Rock Carnival - Music, Food Trucks, Beer & Rain In New Jersey!

October 8, 2016, a year ago

Mark Gromen

gallery hard rock heavy metal

Been to over 50 concerts in Europe, most outdoor, multi-day festivals, similar to the second Rock/Food Truck Carnival (this year inside a minor league baseball stadium, in Lakewood, NJ). As such, have experienced the inconvenience of rain, most notably the watery muck that Wacken becomes, when the weather turns inclement. The Europeans would laugh, as days before this event, Tri-state patrons were online, boasting of cancelling hotel reservations and hawking tickets at a discount, due to the THREAT of rain! Talk about your fair weather fans. 

DAY 1

With an annoying mist that the wind blew nearly horizontally, at times, Friday was dominated by a small group of hardcore party animals, most in their 50s and 60s, predominately out to see headliners Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult play 75 minutes and an hour, respectively. Zakk Wylde's tribute to Black Sabbath was scrubbed by the weather, as were sets by Kyng and a pair of tribute acts (Queen, KISS), the carnival rides and the outside food trucks. So what happened to the craft beer encampment from last year? First Energy Stadium (home of the Blue Claws, a Phillies affiliate) must have a contract with the boring US mega-breweries. At least there was Yuengling. Even at $9 for a 20 oz. draft, better than the Busch/UniBev alternates. 

As one attendee characterized them, bunch of old men standing around. A little cruel, but accurate. Showing signs of advanced age: Eric Bloom with bushy gray/white beard and Buck Dharma, playing a headless guitar and now sporting eyeglasses. Even as a one-time uber-fan (seeing them eight times in one year, back in the day), I'd have been hard pressed to identify either of the surviving members form the classic line-up, apart from the BOC symbol till emblazoned on Bloom's guitar. The frontman mocked the weather, saying, "Who puts on an outdoor show in October?" Later, Clutch singer Neil Fallon would also douse the weather, telling fans to "Stay hydrated," then explaining it was a joke, about the rain. After kicking off with "This Ain't The Summer Of Love", they aired an hour's worth of old hits, including the ubiquitous Dharma sung "Burning For You" (up second!), strobe laden "Godzilla" and "Don't Fear The Reaper" finale. While of the same era, wouldn't consider "Lips In The Hills" (Bloom putting down the guitar, to concentrate on vocals) as vital, but if it comes along with "Hot Rails To Hell" and "Cities On Flame", I'll never complain. Red, blue and purple lights greet "Buck's Boogie", with searchlights sweeping across the stage. Unfortunately, the sound wasn't too loud, especially at the far end of the infield. Rumors swirled that Clutch would not play, the, as yet unused, stage soaked with water. Despite the dangers, they flew the backdrop during the BOC set, as a calling card they'd be on. Crews really did a yeoman's job even getting them ready to play. Only recognize a few Clutch songs, including "Pure Rock Fury" and the repetitive chorus of "Sucker For The Witch".

If not for the absent Zakk, the majority of Friday's sparse crowd was there to see Alice. Certainly by the time the original shock rocker took the stage, most of the Black Label Society jacketed crew were long gone. A white sheet/curtain hid the stage, Cooper's old flowery, asymmetric eye make-up emblazoned on the front with a spotlight illuminating a spider/web in each eye socket. The curtain was still in place as Vincent Price's narrative to "The Black Widow" came from the speakers. Curtain dropped, there was Alice, in a floor length robe/cloak, statuesque on the center stage risr. His band was split into two pairs, either side of the drummer, on a riser of their own. For the entirety of the first number, he sang motionless, head tilted skyward, despite the shower of sparks falling down. As the opener concluded, he whipped off the cloak, revealing a black/white vertically striped suit, for "No More Mr. Nice Guy". Guitarist Nina Strauss was stage front. Alice has always been about skewering society, but even he'd have a hard time lampooning THIS outlandish political season! Speaking of skewering, the epee and shower of fake dollar bills appeared during "Billion Dollar Babies". Strauss got a solo, right before ‘80s hit "Poison" (never really liked the tune though). Double neck guitar and a dancer (in the ‘70s, the woman he'd marry, this tour, rumored to be his daughter) for "Only Women Bleed". "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" sees a naughty nurse lead Alice to the guillotine and once beheaded, his dome is displayed aloft by one of the henchmen, as the band continues without the singer, offering snippets of "Killer" (how appropriate!) and "I Love The Dead". Afterwards, a blood stretcher is wheeled out by the same nurse. Fog enshrouds and suddenly, there's Alice, whole again, wielding a medical crutch for "I'm Eighteen". Strauss briefly joins him on the main, front of the stage, riser. "School's Out" closes the proper set, but ultimately finishing with "Elected", as we all scramble for a warm, dry place before reconvening tomorrow.

