Rockiní the Rivers - Three Forks, Montana

Rockin’ the Rivers
Three Forks, Montana

August 7-10, 2014
By Dan Wall
Photos by Rob Tipps http://rtipps.smugmug.com

During my nearly 40 year career (if you can call it that-let’s settle on part-time writer having a lot of fun) covering rock and roll, I’ve been lucky to witness some of the biggest rock festivals in America. Starting with Bill Graham’s Day on the Green shows at the Oakland Coliseum in the 70’s and 80’s, then moving to multi-day events like California Jam 2 and The World Music festival in Los Angeles; my early memories of these long days and weekends of rock music, partying and having fun with friends are some of my most cherished memories. Later, I would attend The Rockfest in Wisconsin, Rocklahoma in Oklahoma and The Moondance Jam in Minnesota, and once again, the memories are plentiful and the friendships cherished. Sometimes those memories and friendships mean more than music. During the last two decades, it’s been a non-stop run of Ozzfests, Cruefests, Aftershock fests and Lollapaloozas that have kept me entertained and afforded me the ability and opportunity to keep writing.

Earlier this year, The Commish (Erik), one of my dearest friends from my RockFest days and now helping out at RTR, invited me up to Montana to cover this year’s Rockin’ the Rivers festival, another four-day run of music, food, booze (as Volbeat says, it was a pool of booze, booze, booza) and non-stop partying that took place in a hayfield outside of Three Forks, Montana. If you are trying to find Three Forks on the map, it’s that field of dirt and wilderness between Bozeman and Butte (more on the location later). Before we get started on the music and the reviews, let me tell you a bit about Three Forks and the festival in general:

  1. Its desolate-you’ve heard of the middle of nowhere-this place is in the middle of the middle of nowhere. On the ride in from the airport, I counted two gas stations, a few ranches and a few deer between Bozeman and the concert site. The actual site is dirt-everywhere. There is no grass; there are no trees, and the only thing green you will find is money being traded for more drinks. This is not meant as an indictment on the festival; I had a great time. I’m just letting you know what it’s like, in case you might want to go.
  1.  It’s a rough four days. The limits of your body will be tested, along with your deodorant, toothpaste and wardrobe. I started crying out for my cozy hotel, warm bed and refreshing shower  that I get at the Moondance after less than 24 hours at RTR. The closest hotel is nearly 35 miles away, and if you have been following along, you know that there wasn’t anyone outside of the bus drivers sober enough to negotiate the roads back to the airport. The showers (both public and private) would be uncomfortable for Peter Dinklage or Spud Webb, and let’s just say it’s hard to sleep when the parties don’t stop until sunrise. And it’s hot, which should really come as no surprise, as long as it isn’t threatening to rain.
  1. The people may be rougher than the festival itself. This is Montana, and I could hardly find anyone to talk with about sports…BUT guns, hunting, fishing, chewing tobacco, smoking (anything), drinking (ANYTHING), camping, killing animals-everyone else is in, and I even mean the girls. There were a few females there that could kick your ass, I’m sure. This is the kind of place were women have tattoos that read “I’m with Dickhead” and there’s a guy walking behind her with one that says “dickhead.” No lie. And slogan t-shirts rule up here-“I’m not a gynecologist but I’ll take a look” and “I shaved my balls for this” rank right up there with the best of them.
  1. These people are dedicated. It doesn’t seem to matter which band is playing, as long as the party is rolling along. People who only watched one or two bands were the first in line to renew their tickets and campsites for next year, and the line-up for that show won’t be announced for 6-8 months. Because of what I’ve written previously, you can probably tell that 80-90% of the crowd is local, coming mostly from Montana and surrounding states. The other festivals I’ve been to have drawn from all over the country and even from foreign lands. (I will give a shout out to the girls who came from Albuquerque to see Pop Evil). As I mentioned, I had a great time once I figured out the lay of the land, but it would be a disservice to my readers if I didn’t let you know that this place isn’t exactly Shangri-La. If this sounds like fun, come on up; there’s plenty of room, and if you don’t have a beer, you will soon be given one.

