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Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

“Rocking to beat the Florida heat”


Doubters questioning the vitality of rock music would swiftly revise their stance upon immersing themselves in the seismic spectacle that is Welcome to Rockville. Year after year this event defies any notion of the genre's demise, undoubtedly becoming the apex of music Festivals in the US.

Originally conceived as a one-day festival in Jacksonville and boasting an attendance of roughly 10,000 on its 2011 debut, it has since expanded into a massive, 4 days long extravaganza that has come to draw audiences in the 6 figures range, with the festival relocating Daytona Beach in the 2020s and pulling in about 170,000 persons last year. Suffice it to say, this is an event hot enough to melt just about any rock into liquid form, though with the arrival of 2024's edition of the festival comes the promise of temperatures to match said analogy. Nevertheless, with temperatures reaching the upper 90s on May 9, 2024; the determination of the throngs amassing in Daytona would be undaunted as the first day unfolded.

Among the opening acts to kick off this sweltering day under the Florida sun would be Memphis, Tennessee nu-metal and post-grunge mainstays Saliva. The performance would prove as bittersweet as it was potent, with original vocalist Josey Scott making an appearance and honoring the recently departed guitarist and co-founder Wayne Swinny with a few poignant words and a t-shirt carrying his nickname Skinny in bold letters.

The energy level was palpable during their short, 6-song set with a performance of their hit "Crows" being a clear highlight while featuring current vocalist Bobby Amaru's daughter, though pummeling renditions of "Click Click Boom" and "Ladies And Gentlemen" were not far behind. The rest of the band were by no means stage props themselves, with bassist Brad Stewart and touring lead guitarist Josh Kulack rocking the stage at full force, while rhythm guitarist Sabastian LaBar proved no less animated and drummer Sammi Jo Bishop turning plenty of heads with her hard-hitting grooves and magenta-colored locks.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The heat of the day would be greeted with a shade of sonic black with the gothic/alternative metal craftsmanship of Anaheim, California's own New Years Day. True to form, vocalist and front woman Ash Costello stood as the focal point of a face-melting sonic assault, clad in leather and a short skirt that begged the question of how she didn't combust given the temperature, to speak nothing of her iconic hair colors flowing in the sunlight.

The rest of the band was not one to sit still, moving about the stage, head-banging and continually working the crowd while exuding nothing but pure energy. Obvious bangers like "Vampyre", "Disgust Me" and "Kill Or Be Killed" were among the arsenal of hard-hitting anthems to rock the masses, though it would be their blistering rendition of Pantera's "Fucking Hostile" that brought down the proverbial house with legions of teens in painted faces jumping against the invisible walls. Ash would top off the performance by remarking to the crowd that "The Metal Gods should be smiling now after looking at all of you".

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

A synthesizer and guitar-steeped blast from the past would be next on the sonic menu as recently reformed 90s industrial rock mainstays Stabbing Westward took the stage. Helmed by vocalist and founder Christopher Hall, rocking a pair of pitch black shades that he subsequently ditched after the first song while moving about the stage and singing fiercely, they served up a mighty dose of nostalgia alongside a couple entries from their 2022 reunion album Chasing Ghosts.

Keyboardist and co-founder Walter Flakus was an equal attention draw as he routinely tilted his instrument up and down its platform and proved a highly kinetic presence despite his stationary position. Relative newcomers in drummer Bobby Amaro and guitarist Cyamak Ashtiani showcased a similar level of energy and 90s quirkiness with the former focused on trying to destroy his kit while looking down most of the time and the latter banging his head along with the samples violently while largely staying in one spot. The entire set was delivered with full ferocity, though one couldn't help but notice the particularly explosive audience response garnered by "Save Yourself" and "Shame".

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

Things would get back to basics with the vintage hard rock onslaught of Los Angeles-born sensations Dirty Honey. Having lost none of their pizzazz since the departure of drummer Corey Coverstone last year, they would strike a clear contrast with the modernity that had largely preceded them and their vintage 70s blend of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin influences were avidly received. Marc LaBelle's high-end, Robert Plant-inspired wail came with a master class in crowd work, and signature anthems such as "California Dreaming", "Rolling 7s" and "When I'm Gone" were among the high points of a highly engaging yet relatively brief set.

