Fort Rock 2017

(Originally Published on South Florida Insider: Day One and Day Two)

Modern Rock Legends Bring the Noise to the Quiet Fields of Ft. Myers – Review of the Fort Rock Festival in Fort Myers, FL

Photos and Story by: Gleb Barabanov

Day One

In Saturday’s early hours thousands of people descended upon Jet Blue Park to witness the 5th year of the Monster Energy Fort Rock Festival. What began as a small one-day festival in 2013 has quickly become the biggest rock and metal festival in the South Florida area, with fans driving from as far as Jacksonville and showing up at 8 in the morning in order to secure front row spots to see their favorite acts. Even in the sweltering heat that peaked in the low 90’s, the first day was filled with a motley mix of both younger fans that wanted to see their favorite bands, and die-hard rockers that were excited to see Def Leppard for the umpteenth time.

I arrived at the festival as one of the early bands, Beartooth, was getting ready to play. This festival was set up in a unique way, with both stages right next to each other, and one band setting up while the other one plays. This arrangement had some advantages, such as not having to wait for bands to set up in between sets and not having to walk between stages, which I definitely appreciated by the end of the day. Beartooth kicked off the set with a song from their first album, Aggressive and the crowd gathered in front of the stage went wild. I knew that they had a pretty big following, but I did not expect them to attract such a large crowd. Easily over a thousand people assembled to watch them play and they even managed to get an old-school, honest to god circle pit going in the crowd (a feat even Lamb of God didn’t manage to achieve last year). During their set hey played a few songs from their newest album, Disgusting, including their single The Lines, before finishing off with another older jam, Hated.

Next, was Motionless in White, which I had never seen before, but heard good things about. The band started to enter the stage, with the guitarists dressed in suits and the bassist dressed as a serial killer, complete with bloody pig mas, and began with their song A-M-E-R-I-C-A. After the tune was finished the singer commented how he was probably “The only pale person that enjoys the Florida sun,” which drew a chuckle from me considering there was a huge crowd standing in the oppressive heat to see him perform. The stage setup mimicked their Halloween dress, with Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins and fake melted candles spread throughout the stage. The band reminded me a lot of Marilyn Manson, from the clothing to the metal-with-a-twinge-of-industrial musical style.

After MiW finished their set, Nothing More began to play. This was another band that I had not heard about before so I was not sure what to expect. As their singer came on stage, looking like a young shirtless Glenn Danzig, they began to perform their most-well known single This is the Time (Ballast), which I did not realize was by this band. Along with a really cool light show considering how early they played, they also had some pretty interesting aspects of their stage show to liven things up. The singer brought out a second, stand along drum kit on stage, and proceeded to get into a choreographed drum-off with their drummer. He also used a strange, theremin-like instrument that responded to the motion of his hands with strange, high-pitched noises. Nothing More ended their set with the Salem (Burn the Witch) incorporating the instrument.

Up next was In This Moment, whom I had heard, but had never watched perform before. The stage that they were performing on was covered in red velvet as smoke machines began to fog up seemingly every inch of it. Appearing through the fog, the wicked cadre appeared, fully dressed in nun costumes and white masks with black crosses on them covering their faces. It reminded me of an act that played last year, Ghost. The singer, Maria Brink, appeared out of the fog, with two mask wearing back-up dancers in tow, and broke into their first song, Blood. Maria spent the entire show dancing, jumping and performing on stage, singing into a head worn microphone a la Madonna as the backup dancers twirled around her and the masked musicians played their instruments in the foggy background. The band performed a costume change halfway through the set, switching the cult-like masks for “serial killer nurse” costumes for River of Fire and the last couple of songs.

I took a break for the next two bands to rehydrate, meet up with some friends, and check out some of the food and merch tents set up at the festival. Along with the usual festival food offerings of chicken sticks and corn dogs, there were also a few specialty food tents, including a noodle stand and a bar-b-q shack. You could also find a wide variety of other music merchandise on sale, including some hard to find vinyl records from the bands playing that day, tour shirts, and a very cool looking poster.

After finally taking a break from the sun and getting some more water in my system, I went back to the stages just in time to watch Three Days Grace. It was my first time seeing them since the departure of their original vocalist, Adam Gontier, so I was curious to hear how they would sound with the new singer. Opening with a new song, I Am Machine, before launching into songs from earlier in their career, the new singer, Matt Walst, did a good job of imitating Adam’s voice, although he did use a second microphone with voice effects in order to sing a couple of songs. They powered through songs from their most famous album, One-X, and played a few from their self-titled album before closing the set with Riot.

Coming up next was the band Seether, who opened their show with their classic song Gasoline. It was around this point that many of the younger fans that came early to catch some of the smaller bands started to filter out and the older fans that came there to see Def Leppard started to pour in. Seether put on a great light show as they jammed through a smattering of songs from all over their catalogue, including hits Fake It and Remedy before ending the set with Let Me Down.

