10 Things I Learned at Welcome to Rockville 2017
April 29 – April 30, 2017
Welcome to Rockville – http://welcometorockvillefestival.com/
This year, I was lucky enough to attend three outdoor music festivals within about a month’s worth of time. Each festival was unique and got its own write-up. By far, the biggest, most taxing festival was Welcome to Rockville. This festival occurs in Jacksonville, Florida, in Metropolitan Park. This is a large park, right on the St. John’s River, and directly across the street from the football stadium. This year, the festival ran from Saturday, April 29 to Sunday, April 30.
The festival is part of a trilogy of rock festivals, in the southern portion of the United States. Welcome to Rockville is
in Jacksonville, Ft. Rock is in Fort Walton Beach, and Carolina Rebellion is in South Carolina. Essentially, the same bands play all three shows. I believe it is also related to the Ohio festival, Rock on the Range. There are some differences, but most bands remain part of all the lineups. This year, the main headliners were Soundgarden and Def Leppard. Unfortunately for many, this set of festivals would be their last opportunity to see Soundgarden, due to the alleged suicide of their lead singer, Chris Cornell, not long after these shows. Other acts performing at this festival included A Perfect Circle, Seether, Chevelle, Mastadon, The Offspring, Papa Roach, Three Days Grace, Alter Bridge, In this Moment, All that Remains, Coheed & Cambria, Attilla, Amon Amaroth, Pierce the Veil, As Lions, I Prevail, In Flames, and many others. There were over 40 bands in the lineup, across three stages.
So, with such a huge event, there is not really a good way to review all the acts and their performances. Therefore, I will share a list of the 10 things I learned in my time at Welcome to Rockville.
1) It is physically impossible to see the full set of every band in the lineup.
There are three stages that run shows all day long. Each stage runs about 20-25 minutes after the previous one starts. Therefore, if the sets are 45 minutes in length, you need to jump from stage to stage before sets end. At 40 bands over two days, it requires a little per-planning to see the bands you want to see. I honestly don’t think I saw the full set of any artist, except for Def Leppard, because they were the last band to perform on Sunday.
Besides the timing of sets, you also have to eat. So, at some point, you are probably stepping away from a stage and getting food. You can certainly plop down on the grass somewhere near a stage to eat, but most likely you will not be viewing the show, only hearing it due to crowds around the stage.
2) Outdoor festivals are really hot and you are on your feet a lot.
At Welcome to Rockville, the three stages are fairly large and a good distance apart. You will get your steps in for the day as you move from one stage to the other. One of the stages is in a little valley, within the park. That means you are walking up a hill to go down a hill on the other side to get to the stage. This adds to the physical activity required to get from stage to stage. Over two days, I walked 25,000 steps, according to my pedometer – that’s 12 miles in two days. I saw a total of 9-10 bands in that time. That is only a fourth of the total lineup. The lesson here – wear comfortable shoes and be careful about chafing (if that’s a challenge for you).
The heat was also pretty vicious. We are in Florida and I am pretty sure the temperature was in the high 90’s that weekend, plus humidity. There was very little relief from the heat all weekend. You essentially just got used to being hot and sweaty. The biggest thing to remember was to keep hydrated. It is very easy to get caught up in running from show to show and not remembering to get a drink. Luckily, I was part of the media staff, so I was able to have access to the media tent. This was a permanent, wooden structure that sat two stories high, near the water. It got some breeze, so as part of that team, I could escape the heat…sort of. Add to the fact that you are in a large crowd that is tightly packed, the heat is amplified due to tight quarters. If you are part of a mosh pit, you are working extra hard, and getting extra hot.
So, yeah…it was hot.
3) Watch out for crowd surfers!
I was at two other festivals this year – a country music festival and a local rock festival. There were obviously not crowd surfers at the country music festival. The local rock festival had crowd surfers, but due to my location during the show, it did not really impact me and it kind of faded into the background for me. So, to be in the photo pit and the crowd and constantly have crowd surfers going past or a steady stream of them coming over the barricade was a bit surprising.
When I say constantly, I mean like waves at the beach. One right after another. Over and over and over. I was pretty sure that the crowd for Def Leppard would be different. They aren’t a heavy band that inspires this kind of activity. I have seen them several times in the past and from what I can recall, this is the first time I saw crowd surfers during their show. I was standing next to a gentleman in his late 40’s and he was taller than me. So, he would tap me on the shoulder and point backwards when one was coming, so I didn’t get kicked in the head by accident.
Joe Elliott, of Def Leppard, even made comments about how they had not been at a festival in a while and had forgotten about the crowd surfing. He stopped the show repeatedly to verify that everyone was still alright in the crowd.
The variety of crowd surfers was interesting also. There were men and women. They were young, and old. There was a guy in a wheelchair there is always a guy in a wheelchair). There was a guy with a cast, a body brace, and a breathing tube. There was a guy dressed up as Jesus. There were ninja turtles and super heroes. It was simply something that was much more than I expected. Lots of times, the crowd surfer had their phone out and was filming the experience, so they may not have been fully paying attention to what was going on around or under them.
4) Mosh pits are a big deal at festivals.
Along with crowd surfing, at most every show, there was a large mosh pit happening in the middle of the crowd. One stage had a dry, dirt area in the middle, so there was a large dust cloud that would form as the audience was moshing.
This is something that is actively encouraged by many of the artists, so if it isn’t your thing, you best stay away from the middle of the crowds. At one point, Attilla announced that they were going to set a world record for the largest mosh pit. They whipped the crowd into the largest mosh pit I had ever seen. I have no idea if it was really a world record. This pit was so big and moving at such a pace that it just didn’t even seem safe. I can say that I never saw anyone actually get carted out of a mosh pit on a stretcher or badly injured. This leads me to believe that the people in the pit take care of each other in a way that most outside of that activity don’t see happen. However, my lack of seeing this does not mean it didn’t happen, so be aware and careful.
