I should have known that Rockfest 13 would be a bit different at this show right from the start. The email was from CBS Radio, explaining that we had to load our amps on stage at 9:30am at Columbia Meadows. This was so that Kid Rock would have enough time to prepare his show. Who asks you to set up for a show that early in the morning? Turns out that setting up for Kid Rock is a seriously time consuming task.
So we roll into the meadows staging area, sucking on coffee mugs and having a new and different wristband strapped to us every 5 minutes. "This is for the food tent" they say, and then "this is for the VIP tent" and then "this says your'e over 21" and on and on.
The array of vehicles that come rumbling across the grass and up behind the stage is wild and impressive. It makes me realize why I love rock so very much. Beat up old Ford vans, rented RVs, giant coaches with ten foot tall billboard paintings of Kid Rock, semi trucks, box vans, limousines and golf carts are negotiating each other jostling for position. They represent everything from local unsigned bands, wandering haplessly across the field rubbing their red eyes, to the handlers of the stars who are all holding a cell phone to one ear and a walkie-talkie to the other.
I can imagine that if you were a very religious person it would be a thrill to watch the mad clamor of people working to set up a giant revival. Trucks and trusses everywhere, trailer offices acting like air-traffic control towers, catering tents spilling out roadies in droves with muffins and tangles of ID badges hanging off of them like gangster jewelry. Knowing that they are all working these insane hours and building something enormous so that thousands of people can come and feel the power of the gospel. I know it's corny and laugh all you want, it's okay, but I feel like that about rock shows. Seeing all those people pouring themselves into building this stage, this sound system, getting all those drum kits, turntables, guitar amps and microphones in place, it's nearly biblical in scale. And if you kneel at the altar of music you really appreciate the passion that everyone involved has for making it happen.
Once it's all declared "ready" they open the gates and the people start crowding in.
DJs are rolling all over the place in golf carts with mobile broadcasting equipment and interviewing anyone they recognize. The smell of all the different food vendors kitchens crosses on the breeze. The giant sound system starts pumping The Raconteurs over all our heads and to the hills beyond.
My friend Travis is the stage manager for Rockfest and he is sprinting from place to place making sure all the bands are ready and on time. He is a wonder to watch, wildly talented and clearly in his element. He gets us on and performing right on time. There is a contingent of people there who know Floater. They have the delicate job of reassuring everyone else there that even though we are not Atreyu, Five Finger Death Punch or Kid Rock they might enjoy us. All too soon our time is up and Travis is getting the next band out there and switched on. He stands by me off stage for a moment and we chat about the security that are coming with Kid Rock.
"They are some seriously scary biker dudes," he tells me, "so we're all keeping a low profile."
It turns out that Run, of Run-DMC fame, is coming out with Kid Rock and he has a contingent of his own security people. They have strict orders not to allow anyone near him. Marconi steps away from his KUFO duties to tell me how old school that is. I can only imagine how many fans, threats, photographers and autograph hounds he has to deal with every day.
As I'm standing there with Travis chatting, Kid Rock's band takes the stage. Kid Rock and Run stand by us for a moment, waiting to go on. Run looks at me and gives me enough of a stink eye that his security step up, towering over me, and demand that I tell them who I am.
I look around and realize that there is not a soul anywhere on the side of the stage. I'm totally out of my element.
I'm sure you've all seen the gallery of folks who are usually milling around off stage at big shows. Sound engineers, band girlfriends, managers, radio personalities, little kids, whoever, all watching the show from the sides. That's what I expected. So looking around and seeing nobody is a bit like looking around at the mall and not seeing a soul. It feels like you've stepped into a David Lynch film. Security is clearly working.
I tell them that I'm waiting to get my bass amp. This seems to be just barely satisfactory, so I'm not crushed, for the moment at least. Run looks deeply suspicious, but goes on stage anyway. I watch the show for a while in the eerie solitude. Then, more than a little weirded out, I slowly and carefully make my way out to the lawn to get a beer.
Out on the grass I run into Marconi again and he asks me, eyes glowing with astonishment, "Were you just by the stage? How did you DO that?"
Once the concert was over and the crowds had gone home most of the working crew, who had shown up and started working 13 hours ago, got to work tearing everything down. I left wondering if Run, now an actual reverend, still thinks it feels like a spiritual revival, or perhaps something a bit more earthly.
Photo courtesy of Floater. Post updated 9/26.