One of the biggest hard rock music festivals in the United states opened on Friday, April 27th in Jacksonville, Florida with a crowd of at least 90,000 people expected to attend. The Welcome to Rockville festival expanded to three days this year, with a core line-up similar to other rock festivals scheduled across the country, but with a larger and more diversified roster. Day 1 began in near perfect Florida weather with high clouds blocking the searing spring sun and balmy breezes. Temperatures hovered around 80 midday before being buffeted by cooler breezes in the evening. The festival has a similar feel to its sister festival, Aftershock, in Sacramento, California. Both festivals take place in downtown urban areas, but in a park like settings with plenty of trees and grass bordered by inland waterways.

Rockville was set in Metropolitan Park in downtown Jacksonville. Some music fans took a water taxi to the festival. Others were even arriving by their own watercraft and docking at the marina next to the park. The event which began in 2011 is part of Danny Wimmer’s empire of rock festivals, which started with Aftershock in Sacramento and includes Rock on the Range, Fort Rock, Carolina Rebellion, LOUDER THAN LIFE, Northern Invasion and Chicago Open Air. Wimmer, who appeared on a panel of some of the most prominent music festival promoters at FestForums in Santa Barbara last year, attributed much of his success to aligning with good sponsors like Jack Daniels, who flood the festival with their various brands of whiskey.

The three stages at Rockville this year offered up a diverse line-up of multiple hard rock genres. From classic hard rock and glam rock to metal and hardcore post-punk, there was a band for nearly everyone in love
with loud guitar driven rock beats.

The crowd, which was dressed in their best heavy metal festival ware, arrived early on Friday for the show that was capped by a historic final tour by rock icon Ozzy Osbourne. In the afternoon the Tampa based band Under Oath had a sweaty crowd singing along on the main stage. The band reunited in 2015 with new lead singer Spencer Chamberlain. The former lead singer of This Runs screamed his lyrics while thrashing his long blonde hair about his sunburned neck. He gave a shout out to the next main stage band, The Used. The lead singer of The Used, Bert McCracken returned the favour when the skate rock band launched their post-punk assault on the crowd. Both singers like most everyone playing the festival also gave shoutouts to Ozzy. Halestorm was one of the only bands on Friday to feature a female singer, with Lzzy Hale sounding like a young Pat Benatar on steroids.

The audience, fueled by gourmet food and copious amounts of Jack Daniels and beer, seemingly available in every corner of the vast expanses of the festival grounds, were in collective good spirits. Except for the occasional arrests by an actively present Jacksonville police force, most in the crowd seemed to be having a great experience. The three festival stages were not particularly impressive by today's big music festival standards, but the lighting was adequate, and the sound systems, for the most part, functioned well. For the type of music offered loud, perfect sound was more important than a multimedia extravaganza anyway.

Five Finger Death Punch played a well-received set as the sunset lit the high clouds, while a nearly full moon rose above the venue. Lead singer Ivan Moody got the crowd pumped early on. He encouraged crowd surfing responsibly, shouted out to service people (Jacksonville has a significant military presence), invited a pair of eleven year-old crowd surfers onstage, and gave a shout out to Ace Frehley's birthday.

Godsmack turned in an early evening crowd-pleasing set that brought a new level of musicality to the day's performances. The band from Lawrence, Massachusetts, formed in 1995 and made a name for themselves at Woodstock 99. The post-grunge band has an unusual East Coast sound, due in part to charismatic lead singer Sully Erna's voice. The group tore through some of their 23 top ten radio hits, and added in songs from their just released new album, 'When Legends Rise'.

But, despite all the great rock music earlier in the evening, it was the chance to see an icon of heavy metal music, possibly for the last time (or not), that brought the majority of music fans to the festival Friday night. The former frontman for Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, who recently turned 69, announced that this would be his last world tour. That announcement came after Black Sabbath completed their final world tour last year.

Ozzy shuffled onstage just after 9.30 pm with a nearly full moon lighting up the venue. Despite his pronouncement of a final world tour, he let the crowd know early on that it was not his attention to stop doing concerts. “I’ll never retire. I ain’t going fucking nowhere,” he quipped at the beginning of his 75 minute concert.

Ozzy, backed by a band of veteran musicians, played some of his biggest solo hits including 'Bark at the Moon', 'No More Tears', 'Mr. Crowley', 'Suicide Solution' and 'Shot in the Dark'. There was also a stirring video tribute to Ozzy's former guitarist, Randy Rhoads, who died in a horrific plane crash while on tour with Ozzy in 1982.

The band featured Adam Wakeman on keyboards, son of Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Rob Zombie’s bassist, Rob Nicholson, brought the heavy metal thump to the group. Drummer extraordinaire Tommy Clufetos, who also played with Rob Zombie, but more recently as the drummer of Black Sabbath on their final tour, performed explosive percussions. But it was guitarist Zak Wylde who stood out as the band's musical leader, playing non stop riffs from start to finish.

While the crowd cheered every song played by the revered singer and his supercharged group, it was the Black Sabbath songs that music fans were really waiting to hear. Sadly the band only played two from the Sabbath catalogue. The first was an astounding jam version of the 1970 Sabbath anthem 'War Pigs'. The song featured an extended singalong with the euphoric crowd before Ozzy left the stage. The band was left to play a near twenty-minute jam that featured a thundering drum solo and an extended ear-piercing guitar solo that included guitarist Zakk Wylde crowd surfing into the audience and playing behind his head, Jimi Hendrix style.

Ozzy returned for a final run of songs including 'Crazy Train', 'Mama, I’m Coming Home' and a second Black Sabbath gem 'Paranoid'. A beaming Ozzy then bid the crowd goodnight vowing to return soon. Maybe it will be the final non-world tour next time. In any event, it seems the veteran performer doesn’t plan on retiring until he is in his grave.

Long live rock!


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com









Related Links:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/welcometorockville/
https://twitter.com/RockvilleFest
https://welcometorockvillefestival.com/


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