More on Day 1 here.

DAY 2

Like many (most?), was excited by Saturday's initial line-up, heavy on the metallic quotient. Truthfully, they blew their load on that first announcement, never matching the strength of a bill with Twisted Sister, Overkill, Ace Frehley, Monster Magnet and former Angel guitarist Punky Meadows, as well as Jackyl, Zebra, Fuel and Daughtry, from American Idol a decade ago. Well-tanned, chewing gum and in shiny red lamé shirt, former Angel guitarist Punky Meadows opened with "The Price You Pay". There were a total of five vocalists, including two female back-ups, which took an inordinate amount of time to set up, thus we lost a couple of songs that were on the pre-printed setlist. "Wild & Hot" made the best use of the ladies voices. With the stages erected in short left and right, the base paths were off limits, although the clay seeped through the porous plastic tiles, covering infield. Most were splattered, from the knees down. The Jumbotron in center field showed each band's performance. "Loaded Gun" begins with a gallop akin to Riot, while drums intro "Can You Feel It". Sound effects, like a sci-fi movie laser, greets the "Tower” finale.  

From the moment sleeveless American flag shirted Jeff Worley (with reflective reclining naked girl decal, that typically adorns mudflaps, emblazoned on his guitar) spilled PBR out of his mouth and Jesse James Dupree walking onstage in a denim jacket, trucker cap (which he later deposited into the crowd) and bottle of bourbon in hand, red neck "culture" came to Jersey, courtesy of Jackyl. The mic had a bull whip attached to it. At times, Dupree's shriek is similar to one who'd come later, Overkill frontman, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. He's add a guitar to "Down On Me". At times, Dupree's raps are humorous, like his parting shot, thanking Twisted Sister for "Playing our after party." Others, like the misguided rant about private airlines, American Idol and midgets with bowls of cocaine seemed off base. If they did away with much of the goofiness, they'd be a passable southern rock act. Of course, "The Lumberjack Song", complete with chainsaw accompaniment was up last. 

Monster Magnet (aka Dave Wyndorf) are from nearby Red Bank, NJ. Soon to be 60 years old, the now clean & sober guitarist/frontman still rocks like a SMF. Didn't stop him from musically re-visiting the drug farm, ala "Tractor", followed by "Powertrip" (up third in the running order). "Twin Earth" laid down a bottom end groove. In the late afternoon overcast, the stage lighting finally becomes somewhat effective, with reds and blues, as Wyndorf has one hand on the mic stand and leans toward the crowd. The MF-bomb laden "Space Lord", with extended spoken introduction from the mainman himself ("Guess it's too late to cover the ears of the little children"). 

