Music News & Reviews

Rockfest at the Kansas Speedway draws 30,000 — a big, loud, happy family

A concert enthusiast at Rockfest 2018 surfed the crowd during Red Sun Rising's performance on Saturday, June 2, 2018, at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
A concert enthusiast at Rockfest 2018 surfed the crowd during Red Sun Rising's performance on Saturday, June 2, 2018, at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Special to the Star

Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, the front women of the incendiary heavy metal band Butcher Babies, howled about a bacchanal party during their performance Saturday at the Kansas Speedway.

The Butcher Babies' song about “death-defying feats and acts of whiskey-guzzling debauchery … in this cyclone of flesh” is titled “Monsters Ball,” but it encapsulated the rowdy atmosphere at the 26th edition of Rockfest in Kansas City, Kan.

Sixteen bands entertained about 30,000 revelers at the 12-hour festival sponsored by radio station 98.9 The Rock. The rapid-fire rock of the Las Vegas quintet Five Finger Death Punch concluded the expertly managed event on the west side of the racetrack complex.

Aside from the slightly soggy grounds, conditions were ideal.

The moderate temperature allowed merrymakers to headbang, crowd surf, mosh and engage in flesh-oriented bead exchanges in comfort. Most concertgoers still had plenty of energy to roar along with Five Finger Death Punch’s bruising songs as midnight neared.

Even so, the band’s outing suffered in comparison to Ghost’s superlative showcase. The theatrical Swedish band preceded Five Finger Death Punch on the main stage.

Ghost performed as day turned to night, an apt time slot for a band that subverts Christian imagery in an elaborate presentation that includes costumes and masks. Blasphemy is played for laughs rather than chills. The vocalist who performs as Cardinal Copia resembled a ghoulish Charlie Chaplin as he conducted campy physical comedy routines.

Underoath left no doubt that it deserved to headline the second stage, even though the clamorous post-punk attack of the accomplished band from Tampa is an odd fit for Rockfest.

Front man Aaron Gillespie noted the incongruity by suggesting that “we’re a band you’ve probably never heard of.”

Vince Neil, the crown prince of party-hearty rock, is the antithesis of Underoath. He gleefully revived the bubblegum metal hits of his now-defunct band Mötley Crüe.

Stone Temple Pilots also indulged nostalgic fans in a slick set that was dramatically different than the band’s thrillingly chaotic appearance as Rockfest’s headlining act in 2008.

Stone Temple Pilots’ troubled vocalist Scott Weiland died in 2015. His replacement, Jeff Gutt, sang with nuanced professionalism.

Rockfest’s most charming moments were provided by another veteran band.

The members of Sevendust invited their children to join them for a rendition of “Shine.” A girl without noise-canceling headphones winced at the volume. Many members of the audience related to the child’s discomfort.

The kids’ inclusion affirmed the festival’s emphasis on rock-and-roll brotherhood. Everyone was part of a very big — and extremely loud — happy family on Saturday.

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