Welcome To Rockville 2023: Day One Recap
For over a decade the Welcome To Rockville festival has been a staple of springtime in Florida, starting as a novel conglomeration of relevant acts from across the rock spectrum in 2011 and subsequently growing into one of the largest and most ambitious live events in the continental United States. Given the state’s status as a major tourist hub (especially for the spring break period) and the growing array of hard rock upstarts out there looking to draw a crowd, it’s hardly a mystery that an event like this has grown from a humble affair garnering an attendance of roughly 10,000 to a massive, 4-stage extravaganza with a crowd draw that would top 160,000 in 2021. Perhaps the only aspect of this festive occasion that rivals its popularity is its uncanny ability to showcase a diverse array of established and newcomer acts, and the 11th installment that began on May 18th, 2023 would prove to be no exception.
The unenviable task of kicking off this 4-day medley of classic and modern rock staples would fall to nu-metal trustees Silly Goose, and the goofy name that was likely borrowed from South Park’s own Big Gay Al notwithstanding, they did well to energize an already expansive crowd in the early throes of the afternoon. Dressed in casual attire befitting their youth and led by the frenetic stage antics of vocalist Jackson Foster, this quintet of made it clear why they’ve been making some sizable waves in the live circuit, which has seen their Instagram presence swell to nearly 25k followers over the past couple years. The infectious grooves that permeated the open air via original rap-rocking entries like “Show Up At Your House” and “Out Of The Picture” would inspire the throngs of early arrivals to put their voices and bodies to work under the already punishing sun, though it would be their highly competent cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” that would top off their brief set.
The tide would shift to a far more polished and melodic display of post-hardcore splendor reminiscent of the mid-2000s yet born out of the mid-2010s via Sacramento’s own Rain City Drive. Originally going by the moniker Slaves from their 2014 inception until late 2021, and then going a short while as Rain City before adding the “Drive” part, it would become clear that the newness of their adopted name did little to mask their ability and experience in a live capacity. Their alternative rock and emo-infused take on the 20 year tradition of American hardcore would come off as a bit clean cut compared to the rest of Thursday’s roster, likely owing to lead singer Matt McAndrew’s signature emotive style and heartthrob presence, but between the barebones stage set up consisting of a couple big LED screens in the background, the ball cap and hipster clad stage antics of one of their two highly competent guitarists and the hook-driven smoothness of bangers like “Blood Runs Cold” and “Talk To A Friend”, they were a hot item.
The pallet of sound on display would become more intricate, spicy and varied with the entry of Indian folk metal meets heavy metal trustees Bloodywood, putting forth what few would contest was the most unique display of the day. Before they kicked into their set, SiriusXM pioneer curator/host Jose Mangin introduced the band by saying: “These guys sing in both English and their native language, but our heavy metal community speaks only one language, and that one has no barriers.”
Being fairly new to the scene since their 2016 inception and only 2 studio LPs deep into their career as recording artists, Bloodywood showcased a level of precision and pizzazz that would be the envy of their elder influences on their debut to the Welcome To Rockville craze; namely Linkin Park, System Of A Down, Rage Against the Machine and a host of others going back more than 2 decades. The heavy stomp of mid-paced American metal circa the early 2000s would be adorned with an array of vernacular musical stylings tied to their nation of origin, with one of this de facto trio’s 3 live support musicians rocking a set of dhol drums (a staple instrument of Indian folk music), bringing a highly distinctive sonic flavor to otherwise textbook auditory kill sessions with a political bent such as “Dana Dan” and “Machi Bhasad (Expect A Riot)”.
Next on the agenda would be a familiar face to North American audiences in Austin, Texas’ own Austin Meade, who would bring enough of his signature southern rock swagger and attitude to the stage to transport everyone in attendance right on over to The Lone Star state. Donning camouflage long shorts, numerous steel necklaces and a long braid in tow, this modern day hard rocking cowboy showcased an uncanny understanding of the concept of stage presence, while his support band’s lead guitarist would tear up the fret board with a highly impressive array of long solo work that screamed apt disciple of the ways of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Topping off this 120 proof shot of Americana was a massive Formula One flag carrying the catch phrase “Howdy f%ckers”, which would underscore Meade’s loose-lipped attitude and approach to rocking a massive house without the walls, with entries like “Dopamine Drop”, “Blackout” and “Happier Alone” providing the highlights of an organic performance that stood in stark contrast to the electronics-dominated vibes currently ruling the music scene.
Modernity would be the tone of things next with the arrival of young industrial rock duo Wargasm, reprising the level of flamboyance and energy that they previously brought to the Louder Than Life festival the prior year and revving up an already frenzied crowd of avid onlookers. Current touring drummer Adam Breeze could best be likened to a possessed soul behind the kit between his demeanor and wild gesticulations, but the main focal point would obviously be that of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Milkie Way, decked out in a bullet belt in the best Kerry King fashion as she decked the audience repeatedly with an aggressive display equal to her attire. Their compact mid-afternoon set would cover all the obligatory bases of their popular single material via the online streaming circuit, yet an accurate description of how they delivered staple anthems like “Pyro Pyro”, “Fukstar” and “Spit” would be something well beyond obligatory.
The stylistic pendulum would swing back into the southern rock camp something fierce with the entry of Kentucky-born barroom slayers Black Stone Cherry into the fray, bringing a level of unbridled energy to the stage to rival a certain derby bearing their home state’s namesake. Bringing a slightly more impact-based level of hard rocking mayhem into the equation relative to Austin Meade, it was nevertheless an auspicious sight to behold as every member of the band save for lead vocalist Chris Robertson was on the loose in terms of stage activity, jumping about, licking fret boards and kicking the air with the same level of enthusiasm as one might expect from an 80s hair band, and even in his more static mode Robertson himself was a force of nature behind the mic. Standout moments would include such noted rockers as “Me And Mary Jane”, “White Trash Millionaire” and “Like I Roll”, but the entire set would be a consistent spectacle of hard rocking goodness for all to enjoy.