Former KISS guitarist "Space” Ace Frehley enjoyed a large percentage of the crowd as well, his stage featured a 3x3 wall of Marshall cabinets, plus an additional trio, on the floor, right behind his mic stand. Not very mobile, he left the antics to Tom Keifer lookalike Richie Scarlet, who shared the same mic with Ace. The "other" guitarist began in a coat, with a boa, then quickly stripped down to just a t-shirt. A hefty portion of the set was KISS material, in fact, the only inclusion from his recent album was a cover of thin Lizzy's "Emerald". Not exactly what Ace/KISS fans want to hear, in the hour their hero was onstage. Other solo material included "Toys", "Rock Soldiers" and a trio from the individualized effort, during the KISS days, the opening "Rip It Out", "Snowblind" and disco flashing axe for "New York Groove". While the guitarist sang a couple of tracks during his tenure with the make-up wearing ‘70s superstars, was odd to hear him handle the Paul Stanley penned "Love Gun" and set closer, "Deuce", both of which found the audience in good voice. "Shock Me" was all the more poignant, under the rainy conditions (relating a tale that happened decades ago). During the solo we got the smoking guitar. Strangely, during the set, a middle-aged woman asked me, "Do you know who's playing now?" Seriously, if you don't know Ace or the KISS songs, why were you there? 

Saw Overkill twice this spring/summer, both times in Germany: once for the DVD shoot, then at bang Your Head. They've not done much in between, so this setlist was still heavy with Feel The Fire and Horrorscope material. There's a real good chance that mainstream rock listeners (KISS/Ace, Daughtry, Fuel, even fans of the pop era of Twisted Sister) had never experienced anything like Overkill: rapid fire delivery for sixty minutes. Second song in, Blitz welcomes "Jersey scum" to "Rotten To The Core". Both the singer and bassist DD Verni began in leather jackets, but by "Hello From The Gutter", Ellsworth was in a tee. Back-to-back, "Hammerhead" gives way to "Feel The Fire", Verni takes center stage, in his usual crouch, as the lighting appropriately maximizes the red gels. Only in NY could Blitz introduce a song by saying of the crowd, "You MFs get uglier every year. Ready to beat you into a fucking 'Coma’." He leans against the tiered drum riser, to begin the blue hued "Ironbound". Not only were "Elimination" and the typical (although not on this night) "Fuck You" finale treated as separate songs, but they closed with a cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". 

Speaking of the Aussies, waiting in the rain for the initial strains of AC/DC's "Long Way To The Top", long the Twisted Sister intro, seemed interminable. Thankfully the wait was worth it. As noticed earlier this summer, the first three songs (when photogs are in the pit) afford Jay Jay, Animal and Fingers plenty of photo ops. It's not just all Dee. Mid-tempo "Destroyer" is kind of a respite after the initial volley. "I Believe In Rock N Roll" kicks it up a notch, but follow-up "Can't Stop Rock N Roll" really adds the "Bam!" flavor. Legs splayed as Dee sings center stage, the crowd takes over the titular chorus. He's very talkative tonight, more loquacious than usual, but not in a condescending way, repeatedly thanking fans for enduring the "shitty weather" and comparing this finale to an Irish funeral: "It's not a sad occasion. Everyone's happy, singing and getting drunk."

Thought they might pull out an oldie from the club days when they headlined the Hurricane Sandy benefit, since it was for locals, but alas, it didn't happen. However, this night, as a swansong for the Tri-state era, they did dive into the grab bag and resurrect one of the more driving numbers, "Come Back." Got to hear an "extended" version, as Dee screwed up the lyrics and they re-started (so as to edit out later, for film and/or audio release). Truth in advertising, Snider told the crowd they're filming all the summer shows for an eventual DVD and calling himself the Gene Simmons of Twisted Sister, "You're going to get a shitload of merchandise, after we're gone!' Expect it! Despite the chill, by the third song, Snider was shirtless, proud to show off his ripped torso. Not bad for a man in his 60s. As he crawled to the center stage wedge monitors, red lights from below illuminated the snaggletooth singer, for "Burn In Hell", stringy mane already soaked with sweat.

A speedy "Tear It Loose" is a screaming proper set finale, Dee still bouncing in place, headbanging and air-guitaring with Jay Jay and Fingers. At the end, when Dee drops to his knees, he might truly be spent. Another stormer, "S.M.F.", is the lone encore. As they bow one last time, Dee says thanks (introduces Phil Carson, the Englishman who originally signed the band) and "Goodbye". The now requisite group photo, with crowd in the back, is followed by hugs between manager Danny Stanton and each of the guys, before leaving the stage. If this truly is the end, nice.

