Music lovers young and old tabled their fears of inclement weather and ran to the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas for River City Rockfest on Saturday, September 22, 2018 – literally, they ran. When the doors opened at noon, fans ran through the gates to get to the opening acts quickly and/or to secure their posts for the closing act, Nine Inch Nails. With three stages, the Monster Energy Stage, staple rockers and genre bending artists, River City Rockfest delivered a taste for every rock fan’s palate.
Blacktop Mojo was one of the first acts of the day, scorching the stage and preparing it for a full day of rock. “Put your hand in the air if you’re ready to rock n’ roll!” Matt James of Blacktop Mojo commanded during their performance on the Monster Energy Stage. Doing rock n’ roll fashion in his own way, James wore a lime green jacket with a zebra collar and cowboy boots. This characteristic of doing things their own way is one that encapsulates this band. They began as a cover band, twisting and hammering others’ songs into their own, and have drawn mainstream attention with their interpretation and version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” “Dream On” ended the show as the whole crowd sang along loudly. Prior to the finale, viewers could see that round guitar player, Ryan Kiefer, encouraged this choice for the closer. One wonders what the closing act would have been otherwise, but the guys killed this song and their entire set. One of the best moments of the set was when they played what James called “their version of the blues,” with “It Won’t Last.” “It Won’t Last” irradiates both Kiefer’s and v-guitar player, Chuck Wepfer’s, beautiful guitar skills. Both guitarists can set a fret board on fire, sweep you up in the music, and break your heart with their shreds. This ability and strength in both guitarists, instead of an established lead and rhythm guitarist is another way that Blacktop Mojo is doing rock n’ roll their own way. Drummer Nathan Gillis was fun to watch during “It Won’t Last” too. Each time the rhythm popped he would lift up his shoulders in a shrug motion almost as if he was dancing while keeping time and spinning great music at the same time. Bassist Matt Curtis (I wonder how within the band they distinguish between Matt James and Matt Curtis. Matt 1? Matt 2?) drew attention the entire performance. He wore cowboy boots, moved in a predatory way and whipped his hair in a very metal manner. During “8000 Lines,” he stands out particularly because the bassline kills. There were cheers and yells during the breakdown during the shreds of this song and there is no question as to why. The moment was beautiful.
Those that set up camp at the rails for later acts were in luck because the screens featured the performances from the other stages. The Heroine went on from 12:30pm to 1:00pm on the Bud Light Stage and those coming in later or perched on other sides of the festival could still see them. The Heroine, like Upon a Burning Body who played later, are from San Antonio, Texas. Similar to their brothers in music they have a song dedicated to the Lonestar State, appropriately named “The Texas Star”. While waiting for From Ashes to New or Covina to get started, viewers could watch, what lead singer Lynnwood Presley King described as the band having church. From Ashes to New took the Monster Energy Stage at 1:00pm. Matt Brandyberry (Vocals/guitar/keys/programming), Danny Case (Vocals), Lance Dowdle (Guitar), and Mat Madiro (Drums) began with their title track off their new album The Future. FATN is one of those genre bending bands mentioned earlier. They could be likened to acts such as Linkin Park, Papa Roach, and bill mate, Yellawolf, and Bring Me The Horizon. “Crazy” serves as a perfect example of this genre bending. Within the song there are rock aspects with the acoustic guitar, electronic aspects with the keyboards and electronic noises during its breakdown, and rap/rock aspects with Brandyberry’s vocals. Their music inspires and consoles listeners who suffer from mental illness. “Crazy” in particular encompasses this trait. Brandyberry specifically dedicated “Crazy” to Chester Bennington on Saturday. Their live performance featured a poignant interlude where Brandyberry briefly transitioned into Linkin Park’s “Papercut” when he began rapping, “It’s like I’m paranoid looking over my back. It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head. It’s like I can’t stop what I’m hearing within. It’s like the face inside is right beneath my skin.” The transition, performance, and juxtaposition to Bennington’s death and the meaning of the song profoundly impacted the audience. Brandyberry mentioned his experiences with anxiety and depression numerous times, stating that they’re “a band that talks about [their] f*cking problems through music. [They’re] not too PC to say there’s not mental illness in this world…The reason [he’s] talking about this is [he] thinks we have a f*cking problem talking about this.”
If From Ashes to New produces music that engages in rhetoric around talking about their problems, Upon a Burning Body is what
happens when you don’t. With lyrics like, “Y’all wanna tear this place up scream, ‘Hell yea! Hell yea!’,” and instructions to “Break open up the pit and push every mother*cker you see,” it is clear there is some undeniable anger there. However, whatever action or inaction that made these guys into what they are needs to be prescribed and administered. Heavy driving guitar, fast hard hitting drums, a bassist that jumps and spins in the air, a vocalist who can switch between a yell, a guttural rwwwrrr, and a semblance of a melody, while still talking and hyping the crowd up are what assemble this band and nothing else comes close to them in originality, creativity and performance. The opening guitar riff and the use of Spanish interchangeably with English in “Already Broken” are examples of their creativity. Upon a Burning Body performed “Already Broken” along with “B.M.F.,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Texas Blood Money.” “Texas Blood Money” closed out the set. The song opens, “The stars at night are big and bright. Deep in the heart of Texas!” The crowd abided and sang along, loud and proud for their Lonestar State. The track continues with, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and their performance indeed served as an example of the grandness of Texas. This show marked the last of the guys’ tour and was BIG! The guys signed off with a big, “DON’T F*CK WITH TEXAS!” Nobody will be messing with these guys any time soon. More Texas rockers, who know a thing or two about not messing with Texas, on the bill include Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown and The Sword. Each band respectively embodies a more classic rock sound – not the classic rock genre, but what one thinks of when they think of a classic rock “sound.” Tyler Bryant even dedicated his set to Muddy Waters, “the father of modern Chicago blues.” The Sword did not say much at all. In fact, there was not much clarity from when one song ended and another begin. As someone unfamiliar with them, it was difficult to distinguish one song from the other, but the experience was wholly enjoyable like an Iggy Pop, Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix experience. Their sound was dirty, yummy, 70’s rock.
