Earlier this year, statuses started sprouting up over Facebook about a new rock music festival in the works. Word had it that the festival would be for giving back to those who have given so much to the rest of the country – promoters deeming it a “21 Band Salute to Our Troops” – with profits and donations being made to Luke’s Wings charity. The festival also announced partnerships with Vet Tix and GovX, which offered discounted tickets to all military members and government employees, including Veterans. Super bob was the first band to be announced as part of Operation Rock Fest, and they commenced “18 Days of ROCK,” the announcement for each new band added to the bill. Elisium, Saving Abel, Blacklite District, Like A Storm and Wayland followed and before long the lineup was complete, with Pop Evil and Nonpoint announced as the headlining acts.
This past Saturday, June 21st, Operation Rock Fest was finally underway at the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fairgrounds in Virginia. The doors opened at 11:00 A.M. and the show officially commenced as vocalist Mitchel Arnold of Wayland sang the National Anthem before handing the stages off to the first bands Ignite The Fire, Stairwell and Silvertung. A band by the name of Sand was scheduled to take stage at 2:00, but was replaced by Norfolk, VA rockers Seven Ten Oil. At 2:30 P.M., Blameshift performed a crowd captivating set featuring vocalist Jenny Mann – the only female performer on the entire day’s bill. Towards the end of their set, Jenny was even kind enough to hop off stage and sing along with fans at the front of the barricade.
Because the lineup consisted of so many new and unfamiliar up-and-coming bands, many show-goers seemed somewhat detached. Crowd interaction was sparse at the start of the day, with just a handful of mouths singing along. As each band of the day performed consistently stellar sets in terms of live sound and stage presence, the crowd seemed to perk up. Shallow Side, Another Lost Year, Blacklite District and Madrone continued the trend, and by the time Wayland hit the stage at 5:00, people were singing along whether they knew the words or not!
Almost Kings were next up on the bill, bringing both levity and levitation to the stage. Guitarist Ryan Yunker and bassist Danny Helms raced back and forth across the stage and constantly launched themselves into air, even doing a hat exchange at one point. Vocalist “Boze” introduced a rap rock sound to the day and performed a wicked cover of the Eminem classic hit “Lose Yourself.” Attention was then turned over to the curious sound of a didgeridoo, the instrument featured in Like A Storm’s set. The unique sound coupled with the unique accents of the New Zealand native rockers made for a delightfully captivating performance. Not to mention, vocalist Chris Brooks jumped off stage and over the barricade, then proceeded to sing an entire cover of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” amidst a swarm of fans. During their final song, Like A Storm graciously gifted their didgeridoo to festival coordinator Tony Wilson.
The day flew by quickly, already twelve bands in and half over when Elisium took the stage at 6:30 P.M, highlighting their set with a memorable cover of Tool’s “Sober.” Recent X Games battle of the bands winners Super bob returned to a rap rock sound, injected with a hint of dubstep. The hard rockers are well known on the east coast for their energetic live show and extreme dedication (playing over 200 shows per year). No matter where the eye wanders during their set, flying dreads, bouncing, jumping, microphone tossing, delicate drum stick balancing and a myriad of other hypnotizing and fun tricks are bound to be seen.
Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch’s solo project Love and Death was another band on the original festival lineup, but had to cancel due to illness just weeks before the show. Fortunately, The Veer Union was able to step in and fill the vacancy. Following their set, Bobaflex and Gemini Syndrome took stage right as the sun was setting. The lighting was nothing short of dazzling for Saving Abel’s set, who managed to merge a much more modern and intense sound into classic southern rock. Only the headliners remained, and Nonpoint closed out the secondary stage at 9:30 P.M. The hard hitters had rockfists and metal horns raised high with well known songs from their vast nine album discography. Songs included in the setlist were: “That Day,” “What A Day,” and “I Said It.” They closed with “Bullet With A Name,” and even members from bands that played earlier in the day were caught rocking out to Nonpoint with the crowd.
Last but certainly not least, Pop Evil nailed their set, providing a true reminder of what American rock and roll really is. Pop Evil’s third album Onyx was released in May last year, and since then the band has reached much success with three consecutive number one singles – all of which were played at Operation Rock Fest. Some of Pop Evil’s older songs were also infused into the setlist, including a highlight moment during “Last Man Standing” when vocalist Leigh Kakaty invited Silvertung vocalist and friend “Speed” on stage to help perform the song. Before playing their encore, an American flag signed by each performer of the festival was brought on stage. The flag, which is now en route to soldiers in Afghanistan, was waved proudly behind Leigh for a moment as he dedicated “Trenches” to the troops with a heartfelt thank you.
Given the raw novelty of the festival, it appeared extremely well organized. Unlike some of the larger festivals (Carolina Rebellion, Rock on the Range), two stages were set up side by side with no overlapping set times. This meant a lot less running around had to be done in order to catch the next band and there was no issue of having to decide between two bands playing at the same time. There were few wait lines, with ample vendors, food and bathrooms. Fans were also able to meet and greet the bands at specified times. Numerous attendees and supporters have declared the festival a great success and already have their fingers crossed for an encore of Operation Rock Fest next year.