Now, on to the music:

Thursday

My good buddy Steve from Montana picks me up at the Bozeman airport, and this marks the first time I’ve been on the ground in Montana-ever. I’ve told you about the road trip to the festival site-let’s move on to my arrival. Within five minutes of getting to the main campsite/bar/mess hall, I’m offered a steak by den mom Rita and a beer from Steve. Rooster and Barry, two brothers who look like they will be cast in next year’s Fargo television series, pour a shot of Apple Pie (made with Everclear, not by Everclear) and we are off and running. And this goes on for the next four days.

Blue Tattoo, an ace cover band from Spokane, are burning up the side stage (the main stage doesn’t get started until Friday), and then Hells Belles come on and tear the place up. If Thundherstruck are the runway models of AC/DC tribute bands, then the Belles are their evil step sister. These girls out-sleaze the original band, and I’m sure they could all kick those little Aussies’s butts if challenged. Vocalist Amber Saxon does her best to sing the best of Bon and Brian, while whirlwind guitarist Adrian Connor drips sweat and loses most of her clothes during an hour-long Angus tribute. The rest of the night is spent eating, drinking and sleeping in a space half my size. Oh well, it’s only rock and roll but I like it.

Friday

After shaking off the effects of last night’s party and the 4-foot bed, Friday is off to a fast start with one of those portable showers and Seattle’s own Rail. You might remember Rail-the band put out a number of records back in the 80’s and gained fame by winning MTV’s Basement Tapes competition in 1983. The original band is still together and is friendly with the festival’s owners, so a slot is found on the bill for one of the Northwest’s finest rock groups. Still led by bassist Terry Young, and featuring guitarists Rick Knotts and Andy Baldwin, along with drummer Kelly Nobles, the group rips up a 90-minute set of originals (“Hello,” “Bandit,” “Cheater”) and some tasty covers-the Scorpions “Pictured Life,” Grand Funk’s “Heartbreaker,” Whitesnake’s “Give Me All Your Love” and Montrose’s “One Thing on My Mind” (Ronnie Montrose actually played in the band for a year back in 1985). Not a bad way to kick off a festival on Friday afternoon.

Vixen is up next, and no one knows what to expect from the girls-this band just reunited last year after the tragic death of guitarist Jan Kuehnemund in 2013, and hasn’t toured regularly since its heyday in the 80’s. Gina Stile replaces Jan, along with original members Janet Gardner (still looking amazing on vocals and guitar), Roxy Petrucci (drums) and Share Ross (formerly Pedersen on bass). Though Vixen will never be confused with the greatest musicians of our time (and I don’t think that was the point to begin with), the quartet looks and sounds great, and by the time they pull out “Edge of a Broken Heart” to close the set (that song will keep them reunited and playing fairs and festivals for the rest of their careers, if the girls want to), the band has won over a crowd that started small but grew with each successive song. “Rev it Up,” “How Much Love,” “Cryin’,” “Love Is a Killer,” “Love Made Me”-it’s a hit fest, and after 65 minutes onstage, Vixen leaves to a rousing ovation. The band also comes out to the merch booths and does a meet and greet for everyone-very cool.

The last time I saw Lita Ford, she was still under the influence of her ex-husband and had just put out the worst album of her career. That was five years ago. Now divorced, with a new album out and a re-connection to her 80’s rock songs, Ford came out and made quite a statement here with a tougher, brasher sound. With L.A. rock monsters Mitch Perry (guitar), Bobby Rock (drums) and Marty O’Brien (bass) backing her, Lita threw caution to the wind and played nothing but her best hard rock songs, and she was all the best for it. Kicking things off with a cover of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back,” Ford included not only the best of her solo stuff (“Hungry,” “Larger Than Life,” “Can’t Catch Me,” “Gotta Let Go,”), but two Runaways songs and her two biggest hits, “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Kiss Me Deadly.” The biting solos of the past were back, and her interplay with Perry (who has played with MSG, among others) proves she can still keep up with the boys. This was the Lita I know and love (I actually worked for her, doing lights at a number of gigs in 1983 when she was kicking ass with the “Out for Blood” record). Welcome back!

