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 – Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
River City Rockfest / San Antonio, TX – Sunday, May 24, 2015
River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15
With festival season in full swing, this Memorial Day weekend called for a little trip down south to San Antonio, where the third annual River City Rockfest would be taking place. I must say, a one day festival sounded almost relaxing after some of the two day ones I’ve done recently.The night before the festival had seen unbelievable amounts of rain fall, flooding some parts of the roads and even highways (being out in it wasn’t much fun either), so no one knew what to expect on this Sunday, even though forecasts called for clear skies. Still, the music lovers weren’t going to let that potential threat sideline them, the line to get in stretching well into the parking lot of the AT&T Center even an hour before gates actually opened.When they did open, it didn’t take long for the rest of the lot that served as the festival grounds to spring to life as patrons began visiting the food trucks/vendors, merch booths and elsewhere. Three stages were set up in the area, the one most of the biggest ticket acts performed on being the Bud Light Stage, which Starset had the pleasure of kicking off.

The group, led by frontman Dustin Bates, ran through a variety of cuts off Transmissions; and he took time to acknowledge how much it meant that so many people were singing along, since the album was released not quite a year ago. Their more unique blend of metal, rock, industrial and electronic sounds had no trouble appealing to people, as the amount of eyes watching them increased by the minute; while his band mates rocked out, each sporting a suit that appears like a cross between riot gear and futuristic space attire, making for an even cooler appearance.

I think everyone would agree they were a nice way to begin this day.

Some area bands took the other stages at times; The Taking sounding really good as far as what little I heard from them over on the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage. With the arena that sat behind these festival grounds being the home of the San Antonio Spurs, they mentioned before “Anywhere” that the song had been used during the team’s playoff run back in 2014.

Things got a little off schedule after that, though no one seemed to mind much. It was nearly 25-minutes after the slated start time of 1:10 when Taylor Momsen and the rest of The Pretty Reckless took the stage, the wait having only fueled the anticipation.

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I caught a few of their festival performances last year (actually, this Memorial Day weekend marked one full year since I first saw them, up in Oklahoma), and I was looking forward to seeing if they had changed things up some or not.

“Follow Me Down” served as the opener, Momsen quickly capturing the attention of all with her striking at times growly voice as she belted out the lyrics, even getting a clap along going for the first of a few different times this day. She was quick to pump up every last soul, addressing them every chance she could, be it between or during songs, like afterwards, when she asked how everyone was feeling.

Their set had room for a few songs off their debut album this day too, “Since You’re Gone” being one standout as Momsen ditched the mic stand for the first time this day, roaming about and interacting some with her band mates. Ben Phillips was on fire as he ripped out some occasionally bluesy sounding riffs on his guitar, like in setting up “Heaven Knows”, which became a bit of a sing-along. “Going to Hell” was another clear standout of the day, really getting the couple thousand or so attendees going. Then again, it’s hard for The Pretty Reckless not to accomplish that.

She may still be in the relatively early stages of her career, though Momsen can already hold her own against nearly any vocalist thanks to her raw, gritty tones, which just doesn’t sound like something a twenty-one-year-old could produce. Yet she can and does it with ease; while she and her band mates clearly give it their all while on stage.

Next up on the Bud Light Stage would be Drowning Pool. The Dallas metal favorites took it shortly before three, drummer Mike Luce making a quick introduction of who they were as the remaining three guys took their spots.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

They drew from nearly all of their studio albums during their 45-minute set, though focused most heavily on their debut album as well as Desensitized, like the opener “Step Up”. The full throttle track allowed the four of them to find their groove, C.J. Pierce shredding on his axe, showing off some moves when he could between supplying some backing vocals, as Jasen Moreno begun asking to hear everyone. He even got a clap along started, before Pierce and bassist Stevie Benton gathered on a riser in front of the drum kit as it ended.

“…You ready to get wild and crazy with Drowning Pool?!” the frontman asked afterwards. The crowd had grown substantially from what it had been even during the previous band, many of whom appeared familiar with Drowning Pool, even if they weren’t singing every song; and they were game for whatever was asked of them this afternoon. “Feel Like I Do” was the lone offering from their 2010 self-titled release; and after asking to see the crowds’ hands before getting it underway, Moreno asked again during it when the spell seemed to be wearing off of the crowd. “I told you… get your hands up!!” he roared, the throng of people doing as was asked.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

“One Finger and a Fist” shares the spirit of the title of the album that it comes from, Resilience, boasting just a resilient and determined vibe; and then came the classics everyone seemed to know to some extent or another. “I can see a whole lot of ya,” Moreno said as the intro for “Sermon” began, the singer saying he wanted to feel and touch the audience in an effort to get them even closer. “Tear Away” got some crowd participation as people sang along at times; and a few songs later, when they ended with what else but “Bodies”, there were a ton of people who, even if they were just mouthing along, were still singing, “Let the bodies hit the floor!”.