For his part, newish drummer Jaydon Bean melded seamlessly with the rest of the band as John Notto's bluesy 6-string swagger and bassist Justin Smolian's steady presence built a formidable tower of sound upon which LaBelle's soaring tenor rocked the masses. Crowd enthusiasm wasn't dampened by the extreme heat for an instant, though rescue personnel were often seen rushing to the aid of fans passing out due to the sweltering conditions.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The mood would get a considerably darker and heavier in spite of the blaring sun as Bostonian metalcore icons Shadows Fall took over the reins. Pulling zero punches in the midst of a raging return to the scene going back to 2021, this fold came to conquer, mercilessly pummeling the open air through their set. Vocalist Brian Fair was one to frequently remind the crowd to jump up and down, saying "If I can jump and head-bang with a blanket of hair hanging from my head, you can do better". Suffice it to say; the manner in which the whole band remained frenetically animated to the point of being unhinged despite the raging heat, with Brian's massive dreadlocks down to his ankles slicing the air, was on another level.

Drummer Jason Bittner was another auspicious draw in how he mercilessly laid waste to his kit, as was lead guitarist Jon Donais as he riffed and shredded his way through each anthem like his life depended upon it, seemly sparing no energy for his eventual second gig of the day with Anthrax. Be it highlight entries like "King Of Nothing" and "Destroyer Of Senses", or any other entry included in their set, the audience response was nothing short of pure pandemonium.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The modern metallic fervor would continue on a somewhat lighter and positive note with Memphis alternative metal and Christian-based rockers Skillet. Helmsman and bassist John Cooper had the audience all but eating from his hand as he rocked his instrument and wailed away at the microphone, taking several instances to wield smoke cannons in each hand to fire at the sky. Guitarist and wife Korey Cooper was an even more animated presence, bouncing about the stage like a rabid dog, while lead guitarist Seth Morrison proved to be no slouch in the energy department while handling the technical side of the equation.

Drummer Jen Ledger would refuse to be a mere background set piece from behind the kit, and took the occasion on their rendition of "Hero" to abandon her drums to grab a microphone and sing alongside John, the song behind accompanied by a heartfelt dedication to the service men and women of the American armed forces and John's personal hero, Jesus Christ. Other standout entries would include a raucous introductory performance of "Feel Invincible" and a similarly impassioned rendition of "Monster".

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The pendulum would swing back into a darker sonic place with Illinois nu-metal veterans and disseminators of all things unusual Mudvayne. Theatricality and visual displays would be the name of their game as they somehow managed to don their usual signature clown-like getup in the intense heat and humidity, and though by about halfway through their set their makeup was flaking heavily, the same could not be said about the intensity of the music they brought.

A few issues with their mix aside, vocalist Chad Gray would belt a mighty roar from his microphone, while virtuoso bassist Ryan Martinie worked the stage with equal enthusiasm to the aforementioned front man and proved the most intriguing musician of the fold. Both Greg Tribbett and touring guitarist Marcus Rafferty played it more to their chests and stuck mostly to their part of the stage while focusing on their instrumental performance, but the loudness of their appearance did much to compensate for a lack of exploring the stage. Crowd response would increase correspondingly to how far back into their catalog this quintet would go, with vintage entries "Dig" and "Death Blooms" eliciting the loudest reaction.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The raw kinetic energy factor would be pushed back into overdrive when New York thrash metal titans Anthrax took over the festivities. Presenting an abridged version of their signature touring set that would omit some of the few mid-tempo offerings in their catalog in favor of high octane, 80s era classic; there was scarcely a moment of rest to be had among the crowd as the heat continued to dominate the Florida air. Never being one to pass up an opportunity to rev things up, guitarist Scott Ian took time just prior to a blistering rendition of "Metal Thrashing Mad" to address the metal faithful, asking "Rockville, do you love thrash metal?", which was greeted with roaring cheers.

He went on "Rob Halford, who was one of the guy who invented thrash metal with the British Steel album is backstage, and he couldn't fucking hear you! So I'm gonna ask again…", which was chased by an even louder crowd response. Over the course of their pummeling 45 minute set, which saw such classics as "Caught In A Mosh", "I Am The Law" and "Indians" continually up the speed ante, moshing and crowd-surfing would ensue despite the temperature, which slowly crawled down into the low 90s. Crowd security would prove as compassionate as they were effective in keeping things orderly, bringing water hoses into the photo pit and systematically hosing water over the crowd to help battle the heat.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The hour of the metal veteran and elder statesmen would prove no less triumphant when Judas Priest took to the stage. Preceded by the familiar and eerie Black Sabbath number "War Pigs" ringing out from the PA system, things went insane when the pre-recorded prelude shifted to their signature Invincible Shield touring anthem and the leather-clad quintet entered to deafening cheers. Though they were not one to pass up an opportunity to churn out familiar and obligatory classics such as "You've Got Another Thing Coming", "Breaking The Law" and "Sinner" within their relatively truncated 11 song set, this was a performance that came with plenty of new offerings and even the occasional surprise entry.