Papa Roach was up next, playing Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says over the loud speakers while they took the stage, blasting into …To Be Loved as soon as they got up there. They played through a wildly eclectic set that took them though every album they ever put out, with Jacoby belting his heart out to hits like Scars and Last Resort and Maria Brink from In This Moment coming out on stage to join them for the song Gravity. The band then launched into a surprising cover of Blur’s Song 2 and finished off their set with classics Getting Away With Murder and Between Angels and Insects.

Chevelle took the stage before the headliner, drawing a surprising large crowd of people. The three-piece, once consisting of three brothers, but now incorporating their brother in law as a full-time member, started off their set with the song Another Know It All from the album This Type Of Thinking Could Do Us In. Playing in front of a very interesting stage show, which featured lights on poles jutting from behind the drummer and lights that appeared to create spinning motions in the fog on stage, they jammed through a few new songs from their most recent albums before launching into hits I Get It, Send the Pain Below and The Red, before closing out their time with Face to the Floor.

Finally, the main event that everybody that remained had been waiting for was about to begin. After a few minutes of silence and a few final tests of the lights, the mighty Def Leppard began to play. Seeing as they are currently on tour, the band brought out their full production for the festival, including a giant LED screen that played behind the band. They kicked off the set with a new song, Let ‘s Go before launching into the classic Animal. After a few more new songs, which the frontman Joe Elliot thanked the crowd for sticking with, remarking “I know how difficult it is to listen to new stuff in these festival situations,” he launched into a barrage of hits aided by the visuals from their enormous LED wall. After a costume change and an amazing drum solo by the one and only Rick Allen, the band played Hysteria’s Pour Some Sugar on Me, which drove the crowd insanely wild. Then, following a short break, the band come out for a riveting two song encore, consisting of Rock of Ages and Photograph, from their most famous album, Pyromania, but even as the band got off the stage and the crew started taking the gear apart there were a crowd of people chanting for another encore. As I was walking to my car, it was still hard for me to believe that rock legends such as Def Leppard ended up playing here today, and as tired as I was from the show, I was excited to see what day two would hold.

Day 2

The second day of the festival started about an hour earlier, in part due to the 10PM noise curfew that the venue had to abide by. I was initially concerned that the earlier starting time would mean having to bake in the heat even longer to see the bands, but thankfully mother earth provided some great cloud coverage and a nice breeze that kept the day much cooler than the first one. By the time I had arrived, there was already a large crowd gathered on the field queuing to see the next band.

Starset was assembling on stage as I made my way to the front. Flanked by a cellist and a violinist, the band burst onto the stage with the song Down with The Fallen from the album Transmissions. The band can best be described as “Melodic Techno Djent”, with a very strong space/technology theme in their lyrics and performances. Every member besides the singer was dressed in a futuristic NASA-like space suit, complete with masks and jetpack looking backpacks that they lugged around the entire time. The singer, Dustin Bates, also employed the use of a touch screen computer on stage to play sound effects and atmospheric backgrounds during the show. They played a few more songs from their first album and finished off the set with Monster from their brand new album Vessels.

Up next was heavy metal act All That Remains. Audio issues plagued the beginning of their set, and the band had to take some extra time to get things set up correctly, shortening their set and visibly infuriating lead singer Phil Labonte. As soon as the techs gave them the all clear, he channeled that rage and launched right into their song The Last Time. Guitarists Oli Herbert and Mike Martin displayed their chops the entire set, masterfully jamming intricate guitar lines while jumping all over the stage while managing to avoid Phil’s frantic flailing. Their new bassist, Aaron Patrick, who has only been with the band for two years, did a great job of singing backup vocals while managing to maintain a groove with drummer Jason Costa, and although the group had to play a shortened set they managed to play two crowd-pleasers from their most well known album The Fall of Ideals.

Eagles of Death Metal began playing as soon as All That Remains finished their last song. Joined on stage for the first song by the face-tattooed Brent Hinds of Mastodon, they began their set with I Only Want You from their debut album Peace Love Death Metal. Even featuring brand new bassist Jennie Vee, which started playing with the band at the beginning of their current tour three weeks ago, the band seemed as tight as ever, masterfully jamming through old hits along with a song from their latest album Zipper Down. Singer Jesse Hughes took a moment to address the crowd, thanking the security guards for keeping everyone at the venue safe and launched into a rousing cover of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream, then finishing their time onstage with Speaking in Tounges.

