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New location enhances a Rockfest of emerging talents and faded stars

The duet Lzzy Hale of Halestorm sang with Tom Keifer of Cinderella on “Nobody’s Fool” at Rockfest on Saturday, encapsulating the 25th anniversary edition of the rock concert sponsored by radio station 98.9 The Rock.

Young hard rock musicians paid loving homage to the music of their elders while aging artists attempted to reclaim their former glories. For the most part, both the emerging talents and the faded stars succeeded in their missions. Godsmack and Sammy Hagar topped the 16-act bill of the 12-hour event.

While many of the sounds were timeworn, the site of Rockfest was new. Held at Penn Valley Park in recent years, Saturday’s concert took place on grounds outside the Kansas Speedway. Even before most of the tens of thousands of attendees arrived Saturday, the two stages were separated by a five-minute hike.

A massive crowd later slowed foot traffic, but the expansive layout reduced congestion. The absence of shade was the only obvious drawback. Many fans took refuge under the grandstands of the racetrack. The sound was patchy early but improved markedly as the day progressed.

As repeat Rockfest headliners, Godsmack earned the right to accentuate its rhythm-heavy rock with fearsome pyrotechnics. The paper streamers launched during Hagar’s set weren’t nearly as impressive.

Playing with his all-star band the Circle, the seasoned veteran didn’t need any gimmicks. Guitarist Vic Johnson (the Bus Boys), bassist Michael Anthony (Van Halen) and drummer Jason Bonham (son of John Bonham of Led Zeppelin) played party-oriented material including the 1981 Hagar gem “Heavy Metal,” thrilling a throng of admirers that Hagar characterized as “hot and sweaty and drunk.”

Even though they were the two most vital acts on the bill, the Danish band Volbeat and the American quartet Halestorm became hit-makers by earnestly updating vintage sounds. Volbeat plays a weapons-grade update of ’50s rockabilly. Halestorm may be just a couple more hits away from attaining the elite status of an arena headliner, but its sound is rooted in the hard rock of the ’70s and ’80s acts that also appeared Saturday.

Led by guitarist Zakk Wylde, Zakk Sabbath performed burly interpretations of Black Sabbath songs. The hair metal band Ratt revived ’80s hits like “Round and Round.”

Keifer’s rejuvenation of Cinderella’s dated songs was even better. The persuasive rendition of the 1986 power ballad “Nobody’s Fool” featuring Hale was a momentous hard rock summit that cast two generations of musicians in an exceedingly flattering light.

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