More from Day 2 here.

DAY 3

With many people dumped out of hotels by noon and NFL Sunday, probably should have had some decent talent early, especially since Sundays are always the weakest festival day, what with school/work the next morning. While grounds opened at noon, there was no music until 2 PM and several hours after that before any headline talent. The first being former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, onstage at ten till six! Have to wonder how ‘80s stars like BulletBoys and Trixter feel, playing a postage stamp sized stage that could fit in your backyard. Then there's Doro, who still plays to tens of thousands in Germany. Props for going through what amounts to an intimate club show. Unlike the previous two days, Sunday was marred by too many overlapping schedules, exacerbated by a nearly 40 minute delay on the littlest stage (where there was no room to set-up/check until the previous band had loaded out). In the future (?) how about housing two of those mini-stages (could easily fit) to facilitate just that scenario? Trixter and Life Of Agony (both amongst the plethora of bands with ties to the NJ area; Sebastian Bach, Tom Keifer, Halestorm, even some guys in Doro's band, to say nothing of the other days' artists) were on opposite each other, as were BulletBoys and the Cinderella frontman. Surely there's some fans of both? Although not planned, with time overruns, Halestorm and Doro square off against one another, splitting female allegiances.

First band of the afternoon was a bunch of kids, called Common Wealth: corpse-painted metalcore (Motionless In White, what hath thou wrought?). Words of advice; Junior, learn your stagecraft. When there's less than a dozen people in front of the stage, can the "Make some noise" request, especially having just taken the stage. Sure your heroes do it, but they're annoying too. Have something to say beyond "We're Common Wealth," as a backdrop behind the drummer announces the same, in three foot tall letters. The billowing smoke pot was a nice effect, but better to have two, one on each side of the stage.

Like most of the undercard, Matt O'Ree was heretofore unknown to me. However, his outfit's blues based ‘70s Brit hard rock (with Hammond organ) was one of the few I'd be willing to see again. The mainman (dapper attired in suit coat) handles guitar and vocals, although there's a pair of female backing singers, as well as bass, drums and keyboards. If the promoter had to pay any of the acts in the first 3+ hours, he just compounded the financial miscalculation, as the roster fillers (some better than others) brought in next to no one, despite a couple apparently have radio airplay. Detroit based Citizen Zero are a mishmash of rock styles (hot shot guitarist and good drummer), but too many nonsensical (yeah, yeah yeah) lyrics. Their cover of the Motor City Madman (aka Ted Nugent, although singer gave a disclaimer about "Uncle Ted's" politics) was a rare, early day highlight. 

Saying it was "good to be home" (even though originally from Canada), Sebastian Bach ran through a greatest hits set from his former employer. Spinning the wired mic overhead, "Slave To The Grind" was a rousing opener. The set was much like that witnessed at Heavy Montreal, this past summer, mixing in mid-tempo "Big Guns" against faster fare, like "Sweet Little Sister" and "Piece Of Me". Couldn't get the pole mounted acoustic guitar in the mix, so he quickly nixed it and the intro to "I Remember You" went fully electric. Honoring his Canadian heritage, "Monkey Business" segued into a cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer", before ultimately ending with "Youth Gone Wild". 

Two little girls, single digit aged, with protective over their ears, sat patiently behind Life Of Agony guitarist Joey Zampelli. When the time came, the curly haired cherubs stepped forward, with urging of their Dad, shouted into the mic, in unison, "New Jersey, are you ready for Life Of Agony?" In the early ‘90s, saw the band often, as they were a frequent opening act for Overkill (who shared the Loud & Proud management of the Parente brothers, also owners of L'Amours, in Brooklyn). Recognized several songs aired, including the opener, the title track from the River Runs Red debut and "Lost At 22". Bassist Alan Robert wore a pork pie hat, while in dark circular sunglasses, Mina (formerly Keith) Caputo continuously moved about the stage, flailing arms and channeling Janis Joplin.

