Another year and another, Hard Rock Hell festival has come and gone. This year, their southern rock showcase C.R.O.W.S., had a superb line-up. I remember seeing the announcement last year and immediately wanting tickets. Not only were a few of my favourite bands playing but also it was an opportunity to see quite a few bands that I have never had the chance to watch live. This year was headed up by three massive acts, the Tasmanian guitar devil Rob Tognoni, country-rock icons Jason and the Scorchers and southern-rock legends The Kentucky Headhunters. That alone would be worth the price of admission but HRH didn't just leave it there, they stocked this weekend up with some of the finest in the outlaw and southern rock genre.
Now, because this weekend was so chalked up with excellent music, it was nearly impossible to watch every band and give them the proper time. So, this account will be everything that I saw over the weekend and I will try to give every act a fair review from what I saw over the weekend. Also, please bear in mind that I this will mostly be positive stuff as I was out to enjoy myself over the weekend and I don't want to shit over what were majoritively good memories. So, when I do have a criticism it's really only nitpicking due to my own point of view.
Starting off my weekend was a band that I've been waiting to see since the release of their latest records. Swamp Born Assassins took to the stage with pep and vigour. Fresh off of the release of their new album Dead Man's Train they launched into a killer set that was more than satisfying. Opening on the title track "Dead Man's Train" their set was a track by track gold standard on everything that this genre should be. Raw, commanding, loose and fun. Vocalist, Charlie Moffat was as charismatic as a frontman should be. Constantly engaging the crowd and bringing life to the music with his performance. Their music is this well-meshed mix up of hard rock, Americana and blues and it sounds so good live. The raw guitars, groovy bass and bluesy harmonica really set a tone and one that got the whole crowd moving and kept me entertained. There was a decent mix of their music across the set that would be a great introduction to their music if you had never heard them before. This was a corking way to start the day and definitely one of my highlights.
After that, I head upstairs to the second stage. to check out Revival Black who I had heard a lot of good things about. Let me say, this did not disappoint. They were incredibly entertaining as they kept the audience in the palm of their hands. Also, let me say, this room was packed with the crowd going completely nuts for them. I like their music, it was damn fun riff-rock with some great southern rock guitar licks and bass thumps. The vocalist put on a great show, hitting every note required and laying on the performance swag thick as he strutted across on the stage. I didn't catch much of the set but I saw enough for them to leave an impression. I would love to check them out more, so if they ever cropped up again at a gig that I was attending, I would try to check out a full set.
I stuck around the second stage for the next act, Sons of Liberty. Who had some serious hype around them and I had listened to some of their music online before the event. Now, this was incredibly entertaining. They were a whirlwind of southern style riffs and bluesy style rhythms. They just oozed charisma, their sheer presence on the stage was captivating and the music was instantly enjoyable. I will admit, that I knew little to nothing about them and this was my first time checking them out, I have to say that really got me. This felt like the kind of band that I would listen to as a kid. That old-school southern rock with blues elements, that take a very functional approach to their music. Nothing was flashy or fancy but damn it was effective.
Sadly though, I couldn't stick around for long, as this weekend was so jam-packed with talent and incredible acts, also I wanted to see as much as possible... I made my way downstairs for the London quintet that is Voodoo Six. Now, I've been wanting to catch these guys live for a long time and let me say, they did not disappoint. These rock n roll heavyweights don't hold back for a single second. Their bold tones and sharp well-executed riffs were fantastic. Vocalist, Nick Taylor-Stokes put on a clinic for impressive vocal abilities. Watching them and listening to their style, you can clearly tell that they are influenced by the classic rock bands of yesteryear. Although they put a modern spin on it, they fit in with the theme of the weekend, with their riffs having southern style likes and their groove really kept the set at a decent pace. Their songs are so incredibly earnest, songs like "Sink or Swim" and "Lead Me On" were highlights for me, because I do love those tune and I'm really happy I've got to hear these songs live. Just overall, an amazing set that I'm happy I got to see.
After a little bit of a break, also I needed a moment to take in everything I had seen to that point. I had to have a little watch of The Jupiter Blues. Now, I haven't had the chance to see them live until now, which I regret because these guys killed it on the second stage. Their music has that really bluesy stylist crunch to it. Frontman, Dale Orenda was constantly in motion and playing to the crowd, like any good frontman should. The band rock out all over the place and with slick riffs and fun bass grooves. Their music is direct and doesn't feel over-produced or too in your face, but their performance more than made up for this. It was fun hearing their songs live as they had such a different energy to them. When you see the band enjoying their time on stage, it makes you as an audience member want to enjoy yourself as well and The Jupiter Blues were rocking out in style and made sure everyone was having a good ol' time.