The spectators seemed more invested in their set than even some of the latter bands (excluding the bigger headliners from six-o’clock on or so), but still, paying attention to every last thing Drowning Pool did. Living in/being from the Dallas area, where these guys fit the hometown hero mold that was really cool see: an audience of this size being more than receptive to what they were doing, with plenty of people talking about how good the performance was even while it was still transpiring.

A surprise act of the day? I think so, in the best way possible.

After another relatively quick set change, things were set for In This Moment, who was one of the handful of main stage acts I had not seen before.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” played over the PA before their set; the stage soon being engulfed in smoke as the intro to “Sick Like Me” started, two backing dancers being somewhat visible through it as they begun doing their thing. Shortly after, Maria Brink appeared between them, interacting with them at times while doing her own movements and dancing at others on the seductive number. “Are you sick like me?!” she shouted as the song concluded, many of the onlookers cheering in response.

She changed costumes a few different times this afternoon, disappearing from sight as a track first played giving a viewer discretion advised warning, bleeding into the sounds of the old documentary that is featured at the start of “Black Widow”. Aside from the attire, the stage setup changed occasionally as well, a sort of pulpit being brought out after another song. A black widow painting adorned the front; and it was from that that Brink led her congregation during “Sex Metal Barbie”, taking her voice all over the place, from singing to vicious screams.

Their set seemed to go by quick. It didn’t feel like they had been up there all that long when they hit their final two songs, each coming from Blood. The title track served as the closer, and while it may not have seemed it, they had, indeed, already been up there for nearly 40-minutes.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

With all the theatrics, Brink was clearly the main figure you gravitated towards on that stage. She used the position too, getting a good reaction from the audience the few times she did address them, like asking for all the “boys and men” and all the “girls and goddesses” to make some noise. There were even a few takers when she asked all the “goddesses” to get on their men’s shoulders.

It was a solid show, standing apart from what most bands do; and personally, I do find this newer style with electronic elements implemented more appealing than their older stuff, when they fit more of a metalcore genre. Good stuff.

With the times having been thrown off, I only got to catch the last couple songs of We Are Harlot, who were giving it all they had on the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

Soon, back over on the main stage, it was almost time for the trend of strong female fronted hard rock/heavy metal bands to continue, this time in the form of Halestorm. On a side note, I think that’s cool that River City Rockfest highlighted some of those bands. I know they’re all well-established to begin with, but still, on a bill that was largely dominated by men, it was good seeing live proof that women can rock just as hard.

They came out swinging, opening with the first single from 2012’s The Strange Case of…, “Love Bites (So Do I)”, Lizzy Hale quickly showing off just how ferocious she is, at times grabbing the microphone and roaming about some as she took a break from attacking her guitar. I missed seeing them at a festival in Florida the month prior after bad weather delayed their start time, and I was instantly regretting that.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

She was constantly working on establishing a connection with everyone, asking the now thousands of people how they were doing afterwards and requesting to see some horns in the air before a track that seemed to connect with most everyone, “Freak Like Me”. The fans had the opportunity to sing a few lines of it; and the screams Lizzy let loose and held, making it seem so effortless, sounded extraordinarily.

They were one band who made it difficult to know who to focus on. Standing further back, it is more difficult to truly observe the smaller details of a show. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but rather just stating a fact. But between the  fierce shredding Joe Hottinger was doing, he and Lizzy even interacting at times, to the spectacular skills of Arejay Hale behind the kit, at times tossing a drumstick in the air and others standing/jumping up from the drum set as he continued pummeling away at it… it was almost an overdose of action.

“Scream” was another excellent song, as Lizzy requested everyone scream when she said it in the song; and after seldom letting up, their barrage ended with “I Miss the Misery”, which had the crowd screaming for more.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

Halestorm blew me away (no cheesy pun intended). I had no clue what to expect beforehand, and what happened on that stage was even more impressive than anything I could have been prepared for. It was the energy they put into it and the conviction the four of them played with that made it so astounding.

No question about it, they were one of the most memorable acts of the day; and speaking of conviction, plenty more of that was coming up soon.

Things may have been a little off track earlier on in the day, but as Papa Roach took the main stage, they were only one minute off of the scheduled 6:10 start time. The crew running the festival had gotten things to where they were supposed to be.

