a short notice and begins earlier than planned). Unfortunately, I did not bring the Frontline CD’s for the new guy and bass player in the band, Thomas Bauer. I excuse myself to him as he is the first I encounter. He says that maybe a reunion in the future should be nice. Anyway, a short chat later and a lot of CD’s signed I have met three of the original guys in the band for the first time, Michael Voss (ex-Casanova), Jürgen Breforth and Axel Kruse (ex-Jaded Heart). They all were very nice and patiently signed all of the booklets I brought and bothered them with.
I walk off to the Rockklassiker tent again to catch the last part of Evergrey´s acoustic set. It´s a band I am remotely familiar with and the set sounds really great. When they finish I head off to the 4 Sound Stage to try and find The Meister who is there watching Rock Goddess play a highly anticipated gig. This all-female three-piece has been around since the 1980´s and I have completely missed out on them. Walking into the crowd I am pulled aside by Micke Rönn who stands just behind me. He says he is very angry because he just missed out on the Mad Max signing which was re-scheduled on a short notice. He has also missed the Grim Reaper signing so not the best start of the festival for him. We watch Rock Goddess together and I find their brand of hard rock really nice. I´m not too impressed by the vocals, but maybe that’s because I do not know them. I decide to check out their albums when I get back.
I once again take refuge at the VIP area to buy The Meister another beer (he buys back as well) and you can always find him in the VIP bar. He has just seen Dokken at M3 Festival so he stays when I decide to head back out not to miss this gig that I have been waiting a long time to see. Dokken has been a favourite band of mine since 1987 and this is the first opportunity for me to see them live. They do not play in Europe too often! See separate gig review for the Dokken show-Dokken Enjoy Themselves at Sweden Rock! They play a couple of unexpected songs that makes me really happy. I start to feel a bit hungry again. You know the place by now…
The late afternoon is now turning into night as I team up with Laura and The Meister at a gig that I have been promoting and trying to get my Canadian friends to attend. Mad Max plays an entirely 80´s set in the Rockklassiker tent and all I can say that it should have been full but it is not. See separate gig review for the Mad Max gig-Mad Max Rock It Out at Sweden Rock. Feeling enlightened of what I had just witnessed I get confirmation that this was really good after talking to Laura. Mad Max was new to her and I think the band has got a new fan. She wants to be really early for Mötley Crüe which is partly why she has travelled all the way for her 76th Mötley gig. The Meister and yours truly decide it´s better with a beer so we head off for some drinks before Mötley hit the main stage. I desperately need to do some charging of my phone as well in the press tent.
I head out just in time for the Mötley show to start and take a place in the back of the crowd. The Meister decided to stay for another beer, not being a huge Mötley fan. The large screens give a good view of the show so you do not really have to get real close to catch most of what is going on. They play all of their major hits and a couple of songs that they could have left out. For example, they are totally destroying the old Sex Pistols classic (“Anarchy in the UK”). This is the first time I see them live and the band sounds good, but Vince seems a bit lost on the stage. His timing in some of the songs is really bad and the voice is not at it´s best either. Mick is just standing still like he always does, looking like a ghost. I will give them credit for excluding ridiculous things like ”titty cam” and other juvenile stuff Tommy used to do. I still enjoy the show when they play classic cuts like “Shout At The Devil”, “Too Young To Fall In Love” and “Wild Side”. The pyro department is really impressing!
After Mötley Crüe finish, I head off to the Sweden stage to catch hot Swedish band H.E.A.T. who have become a household band of the Firefest Festival in the UK and I have seen them many times perform live. They are matched by no other band when it comes to energy and vitality onstage. I watch most of their show and they really rip the place up. When the play ”The Mannequin Show” from their last album Tear Down The Walls I surrender and start banging my head to the beat. I leave just before they finish to avoid having to fight my way into the last bus to Karlshamn. The Meister is the last one back this night having seen the whole show and, as expected, he had to fight his way into the last bus. Time to get some sleep. We have to get up early to catch Hardcore Superstar the next day – these Canadian chaps seems to have a weak spot for Swedish bands….
Saturday June 6th (Day three of Sweden Rock Festival)
I can´t believe how tired I am when the alarm clock starts and it is time to get up for a shower and some breakfast. We have to shower in shifts and eat breakfast in shifts. Still there is not enough time and we leave in a hurry to stop by the cash machine for some money and on the bus we go. The final day of the festival is here.