Fever 333 demonstrated on The Renegade stage. Their sound, far from dirty, yummy, 70’s rock, but their message comparable to that of 60’s and 70’s civil rights movements compelled movement and provoked thought. The show began with Vocalist Jason Aalon Butler positioned by his team on the front of the stage with a black bag covering his face. Audio recordings played with messages such as, “We’re discussing one of the most important things – American citizenship” and a recording of Donald Trump calling for a travel ban against Muslims. Butler is known for his intense stage presence. He had surgery on his hand after putting it through some glass in a past show in Lubbock, Texas. No surgery was needed after this show, but a drum did get taken out, he flipped and spilled a lot of water. People herald Butler for his crazy stage antics, but not much is mentioned about Guitarist Stephen Harrison. Harrison climbed the stage scaffolding, hopped in the middle of the circle pit to thrash, and all around jumped and spun on stage in a high energy pleasant performance. Drummer Aric Improta jumped up from his drums numerous times. All around the show was amazing. Crowd favorites were “Trigger,” “Made An America,” and “Walking in My Shoes,”. Light hearted moments were when Butler asked someone backstage to give his pass a birthday boy in the crowd so that he could watch from the side stage and when someone told Butler to take his shirt off and he replied, “Take my shirt off? You need consent for that. I don’t consent.” Butler shouted out Yelawolf as being one of his favorite artists of the last decade. This shout out began a trend for the rest of the day. Later, when Yelawolf took the aptly named Renegade Stage he continued the trend and shouted out Primus (who played later) and suggested that everyone look up the freestyle he did over “My Name is Mud.” Everyone needs to see Yelawolf once. Hopefully they’ll start carrying Yelawolf hard hats and rain coats on the merchandise table in the future. If so, pick one or both up first before the show. Catfish Billy threw a mic stand towards the crowd and multiple beers. Some enjoyed this, evidenced by the cheering and hands thrown in the sky. Others didn’t, stating, “I only want beer spilled on me if I spill it on me myself.” Yelawolf also broke a mic, informing the crowd, “This mic is toast. C’est la vie.” With his dancing, his fiddler, and guitarist who switched between an acoustic, electric guitar, and banjo, and his sticks and bones drummer, Yelawolf puts on a good show. He is unapologetically himself and while it may be difficult for others to determine what that is, he’s got it figured out and is living his truth. He is a dialectic, two opposing ideas living within one graffitied shell that sensitively mentions and shouts out the people who died yesterday and those that will tomorrow, too young and too early while smashing microphones and shouting, “F*ck the world. What do I care?”
Speaking of people who don’t give a damn about their reputation, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts took the Bud Light Stage at 6:25pm. Jett
played the first song she ever wrote and then her latest single, “Fresh Start.” She also performed fan favorites such as, “Cherry bomb,” “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” and “Bad Reputation.” The crowd performed the “Happy Birthday” song for Jett, as she celebrated her 60th birthday with a few thousand of her closest friends and a guitar cake. Jett is the subject of a documentary, Bad Reputation, which will debut Sept. 28th. So far in our ten degrees of separation, we have Fever 333 connected to Yelawolf, Yelawolf connected to Primus, and Joan Jett (who performs before Primus) connected to Nine Inch Nails. In the 1987 movie Light of Day with Jett and Michael J. Fox, Trent Reznor acts a member of a fictional band, to whose music Jett and Fox dance. Nine Inch Nail closes out the festival after 90’s favorites, Bush and Stone Temple Pilots. Another neat feature of River City Rockfest is that they allowed concert goers to bring their own camp style folding chairs. Plenty of people camped out in their chairs and lounged as Bush and Stone Temple Pilots took the stage respectively. Both bands played on the Monster Energy Stage. Bush ascended the stage first where Gavin danced and sang hits such as “Gylcerine,” “Machinehead,” and “Little Things.” The fact that Gavin has such great moves is probably nothing new to anyone and probably the inspiration for the band name Dance Gavin Dance, but it was surprising to those who had never seen him live before. A cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” was also a nice surprise. The show ended with a camp fire sing along where the whole audience, those sitting and those standing, singing, “I don’t wanna come back down from this cloud.” Stone Temple Pilots lead their own sing a long with songs such as “Plush,” “Big Empty,” and “Dead and Bloated.” New lead singer, Jeff Gutt, proves to be a satisfying front man for STP. His presence was more palatable when he was blonde. While Scott Weiland changed his hair frequently, it was more dark brown than anything else. Since Gutt has returned to his own natural dark hair color, the likeness is a little eerie. The similar appearance and vocals intimated the absence of original front man, Weiland. The haunting, unique lyrics delivered by an unfamiliar voice supplanted past feelings of comfort with a hollow feeling of loneliness and yearning for what cannot ever be again. The show did start on time though and ended promptly at 10:10pm.