While the Country Fever Festival in Pryor, OK, always seemed like a natural fit, even if held in a slightly unlikely locale, the idea of a rock festival held at the same grounds was met with a degree of hushed cynicism. After all, during the past five years, the number of music festivals has exploded nationwide, with more being added (or subtracted) each year. Perhaps as a response to that trend, Rocklahoma's organizers found their own niche (80s arena rock and hair metal) for last year's inaugural festival. It was met with enthusiasm from fans.
While some local critics embraced the direction of the festival whole heartedly, I remained skeptical. After all, Rocklahoma appeared to have covered just about every major band from the period, so just how would the festival move forward without using the same groups and becoming repetitive. Once this year's lineup was announced, all fears were quelled. Sure, there are a few overlapping names from last year, but this year's bill not only lives up to the inaugural effort, but in many ways surpasses it.
Although many casual fans of the genre may not recognize some of the names, old school party rock fans are rejoicing and even the casual fans wake up once they hear a familiar song. In looking closer at the festival, that's what Rocklahoma is really all about.
Building Lasting Relationships
In speaking with Fred Coury of Cinderella a few weeks ago, he had this take on the festival and the band's planned summer tour: "It's not really about the songs, because a lot of people don't know the lyrics, it's more about people remembering where they were or what they were doing when they first heard the song. As I see it, we're kind of like memory merchants."
"When we're playing, many times I can see the light come on for people," Coury continued. "They kind of go 'Oh, I remember this one' and immediately their faces change and they know exactly where they were when they heard the song before--that's the joy of it all for me."
Coury also admitted that festivals are usually a nightmare for bands (referring to abbreviated sound checks and the hurried pace of the event).
"But this is cool because we're bringing in our entire package, so it's just another stop on the tour," he said.
Since I spoke with Coury, Cinderella's entire tour has been scrapped (including the planned Rocklahoma appearance) due to throat problems for lead vocalist Tom Keifer. There was another reason the band was looking forward to this years festival, however, as Coury admitted it was great to see a lot of old friends and faces all in the same place. When asked, he even admitted to looking forward to seeing Queensryche (performing Operation Mindcrime in its entirety on Sunday night) and Kix on Saturday.
For some bands, Rocklahoma is even more than just a gathering of old friends, it's a time to rebuild relationships or mends fences and see what the future may hold in store. Just a couple of cases in point are Friday night's co-headliners Extreme and Triumph.
In the case of Extreme, the Boston-based brothers in arms have reformed and have a new album completed and ready for release later this summer. For them, Rocklahoma is something of a warm-up show (albeit a pretty big warm up) for its coming tour.
In anticipation of the coming festival and impending tour, I got a chance to peak briefly with guitarist Nuno Bettencourt and vocalist Gary Cherone.
While Bettencourt politely defaulted to referring to Cherone's other projects (i.e. Van Halen, Tribe of Judah and a solo album) during Extreme's hiatus, he laughed when his multiple projects (solo album, Mourning Widows, Satellite Party) were brought up, chuckling "Yeah, I guess I've kept myself busy..."
Both gentlemen agreed, however, that there is a special chemistry between the members of the band and everyone is glad to be working together again. Cherone equated it with the process of growing up: "It's kind of like leaving home and going to college or going off to live your own life. Sometimes you have to experience other things to realize what you've got and that the grass isn't always greener elsewhere."
Even the new CD's title, Saudedes de Rock, is indicative of the band's renewed sense of purpose and solidarity. "Saudedes," Bettencourt explained, "is a Portuguese word meaning a desire or yearning--a yearning for something more..."
In turn, the album and tour represent the band's desire to come together and do what they know and do best, and Rocklahoma will essentially be the debut of the reunited band and its new material.
An even bigger reunion is planned to cap off Friday night, however, as one of the biggest live acts of the late 70s and early 80s, Triumph, takes the stage for one of only two appearances this year.
For old fans of the band, it's well known that the band splintered acrimoniously when Rik Emmett left the band in 1988. Although Gil Moore and Mike Levine carried on a few more years with fellow Canadian Phil X, the band was put to rest in 1993 with little hope for a reunion.
It's something of a surprise (and quite a coup for festival organizers), then that Triumph is appearing at this year's Rocklahoma event on Friday evening. In speaking with bassist/keyboardist Mike Levine, however, he revealed that this appearance is but a glimpse of more to come.
Levine admitted, albeit in politely veiled references, that there was still some bad blood and hurt feelings within the band after being approached by an outside promoter to make a band appearance for the group's induction into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. During the course of time, however, all members were convinced to meet together to discuss the possibility of performing together for the ceremony.
When it was announced that the band would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) this past April, buzz for another reunion performance hit its quell. Although the band declined to perform at the Juno's, promoters continued to press the band for a reunion tour.
Levine revealed that the band members were apprehensive about committing to a full tour at this point. "After all, if you book 40 to 80 dates and it all falls apart after the first two or three, that's a lot of money lost," he said. "We told management to book us for a couple of big festival shows and we'd see how it worked out and go from there. We just wanted to see if we could make this work without wanting to kill each other."
While there was still a bit of apprehension going into rehearsals, Levine admitted that the rust fell away pretty quickly and spirits were pretty high going into the first show at Sweden Rock in June. The performance went great and the members are all getting along so well, however, that Levine revealed that the band is planning on adding a few more songs for the Rocklahoma performance and a full blown Triumph tour for 2009 is nearly a foregone conclusion at this point.
"I think it's safe to say there will be a full tour in 2009, at this point," Levine said. "We've already met with the biggest pyro and special effects company in the world and we've even got our old lighting director on board."
Although the band won't have its own staging with it for Rocklahoma, you can still expect a grand spectacle. After all, "Triumph starts big and only gets bigger," Levine laughed with me when discussing the scale of the future tour and the band's reputation for live performances.
Although the return of Triumph is one of the most anticipated performances of the festival, it's far from all that's worth looking forward to. With 31 headliners scheduled for the main stage during four days (Thursday thru Sunday, July 10-13) and an additional four scheduled for Wednesday evening's kickoff, there's a little bit of everything 80s planned for rock fans that will be arriving from all over the US, thanks to advertising co-ops with VH1 and XM radio.
Additional weekend highlights include Armored Saint, Living Colour and Night Ranger on Friday; Trixter, Warrant, Lynch Mob and Lita Ford's first live show in 15 years on Saturday; and Queensryche, Tesla and legendary rock guitarist Ace Frehley on Sunday. Tickets are still available and more information, including a full list of bands and scheduled performance times can be found online at wwww.rock.feverfest.com.
If you've been looking for an excuse to revisit your past or want to see what you missed in the 80s, this is your chance to do just that with Rocklahoma and its band of "memory merchants" in Pryor, Oklahoma, this weekend.
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