The inaugural 95.1 WIIL Rock the Ranch festival took place at Twin Lakes, WI on 13 August 2011, hosted on the same grounds that accommodate the annual Country Thunder festival. WIIL scored big by securing the opening night of the Carnival of Madness tour while also bringing in a handful of other acts to create a virtual nonstop day of live music.
Inclement weather created a number of issues and forced a few of the earlier acts to cancel. Knowing that rain was going to be an issue we arrived just before 1:00 pm to a small crowd that had gathered despite the rain, it was still drizzling lightly as we entered. The side stage awning had been lowered to prevent wind from creating yet another statistic. Outdoor stages had recently been toppled during a performance by Cheap Trick at Ottawa Bluesfest; prior to The Flaming Lips Brady District Block Party show in Oklahoma; and the tragic Indiana State Fair catastrophe that killed 5 people and injured at least 40 more before Sugarland’s set a day after Rock the Ranch took place. Given these recent events it seemed like site personnel did the right thing in canceling a few acts and dropping the awning in an attempt to circumvent a potential disaster.
With the festival on a weather delay, we decided to walk up the hill to the food vendors and see what the options were for food and drink over the next 10 hours. Frustration immediately set in as the vendors were only able to take coupons for food, but the food coupons had already run out (we were were told to “try over there”). After walking around “over there” for 20 minutes and not finding another ticket booth we finally returned to where we started. After another wait, tickets finally arrived via an ATV. If the site management is going to siphon money from the vendors and force everybody to use tickets for food and drink, they could at least be prepared for a crowd that was not even a few hours old. It was a big enough hassle to have to walk back and forth, trying to ensure we purchased the right amount of tickets, to avoid going home with unwanted coupons. Another irritation occurred when we tried to buy water about 45 minutes later only to find out the vendor had run out of everything but Diet Pepsi. Off to the other side of the grounds, again. By the way, water was $4 and we were not allowed any carry-ins nor were we allowed to go back to our vehicles. This is understandable for a few hour show, but when the lineup is more than 6 hours there should be some allowance for at least a sealed carry-in and free water stations.
By the time we returned to the stage area, shortly after 2:00 pm, Powerman 5000 were set to get started on the side stage. After another 20 minutes of power issues they took the stage for a short 25 minute set. Local H were one of the acts that had to cancel because of the weather and a few fans were chanting Local H before, and during, PM5K’s performance. Dope followed PM5K a few minutes later on the main stage, however the crowd was still sparse and did not show much energy despite good sets from both artists. Dope attempted to get the crowd going by being derisive to security and tried to coerce the general admission crowd to jump the fence and join the VIP section. Though their efforts were unsuccessful (security was just watching the fence that much closer), many fans did heed their advice once the rain began a little later.
Crossfade seemed out of place and were definitely the low point on the day. Ed Sloan’s vocals were forced and a letdown after Dope’s performance. Their songs were frequently unrecognizable relative to their recordings. However, roughly 90 minutes had passed since the rain had ceased and a crowd finally started to build.
10 Years continued to build on the momentum developed by Black Stone Cherry and gave one of the top performances on the day. Still touring on their 2010 release, Feeding the Wolves, Shoot it Out and Fix Me fueled the crowd. Jesse Hasek’s live vocals are as strong as their recording and backed by the solid fret work of Ryan Johnson. Hasek displayed a resemblance to Maynard James Keenan’s signature vocal style during Wasteland. 10 Years have the talent and are one lucky break away from hitting the top.
Nonpoint are a Wisconsin favorite and always generate great fan response, so it wasn’t a surprise that vocalist Elias Soriano had the crowd under his full command. Soriano, Ken MacMillan (bass) and Zach Broderick (guitar) spent more time on the amp stacks in front of the stage than they did on the stage itself. Every effort to grab the crowd with their energy worked in their favor. Soriano told fans to clutch their neighbors by their Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber t-shirts for those that weren’t jumping, literally, to his requests.
