Three Canadian Decibel Geek staff, Brian Ronald, Shawn “Animalize” Irwin and Rich “The Meister” Dillon headed out from the Toronto area around 3 am on the morning of Friday, October 16, 2015. Their destination? Pekin, Illinois and the Rock n’ Skull Festival. After an arduous 12-hour car ride which was filled with a steady rotation of great, mainly Rock n’ Skull bands music, a lot of laughter and the most horrible farts ever know to man (never feed Irwin McDonald’s), we arrived in Pekin Illinois. The accommodations of The Concorde Inn were nearly denied to us as we had booked (and paid for I might add) our stay through a third party website who decided not to forward our reservation onto The Concorde! After getting settled we headed out to Goodfellas or The Leeway, or Hat Tricks or whatever they were calling the place this week (the name seems to have changed around a bit since we originally booked our tickets!). The name of the venue was not the only thing to change as the roster of bands also looked a little different than when we first purchased our tickets. Bonfire, Brighton Rock, Faster Pussycat and Coldspell all being casualties for different reasons. Even though we lost these bands the promoter, Justin Murr did an excellent job, sometimes on short notice, of finding fantastic replacements like Baton Rouge, Veronica Freemen and Pretty Boy Floyd (as opposed to just Steve Summers solo) among others! We can easily say that from meeting/watching Justin interact with the crowd, his hard work and reaction to concerns of the concert goers, he really cares about keeping the music alive just as we at Decibel Geek do! Fantastic job from Justin, Sarge and the whole team involved in Rock n’ Skull 2015. A new addiction is born, is it 2016 yet?
In any case here we were ready to rock. The Meister had chosen to sport his brand new Diemonds Never Wanna Die Pledgemusic campaign t-shirt and within seconds after entering we spotted two more Diemonds shirts! This later resulted in a photo of the three of us Die-hards (shown to the right). Diemonds should really be on this bill, they would fit in great here! The merch tables offered CD’s, shirts, posters and any other number of swag as well as jewelry and other crafts. The Kivel Records booth took some of our time and money as Brian and Meister coached Shawn in which CD’s to acquire. John Kivel was a pleasant guy and it was nice to meet him in person. The interior of the venue was obviously at one time a Dollar General or other such type retail store. It was formerly, apparently, two different venues, but now a wall knocked down has created an “L” shaped floor area with two large bars, a VIP room and gaming area etc. The stage itself was about knee-high or what I call Rockpile height (our favorite Toronto club) which can be a bit shitty for a short guy if you’re four people back offering a view of only the tops of performers heads. Also right off the bat there were many friends, not only from the Monsters of Rock Cruise, but also from around the world (Austria, UK) and the atmosphere was instantly electric and buzzing with excited greetings, warm hugs, laughter and happy, smiling faces. It was already a great time and we’d only been here half an hour! All this of course fueled by a little more than necessary beer drinking, just a continuation of what was started at The Concorde the very minute we got in (Brian and Meister had ‘em open in the lobby as Irwin sorted out the reservation debacle).
Our first performer for the evening, having arrived late and missing The Unhandsome Devils, was Johnny Lima and I should also mention that this first night of the three-day event was slated as “acoustic” night. While all three of us seem to prefer the plugged in assault of electricity, every performer delivered enaguing sets in a great first day at Rock n’ Skull. Lima led the way, setting the tone with his voice strong and clear. While Shawn and Meister were basically unfamiliar with him, Johnny Lima‘s CD My Revolution had been a top pick of Brian‘s for 2014. Shawn and Brian positioned themselves up front for photographs as Meister continued on the probably already too much beer/sociable train. With a good number of folks in the crowd knowing his music Lima delivered a good set and we’ll definitely be looking into his music shortly.
Up next was Mark Evans from the band Heavens Edge who were absolutely fantastic during their performance aboard the Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2014 as we can all attest to. Evans lead out with “Rock Steady” which although it sounded great and was not diminished as we suspected it may be by the acoustic presentation Meister, for one, still wished that the full electric band was in attendance. Guitarist Reggie Wu has to be one of the most underrated of all time! There were even more fans closer to the stage now and Shawn thought this great set would have been better sitting down relaxing listening to the music for an acoustic performance. Definitely check out Heavens Edge if you get the chance.
