“Everyone knows rock ‘n roll attained perfection in 1974. It's a scientific fact.” While I've yet to see any hard evidence or data to support Homer Simpsons’ claim, River City Rockfest at AT&T Center this past Memorial Day weekend made a strong case for heavy music reigning supreme.
The single day festival attracted tens of thousands through the gates of the arena and kept the steamroller of heavy metal rolling through San Antonio like the juggernaut it’s always been.
This years’ lineup was across the spectrum with thrash, classic, nu, and speed metal bands, including rock legends like Nikki Sixx and Dave Mustaine. Yet, what completed the spectrum of metal wasn’t just the historical names or established subgenres, but the regional and local groups like The Sword, Donella Drive and The Heroine.
Scorpions formed in 1965 in Hanover, Germany at a time when the term “heavy metal” was yet to be fully defined. In a year full of tributes and remembrances of musical talent we’ve lost, Scorpions' energetic performance was more than welcomed. The band and lead singer Klaus Meine sounded great, looked relatively healthy and in good spirits (as opposed to last year's fest with Scott Weiland looking stiff and disconnected). They hammered out hits like “Still Loving You” and "No One Like You" and closed with "Rock You Like A Hurricane." It was a great set even without "Wind of Change."
Megadeth wasn’t fucking around. At 6 p.m. on the dot, the lights and screens on the stage kicked on and the legendary thrash metal band took the stage. It's been over 20 years since Countdown to Extinction came out and “Symphony of Destruction” was just as heavy and badass as ever. “It's fucking hot out here isn’t it??” noted Dave Mustaine and he was right. Sunday afternoon registered a high of 90°, but on the black top pavement of the AT&T Center, the heat index must have reached near 100°. It only made sense to pound out “Sweating Bullets” on a day like the unofficial beginning of summer. You could hear Mustaine's voice has been maintained over the years as he sang “Trust” off of Cryptic Writings and sounded the way only he can.
Austin’s The Sword brought a flavor of rock that’s more of a '70s stoner metal. Their harmonizing guitars and lack of stage antics or production was a break from the in-your-face bands all day.
DevilDriver was LOUD. Between songs, lead singer Dez Fafara talked about the band's recent success of, "Trust No One," without getting radio play, which was followed by the crowd reaction of “FUCK THE RADIO!!”
Hellzapoppin', a side show stage with a Rob Zombie-esque atmosphere, was held on the grounds opposite the main stages. The shaded metal pavilion housed a stage of fire breathers and sword swallowers as well as art work by various artists including body painting by Beyond The Canvas.
This year's River City Rockfest was very much like 2015's. An underwhelming move partly because of missing improvements like the positioning of the 3rd stage. The smaller Fan Dual Stage was situated in a way where the sound of the main stage over powered and interfered enough to delay performances on it.
A highlight of the day was a pair of drum solos, one by Bullet for My Valentine and one by the Scorpions' drummer. Not extended drum solos in the middle of a song, no. These were straight-up solos in between songs and the rapid-fire double kick drums sent tsunamis of bass through the crowd, it was amazing.
The lead singer of Hellyeah and Mudvayne, Chad Gray, at one point between songs took pause for a second: “This is a celebration! Look around you," Gray said. "This is the best heavy metal community in your region, take a look at your brothers and sisters right now and know that they have your fucking back.”
There is no denying metal and heavy music are a tradition in San Antonio. The self-proclaimed "Heavy Metal Capital of the World,” might be a tad presumptuous, but judging from every single band talking about loving SA from the stage at River City Rockfest, we sure as hell make metal feel right at home.
all photos by Ricardo Romero