NJ Food Truck & Rock Carnival - Fun In The Sun: Metal & Suds!

September 23, 2015, 3 years ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal hard rock slash anthrax lita ford l.a. guns

Sounds like a no-brainer: a variety of finger foods, carnival riders (even a BMX exhibition), comedy tent, wrestling, a craft beer garden (not a single Bud product on the premises!) and a two-day slate of rock/metal bands, on an old golf course, in Clark, NJ. Actually, Friday, the grounds were open for amusement rides and cover bands, a paid admission only required on the weekend, for the trio of fenced off main stages. Speaking of fences, know it was only their first try, but there were more checkpoints than Eastern Europe, under communism! Bags were checked upon entrance, then a separate line to get into the music area and then more lines to check IDs for drinks (where, like Euro fests, you have to buy poker chip-looking tokens, to get alcohol. Everything else was a cash economy). Moving forward, hopefully the number of enclosures will be minimized and some (Birch Hill stage, in particular) will be rethought, to facilitate more people and maybe a convenient, on-site toilet. Mind you, the three wristbands dangling from my wrist allowed me whisk past all those without, so said recommendations are for everyone.

Food staples, like hotdogs, burgers and pizza were available for the non-adventurous. All nationalities seemed to be represented, as well as more exotic fare, like lobster rolls, mahi mahi fish tacos, even pulled pork topped mac & cheese. Prices varied, but most were around $10. Kids/non-alcoholic drinks started at $3 for a bottle of water, a dollar for more 20 oz soda, or Gatorade. $5 for a can of Monster. In the craft beer area, a dozen or more smaller breweries (Weybacher, Troegs, Yards, Founders, Dogfish Head and Terrapin included) each set up two taps under colorfully decorated cabanas. The aforementioned poker chips were $9 a pop, good for high & low octane beverages up to 9.4%! Who said smoking is on the wane? At least in the craft beer area, there were cigars, cigs, vaping and THAT odd smelling "tobacco".

The weather cooperated both days, temps in the low 80s, or cooler, with a slight breeze, perfect for a large scale outdoor event. Seemed like half the Sunset Strip showed up in Clark, with two Guns N’ Roses guitarists, Faster Pussycat, ex-Ratt singer Stephen Pearcy, L.A. Guns, Lita Ford and Slaughter. Saturday's first hiccup, the line-up printed from their website (therockcarnival.com), just 24 hours earlier, was wrong. Gilby Clarke actually went on two hours later, giving us more time to investigate the food trucks and sample various beers, before watching Skid Row on one of the matching big stages.

Had not seen the Skids with former TNT frontman Tony Harnell at the helm. He came out all-metal attired, plenty of studs and big skull belt buckle. The paying VIPs (some apparently renting a cabana/tent, at thousands of dollars, for the rights to close access, a few meet & greets and unspecified number of entry tickets) were permitted to stand in the photo pit. To say it was crowded is an understatement and the bigger the band, the more pf these infiltrators. Shorter, graying hair, but the band laid down a blistering greatest hits set (minus the Ramones' “Psychotherapy”, covered on their '92 EP). A thumping “Slave To The Grind” kicked things off, followed quickly by “Piece Of Me”, then “18 And Life”. Although he's moved out of state Rachel Bolan announced he still considers himself from New Jersey. From the domestic beer area, erected between the dual main stages, could hear the rest of the set (downing a Yuengling), as they ripped through stand mounted acoustic guitar begun “I Remember You”, “Monkey Business” and closing “Youth Gone Wild” with a punky urgency.

On the Birch Hill stage (wisely named for the fabled NJ club that hosted tons of touring bands, as well as a home base for countless regional favorites), finally, one-time GnR stringbender, Gilby Clarke. In the trio, he handled the lyrics for the likes of “Under The Gun”, but the highlight of his weekend was appearing onstage with Slash, for his “Paradise City” encore. For someone trying to cover a lot of ground (literally, repeatedly walking between the distance stages), the time overlaps were a little disappointing, Faster Pussycat and Black Label Society beginning within minutes of one another and 20+ minutes with both on simultaneously. Crouched by the wedge monitors, near the audience, the clownish made-up Taime Downe lit a cigarette and let it hang from his lip, as he sang! Plenty of energy on “Bathroom Wall”, while lots of purple lights throughout. The crowd added vocal help on “House Of Pain”. Meanwhile, on the main stage was local boy made good, Zakk Wylde.