A scheduled 20-minute intermission absolutely killed the mood prior to Candlebox hitting the stage. The old-school act on the bill performed like a band that were celebrating their 20th anniversary together. Although their sound was tight and Kevin Martin’s vocals shined on their classic deep cuts You and Cover Me, the crowd dispersed with the break and they didn’t really get participation until a classic montage of Zeppelin, Ozzy, AC/DC and Van Halen brought them back before they closed with Far Behind.
Just under twenty bands were set to play Rock the Ranch and the sole female component, Lzzy Hale, demonstrated why Halestorm had an evening slot on the main stage. Lzzy’s voice resonated to the far reaches of the grounds with a soulfulness that would not be matched. Her powerful vocals and attached emotion form the core of Halestorm and her brother Arejay provides a bookend to that talent on drums. With Halestorm it seemed only appropriate that the weather took a turn for the worse and a brief downpour separated the weak from the strong but most braved the rain and stuck around until the end. A mud pit formed in place of a mosh pit and any semblance of restraint was briefly lost for those who slid, danced and wrestled in the sludge.
Saliva, Hinder and Five Finger Death Punch concluded the side stage activity, with their sets oscillating between Carnival of Madness artists. Although Saliva and Hinder brought their radio-friendly sound, courtesy of WIIL, they just did not match the energy or soul of Halestorm. Five Finger Death Punch, however, were the perfect exclamation point on the day. “Five Finger” “DEATH PUNCH” rants announced the band and, like they did at 2011 WJJO Band Camp, brought the crowd together for an 75-minutes worth of frenetic metal.
Neither stage had frontal flood lights which were more of a problem on the side stage. Aside from the suggestion of a water station (and an allowed sealed bottle to be carried onto the grounds), the addition of external lights would be welcomed; or, like Band Camp and Vans Warped, the show should end before dusk. Both Hinder and FFDP preferred to play at the edge of the stage, beyond the lights that were focused toward stage center. So both bands played in mostly darkness–they sounded great but were seen as silhouettes.
Carnival of Madness
Given the magnitude of 2010’s Carnival of Madness Lineup (Shinedown, Chevelle, Puddle of Mudd, Sevendust, and 10 Years), coupled with current UPROAR and Mayhem events simultaneously touring, it was expected that the 2011 Carnival of Madness lineup would not be on par with last year. For 2011 we have Theory of a Deadman, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Adelitas Way, and Emphatic which, in our opinion, was a downgrade at every spot in the lineup (excluding Alter Bridge). This is still a decent group of talent, it just cannot touch the previous tour.
Opening night in Twin Lakes, WI came off more as a dress rehearsal for the Carnival of Madness component of Rock the Ranch, however torrential downpours were to blame for a number of issues for the early schedule (Adelitas Way did not perform). Most attendees were slow in getting to the grounds due to the weather and the crowd felt non-existent until Black Stone Cherry took the stage a little after 3:30 pm. They charged up the listless crowd and did their job to provide a necessary spark. Their 2011 release, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, has charted their highest single to date in White Trash Millionaire.
Alter Bridge were definitely off their game. Somewhat of a disappointment having seen them previously own a House of Blues show earlier this year. Mark Tremonti (lead guitar), Brian Marshall (bass) and Scott Phillips (percussion) sounded tight and showed abundant energy, but Myles Kennedy’s vocals fell short. Myles shortcoming was compounded by mixing him a little louder than the instruments. Weak stage lighting didn’t help their stage show. Given that Myles has been touring virtually non-stop between Slash and Alter Bridge I’m hoping this effort was a sign of a slow start rather than fatigue.
Theory of a Deadman put on a good show with rich lighting. I’ve never been a huge fan of their music, but they had a solid performance and sounded tight and clean. About half of the Rock the Ranch crowd were steadfast to their position on the side stage waiting for FFDP to close out the night, but that did not stop many of them from dancing in place while singing along to Bad Girlfriend, Hate My Life, Bitch Came Back, and Clapton’s Cocaine.
Gear Used for this Shoot
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II body
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L II IS USM Lens
- Black Rapid Double Strap
- Think Tank Speed Freak V2.0 Waist Pack
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