Winger was the wild card on Friday’s bill. Best known as being the band that was trashed (unfortunately) by Beavis and Butthead for most of the 90’s, Winger came out rocking harder and sounding better than I, you or those two knuckleheads remember. Still led by heartthrob Kip Winger (bass, vocals) and joined by multi-band buddies and original members Reb Beach (guitar for Winger and Whitesnake) and Rod Morgenstein (drummer for Winger and The Dixie Dregs), the band played all of its big hits (and a few ballads) during its 75-minute set. Winger was in fine voice, aided by Beach and guitarist John Roth on harmony, while Morgenstein showed why he is still considered one of the best drummers on the planet. Beach and Roth showed off talent with both riffs and solos, and the rock cred went up proportionately when they played in tandem. “Deal With the Devil” and “Stone Cold Killer” are two of the heaviest things this band has ever done, while “Easy Come Easy Go,” “Hungry,” “Down Incognito,” “Miles Away,” “Headed For a Heartbreak,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Madalaine” and “Seventeen” cooked the crowd just right. The band was aided by going on just as the sun set (this would be repeated by all bands that played in that slot during the festival), and Winger left with a bunch of people shaking their heads, still not believing that Winger was this good of a rock band.

Queensryche was the last big band to play on Friday night, but the quintet did not close down the main stage (more on that later). The big question going into this set was this-just who in the hell is singing and will these guys be any good? The answers are: Todd LaTorre and way better than anyone should expect. Don’t get me wrong, Geoff Tate wrote and sang all this stuff back during the band’s heyday and gets all of that credit, but Queensryche had become a dysfunctional band under Tate’s tutelage, and that led original members Scott Rockenfield (drums), Michael Wilton (guitar) and Eddie Jackson (bass) to fire Tate in 2012. Enter LaTorre, a guy with a superb set of pipes and a love of early Queensryche, making him the perfect replacement for the band’s original voice. He sang everything well and absolutely aced the three toughies in the set-“The Lady Wore Black, “Queen of the Reich” and “Take Hold of the Flame.” The music end is still tough and polished sounding, with guitarist Parker Lundgren (subbing for Chris DeGarmo, who left the band years ago) adding fire to all of the great guitar work with Wilton, while Jackson (simply one of the best bassists in rock) and Rockenfield are locked in like few drum/bass combos are. The set list was unbelievable- “Nightrider” and the others from the first e.p., several from “Warning,” “Walk in the Shadows,” some biggies from “Operation Mindcrime” and all the hits from “Empire,” along with two new songs. If this band had retired after “Empire,” Queensryche would be one of my Top 10 bands. I still love them, however, and this version of the band is definitely the one to see when you venture out for live ‘Ryche nowadays.

Oh, you thought that was it for one day-not at Rockin’ the Rivers. Not only do the bands here have an option of playing up to 90 minutes (and most do at least a 75-80 minute set), but after the night’s headliner, a tribute band comes on at midnight and plays until even the diehards are ready to go back to camp. On Friday night, Eddie Trunk was in town as a host, so the Sin City Sinners were brought up from Las Vegas to help celebrate Trunk’s 50th birthday. A rag-tag collection of Sunset Strip sleaze vets, the band does a regular gig in Sin City and occasionally ventures out for a festival. The band is led by former-Faster Pussycat guitarist Brent Muscat, and features former-Leatherwolf singer Michael Oliveri (he turns up when vocalist Todd Kerns is out with Slash), former Raging Slab drummer Rob Cournoyer and bassist Michael Ellis. For Trunk’s birthday bash, the band dug deep into the catalog with Def Leppard, Leatherwolf, Dramarama, Sponge, Faster Pussycat and Hanoi Rocks covers being played early on. The set shuts down with” Immigrant Song,” “You Got Another Thing Coming,”  “War Pigs” and “Rock and Roll All Night.” I wish I could get these guys to play my birthday party.