We arrive early at the festival area and this time we decide to show some solidarity with Laura and we all enter through the main entrance and head of to the main stage for some Hardcore Superstar. When we arrive the celebration of the Swedish National Day (June 6th) is already on and Ralf Gyllenhammar of Mustasch is the man managing the celebrations on the Rock stage. It soon ends and time for some Hardcore Superstar on the main stage. We all stay for the entire set and Laura is really pleased. She even buys a Sweden Rock poster for their signing session to bring back to Canada. Not being one of my favourite bands I have still seen them a couple of times, last time at Sabaton Open Air festival in Falun, Sweden. I recognise a couple of their most known songs like ”Last Call For Alcohol” and ”We Don´t Celebrate Sundays” which are good tunes and great to sing along to. Saturday is not the greatest day for me so there is a great deal of time to have a couple of drinks and off time to visit the Battle Cry tent as well. I head over to meet up with Andreas of Battle Cry Records and also get introduced to his friend and colleague Sasch Menschl of Mighty Monster Records. We talk a lot on bands and albums we would like to see on CD and maybe there will be a couple of those coming out on Battle Cry Records/Mighty Monster Records in the future. Who knows?
The Meister heads off to see some other band that I don´t care about so I grab something to eat (Greek cuisine this time!) and head off for the VIP area for some drinks again. I exchange messages with a colleague from work and we decide to meet at the merchandise booth after the Riot show. Well, time to head back to the Rock stage (second biggest stage) and watch Riot V. The band plays for the first time since 2009 at Sweden Rock. See separate review of this show coming soon! With the band really on fire and spirits high, I head for the merchandise desk to meet up with my colleague from my workplace. We have a couple of beers and watch Ace Frehley play a gig on the main stage. I am not a big KISS fan and I do not recognize many of the songs he plays (“Love Gun” was one of them at least) and I am turning my focus to the beer instead. We have to say goodbye when the Riot signing session is on and I head off in a hurry. Bringing the latest album and Immortal Soul I reflect that there are only two guys remaining in the band since the 2010 album (bassist Don Van Stavern and guitarist Mike Flyntz). Anyway, there is a fair amount of people lining up to get their gear signed. I express my gratitude to new singer Todd Michael Hall for his impressive vocals and hitting all the high notes perfectly. I´m leaving perfectly happy with a fully signed album and some great memories. Once again I turn to the VIP area for a chat with The Meister but no beer this time as I feel I have had enough for a while.
We find Laura again and we head off to watch Rage (presented here as Refuge), but in truth it is the old Rage line up active from 1988-1992. Being a side project and to not confuse anyone with the current line up of Rage they have decided to call themselves Refuge. The band belts out a couple of tunes in their typical German power metal style, but I get distracted and then annoyed by bass player/singer Peavy Wagner´s habit of displaying his tongue while singing. It´s a tight and well-played set with the highlight ”Don´t You Fear The Winter” but it does not get better than that.
This is where I split once again from my companions and head off to the Battle Cry tent for the last time to say goodbye to Andreas and my new found friend Sasch as well as some late CD shopping. I head back to the press tent to charge my phone while the others watch Extreme on the Rock stage. Later I learned that they left after a couple of songs due to bad sound and only being able to hear the bass. Just before Judas Priest I need to have another burger and while I´m eating it The Meister searches for me in VIP area, but finally we catch each other just before Judas Priest enter the main stage for their headlining show. The Meister is going to see them soon in Hamburg, Germany in a couple of days and he heads home with Laura. And what a great gig to close this great festival! It´s a revitalized band on stage and it was a long time since Rob‘s voice sounded this good. They start with “Dragonaut” and after that they line up one classic song after another. My favourite bits include “Love Bites”, “Turbo Lover”, “Victim of Changes” (and yes – Rob hits it this time) and “Electric Eye”. They close the set with “Living After Midnight”. As always Rob drives his motorcycle out on stage and it stays there for the major portion of the set. You should have stayed guys because it has been a long time since Judas Priest sounded this good! I leave the festival area for the last time with a smile on my face. Maybe I´ll be back next year – I know The Meister will…
Sunday June 7th
I decide to get up really early when my Canadian friends rise to catch the train to Copenhagen. I really don´t know when I will be picked up by Janne, Oscar, Micke and Erik. I say goodbye to my friends (see ya again soon!). When I met Micke Rönn yesterday and asked for plans on when we head home he only replied ”When the driver wakes up”! Now I wonder when that will be….
Half past eight I send an SMS to Micke and get a reply that everyone is up and going except the driver Oscar. The van finally shows up around 10 am and I am given the very important task of checking the GPS and decide the route home. Erik Thompson has already left for Stockholm in another car so we do not have to take the detour to Stockholm which suits all of us fine. We are all happy about that.
Oscar sleeps/rests the major part of the journey and Janne is behind the wheel letting nobody else near the driver seat. On Oscar´s request, we do not play so many bands with high pitched vocals and turn to more modern metal and Lindemann. We share a lot of great memories we all have gained the last couple of days. A short stop at a burger place (Mjölby once again) and we finally arrive home in the early Sunday evening. Time for a reality check and back to normal life….
You can find all of Decibel Geek‘s coverage of the Sweden Rock Festival 2015 by both The Lionsheart & The Meister here: Sweden Rock 2015