Late morning on May 19th, this 11th edition of Rock On the Range got off to a glorious start. The weather appeared lovely. The sun was out, it was hot and humid, and fans were queued up in multiple lines at the entry gates that coiled their way back through the parking lot 100s of people deep.
There were three stages featuring music at ROTR, along with a separate comedy tent and an assortment of concessions on either side of MAPFRE Stadium set up around the side stages. There was an autograph/fan experience area and FYE shopping area, along with a bevvy of merchandise and food and drink. ROTR was centered around the MAPFRE Stadium Monster Mainstage, with the Bud Light Stage and the Zippo Stage adorning either side of the stadium. Set times on those two side stages would start off at the same times – so fans would have to decide to see one band or the other on those stages. Or be prepared to leave halfway through a set and go see what was happening on the other side of the grounds and split the performances. It made for some tough choices, but the challenge of having too many great bands to see is a good problem to have.
Things went off without a hitch until about 3pm. While watching Red Fang perform, as their third song came to an end, someone came out on stage and yelled something into Aaron Beam’s ear. He had a look of disbelief on his face and he quickly said something aloud to the crowd about bad weather coming, that they were being told to vacate the stage, and that he hoped to see fans in Columbus again soon. Shortly after this happened, a repeated message started blaring over the stadium PA system telling everyone to evacuate the venue and seek shelter. Many fans hung back drinking beer and shaking their heads in disbelief, but all were eventually herded out of the venue. Sure enough, the skies began to darken, and by 5:00 pm, Columbus Ohio was treated to a torrential downpour of such frightening intensity it flooded out some of the surrounding highways.
This was a confusing time. As the rain really got going, cars steadily left the parking lots, an air of defeat splashing out behind their tire’s wakes through the massive puddles forming everywhere. People talked amongst each other through the tops of their windows, rolled down an inch or two to allow for conversation while staying dry. “Any idea what’s going on? Will bands still play? When will they let us back in?” Rock On the Range promoters and staff were working diligently behind the scenes, monitoring the storm cell, updating their social feeds online, and re-jigging the set times and the Rock On the Range mobile APP. Once the rain ended, everyone went to the gates to await being let back into MAPFRE Stadium. The gates opened, and fans were allowed entry with only a scan of their wristbands – no security pat-down. Music commenced again at 7:00 pm – with most bands still to perform included – they would just perform shorter sets.
On the main stage, guitar goddess Nita Strauss performed “The Star Spangled Banner” before Of Mice And Men took the Monster Main Stage. Sirius XM Liquid Metal personality Jose Mangin introduced Gojira on the Bud Light Stage. He disclosed that Gojira had trepidations about playing, and that he (in his patented enthusiastic-for-all-things-metal voice) professed that “They HAD to perform. This crowd needs you to play.” And play they did. A sadly shorter set, under a truncated light show, yes. But it was still bloody amazing. Center stage on the Monster Main Stage, Chevelle and Live performed lively sets of their vastly different styles of material. Over on the Zippo Stage, the new blood was blowing younger fans minds – Motionless In White and Pierce the Veil both delivered popular performances to a wedged crowd of many stoic music fans determined to not the foul weather rain on their ROTR parade.
From an organizational standpoint, I can’t imagine a worse day for a concert promoter. The lead singer of the first day’s headlining band takes his life hours beforehand, and a four-hour weather delay with a venue evacuation adds up to a pretty dismal day indeed. Promoters AEG Presents managed to make lemonade out of the day regardless, getting fans back into the venue and bands back in front of them as quickly as possible, seeking an extension from the city to perform later than the allotted curfew so bands could still perform. Some nicely assembled film footage of Cornell / Soundgarden followed by two acoustic Soundgarden songs (performed by Corey Taylor) ended the first night at close to 1am.
Line-up Day One:
Of Mice & Men
Motionless in White
Pierce The Veil