It has become a rite of passage that every September a pilgrimage is made to the Grand Casino Amphitheater in Hinckley, Minnesota for a few days rock-n-roll, old school style. This is a festival for the people that grew up in the MTV era where music videos dropped wild and flamboyant rock stars right into your living room. RockTember celebrates a once in lifetime generation of music.
Turning on the Marshall stacks first was Vain. The band is lead by singer Davy Vain and was formed in 1986. They released a great record called ‘No Respect’ in 1989 but were quickly consumed by the musical climate shift. They have continued to record through the years and released ‘Rolling With The Punches’ in 2017. Joining Davy on stage was Tommy Rickard (drums), Ashley Mitchell (bass) and Joel Proto and Cat Casino on guitars. The barefooted and energetic singer worked the crowd and was all over the stage as they leaned heavily on that debut album for material. Some of the songs included the opener “Secrets” along with “Icy”, “1000 Degrees”, and the title track. The band sounded good throughout the set and closed with their biggest hit “Beat The Bullet”.
The voice of Mr. Big, Eric Martin, followed Vain. He brought with him a stellar backing band that consisted of Steve Brown (guitar) and P.J. Farley (bass) from Trixter and Joey Cassata (drums) from the criminally overlooked ZO2. Eric is real pro and his voice was, as usual, perfect. The set was heavy with Mr. Big material as expected with the band opening with “Wind Me Up”. The band blazed through “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (Electric Drill Song)”, “Alive And Kickin”, “Just Take My Heart”, and “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”. A couple of ballads that included “Wild World” and the hit “To Be With You” had people singing right along. Steve Brown took the microphone for some Trixter classics that included “One In Million” and “Give It To Me Good”. P.J. took on guitar and vocal duties for a song off his solo record called “You’d Stick Out”. A highlight for me was “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble” from Mr. Big’s newest album ‘Defying Gravity’. It was a very entertaining set that could have went on for another hour if I had my say.
Great White was a late addition to the festival as Y&T had to unfortunately cancel their appearance. The band has made all the musical news outlets with the recent singer replacement that saw Terry Ilous exiting and Mitch Malloy joining. It was clear immediately that Malloy plays the part of a frontman perfectly. He interacted with his bandmates and played to the crowd throughout the set, which infused some energy into this unit. The reality is there is only one true singer for this band and it’s Jack Russell. That’s not a knock on anyone else but Jack’s voice along with guitarist Mark Kendall created the soul that is Great White. The band played its staple of hits that included “Lady Red Light”, “Desert Moon”, “Save Your Love”, and “Mista Bone”. You can’t have a Great White show without “Rock Me” and “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and those two songs closed the curtain on an enjoyable show.
Day one ended with a bruising performance from Skid Row. From the opening note of “Slave To The Grind” it was clear that is was a different breed of metal from what we had earlier. Stepping into the hot seat, that is the Skid Row vocalist role, is ZP Theart. There will be people that will never accept anything but Sebastian Bach in that role and it’s a tough position to be in. I’ve seen ZP three times and each time he delivered a great performance. He can give you the grit that a song like “Monkey Business” calls for but also the clean melodic tone that “I Remember You” needs. I like the fit and for now, it seems to be the direction that band is happy with. Flanking each side of ZP were guitarists Snake Sabo and Scotti Hill. Rachel Bolan on bass and drummer Rob Hammersmith rounded out the line-up. This is band that really brings it to you live. The sonic thunder ripped through the amphitheater as “Piece Of Me”, “Big Guns”, and “Living On Chain Gang” was brought to life on stage. Bolan took the microphone for the cover “Psycho Therapy” and the band followed with “Quicksand Jesus” and “Monkey Business”. The madness was brought to a close with the anthem “Youth Gone Wild” which always sounds huge and fresh every time that chorus hits you in the chest. Skid Row slammed the door shut on day one with day two waiting in the wings.