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Rock on the Range festival: Day One

Rock on the Range @ Columbus Crew Stadium May 16, 2014

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The long anticipated return of America's largest rock festival returned to Columbus, OH yesterday. The "Happy Rock on the Range Day" texts started pouring in early and ROTR littered my Facebook news feed for the better part of the day. It's a celebration!

Guns N' Roses live performance
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The first band to grace the Jagermeister stage was Kill Devil Hill. This is a band that I'd been wanting to see for awhile. I'd heard good things about them on That Metal Show and they feature former Pantera bass player Rex Brown and renowned drummer Vinnie Appice. They only managed to get four songs into their abbreviated set, but they kicked the festival off in style with "No Way Out"; "Crown of Thorns"; and "War Machine". It was their closer, however, that was mind blowing. The metal heads were blown away by the mini Pantera reunion that took place as Phil Anselmo came on stage and the band played a blistering rendition of "Mouth For War".

From there I went to the Ernie Ball stage to check out Kyng. I'd seen these guys before with Megadeth and thought that their live performance struggled. They had the passion, though, so I felt that they deserved a second chance. I'm glad that I gave them another go 'round, because this three piece from California was much better this time. Their stage presence was just so much more mature and professional than the first time I saw them. They've gone from new faces to seasoned vets in the year and half that had passed.

The first band to grace the Monster Energy main stage was Redlight King. I've never been a huge fan, but they had a pretty sizable crowd so I got lunch and sat down and checked them out. They were really good, too. I'm a huge fan of musicianship and I thought they had a great drum solo in their set. Their hits "Born to Rise" and "Bullet in My Hand" got the best crowd reaction.

Black Stone Cherry were next on the main stage so I stayed exactly where I was at to catch them. They are one of my favorite modern day rock bands and there was no way that I was going to miss them. Their new album, Magic Mountain, is currently tearing up the charts and has been getting lots of love everywhere. The Kentucky group sounded great as always. The only thing is that their festival sets always leave you unsatisfied because they've got so much good music that has to be neglected to make room for the hits. BSC's stellar live sound was represented well, though, by the following tracks: "Maybe Someday"; "Me and Mary Jane"; "In My Blood"; "Blind Man"; "Fiesta del Fuego"; "White Trash Millionaire"; "Blame it on the Boom Boom"; and set closer "Lonely Train".

I remained at the main stage to watch Killswitch Engage, the metal band from Massachusetts who has never let me down in concert. These guys just come out and melt faces with their heavy guitars. I will admit, that this might be the first time that I've seen them where Adam wasn't wearing a blowup doll around his neck. Even so, they packed the floor and played a very heavy set. "Always"; "My Last Serenade"; and "My Curse" all went over very well with the crowd, but it was their closing cover of Dio's "Holy Diver" that sent the place into a frenzy! I love that cover!

Like I said earlier, I love pure musicianship. There was no way that I was going to miss Reignwolf. I honestly am not real familiar with their music, but I watched some of his videos on YouTube prior to the festival and knew that I had to check them out. Anybody that wasted their time going to watch hot chicks pretend to be musicians (Butcher Babies) instead of this, truly missed out. Think Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. That is the same vibe that these guys put on stage. I know that that is a very, very bold statement. It isn't an exaggeration, though. I mean any band that features a guy that not only plays bad ass guitar but is sitting behind the drum kit pounding away at the same time gets my love. Ridiculously amazing. Check this band out right now!

Ufortunately, my lone low light of the day came next on the main stage. I like Black Label Society. I think Zakk Wylde is tremendously talented. I love the new record, Catacombs of the Black Vatican. For whatever reason, though, I don't feel that their live performance did them justice. The sound mix wasn't great. Zakk sounded as good as I expected him to, so maybe it was the songs. I don't really know and can't put my finger on it but their performance was just flat to me.

After that it was time to go to the second stage to check out the classic funk metal group Living Colour. I went to see them and had absolutely no expectations. I was rewarded with by far the most pleasant surprise of the festival so far. These guys were amazing. They were right at home in Columbus and added some much needed funky, jazzy soul to a festival that tends to be dominated by the blues. They played "Middle Man"; "Desperate People"; and "Go Away" before the crowd absolutely erupted when they heard the opening lick to "Cult of Personality". They followed that up with"Time's Up" and a mean rendition of "Kick out the Jams". If James Brown met metal, you'd have what these guys put on stage. Fantastic.

Seether was next on the main stage, and as always, they were flawless. I've never seen them play a bad live show. They always seem to build their set list perfectly and they are rewarded with great crowd reaction. There really isn't a lot to say about their set because it was the perfectly solid set that I expected it to be.

Their set list was: "Gasoline"; "Fine Again"; "Broken"; "Words as Weapons"; "Rise Above This"; "Tonight"; "Country Song"; "Fake It"; and "Remedy".

I went back out to the second stage to catch the Ernie Ball headliner; Down. This is Phil Anslemo's non Pantera band and they put on a good show as you would expect from "The Kid". They ripped through "Eyes of the South"; "Losing All"; "We Knew Him Well"; "Lifer"; and "Hail the Leaf". As Phil did at the beginning of the day for Kill Devil Hill, Rex Brown joined Down on stage and performed "Stone the Crow" with them. Down closed their set with "Bury Me in Smoke", where they were joined on stage by Living Colour.

Staind took the main stage next and sounded great. They don't offer a whole lot in the sense of a stage show, but their sound is flawless. Aaron Lewis owned the stage and the band played through their bevy of hits. Lewis seemed a little moody but other than that their show was superb.

The moment we all had been waiting for finally arrived and Guns N' Roses hit the stage at 9:30 to close the festival. For those of you unaware; GNR was on time! They absolutely blew me away. There were plenty of haters, especially the group of twenty somethings that were one row behind me in the stands. They took douchebaggery to an entirely new level, so much so that I left my seat and went onto the floor to be with those who could really appreciate the legendary performance that was taking place before our eyes. By time their set was over, I had made it to within about twenty five feet of the stage, which was great.

The things that these kids just don't understand is the professionalism that a headlining act has to have. You can't have bands that don't have a full catalog of music close out a major festival. Guns N' Roses brought their full arsenal and played until just past midnight. Two and a half hours. No other band at the festival has that kind of catalog to play on. Sorry punks, but that's just the truth of it.

Axl and the rest of the band for that matter, got stronger as the performance went on. They took headliner to a whole new height for the festival. I was skeptical before the show but can honestly say that that was by far the best headlining set that Rock on the Range has had in eight years to date.

Guns N' Roses Set List

1. Chinese Democracy

2. Welcome to the Jungle

3. It's So Easy

4. Mr. Brownstone

5. Estranged

6. Rocket Queen

7. Better

8. *Richard Fortus guitar solo*

9. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)

10. This I Love

11. Holidays in the Sun (Sex Pistols cover)

12. *Dizzy Reed piano solo*

13. Catcher in the Rye

14. You Could Be Mine

15. *DJ Ashba guitar solo*

16. Sweet Child O' Mine

17. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin cover jam; no vocals)

18. November Rain

19. Abnormal

20. Don't Cry

21. Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)

22. Civil War

23. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan cover)

24. Nightrain

*Encore*

25. Patience

26. Used to Love Her

27. The Seeker (The Who cover)

28. Paradise City