5) The food at the festival was actually pretty good
I was expecting to be eating mostly stereotypical fair-style food all weekend (hot dogs, funnel cakes, dry burgers and the like). But, festival food is definitely a step up from that. I had lunch at the festival on Saturday and dinner there on Sunday. There are dozens of food vendors located around all three stages. Whatever food you want, you can mostly get.
Saturday’s meal was a slice of pizza. This slice of pizza was equivalent to two or three normal slices. You certainly got your money’s worth. Also, it was cooked in a portable, coal fired oven. So, it was really good. As I was walking with my pizza and drink, I had at least four people stop me and ask me where I got it from.
On Sunday, I had a BBQ pork sandwich and fries. Again, once you add the sauce on the sandwich, it was huge – at least enough for two people to eat. Another good value for the money (which was a little more on the expensive side). A very popular BBQ item was a boat of fries covered in cheese, pulled pork, BBQ sauce, and crumbled bacon. I tried some of a friend of mine’s and it was pretty dang good. But, it was also pretty dang pricey (about $15, I think). Expect to spend some money on food!
6) There are unannounced artists that perform at the FYE Artist Experience.
This is an added bonus that you need to plan for. Unfortunately, I was unaware that this was happening, so I missed out on a potential treat.
I was in the FYE Artist Experience tent at one point to look at the CDs and albums that were available from the various artists. I saw a stool and an amp, but there was nobody there and there was no roster of performers that I saw.
At one point, later in the day on Sunday, I ran into some friends that are part of a local band. They said they had gotten to play at the FYE Artist Experience, so technically, they got to perform at Rockville.
On a side note, to prove how much of a treat this can be, my editor for UnRated Magazine was at a different festival and was at the FYE Artist Experience there. He saw a woman perform that turned out to be the guitarist for Alice Cooper’s band. (Orianthi Panagaris, known professionally as Orianthi, is an Australian musician, singer and songwriter known for performing with Michael Jackson as part of his This Is It concert series, and with Alice Cooper’s touring band). So, you never know what gem will show up here.
7) You also never know who you will run into at the festival.
Music festivals are a large gathering of people and therefore attract unexpected people. On my first day at the
festival, I really thought it to be a mostly solitary experience and I would not know many people. However, I found that as a member of the press that was there, I knew several of the other media members. This included various local photographers and bloggers with whom I was friends. Along with that, shows like this attract many of the local bands and their fans. I ran into members of Meka Nism, Martyrs Asylum, Vertebreaker, and Breathing Theory. I knew there were a few others there, including some of the members of Kill the Sound, but we never crossed paths at the actual festival. I also ran into several people that were regulars in the local music scene. This was absolutely not the solitary event I expected and was happy to see friendly faces.
I have now been part of the music scene for about a year and because of that, I have had the opportunity to work with some national acts – in this case, it was As Lions and In Flames. I had the opportunity to speak with both of them in the media tent and to my surprise, they remembered our previous working together. So, that was a bonus surprise for me.
8) It is a great opportunity to discover new artists.
With 40 bands on the lineup, it is very likely that you will not know all the artists. You may know their names, but I seriously doubt you will be aware of the music from all the bands.
A festival is a great opportunity to wander from stage to stage and see what bands interest you. I went to this festival with some level of familiarity of about eight of the 40 artists. I left with a list of about another six bands I wanted to learn more about. It’s not a large list, but I didn’t see all of the artists at the festival. I suspect that if I had given the event more time in the earlier parts of the day, I might have come away with at least 7-10 more bands I was interested in learning more about. That would be a familiarity with about half of the artists at the show.
For the record, the bands I wanted to learn more about included I Prevail, Volumes, All That Remains, In This Moment, Mastodon, and Motionless in White.
9) Don’t forget the pre-parties.
Usually, there is one or two official pre-parties that happen at local bars within Jacksonville. This is a great place to check out local talent. This time, I went to a show that showcased a band that I do a lot of work for and am pretty close with – Kill the Sound. It was a cool opportunity to see them in a new venue with a new crowd. They were happy to see an unexpected friend in the audience as well. There were several other bands on the bill at this party that I had heard of but had not gotten to see.
10) #RockTitsSumBitch and Rockvillians
Welcome to Rockville has a subculture within it of people that are diehards and come every year. They know each other, go to other festivals and shows together, and keep in touch online via different social media communities.
According to the online Urban Dictionary, it defines a Rockvillain as “an individual of a larger group of die hard rock-and-roll fans that flock together in the masses every year at the end of April for a 2-day outdoor concert called Welcome to Rockville, which is held in Jacksonville, Florida. Every year at Welcome to Rockville, you can easily find the infamous group of Rockvillains by listening to their war cry of ROCK TITS SUMBITCH”
They also use this hashtag to tag all their social media posts.
The Facebook group Welcome to Rockville – RockVillains even has over 8.5 thousand members. You will find band videos, photos, show announcements, and anything metal related in this group.
As I slowly drug my weary and hot self back to my car after the lights went out on the final stage, where Def Leppard had played, my inner teenager was still excited about what I had just experienced. Up till this point, I can’t say I had experienced anything like the different levels of emotions I had experienced at this festival. It was different than the local festival I had been at a matter of weeks prior. I had gotten to see the first band I ever fell in love with as a youngster in a way I had not in the past (I was about 30 rows back from the barricade). I had gotten to see some bands a second time, now that I was more familiar with who they were. I had run into friends I knew from the local scene, and I got to find some new bands to look into and add to my growing collection. And, I was hot and exhausted from everything. But, I had a great time doing it. I guess I am now officially a Rockvillain!