Rockweekend AOR is a new AOR festival around and it is in my native country of Sweden. Being a visitor to the largest AOR festival in Europe for many years now (Firefest) and the Väsby Rock Festival there was no other choice than to get your ass on the train to Stockholm this cold and windy February night. The two main men organising this festival were Johan Nylén of Planet AOR, who is also part of the Firefest crew and Martinus Eriksson, a sacred festival veteran that had been organising a festival called Rockweekend several times. The event was cleverly marketed as the real afterparty to the Toto performance that same night in Stockholm. Because of this concept, the doors were as late as 22.00 hours and the first band on stage was hot newcomers Art Nation at 23.00 hours. The festival was held at EN Arena which is situated just beside the much bigger Globe Arena, originally built to host the Ice Hockey World championships in 1989. The organisers early on announced that there would be no more than 650 tickets available so I bought my ticket early on. In the end, it proved not to be a sellout but there was a decent turnout about 2/3 of the capacity.
Having worked my day job the full Friday I was in a hurry to forcedly inhale two hot dogs and then catch the train to Stockholm at the last minute. This was going to be a real challenge to stay awake until 4 am in the morning with the last band of the day scheduled to enter the stage at 02.20 a.m. (Houston). On the journey to Stockholm, I learned my Facebook buddy whom I had never met in real life Kaj Paxeus (former lead vocalist of 70´s rocking The Black Marbles) was going to be there. We were trying to sort out how to meet and actually recognise each other using Facebook messenger. I would be easy to recognise in my full print Icon – Night of the Crime T-shirt. As it turned out Kaj found me and not the other way around. An eventless train ride later I navigated my way through the Stockholm metro and checked in at the hotel just beside the arena around 21.30. The journey gave me some time to browse through the latest issue of Sweden Rock Magazine which was an issue completely dedicated to the late and great Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister. I have never been a Motörhead fan but still gave me a great pleasure to learn everything about the man, the myth and the legend…
I headed over to the arena to have enough time to enter and get my press pass. As it turned out this also gave me access to two exclusive acoustic sets by Ted Poley of Danger Danger and Swedish veteran AOR-sters Alien the next day. After parting ways with my jacket that went into the wardrobe for “fire security reasons” – you were not allowed to wear a jacket inside the arena – I headed over to the bar. With the first beer in hand, I made myself comfortable checking out my surroundings and the VIP seating where you could rest your feet. Rockweekend AOR is a new festival and most of the bands on the bill was lesser known Swedish AOR bands which seemed like a good idea on this first take. You don´t need to take too many risks the first time around and this was a great way to introduce this festival to the AOR fans. When the first band is introduced by Johan Nylén he announces that fans from 15 different countries had made their way over to EN Arena on this evening.
The festival kicked off in fine style with hot newcomers Art Nation from Gothenburg entering the stage on time. I had heard their material previously, which a friend of mine played to me, but did not own their debut CD. I really liked what I heard so I had fairly high expectations – the rest of the bill on this first day being completely unknown to me. Art Nation delivered a solid set of extremely high-quality AOR/melodic hard rock. In vocalist Alexander Strandell they have a great frontman that seems to be in tune all the time. They kick off the set with “Need You To Understand” which is also the first track on their debut CD. The set suffers from multiple technical difficulties with the microphone signing off not once but twice and Strandell has to “borrow” the mike from other band members. As if that was not enough, drummer Carl Tudén breaks the drum kit which calls for a short break while the technicians fix the drumkit. They plow through AOR gems like “I Want Out”, “All In”, “Start a Fire” and a couple of more before ending their 40 minutes set with the AOR-oozing “Don´t Wait for Salvation”. Just before they had played my favourite tune of the evening – the heavy rocker “Wage War Against the World” where Strandell pushes his vocal chords to the limit. The performance is rock solid and it is hard not to think that you are actually listening to the studio album. As it will turn out this will be my favourite performance of the first day.
After a short break of approximately 20 minutes, it is time for fellow Swedish melodic rockers Degreed to enter the stage. These guys have 3 albums under their belt with the debut album being released on Andrew McNiece´s own Melodicrock Records label. Bassist and lead vocalist Robin Ericson uses solely the English language out of respect to all the AOR fans from all over the world. Degreed is a couple of notches heavier than Art Nation with a more modern touch and some progressive elements thrown in for good measure. They kick off their set with “Kill Your Darlings” from their latest offering Dead But Not Forgotten, released last year. The guys continue with my favourite tune from them this evening – the opening track of their 2013 album We Don´t Belong called “Black Cat”. This song is announced as a favourite track of Ted Poley‘s and is dedicated to him. It´s a heavy but yet melodic rocker with a great chorus that stays with you a long time after the song has finished. Ted even joins them onstage for a short while shouting on the chorus. The majority of the songs were taken from their latest album including tracks like “Better Safe Than Sorry”, “Shame On Me” and they end the set with their latest single and video “The Scam”. Before that, they take their time to play a Steve Perry cover called “Captured By the Moment” which is featured on their debut album. Degreed turns out to be a solid and tight band with some great songs and they offer a heaviness I will miss when LA Project enters the stage.
I have never heard of LA Project and I will soon find out I have not missed out on anything. Johan Nylén asks if we are ready for some slick west coast AOR when he introduces this band with guitarist Peter Friestedt and keyboard player Stefan Gunnarsson as the two main men. They play the worst kind of funky west coast AOR you can think of with a good measure of soul thrown in. The crowd becomes smaller in front of the stage during the set. I lose interest almost immediately and it strikes me that the music from the stage really does not fit in with the AOR rock style of the rest of the festival. I turn my attention to the bar instead and have a beer to keep me awake during this sleeping pill of a performance. I take a seat and try to stay awake for the last band of the day which is another Swedish melodic hard rock band – how many are there actually? There seems to be a constant flow of high-quality melodic rock band emerging out of thin air.
Fortunately, LA Project does not use all their time and it means Houston and front man Hampus “Hank” Erix can enter the stage about 20 minutes early (around 2 a.m.). Hank is now sporting a huge beard that looks kind of weird and more gives the impression there is a post-grunge band on stage. When you listen to the music flowing from the stage there is however, no doubt that this is a melodic hard rock band deeply rooted in the 1980´s hard rock scene. I have never heard their albums but know of them by reading music press. Hank has a great voice and hits the notes clean and slick. The rest of the band sounds like a tight knit unit and they play songs like “I´m Coming Home”, “Carry On”, “Runaway”, “Fighting All Night Long”, “Hold On” and end the show with “Return the Heart”.
Half way through their set time is taking it´s toll on me and I have to struggle not to fall asleep standing! And that is not because of Houston – they sound awesome but it is getting really late! There is still a fair amount of people keeping the party going this late at night. I really enjoy the Houston set but as soon as they finish I head back to the hotel to get a few hours of sleep. I do not wanna miss the breakfast at the hotel and 10.45 in the morning it closes. Time to get some sleep for a full second day of Rockweekend AOR with a lot more bands to come!
Mikael “The Lionsheart” Svensson