Hard Rock Rockfest

Hard Rock Rockfest

featuring Marvelous 3, Eve6, Better Than Ezra, Silverchair, Live, the Offspring, Everlast, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Collective Soul, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Atlanta Motor Speedway • June 5, 1999

Note to self: In the future, avoid events where I might be hosed off.

Hard Rock Live and Oldsmobile came to Atlanta and set up their version of Wal-Mart rock and roll: 12 hours of bland, faceless, interchangeable pop culture that had 127,000 suburbians sweating like pigs. Going into this thing, I knew I didn’t like any of the bands (Marvelous 3, Eve6, Better Than Ezra, Silverchair, Live, Offspring, Everlast, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Collective Soul and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) but I was hoping to find some interesting tidbits of human nature to comment on, or maybe one of the bands would do a Bevis Frond cover or something. No such luck.

Every one of my darkest fears was confirmed:

The music, truly, truly sucked. With the exception of a few moments of the Bosstones where a horn player could actually be heard over the screech of guitars, all the music sounded EXACTLY the same. You could’ve had each band come on and play another group’s set and nobody would have noticed.

The sound was horrid. Gone are the days of an artist actually caring what they sound like. Granted, this was an outdoor event held on a racetrack (Atlanta Motor Speedway), but every band had the same high-end distorted guitar crunch, booming, ill-defined bass sludge, and screamed vocals.

The songs were all maddeningly identical. Does anyone write songs anymore? No. Just choruses. All you end up remembering from this stuff was the bridge. They become earworms of enraging proportions. Thankfully, I had a Chet Baker disc ready in the car for the ride home, or I would have wrestled with the chorus to “Fly” by Sugar Ray in my head for 48 miles.

The good points:

A combination of beer, video cameras, and breast implants makes for pure viewing pleasure. It’s sorta funny (in a sad sort of way) to watch a buxom lass respond to the “show us your tits” chant and actually do so. It’s really sad to watch the surrounding masses of horny young boys start feeling her up. And ultimately saddest, none of the women seemed to mind.

The media center rocked. Since this facility is host to NASCAR events, they are set up to handle working media. Nice, clean, air-conditioned room with monitors showing a live feed from the stage. It was kinda funny that midway through the day, the volume was turned off on the sets. Nobody minded.

The security and emergency services crews were top notch. From my position at stage left (near the gate to get back to the media center), I watched as EMT crews and security personnel handled victims of heat exhaustion, bad drugs, and cheap beer in a quick, low-key manner. They deserve kudos for a thankless job in scaldingly hot surroundings. I hope the PAS member taken out on a body board is okay. It’s just a matter of time at something like this before some wacked-out youth with a pierced tongue and a Korn backpack brings a gun and goes Rambo. Maybe I’m just too old, but these kids scare me — and I’m the father of a 12 year old.

Hearing Third Eye Blind cover “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” by Van Halen. Sums it up to me that the best musical moment was a cover song. Collective Soul managed to push the crowds buttons in a similar fashion by doing a spot-on version of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” These sort of bands really should rethink the wisdom of covering older artists. I mean, when “Crazy Train” sounds better than anything else you play, and gets a bigger crowd response, doesn’t that tell you something?

When Kurt Cobain wore the T-Shirt bearing the phrase “Corporate Rock Still Sucks” on the cover of Rolling Stone , it was a warning, in Kurt’s way of thinking, to watch out for the truly popular among us. It was something he feared for himself (while at the same time craving). In the end, it may have been a factor in his demise, maybe not. Bands like those at Rockfest become massively popular not because they mean something to most people — exactly the opposite. They triumph in their blandness. In standing for nothing at all, they have nothing that would offend anyone. Shouting “fuck” from the stage (which seems to be required learning in CorpRock 101) doesn’t make you a badass, it makes you look like a retard that can’t formulate a complete thought.

Every generation looks at the next and shakes their head. My parents didn’t understand the Pistols, my grandparents didn’t understand Presley. But in the end, these people made significant additions to our cultural fabric, and paved the way for entire new genres of expression. I really don’t picture Eve6 and their ilk doing the same. Can you?

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