 

Saturday

Saturday starts out a bit better than Friday-the same small shower, but breakfast at the camp mess hall is good, and I am back on a beer-heavy diet after laying off the Moonshine tasting of Thursday night and most of Friday. And then Bobaflex hits the stage, and all hangovers are cancelled. For the uneducated, Bobaflex is a quintet from the hills of West Virginia that tour the country in an RV, make a few grand, sign a ton of autographs and sell a bunch of CDs, and move on to the next town, set to impress. A mix of modern rock and heavy metal sounds, Bobaflex is as tight of a band as you will ever have the privilege of seeing. Led by brothers Shaun (vocals) and Marty (guitar) McCoy, the band plays hard, fast and loud for over 60 minutes, displaying the chops of a seasoned live act. Highlights include opener “Chemical Valley,” “Strangle You,” “Losing My Mind,” “Never Coming Back,” “Bury Me With My Guns” and “I’m Glad You’re Dead.” The constant touring, sharing stages with the likes of Disturbed and Sevendust, and spots on Gigantour and a few Rock on the Ranges have honed Bobaflex into a well-oiled, hard-rocking machine. It’s doubtful in today’s music world that these guys will ever get huge, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you saw Bobaflex and the boys kicked some serious ass.

Aranda is another band led by two brothers, Dameon (guitar) and Gabe (vocals) Aranda. The band is similar to Bobflex in that they are not very well-known, and absolutely kick-ass live. But Aranda comes at you in a different way than Bobaflex does. It’s more of a looser, 70’s kind of vibe that includes rock, blues and funk, although it’s pretty much (modern) rock 90% of the time. Dameon is a fabulous lead guitarist, and his brother has an incredible voice-just listen to the band’s biggest hit “Satisfied” live and then tell me if this guy can sing or not. When the brothers sing in tandem, you can tell there is definitely a bond there (same with Bobaflex’s McCoy brothers). Aranda has been kicking the can in Oklahoma City for 13 years now, but has only released two records (a third is on the way). The first album was a rollicking rock record by a band finding its way, while the second, “Stop the World,” was more polished and had a few big hits, “Satisfied” and the title track, along with solid album tracks like “The Upside of Vanity, “ “Undone” and “One More Lie.” These are the onstage highlights, along with the closing tour-de-force “whyyawannabringmedown,” (that’s how you spell it). If the band keeps growing in the studio and onstage (I saw them at Rocklahoma in 2010 and the group was good, but the additional four years on the road have really helped the band define its live act), I don’t have any doubt you might be hearing from Aranda as soon as early next year.

It’s blazing hot when The Pretty Reckless comes onstage, and there are more than a few people wondering what is going to happen with lead vocalist Taylor Momsen during the band’s performance. The Pretty Reckless is an apt name for this band, since there are rumors floating around that Momsen is on drugs, drunk, a handful backstage and still pissed she didn’t get nominated for an Emmy while on Gossip Girl. Just about all of this turns out not to be true, despite the fact that Momsen brings a body guard (around this place, all you really need is a Breathalyzer) and doesn’t do any sort of meet-and-greet with fans (although one was much requested). She doesn’t act much differently than any other 21 year-old television star that now fronts a rock band. The question for her and the band is this: is this for real? Is this what you really want to do for the next 15-20 years of your life? Or will the small (or big screen) beckon if the right opportunity comes along? I would think she would keep all of her options open, because Momsen isn’t anything special as a singer and the band looks like a bunch of hired hands. Having said that, the quartet does rock pretty hard (in a Joan Jett meets Halestorm if they were a punk band kind-of-way), guitarist Ben Phillips could play for just about anybody and there are some catchy hard rock songs on display-“Follow Me Down,” “Sweet Things,” “Heaven Knows” and “Fucked Up World” are the best of the bunch. Somehow, The Pretty Reckless doesn’t fit in here, but that doesn’t mean the band wouldn’t be good at a local club.