Naturally it would be remiss to speak of spectacles and underplay the next act in this regard, as the realm of theatricality would become synonymous with Daytona, Florida with the entry of Swedish metal performers Avatar. Kicking off their Tim Burton-inspired showmanship with a shirtless, husky looking guy bringing a massive gift-wrapped box to the stage to situate just in front of the drum set, the front man and Eric Draven-impersonator himself Johannes Eckerstrom would emerge as if from the massive gift box with 5 colored balloons, making various facial expressions as he preceded to pop each one in front of the mic. He would reach his most maniacal face with the popping of the last balloon, which also signaled his band mates, all decked out in elaborate carnival from hell attire, to begin their signature metallic assault. The blend of old school Gothenburg melodic splendor and quirky nu-metal meets Gothic trappings that would typify signature anthems like “Dance Devil Dance” and “The Eagles Has Landed” were not surprisingly a massive hit with all in attendance, and topped out a stellar performance that would sadly be shortened by inclement weather.
After a short period of down-time as the organizers of the festival were able to full assess the weather situation, a modified schedule with some slightly shorter sets for the remainder of the day would be the result, but it did little to daunt the metallic fervor and technical wizardry of Welsh metalcore extraordinaire outfit Bullet For My Valentine. Marking their first appearance in South Florida in roughly 5 years, they were a pinnacle of energy and force as they wheeled through several signature bangers from their expansive repertoire, showcasing their uncanny blend of Iron Maiden-inspired dueling guitar work and dualistic clean and dirty vocal displays in rapid succession. The most raucous response from the crowd would be reserved for classic odes from years back like “Waking The Demon” and “Tears Don’t Fall”, but the entirety of their 40 minute set was a continual bolt of energy from the sky that would electrify everyone within an earshot of the stage.
Infectious anthems emphasizing brevity and cohesion would give way to something very different with the subsequent entry of Los Angeles experimental rock fold Puscifer, a project rightly dubbed as Maynard James Keenan’s “creative subconscious”. For those familiar with his prior work with Tool and A Perfect Circle, it goes without say that the grounds Maynard likes to stomp upon are of a very unique character, but what would unfold courtesy of this iconic front man and his fold of permanent collaborators and touring musicians would be regarded as bizarre, but in the best way that could be implied. The tone that would be struck was comparatively mellow and abstract when compared to the biting heaviness of Tool, with quirky odes adorned with crass lyrics such as “The Remedy”, “Bullet Train To Iowa” and “Postulous” being among the standouts, but the level of enthusiasm reciprocated from the crowd could well have led one to believe that they’d just completed a classic hit from the Tool catalog.
Though Maynard had embodied many of the positive attributes of his rock star persona during his tenure on stage, and enacted the aforementioned audience response that rivaled the acts with harder edge, the appearance of British hard rockers The Cult – whose current tour marks a return from a lengthy absence in South Florida stages – was a more introspective affair in comparison. Front-man Ian Astbury brought his signature Jim Morrison-inspired wail in solid form and the fold of largely newer members save for co-founder/lead guitarist Billy Duffy performed aptly, realizing find renditions of classics such as “Sun King”, “Sweet Soul Sister” and “She Sells Sanctuary”. One interesting touch was seeing Astbury addressing the audience in perfectly spoken Spanish, several times during their performance.
As the evening crept into view, the creepy theatricality that was previewed by Avatar would take over the rest of the event, starting with a truly stellar showing turned in by industrial metal icon and former White Zombie helmsman Rob Zombie. The huddled masses of South Florida and the legions of out-of-towners would revel in a state of pure pandemonium as the mercilessly catchy blend of punchy, metallic grooves and sampled ambiences poured into the air, as if a single consciousness had beset all in attendance and caused them all to dance to maestro Zombie’s decrepit beat. Even absent the virtuosic talent of axe-slinger John 5 to handle the odds and ends during Rob’s occasional moments to allow the music to speak without his input, there was no shortage of raw talent and fury on display as classic bangers such as “Dragula”, “Superbeast” and “Living Dead Girl” painted the atmosphere a horrifying black. Nevertheless, the pinnacle of insane exuberance from the crowd would be reserved for a pair of brilliant renditions of classic White Zombie fire via “Thunder Kiss ‘65” and “More Human Than Human”, transporting everyone in the line of sound back to the glory days of 1990s industrial metal’s ascent.
The coup de grace of Thursday’s festivities, and arguably the peak Halloween moment of anything taking place in the month of May, would fall to the headlining 90 minute set of nu-metal titans and mid-westerners Slipknot. The stage would naturally be filled to capacity with the bodies and respective instruments of the fold’s massive membership, but it did little to inhibit their theatrics, nor their ability to move about freely and work the crowd as if it were going out of style. The visual display of costumes, lighting and pyrotechnics were the usual array of over-the-top extravagance that anyone not born after the year 2005 has come to expect from this troupe of Hollywood slasher/horror film villains with a flair for the metallic. Obligatory anthems to excite the masses such as “Disasterpiece”, “Duality” and “Spit It Out” were among the standout moments, to speak nothing for the brilliant encore performance of “Surfacing”, but it would be difficult to differentiate the peaks from the only slightly lower valleys amid all the beautiful chaos that would dominate the entire performance.
It was a fittingly riveting conclusion to a stellar first day, which no doubt would have left some wondering where the roof was on this thing were there actually one present.