Red warning lights and blaring sirens, the appropriately entitled “The Beginning...At Last” and “Funeral Bell” started things off, in a storm of strobes, even though it was still daylight. Black Label Society had an arena-sized backdrop and skull scrims either side of the drum kit, the bearded big guy center stage, his left foot often atop that light box he'd also jump up on. Stuck around until “My Dying Time”, before heading back to Birch Hill, for photos of Pearcy. Heard, via the grapevine, that missed ending duo of “Concrete Jungle” and “Stillborn”. Damn! Despite sunset, Stephen wore shades, jumping right into the Ratt hits, with “You're In Love”. Leather cowboy hat and well-worn vest, he frequently jumped up and down in place, the predominately 40somethings (or more), adding their voice to “Lay It Down”, a winning opening twosome. Later, there was “Slip Of The Lip”, “Back For More” and to the thrill of the (older) generation, “Round And Round”. Classic festival set.

Didn't see King's X, as I was getting into position for Slash, the day's overall headliner. The guitarist never ventured too far afield of his historic past, a half dozen Appetite For Destruction tunes rolled into the 90 minute slot. An assortment of toys and figurines atop his Marshall stack (each cabinet with his customized logo), they opened with “You're A Lie”, the guitarist wore sunglasses, a Hammerjacks tee (old Baltimore rock club), with black curls sticking out from beneath his trademark stove pipe hat. A few extra pounds evident on his face (but who hasn't, in this middle age, plus, crowd?), he mostly kept to his side of the stage, although playing from different angles throughout. On a warm evening, singer Myles Kennedy quickly lost his brown leather, a white cut-off revealing his well tattooed arm. Bassist Todd Kearns (ex-Age Of Electric), who took lead vocals, on a couple of tracks, wore a black jacket with many a zipper. The crowd's initial thrill of seeing Slash was further ratcheted up with “Nightrain”, the first of the hallowed songs, as he shuffled to center stage, interacting with Kennedy. The blue/green tinged “Back From Cali” downshifted the tempo, until its strobe blitz conclusion. 'Wicked Stone' was his first chance to really crank out the notes. Drums actually kicked off “Mr. Brownstone”, before Slash laid down the extended wah wah melody. The bassist ditched his coat during this one. “You Could Be Mine” was right on its heels, before the bassist took over the mic, for a double shot: “Doctor Alibi” and “Welcome To The Jungle”. The latter saw Slash center stage, bouncing up and down as he strums the chords hundreds of millions have heard, as Kearns handles the lyrics.

Damn the overlaps, was close to bailing, to check out some Kix, back at Birch Hill. Flanked by guitarist Ronnie Younkins and bassist Jimmy Chalfant, rail thin singer, Steve Whiteman shimmied his way to the front of the stage, as the first of only two newbies, “Can't Stop The Show”, hailed their arrival. The rest of the material was high energy, the shaggy, blond hair singer is a frontman from a different era, controlling and interacting with the crowd. “Midnight Dynamite” and “Girl Money” were crowd pleasers. A brief Younkins solo introduced “Cold Blood”. Whiteman's stringy mane plastered to the sides of his face leads the crowd in a sing-along battle of the sexes. The closing “Blow My Fuse” was just icing on the cake, the audience doing most of the vocal heavy lifting. Fun way to end Day 1.

Traffic, on the way out was abysmal. Few lights, no directions and just two exits for thousands of cars. We sat at a standstill for almost 90 minutes. That's something that needs to be remedied, if they're going to do Rock Carnival II. Got to the event early Sunday, although, apart from a couple of really talented School Of Rock kids and more craft beer samples, nothing really shook loose until Prophet, at 5pm. The next day being a work day, could have bumped up the "talented" acts a couple hours earlier, as many opted a premature exit, simply to avoid the previous night's parking lot disaster. 

A keyboard and guitar hard rock five piece, Prophet were something of a local club phenomenon in the early ‘80s. Today, bassist Scott Metaxis, was on crutches, right foot in a cast, yet onstage, the adrenaline kicked in and he leaned against a metal chair to play the entire set. Apart from singer Russell Acara, they wore sunglasses, despite being on the covered Birch Hill stage. The opening “Restless Hunger” saw the guitarist with only intermittent power. He walked behind the stacks (2x), fiddling with chords, eventually re-emerging triumphant, a mocking smile and victorious fist thrust overhead. “Can't Hide Love” utilized a trio of vocalists, while “Piece Of Mind” locked into a bluesy riff. The closing “Red Line Rider” was a tasty slice of heaviness. Seemed be quite a few "old friends" in the crowd.