Pop Evil is the main reason those girls from Albuquerque flew up to Montana, and definitely one of the reasons I came up for the weekend. Having seen the band twice for a combined 55 minutes, I really wanted to see what one of my favorite bands of this generation could do with a 15-song, 75-minute set. The answer is this: Pop Evil’s performance here was one of the best live shows I’ve seen in the last 5 years. It is easily the best festival performance I’ve seen in that time, and it made me feel like I was 15 again (I spent the entire performance in the pit, five feet from the stage, just like the old days). The quintet from Grand Rapids, Michigan really doesn’t sound like anyone else in particular, but there are bits and pieces of the best modern rock in the band’s sound, plus a monster backbeat that elevates every song a few notches. The one thing I like about these guys (besides from being total sweethearts and great to their fans) is that there is no superstar in this group-the band is totally the sum of all of its parts. Lead vocalist Leigh Kakaty prowls the stage and sings in both a menacing growl and a smooth voice that fuels the ballads. Guitarist Nick Fuelling plays the solos, while partner Dave Grahs keeps the rhythm tight. Bassist Matt Di Rito and drummer Chachi Riot are locked in like all great rhythm sections are. The highlights were plentiful-virtually all of the set was a highlight, but the band’s best known songs really shined-“100 in a 55” (with help from the Aranda brothers), “Divide,” “Monster You Made,” “Last Man Standing,” “Goodbye My Friend,” “Torn to Pieces,” and “Deal With the Devil” were all incredible, but it was “Trenches” that put the cherry on top of the sundae. The 2013 Rock Contraband song of the year had the entire place in a frenzy, with 15-year olds dancing alongside 54-year olds (I wasn’t the only one down there), and everyone coming together as this monster song kicked the show up to a “whole ‘nother level.” Next year will be a big year for the guys with another record due, and if it’s anything like the last release (“Onyx”), hopefully we will be talking about superstars Pop Evil. These guys have the sound, the talent and the swagger to be huge. (And the next time, I want to hear “Purple”).

Hinder, by all means and purposes should be done. It’s not often you get another chance this soon in your career, but Hinder has made the most of it. For the uneducated, here’s the story: Hinder’s debut album “Extreme Behavior” sold three million copies in 2006, and the hit from that record, “Lips of an Angel,” sold that many alone and was played on every radio in the world for a year. Unfortunately, each subsequent release sold less than the one that proceeded it; then vocalist Austin Winkler developed vocal problems (and other problems… we’ll leave it at that) that forced him out of the band. Saving Abel’s Jared Weeks subbed for most of 2013 while the band toured, but Hinder’s future hung in balance until earlier this year, when a replacement was named. Nolan Neal is now onboard, and after seeing the band here, I am happy to report that the new singer looks to be the answer. A big man with a huge voice and an even bigger heart, Neal gives Hinder exactly what it needs-a reliable vocalist with no baggage who can bring Hinder back to pack in the modern/classic rock world. I was surprised at how easy he fit into the line-up and songs-it’s hard to believe this was just Neal’s third appearance with the group. The new material written with Neal fit into the set quite well, and the band’s mix of Guns N Roses sleaze, Aerosmith swagger and a touch of modern rock mentality looks like it will survive well into the next decade. The rest of the boys provide the punch behind Neal, led onstage by guitarists Joe Garvey (Hello Mr. Blower) and Mark King. Drummer Cody Hansen and bassist Mike Rodden are solid pros as well, and the group handles all of its hits and album cuts with aplomb-“Up All Night,” “Use Me,” “See You in Hell,” “Lips of an Angel” and “All American Nightmare” were all there, as well as surprises such as early deep cut “By the Way” and a cover of the Stone Temple Pilots “Wicked Garden.” Neal did a short solo set to kick-off the encore, playing with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and singing the band’s other monster smash “Better Than Me” alone. The whole thing shut down with a rocking “Get Stoned,” and I smiled as Hinder walked off, triumphantly and happy in the knowledge that there is definitely a future for this band.

It’s midnight; I’m sunburned, nicely toasted on Sierra Nevada and a couple of whiskeys, and just about ready for bed, when Blistered Earth comes on. Being from the Bay Area, I am a huge Metallica fan and have my doubts that these guys can pull-off the sometimes intricate, sometimes faster-than-the-speed-of-sound stuff that the quartet specializes in. Those fears were rescinded about one minute into “Blackened,” when I realized that I was seeing something quite extraordinary. These guys just might play Metallica as good as the real band does…I know the drummer is on par with Lars Ulrich, and all of the other music was simply splendid. If there’s a fall-off from the big boys, it’s in the vocal department, but come on, how many times does a tribute band really sound this close to the real thing. And the set list-“Blackened,” “Ride the Lightning,” “The Four Horsemen,” “Master of Puppets,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “Wherever I May Roam,” “Whiplash,” “Am I Evil,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” “One,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Seek and Destroy,” “Enter Sandman” and “Creeping Death”-that’s a better set than the ones I’ve seen Metallica play recently. It’s now 1:50 a.m.; I’m deaf, drunker and ready for bed, but what a day I’ve just witnessed, with all of my new, even drunker, friends.

