Eleven hours of hard rock and heavy metal began at Penn Valley Park on Saturday with a song by Black Oxygen appropriately titled "The American Dream." For the 55,000 revelers in attendance at the 20th edition of Rockfest, the event represented many of our nation's most promising attributes. Besides freely crowd surfing, moshing and head-banging to 15 bands, Rockfest attendees celebrated the antics of uninhibited women and honored the members of the American armed forces.
Rockfest offered unparalleled people watching. Yet aside from the disruptive behavior of a handful of miscreants, the event was a largely peaceful affair. The management of radio station KQRC (98.9 FM), better known as "the Rock," oversaw the ambitious event.
Billed as "the largest one-day music festival in America," Rockfest featured two stages with staggered set times. Rockfest veterans Shinedown were awarded the headlining slot. The Florida-based band's tough exterior is betrayed by its maudlin core. Rockers like "Devour" are sturdy, but the quartet's most popular songs are melodramatic ballads like "Second Chance" and sentimental love songs like "If You Only Knew."
The sound during Shinedown's 70-minute set was as good as can be expected at a massive outdoor festival. Unfortunately, severe audio problems plagued the six bands that preceded Shinedown on the main stage. It's possible that the electrical glitches were caused by the rain that fell during a fine performance by Adelitas Way, the stage's first act. Muddy and insufficiently loud, the subsequent sound quality was wholly inadequate for fans not positioned directly in front of a stack of speakers.
The problem was particularly vexing during an appearance by Slash, the guitarist best known for his tenure with Guns N' Roses. Displaying energetic moves that included a modified Chuck Berry-style duckwalk, Slash and vocalist Myles Kennedy evoked the earthy grit and carefree swagger of the Rolling Stones. Los Angeles' Five Finger Death Punch demonstrated the muscle-flexing bluster that's made it one of metal's most popular bands. Its impact was hindered by faulty sound reproduction that allowed audience chatter to drown it out. Related malfunctions limited Chevelle's outing to under 10 minutes.
Rockfest's second stage operated without a hitch. Headliners Hellyeah, sort of a thrash version of ZZ Top, played unnerving odes to alcohol. In its Kansas City debut, Danish band Volbeat won over curious concertgoers with its mighty roar. "Sad Man's Tongue," a frosty reworking of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," received one of the day's most spontaneously vibrant receptions. The audience was almost as impressed by a galvanizing set from the technically-precise metal act Trivium.
A brief but bracing collaboration with area rapper Kutt Calhoun highlighted the solid opening set by Kansas City's Black Oxygen. The aspiring young musicians show a great deal of promise. Yet even if they never achieve widespread acclaim, the members of Black Oxygen will always have the memory of playing an important role in a prominent representation of the American dream.