Two selections from their latest studio endeavor in "Panic Attack" and title anthem "Invincible Shield" would also be heard to thunderous approval, with Halford revving things up further by shouting "The Priest is back!" following the opening performance of the former. Mid-80s AOR anthem "Turbo Lover" was also greeted with a sea of voices accompanying its ultra-infectious chorus, and an auspicious cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" would also rock the masses before an explosive concluding rendition of "Painkiller".

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

No expense was spared in the heaviness department as the looming hint of dusk took the sky and groove thrash veterans Machine Head hit the festival. Helmsman Robb Flynn was in full crowd work mode, constantly asking the crowd to open a circle pit and to raise their first in the air between songs. The crowd naturally obliged with reckless abandon as this Oakland, California-born quartet and 30 years plus veteran fold raged through a varied set while a giant LED screen displayed various thematic images tying to each represented album from behind the drum kit.

The stage set was no less impressive than the aggression-infused anthems brought to the table, with multicolored lights and smoke in abundance, accentuating the atmosphere in a manner that perfectly paired with the punishing riff work. For their first time playing at Rockville, as noted by Flynn, it was one for the ages, and whether it was classic entries like "Davidian" and "Imperium", more thrash-driven entries from the middle era or the more nu-metal tinged entries from this outfit's latter day studio endeavors, the highly eclectic flavor of each sonic gut punch was lost on no one.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The thrashing assault would continue on in a more straightforward, old school and rapid fire flavor when Slayer shredder turned solo artist Kerry King took over. It was expected to the point of being obligatory that blood would be in the cards, and true to form the lights were a sea of red and necrotic green with LED columns at the back employing white lights to light up the stage and progressively display this newly minted project's logo. The ominous atmosphere was further painted with correspondingly menacing light show and heavy amounts of smoke, giving most a sense of nostalgia for the days when Slayer was in their prime.

King's selection of musicians proved to be no less on point, as Death Angel vocalist Mark Osegueda presented an even more bestial and raw version of Tom Araya, while the rhythm section consisting of fellow Slayer member and drummer Paul Bostaph and Hellyeah bassist Kyle Sanders rounding out the sonic colossus and former Machine Head and Vio-Lence guitarist Phil Demmel trading riffs and lead blows with Kerry. Crowd response hit an absolute fever pitch when classic Slayer entries "Raining Blood" and "Black Magic" hit the air, though King would elicit a similarly maddened physical response from the fans via the new material from the album featuring his name, with crushers like "Idle Hands" and the title anthem "From Hell I Rise" hitting the hardest.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

With the dark of night now hung above the masses and the heat still present in a less brutal capacity, the headliners of the day and Los Angeles-born 80s titans Mötley Crüe entered the fray. Though hitting the stage about 15 minutes late, the wait proved worth it as an elaborate introduction played on the big screens in the form of a mock news report of the event, which was tailored for the Daytona Beach venue, as the anchorman featured on what might be dubbed a "Motley Crue News" report noted the massive crowd via a video peppered with electronic glitches to simulate a communications issue. It was an elaborate prelude to what would prove to be a highly elaborate set, cycling through just about every classic entry put forth by The Crüe between 1981 and 1991.

Welcome To Rockville: Day One Recap

The presence of Mick Mars was no doubt missed by many in attendance, but replacement guitarist John 5 had all the necessary chops and personality to fill said massive shoes, not to mention a greater physical ability to move about and work the crowd given his younger age. His technique would continue to be a prime feature of the fold as he effortlessly reprised every single guitar solo and delivered an utterly spellbinding solo display just after their rendition of lone newer entry "Dogs Of War". But for the fans, the best moments would be the familiar odes of 80s excess represented by the likes of "Live Wire", "Shout At The Devil", "Wild Side" and "Dr. Feelgood", and though Vince Neil's aging voice may not have hit every single high note, he and the rest of the fold brought the energy something fierce and the sea of souls before them responded in kind.

In accordance with past observances of the Welcome To Rockville tradition and in spite of the Florida heat working against it at every turn, the first day of this festival's 2024 installment was a resounding success.

With the upcoming days looking to be no less brutal in the weather department, the challenges that dogged this opening foray into the still booming American rock scene are sure to continue, but it can be equally predicted that all those in attendance will rise to them and continue to take full enjoyment out of what this 14 years long tradition has to offer.

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