Sunday

It’s now Sunday, and I’ve figured out how to survive here-build a hotel about four feet from the stage. Anyway, I thought I was still dreaming when The Babys came on. That’s right, The Babys, an act that hadn’t played live for 32 years when it reconvened last year, are onstage with the original sound intact from back in the 70’s and 80’s. How is that possible? Well, original babes Wally Stocker (guitar) and Tony Brock (drums) went out and found a John Waite sound-alike named John Bisaha when Waite turned down the offer to reunite the band last year. Bisaha sounds like Waite and looks like Daryl Hall (which will only be a problem if these guys cover “She’s Gone”). The rest of the band, including New York guitarist Joey Sykes, a keyboardist and two female singers, went about creating the lush arrangements of the bands biggest ballads (“Isn’t It Time,” “Every Time I Think of You”). Stocker and Brock took great pride in presenting a number of lesser album tracks that just killed (“Anytime,” “Love Don’t Prove I’m Right,” “If You Could See Me Fly,” “Run to Mexico”). And everyone onstage and in the crowd warmed up the radio classics such as “Midnight Rendezvous,” “Give Me Your Love,” “Back On My Feet Again,” “Turn and Walk Away” and the band’s best known rocker, “Head First.” It was amazing to see a band that always sounded good back in their heyday sound just as good, if not better, today. This is one reunion that works, so much so that the band has already been invited back to play next year.

If you had to rank all the bands who played here 1-15, Cosmo would come in at number 15. It’s not that the group, led by one-time Boston lead vocalist Fran Cosmo, was all that bad. There was just too much talent on display here all weekend long to be ordinary, and that’s what Cosmo was, ordinary. I don’t really like the idea that a guy who was on one Boston album (“Walk On”) can tour as one of the voices of Boston and play all of the other big hits, but that’s how live music works in 2014. Cosmo has one of his kids on guitar and bunch of the other guys who probably play in local bands backing him; luckily, those guys didn’t ruin anything. Nothing really sparked, but nothing was butchered. “Rock and Roll Band,” “Something About You,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Foreplay/Long Time,” “Peace of Mind, “More Than a Feeling” and “Smokin’” were all trotted out, as well as Orion the Hunter’s “So I Ran,” a song that Cosmo sang in that band. The group received a decent reception (remember, some fans here were so loaded that they might have thought the real Boston was up there), so give Cosmo credit for keeping the party rolling along.

When the Jefferson Starship booking was announced for Sunday night, there was an immediate buzz as to how good the performance would be. Could these ancient rockers pull off something special? Who was in the band? And more importantly, would Grace Slick show up (if you have a clue, you know the answer to that one-NO!) Amazingly, 73 year-old guitarist/vocalist/icon/Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Paul Kantner still leads the band, alongside 76 year-old guitarist/vocalist/icon/former member of The Quicksilver Messenger Service David Freiberg and a longtime acquaintance of mine, 62 year-old Donny Baldwin on drums. The current line-up also includes Cathy Richardson on vocals; she’s performed Off-Broadway as Janis Joplin and can give Slick a run for her money on her biggest hits; guitarist Jude Gold (younger than the others but knows his stuff) and keyboardist Chris Smith round out the sextet. The actual performance by this legendary band turned out to be more than a rock show-it was a lesson in the history of San Francisco rock music. There were Jefferson Airplane (the band that got it all started for Kantner and Slick ) songs (“White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” “Wooden Ships,” “She Has Funny Cars,” “Crown of Creation,” “Volunteers,”) songs from the actual early Starship band (“Count On Me,” “Miracles,” “Ride the Tiger,” “Fast Buck Freddie”), tunes from the Mickey Thomas-era Starship (“Jane,” “Find Your Way Back’) along with a Quicksilver tune sung by Freiberg (“Fresh Air”) and a cover of the Youngbloods classic “Get Together.” If you didn’t know about the Summer of Love and beyond before August 10, you certainly did after this set.