Never really a Trixter fan, but apparently lots of people were interested in seeing how the youngsters turned out. Truthfully, short haired singer Pete Loran looked like a business professional, while bassist PJ Farley (target of more than a few female fan selfies, within the confines of the stadium) wore a knit ski cap and Steve Brown had enough rock star image to balance them out: spike hair, sleeveless shirt, guitar god poses, etc. 

Felt sorry for the BulletBoys, not only having to play on the minuscule Birch Hill stage (about the size of a backyard deck), but then, due to delays, having to go up against Cinderella founder Tom Keifer. After an arty, voiceover intro (which also closed the show, during the final bows) Keifer stormed right into "Save Me". For a brief second, thought back to all those weekends at the Galaxy, before the Cinder-fellas were signed, although tonight, he was onstage six feet overhead.

He's without guitar for part of "Shake Me", where we see a bit of the old Tom: back of his right hand on hip, in Mick Jagger pose, as he cozies up to guitarist Tony Higbee, aka his Keith Richards. Unlike the club days, where he simply slung the guitar over his shoulder, when not needed (i.e., the initial part of the song), he now has a stage hand (and the room to maneuver) bring out the axe, when called. OK, the rocking tunes over, figured he kick into his solo album, but no! "Don't Know What You've Got (Till It's Gone)" heralds the arrival of a piano and after taking a selfie with the crowd, introduces his wife Savannah. She sits opposite him, at the piano and the two perform a bluesy duet. In a similar mode (albeit absent the keys), Lzzy Hale makes a guest appearance for "Nobody's Fool".

The lone inclusion from his solo record, "Solid Ground", comes next, complete with a pair of tambourine brandishing female back-up singers. True, apart from the initial two offerings, Keifer opted for the Cinders' material that exemplified his countrified leanings, before moving to Nashville. Clap-along to open "Night Songs" while Higbee begins "Comin Home" acoustically. Also electric-less, "Shelter Me" features a honky-tonk piano, Keifer performs with just a mic, not guitar. Then the surprising covers. Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends" begins almost a cappella, just a low synth backing. Eventually Keifer trades lines with the backing duo. He falls to his knees for effect. Then (shocker!), Prince's "Purple Rain". Know we got more Cinderella material than expected, but pretty sure most Keifer fans didn't come to hear covers. "Gypsy Road", with a storm of strobes, concludes the night, with guitar in hand, Tom again drops to his knees. Great surprise!    

As mentioned earlier, Doro deserves commendations for playing such a small venue. Worse yet, the lighting was almost exclusively pink and blue. Amazing the giants, Nick Douglas (bass) and Bas Maas (guitar), didn't ram into each other, and/or the diminutive blond vocalist. Odd seeing them without mainstay drummer Johnny Dee (who committed to western edition of Monsters of Rock cruise with Britny Fox), his tech filling in, the final night of the tour. "Earthshaker Rock" kicked off a hits laden set. "I Rule The Ruins" sees Doro practically reaching to those at the barricade. She would, if she could, I'm sure.

Constant motion, by all involved, plenty of arm thrusting and hair flipping. A Warlock tune is up next, "Burning The Witches", crowd singing the title track's chorus. Mellow, synth begun "Für Immer", "We Are The Metalheads" (written as a theme for Wacken) and her rendition of Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" are not the strongest choices, but "All We Are" and "East Meets West" are, to everyone's favor. Only problem, after a long, somewhat trying weekend, she was opposite Halestorm, so there was just a quaint gathering for the Metal Queen. Maybe next time there'll be greater appreciation. Lord knows she deserves it!

No idea what will become of the Rock Carnival going forward. However, 2016 holds many good memories.

More from Day 3 here.

Featured Audio

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ROBB FINLAYSON - "Winter's Apprentice" (Independent)

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TRAGUL Premiers "The Tree Of Life"

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