Another NJ blast from the past was TT Quick, featuring current Accept frontman Mark Tornillo. He was visible earlier in the day, walking around, shaking hands and posing for pictures. In this crowd, most knew him from his days in TT Quick, rather than his current employer. In trademark cap, shades and tight, cut-off (band) t-shirt, Tornillo was all smiles, opening with “Metal Man”. Many of his same onstage mannerisms were there, the arched back emphasis, snarl delivery, fist pumping. Dave DiPietro was unable to make the show, so perhaps that's why there was a trio of cover tunes, smack in the middle of the set: “Fortunate Son” and two Black Sabbath numbers, “Into The Void” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. Of the original material, “Hard As A Rock”, “Front Burner” and the closing “Metal Of Honor” were the showpieces.

Somewhere in between, Anthrax took to one of the bigger, main stages, giant logo backdrop and a pair of pentagram scrims either side of Charlie Benante's drums. One bass skin depicted five of the Sopranos actors, the other, Anthrax, in a similar pose! They opened, appropriately enough, with “Madhouse”, Joey Belladonna criss-crossing the stage, even to the farthest edges. He prompted Eddie Trunk (DJ, That Metal Show) to sing a bit of one chorus, before jokingly shoving him back into the wings. Frank Bello (bass) also roamed wild and free, especially during “Caught In A Mosh”, singing along as he played. Scott Ian was his usual ball of energy, headbanging wildly as he thrashed away at the guitar. Not really a fan of the cover tunes “Got The Time” and “Antisocial”, but both were up early in the abbreviated set. Belladonna admitted they don't play “Lone Justice” that often, spawning a little circle pit in the crowd. Nice to hear a true oldie in the mix. Speaking of pits, man, it was a sea of motion for the “Indians” finale.

Across the ever eroding infield (the trampled grass giving way to mini-dust storms, especially when the crew's ATVs went by), it was time to catch a bit of L.A. Guns. Actually, they were more than ten minutes late as their lone tech attempted to line check all the instruments. Going forward, Rock Carnival staff should be in charge of the stage, not individual band crews (however small) and a second, pre-assembled drum kit (cymbals and all) would avoid the delays. A punky, nitro fueled “No Mercy” was a rousing opener. “Over The Edge” saw bassist Kenny Kweens don a top hat, as singer Phil Lewis strapped on a guitar. The crowd around the Birch Hill stage was approaching capacity, with Lita Ford and Slaughter yet to play. “Hellraiser's Ball” was followed by “Electric Gypsy”, which finished in a hail of strobes. As with all the acts on this stage, the choice of lights was limited, predominately opting for pink/purple hues (also bad for photography). Hopefully they'll invest in stronger, neutral lighting for next year, maybe even an old fashion follow spot. Ran down to the main stage to catch a pummeling from the opening songs of Clutch, before returning to hear the Guns do “Ballad Of Jayne” (Lewis again pulling double duty on guitar) and the “Rip And Tear” closer. Not a band I'd go to see headline, but in the festival setting, (mostly) sticking to upbeat, party anthems was a wise choice.

Lita Ford has long been a darling of the metal community, although her recorded works since the dawn of the new millennium have been spotty, if not downright awful (Wicked Wonderland). Thus, the eight songs offered (more delays prior to going on, taking the stage as drummer was still tightening cymbal wing nuts) featured most of the hits, with a few glaring omissions (“Back To The Cave”, “Out For Blood”, “Dancing On The Edge”, or even “Living Like A Runaway’). Much of what was aired also appears on her recent live album. The mid-tempo “Gotta Let Go” was the first gem, fourth song in. After that it was pretty much the A List material, first with revving “Can't Catch Me”. Beginning the night in a multi-color leather jacket, she quickly stripped down to white sleeveless top. The staccato delivered Runaways classic “Cherry Bomb” was followed by the “Close My Eyes Forever” duet, guitarist Patrick Kennison filling the Ozzy/male vocal role. Lastly, “Kiss Me Deadly” saw her on double neck guitar, fans doing a fair bit of the vocals. Can't help wondering how many songs were cut. Shame.

Gun-shy about the possibility of another parking lot fiasco, and with a 90 minute ride home on top of that, called it a day, missing out on some of the bigger names/draws, like Slaughter, Stone Temple Pilots and Godsmack, who were the day's overall headliner. For the first year, a valiant effort, that (at least onstage) was a success. Apparently some artists were carping about backstage issues, especially in the smaller Birch Hill area. Hopefully this will become a regular event, with a similar musical focus. The Food Truck And Rock Carnival had the people eating out of their hands.

See you next year?

Check out Mark's first two days at the NJ Food Truck & Rock Carnival here and at this location.

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