The rumors that April Wine guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Myles Goodwyn will be retiring at the end of the year keep swirling over the band’s head-I’ve even heard there will be a replacement (auditions are currently taking place) and the band will continue. It’s hard to imagine an April Wine without Goodwyn, however; he is the spirit of the group as far as I’m concerned, and it clearly showed during the band’s 14-song, 85-minute set here. If this was the last time for me, it was a very good show to go out on. The band sounded great and tore up all the classics-“Anything You Want,” “Enough is Enough,” “All Over Town,” “Just Between You and Me,” “I Like to Rock,” “Roller” and the Hall of Fame guitar display “Sign Of the Gypsy Queen,” every song featuring Goodwyn’s smooth vocal approach and the twin guitar attack of the guitarist and his longtime sidekick, Brian Greenway (he was featured on one of my favorite April Wine songs, “Before the Dawn”). Bassist Richard Lanthier and drummer Roy Nichol are now solidly in the band behind the two Canadian legends, and reportedly will stick around if and when Goodwyn says goodnight. It will be a sad day for classic rock fans when he does.

There was a lot of booze going around, as you might have gathered from reading this story, so how about closing things out with a great booze story. Before Black Stone Cherry went on, I secured a couple of meet-and-greets for those two loveable knuckleheads (and makers of the best Apple Pie this side of Minnesota), Rooster and Barry. And during said meet-and-greet, someone mentioned to the headline band that was just about to go onstage that the Apple Pie was great, plentiful and theirs for the asking. And ask they did, so I was off to the backstage area with a gift of Apple Pie for the whole band. I was not thinking that if these guys drank the whole thing that a punk rock version of “Stairway to Heaven” might be added to the set list. The group thanked me, went onstage and kicked ass for 75 minutes. Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, the bottle of Apple Pie did make an appearance onstage and was quickly drained by the band (and thankfully, the crew). More Apple Pie was delivered backstage after the set for the band’s future road travels and down time. I’ll find out how long it lasted when I see the group again on September 14 in Sacramento.

Back to the music, and for those of you who haven’t been following along, Black Stone Cherry is a quartet from Edmonton, Kentucky who grew up with an advantage most young musicians don’t have-drummer John Fred Young’s dad was a member of The Kentucky Headhunters, and his fellow Cherries Chris Robertson (guitar, vocals), Ben Wells (guitar, vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass) were able to use the band’s hand-me-down equipment while practicing in the Headhunters practice facility as very young boys. This experience, which started when the band was in junior high school, has allowed BSC the opportunity to hone its craft as songwriters and as a recording band; hundreds of gigs turned the group into one of the most exciting of the modern rock breed. This is another band without a real superstar that features four guys who share equally in making the rough-and-tumble sound work live. The group is a big thing in England, where they headline arenas; here in the states, it is still a slog to get into 2000 seaters. This was a prime opportunity and one of the band’s biggest headline shows in America after killing the place last year (I wasn’t there, but that’s the rumor). The group’s heavy metal (think Metallica-ish) meets Lynyrd Skynyrd southern sound is not easily duplicated, and as you might guess, these guys don’t sound much like anyone else out there doing this style of music. The band’s 75-minute set featured songs from all four of the band’s records, with a heavy dose coming from its latest (and greatest), “Magic Mountain.” The new album’s title track kicked things off, and favorites such as “Blind Man,” “Rain Wizard” “Me and Mary Jane,” “Blame It On the Boom Boom,” “White Trash Millionaire” and “Lonely Train” were all featured. It was a great way to close out a wonderful weekend of music.

Thanks must go out to the amazing cast of characters at RTR-owner Greg Smith and the rest of his partners, Erik Tweedy and his lovely wife Tammy (the queen of meet-and-greets), photographer extraordinaire Rob, the entire cast at King’s corner, Album Man and his long-suffering wife Judy, Steve and Michelle and the entire Montana mafia, Rooster and Barry (the best moonshiners around), Cass and Rita, Rich and Renee (special thanks for the sleeping arrangements), plus all of the other amazing folks I met, talked with and got a chance to party with. Until next time (if there is a next time), take care and rock on!

http://www.rockintherivers.com/