Jacoby Shaddix was in his element as soon as he set foot on stage, asking for everyone to jump when he said so, quite a few people doing just that as they ripped into “Face Everything and Rise”. It was one of a few offerings they did from F.E.A.R. this evening, though they certainly didn’t neglect the classics, either. “Between Angels and Insects” for instance, which Shaddix sent out to those in the mosh pit; and a sea of fists were seen pumping in the air as they cranked it out.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

“San Antonio, that’s what I’m talking about!” he said upon finishing it. “Blood Brothers” was another highlight of their set, appealing to the longtime fans, of which there were plenty. I overheard some people reminiscing about their high school days and how taken they were by Infest when it dropped at the dawn of the new millennium.

One of the coolest moments of their set came when they played the newest single from their new album, a song that features Maria Brink on it; and since she was there, why not have her come out and sing on “Gravity”. The two vocalists had excellent chemistry with one another when they did really interact with one another. As I said, that was pretty cool, especially since they probably won’t be in the same place at the same time to do that often.

“Scars” served as their balled of the day, Shaddix singing the final couple of lines or so in Spanish, switching languages at the drop of a hat. They never stopped pumping people up with the blazing guitar riffs and pulse pounding rhythm section, right up until finishing with “Last Resort”.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

To say Papa Roach was compelling would be an understatement. The aura they brought with them to that stage was outstanding, exceeding anyone else who played this day, at least in my opinion. They were so on point, giving it everything they had, and all who watched could tell that, and they watched all the more intently because of it. Then again, when you tour as constantly as the guys in Papa Roach do, you should be a well-oiled machine able to leave fans hanging on every single note and every last word.

Over on the AA Best Bail Bonds Stage, a large amount of people had already gathered around the stage. “Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts” read the banner at the back of the stage, essentially saying it all.

Of course, some songs from his Stone Temple Pilots days were expected; and they opened with “Crackerman”, before tackling a series of songs off the recently released Blaster album. Early on, their set was plagued by technical problems. Something blew shortly into “Modzilla”, and while I’d lean towards it being the mic, since you could no longer hear anything Weiland was singing, even the guitar, bass and drums didn’t sound as strong as they had just moments prior, so perhaps it was something related to the speakers. That happened in the latter part and still wasn’t resolved as they began “Amethyst”, though the band was oblivious to that, carrying on business as usual.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

The crew got it fixed during that one, but then it blew again near the end of that number. They were a quarter of the way or so through “Meatplow” before it got fixed again, and there would be no more issues as far as the sound went, luckily.

The band seemed to be on fire, Jeremy Brown raising the body of his guitar up some as he picked at the strings with his teeth, while bassist Tommy Black was throwing down, though those technical issues were enough to cause some patrons to go on their way.

“The Way She Moves”, “White Lightning” and “Parachute” all sounded quite good live, going off without a hitch, with “Big Bang, Baby” and “Vasoline” being just some of the other classics that were worked in, as Weiland broke out his megaphone at times during some of them.

I’ve never seen Scott Weiland live before in any capacity until this. I’m sure he isn’t the same frontman he was twenty or even ten years ago, though I thought this was a really good show in terms of performance. Sure, the technical problems weren’t ideal, though you can’t blame a band for that sort of thing. It happens sometimes and that just comes with the territory. But just in terms of the actual performance, I highly enjoyed it. The instrumentalists kept up the energy level the entire time they had the stage, and Weiland’s voice never faltered.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

It was a good show, leaving me hoping to catch The Wildabouts again sometime, preferably sooner rather than later.

Next up on the main stage was the band I had been most excited about seeing this day, Volbeat.

After catching them twice in just a couple weeks last fall, I had become a real fan of the Denmark-based group, who is back touring the states.

Michael Poulsen and his band mates seemed excited to be there, often tearing through their set at a near breakneck speed, often blending one song to the next; and “Hallelujah Goat” was an early favorite. The fans were loving this original blend of metal/rockabilly with some Elvis and Cash elements tossed in as well, many crowd surfing often, like during “Lola Montez”, before which Poulsen gave a shout-out to Anthrax—who is currently touring with them—saying how much he enjoyed their stuff when he was growing up.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

A partial cover of “Ring of Fire” went out to, of course, Johnny Cash, as well as the late B.B. King, and upon hitting the first chorus, Poulsen trailed off, leaving the masses to sing it, and sing they did. The singer soon joked that he had stolen the next number from Cash, soon bursting into “Sad Man’s Tongue”, a song that saw many of the attendees singing along, knowing every word. “Bring the noise!” Poulsenroared as it ended.

“Still Counting” was another one people were quite familiar with, helping out in the singing department as Rob Caggiano laid down some sweet licks on his axe, while Anders Kjølholm and Jon Larsen—bass and drums, respectively—were relentless in supplying a hefty rhythm section.

Their hour long set afforded them time to do quite a few songs, even giving everyone a taste of the new record their working on, fitting the trademark sound they’ve created perfectly.