Veteran death metal band In Flames took the stage next, with longtime members Anders Friden, Bjorn Gellote, and Niclas Engelin joined onstage by brand new members Joe Rickard and Hakan Skoger playing drums and bass, respectively. Starting with Deliver Us, they blasted off into an exhilarating set-list that spanned their entire massive thirteen-album discography. Playing for nearly an entire hour, the Swedish metallers delivered an impressive performance that kept the crowd moshing and jumping up the entire time, finishing with the song Take This Life from their most popular album, Come Clarity.

I had never heard of the next band, The Pretty Reckless, but had always heard that Taylor Momset, the little girl that played Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas was the lead singer so I was not sure to expect, but very interested in how the show was going to go. The four-piece band jammed through a variety of songs, including a few singles that I had heard on the radio before, but was not aware were written by this band. The group sounded very solid and considering they have had the same line-up for the past seven years, it’s easy to see the chemistry between the band members and how it shows though in their music.

I took a break for the next band to eat and rehydrate, and made it back to the stage just in time to watch sludge legends Mastodon begin their set. Starting with a song from their brand new album Emperor of Sand, the band embarked on a riveting, eleven song set that included fan-favorites Divinations and Bladecatcher. Troy and Brann were locked into a tight groove, laying down a mean low end while the two guitarists showed off their incredible chops, a feat made even more impressive considering all of the members sing as well as play their instruments. Brent looked extremely lively and happy throughout the set, and I found out later that was probably because he proposed to his long time girlfriend on stage the night before this show, and it showed in his playing and demeanor. Although, songs from the new album dominated the set-list, the group brought out Mother Puncher from their very first debut album Remission to finishing off the set, to great acclaim from the audience. It was surprising to see how big of a crowd came out to see Mastodon, and it’s a testament to how far the evolution of their sound has come from a sludge-rock garage band to an honest-to-God Arena Prog Metal band.

The Offspring blasted off into their set immediately with singer Dexter Holland starting their time on stage with 2008 hit single You’re Gonna Go Far Kid. The band, which has had the same members in it since the start of 2008, sounded as tight and focused as ever, with guitarists Noodles and Dexter shredding their lines while managing to sing without missing a single line. I’ve been a fan of the band since they did the soundtrack to Crazy Taxi way back in 1999, and it was great to hear the group sing classics Come Out and PlayAll I Want and Why Don’t You Get A Job. The set was a old-school fan’s dream, filled with songs from their most popular albums Smash and Americana, and only one song written before 2003 making an appearance. During the set, Dexter paused in between songs to break up a fight that broke out in the audience, saying, “We gotta look out for each other! We are all here to have fun!” before finishing their time on stage with their most famous single, Self Esteem, to great acclaim from the crowd.

Around halfway through The Offspring’s set, a large crowd began to form in front of the other stage. A sea of fans, many of them wearing shirts bearing the names Tool and A Perfect Circle, flooded the small pit area in front of the stage in an effort to get a good spot to see the notoriously reclusive Maynard James Keenan perform in the flesh. As the last band finished their set, smoke began to pour out onto the stage and envelop the three raised platforms that were set up in the background. Guitarist Billy Howerdel and bassist Matt McJunkins took to the front of the stage, as ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and drummer Jeff Freidl assembled on the left and right platform on the stage respectively. The four of them launched into opening song The Package as Maynard approached the smoke filled center platform wearing stylish red leather pants. Hiding in the fog, Maynard and the band plowed through a smattering of songs from their first two albums, Mer De Noms and Thirteenth Step without stopping to take a breather. During the song Thinking of You, Maynard jokingly remarked how hard it is to stay in shape on tour and that he was incorporating his workout into his work, before brandishing two shakeweights and dancing during the guitar solo. They also performed a brand new song, Hourglass, that will be featured on their as-of-yet-unnamed new album. Circle finished their time with a stunning rendition of The Outsider before disappearing from the stage, the hardcore fans that came there specifically to see them stood in front of the stage chanting for an encore, even as Soundgarden began their set on the stage next door.

As soon as Chris Cornell appeared, the band catapulted into their Grammy-Award winning single Spoonman and the crowd went insane. Flanked by pillars of lighting installations that provided an extremely colorful background to the band, Soundgarden jammed through a set dominated by songs from BadMotorFinger and Superunknown, the albums that yielded them their greatest hits. Cornell wailed through classics Outshined and Black Hole Sun, and it was incredible to see Chris and lead guitarist Kim Thayil jam out through The Day I Tried to Live and Blow Up the Outside World. The group finished their incredible set with two songs I thought I would never get to see live, Jesus Christ Pose and Rusty Cage, which was one of the few songs considered amazing enough to be covered by Johnny Cash. They finished their set with Beyond the Wheel from their first album UltramegaOK to a satisfied crowd chanting their name long after they departed from the stage.

Based on the incredible reaction to the bands and the enormous amount of people that showed up for both days of the festival, I think its safe to say that Fort Rock 2017 was an incredible success and I can’t wait to see what bands sign on to play next year!