Outlaws & Moonshine broke the acoustic mold and came on stage for their rockin’ plugged-in set. While the three of us were unfamiliar with Outlaws & Moonshine and even though we weren’t close to the stage, they were really good with a rockin’ sound. For the rest of the days here at Rock n’ Skull, it was not uncommon to hear the band name Outlaws & Moonshine mentioned in conversations and is definitely a band we need to delve into in the future.
Already having some familiarity with Lynam, their also full electric presentation was severely impressive, prompting CD purchases of their new EP Bombshell! The band consists of David Lynam (drums/vocals), Mark Dzier (bass/vocals), Lonny Paul (guitar/vocals) and Jacob Bunton (vocals/guitar), the latter two from former Guns n’ Roses drummer Steven Adler‘s new project, Adler. It’s a real treat to see a band with such energy and a lead singer who is truly dedicated to the future of rock and roll, Jacob Bunton. This guy wrote and sang many songs on Gus G‘s latest CD, writes and sings for Adler and writes, sings and produces Lynam along with Lonny Paul. With Bombshell officially coming out October 30th and 5 CD’s behind them this band is definitely not new to the stage. Jacob‘s interaction with the crowd had the fans screaming for more than their 9 song set. Lynam were definitely a highlight band for us on this 3-day event.
Guardian is a Christian hard rock band and their frontman Jamie Rowe was the next performer on the Rock n’ Skull stage. Rowe is also a member of the melodic rock band similar in style to Guardian called AdrianGale. With Meister now fully entranced between the Toronto Blue Jays game and his mission to drink Pekin dry of beer, Brian and Shawn stepped back from stage front after seeing Lynam and caught most of Rowe‘s set. Unfortunately after the full on electric sets previous they were not extremely taken, however, Guardian or AdrianGale plugged in would be something to see!
The last acoustic set for the weekend was a highlight with Kip Winger doing 9 Winger songs and 1 song from his solo material. Kip was obviously a real crowd fave and for the first time during day one the crowd really started to hit the stage area. In fact, he may just have garnered THE biggest crowd of the weekend! He started off with “Easy Come Easy Go” but stopped halfway through, cursed his guitar and left the stage for a short time to rectify the problem. After that, the hits just kept on coming. “Headed for a Heartbreak” was followed by “Miles Away” where he brought a young lady up to do a duet with him and she sounded amazing. A couple of tracks from the Winger album Pull with “Who’s the One” and “Blind Revolution Mad” took us to “Free” which is a nice instrumental track from his solo CD Songs from the Ocean Floor. Back to finish off with 4 amazing Winger tracks in “Rainbow In The Rose”, “Down Incognito”, “Madalaine” and the crowd favorite “Seventeen”. I remember he started asking the crowd for requests. His responses were honest until someone asked for “Seventeen”. Kip yelled back “of course I’m going to play “Seventeen”, I have to play “Seventeen”, they paid me to come here and sing “Seventeen”, but I will play that last.” Not being particularly acoustic unplugged guys Brian and Shawn were thoroughly engaged in Kip’s performance.
With Meister‘s beverage intake reaching disastrous levels he decided to take his leave sometime during Kip Winger‘s set or maybe after……it’s all very fuzzy and he really has no idea how he got there, but he ended up in McCritters (what kind of a name is that?), the hotel bar at The Concorde. He was not alone, being joined by a couple of other Rock n’ Skull attendees and proceeded to continue what can only be described as a mission to drink Pekin out of beer! It should be mentioned that the bartender was extremely pleasant and humorous and special thanks go out to her for putting up with a hammered Canadian, who I’m sure was, believe it or not, not the worst patron, but that story needs not be told here!
With Meister gone it’s now time for a huge bucket list band of Brian‘s, but one that Shawn only remembers a few tracks from and never bought their music back in the day. Steelheart hits the stage and what a powerful set with vocalist Miljenko Matijevic hitting those notes just as he did in 1990 when it all started! With 3 full-length albums, 1 EP and a live album to Steelheart‘s credit, they surely would have been a lot bigger had they come out a few years earlier. With Shawn unaware that Steelheart did the music of Steel Dragon, the band from the Mark Wahlberg movie Rock Star, hearing “Stand Up” and then “We All Die Young” blew him away! It was a real treat hearing tracks like “Everybody Loves Eileen” and the slow song “I’ll Never Let You Go”. Even though Shawn didn’t know the rest of the setlist he was enthralled and couldn’t get over the screaming that Matijevic can still pull off and in tune! The best performance of the night and one of the top for the whole weekend!!
Brian Ronald / Shawn “Animalize” Irwin / Rich “The Meister” Dillon