That came right at the end of their time on stage, with “The Mirror and the Ripper” concluding it.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

The energy these guys exude is something else, being true livewires, all of them. Every chance Poulsen had to break away from the center mic, he took, often shredding alongside Caggiano. Their music is a cut above the ordinary as well. As mentioned, they’ve carved out a sound that is often reminiscent of something you might hear in a Western film (hopped up on steroids, at least) and metal/hard rock.

They set the bar high for the only remaining act on the Bud Light Stage, and I was kinda wondering if it could be topped.

The headline spot for the second stage went to thrash metal legend, Anthrax.

They were all about wanting to start a party, singer Joey Belladonna saying as much before one song, noting it had been five years since they were last in San Antonio.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

“Caught in a Mosh” was one song that certainly set the pace, many of the fans banging their heads to the music just as violently as Scott Ian and Jonathan Donais were. “Madhouse” was another one that invigorated many, helping in them letting their rock spirit loose.

Belladonna commented on the weather during another break, pointing out that at least it wasn’t rainy. It may have been humid and hot this day, though that was much better than the rain, given all the damage it did cause in surrounding areas. Their cover of Trust’s “Antisocial” seemed to be a highlight of their time on stage; while “In the End” was dedicated to both Ronnie James Dio and “Dimebag”.

As their time on stage neared the end, Belladonna tried to further pump everyone up by saying he wanted to make it like “Sunken Gardens 1987!”, referencing a show in this town nearly thirty years prior. I don’t know if the crowd made it that crazy, though they were certainly feeling every bit of it.

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I’m not a huge metalhead, especially when it comes to thrash metal, though the landscape of thrash metal has changed greatly since Anthrax got their start, helping pioneer it. By that, I mean how much of the modern stuff is throaty screaming with incoherent lyrics. Belladonna still has that straight out of the 80’s sound, hitting all sorts of notes, all sounding great, no matter how high he pushed it.

Legends, for sure, and over thirty years into their career they still seem tenacious as ever, delivering a show that could top many young acts.

With Linkin Park set to hit the stage at any moment, the record-setting crowd of 25,000 people was eagerly awaiting it. Minutes seemed much longer than they were until the stage lights suddenly dimmed at9:34. The crowd roared with excitement, some soon jumping after being taken aback by some earsplitting fuzzed out noise, as the lights suddenly lit everything up.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

The instrumentalists gradually made their way on stage, the crowd soon going crazy once they fired up “Papercut”, as Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda appeared from the wings, each pacing around the stage as they begun the assault on the onlookers. It usually seems to work best for any band to open with a song everyone knows, and that certainly proved true in this case, as everyone was singing along, cheering wildly once they finished it.

The two vocalists finished that one kneeling next to one another; and afterwards, Bennington more or less gave the command of wanting to see people losing their minds as they ripped into “Rebellion”. Shinoda was on guitar duty, still contributing some backing vocals at times.

“Given Up” was an early highlight of this extensive set, the emotion Bennington put into singing/screaming the chorus bleeding through into the words and on his face, and that’s not something just every singer can capture. On a different side of the spectrum, they had the thousands upon thousands of people echoing along to every word of “One Step Closer”, the collective voice of the crowd at times being more audible than the music, which was something else to witness.

With nearly two dozen songs fitting into the 90-minute set they had, they kept delivering everything at a near nonstop pace, eventually bringing it to a close with a couple tracks off Minutes to Midnight. “What I’ve Done” and “Bleed it Out” were the songs, as they closed in the same fashion they had begun on, Bennington and Shinoda taking back the MC role, putting loads of aggression into it.

River City Rockfest (AT&T Center - San Antonio, TX) 5/24/15

This was another first for me, seeing Linkin Park live and it took me a bit to pick my jaw up of the floor. The rawness of it all, the energy seeming so raw yet so refined, was too impressive. I don’t think there could have been any better way to end River City Rockfest and what was probably its biggest year yet in terms of bands, and for sure was as far as turnout went.

The whole thing was pretty awesome, setup and everything. The sun was brutal during the day, though a large warehouse that housed some vendors provided ample space for anyone who wanted to get out it, even just between bands. There were even a small row of trees to hide underneath, if you were lucky enough to get a spot.

Everything else went off without a hitch, thanks to a surely diligent team working behind the scenes, with nothing so much as even a little hiccup that I ever noticed, apart from things falling a little behind at first, but in the long run, that’s nothing.

Because of all that and being able to see pretty much every band if you wanted to (thanks to the staggered set times), I’d say this was one of the coolest festivals I’ve been to. It was a big deal, yet it felt small enough that there was more a strong sense of community about it, just as if everyone was there for the sole purpose of seeing the bands, creating more a sense of camaraderie.

I’m already excited to see what will happen next year, so here’s to 2016’s installment somehow topping this one.

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