Once again, the pinch of time clashes hit as I had to make it downstairs for the ever-entertaining The Outlaw Orchestra. Last year, they killed it on the smaller stage and now they had a bigger stage, a bigger crowd and more time to play around with. They definitely had more of a command of the stage and their songs really hit harder this year with everyone singing along. You know, it's been really fun to follow their career up to now, having listened to all of their music and now seeing how far they have come, it's all just really impressive. The set was everything you would expect from these guys at this point. Their bluegrass infused rock n roll always hits the sweet spot, the twang of the banjo, the thump of the double bass and the crackle of the guitar always work so well for them. The set was a mix of old standards and new tunes, but the simple fact remained that everyone in the crowd was having a good time with the boys. Songs like "See You In Hell" and "Burn The House" got the crowd moving and singing and the new song was a nice treat and a cool indicator for what is to come on the new record. From head to toe, this set was another high point to what had been a really fun day. The swamp-stomping southern style didn't stop here but the boys in The Outlaw Orchestra certainly made their mark on the day.
One more trip to the second stage was to end the Saturday and that was to see the local lads in Stand Amongst Giants. This was a very different set for the day. A much slower paced and brooding set than the others. Which isn't a bad thing. They had their fans and I liked the big booming riffs and much heavier bass tones that came from this set. one thing that I will say is they didn't spend much time trying to butter up the crowd. Their set was a heavy doom riff-filled haze that was definitely entertaining to watch. I loved their sound which is why I stuck around for the majority of their set. I can't really explain it but that had a certain quality to them that made me want to keep watching everything they did. They had a silent charisma about them that really made them an interesting band to watch.
My god this felt like such a long day but I was enjoying myself way too much to home at this point. So, it was back onto the mainstage for the remainder of the night. Already into their set by the time I got there, the excellent Pig Iron. Their style was quite interesting to listen to. They had this twang to their sound that catches your ear in the right way, especially if you listen to a lot of country music. That southern style twang and rough sounding guitar mixed with the harmonica blasting away, my god it sounds so good. All I can say is that I was impressed, for a band that I have barely listened to before this set and after this performance, they definitely made a fan out of me. I'll admit the only song I knew of theirs in this set was "Wildcat Birdhead" however I came out of this set wanting to know more about them, which I guess is the sign of a decent set.
When it comes to personality and stage presence, I think these guys won the day. Also, I think these guys got the liveliest crowd of the day too. Jason And The Scorchers just completely blew me away here. The charisma of Jason Ringenberg coupled with the outstanding musicianship of Warner E. Hodges, Al Collins and Pontus Snibb and you have a recipe for an enjoyable night. Ringenberg played to the crowd beautifully, cracking jokes, sharing anecdotes and mostly being a very genuine and earnest man throughout. However, when it came time to rock the house these guys just killed it. Their countrified rock music was just so entertaining to listen to and they were such an exciting band to see play live that you couldn't help but get swept up in the music romp that is their set! I could just list off the setlist and my reaction to each song but this blog is long enough as it is. Let's just say that they nailed it and move on.
Lastly, let's talk about the highlight of the day for me. A band that I've been listening to since I was a little kid and until this night had never had the chance to see them live. Yes, it was finally time to see The Kentucky Headhunters. The godfathers of southern rock and let me say this right now, they did not disappoint. Just wall to wall, pure A-grade material. Be it their own songs or covers they just hit the nail on the head every moment of this set. They just made it look so damn easy and effortless. With Greg Martin and Doug Phelps switching between vocal duties throughout the set you got a nice mix of vocal styles as both of them brought something different to the plate. Then you have the excellent guitar work of Greg Martin and Richard Young which was on another level. Like I said they just made it look so effortless as they busted out riff after riff and solo after solo. It was all so glorious. Then how can you talk about this band without talking about Fred Young on drums? The guy was a machine, rocking out all night and he ever got a few minutes worth of a drum solo to himself and damn, he could put drummers half his age to shame. This was what I'd been waiting for for so long. A chance to see these guy rock the house and they brought their A-game to this show. Another, bucket list band has been thoroughly checked off for me here.
So, just like that Saturday was over and what a jam-packed day that was. I got to see so much even though I was late to the festival itself. Once again, Hard Rock Hell puts on an outstanding day of music. However, it ait over yet. I still have all of Sunday to cover which will follow this blog.