Rock, Rock Till You Drop. Rock, Rock Never Stopped.
– review of day 1 of the festival at Jet Blue Park (Ft. Myers).
In Saturday’s early hours thousands of people descended upon Jet Blue Park to witness the 5th year of the Monster Energy Fort Rock Festival. What began as a small one-day festival in 2013 has quickly become the biggest rock and metal festival in the South Florida area, with fans driving from as far as Jacksonville and showing up at 8 in the morning in order to secure front row spots to see their favorite acts. Even in the sweltering heat that peaked in the low 90’s, the first day was filled with a motley mix of both younger fans that wanted to see their favorite bands, and die-hard rockers that were excited to see Def Leppard for the umpteenth time.
I arrived at the festival as one of the early bands, Beartooth, was getting ready to play. This festival was set up in a unique way, with both stages right next to each other, and one band setting up while the other one plays. This arrangement had some advantages, such as not having to wait for bands to set up in between sets and not having to walk between stages, which I definitely appreciated by the end of the day. Beartooth kicked off the set with a song from their first album, Aggressive and the crowd gathered in front of the stage went wild. I knew that they had a pretty big following, but I did not expect them to attract such a large crowd. Easily over a thousand people assembled to watch them play and they even managed to get an old-school, honest to god circle pit going in the crowd (a feat even Lamb of God didn’t manage to achieve last year). During their set hey played a few songs from their newest album, Disgusting, including their single The Lines, before finishing off with another older jam, Hated.
Next, was Motionless in White, which I had never seen before, but heard good things about. The band started to enter the stage, with the guitarists dressed in suits and the bassist dressed as a serial killer, complete with bloody pig mas, and began with their song A-M-E-R-I-C-A. After the tune was finished the singer commented how he was probably “The only pale person that enjoys the Florida sun,” which drew a chuckle from me considering there was a huge crowd standing in the oppressive heat to see him perform. The stage setup mimicked their Halloween dress, with Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins and fake melted candles spread throughout the stage. The band reminded me a lot of Marilyn Manson, from the clothing to the metal-with-a-twinge-of-industrial musical style.
After MiW finished their set, Nothing More began to play. This was another band that I had not heard about before so I was not sure what to expect. As their singer came on stage, looking like a young shirtless Glenn Danzig, they began to perform their most-well known single This is the Time (Ballast), which I did not realize was by this band. Along with a really cool light show considering how early they played, they also had some pretty interesting aspects of their stage show to liven things up. The singer brought out a second, stand along drum kit on stage, and proceeded to get into a choreographed drum-off with their drummer. He also used a strange, theremin-like instrument that responded to the motion of his hands with strange, high-pitched noises. Nothing More ended their set with the Salem (Burn the Witch) incorporating the instrument.
Up next was In This Moment, whom I had heard, but had never watched perform before. The stage that they were performing on was covered in red velvet as smoke machines began to fog up seemingly every inch of it. Appearing through the fog, the wicked cadre appeared, fully dressed in nun costumes and white masks with black crosses on them covering their faces. It reminded me of an act that played last year, Ghost. The singer, Maria Brink, appeared out of the fog, with two mask wearing back-up dancers in tow, and broke into their first song, Blood. Maria spent the entire show dancing, jumping and performing on stage, singing into a head worn microphone a la Madonna as the backup dancers twirled around her and the masked musicians played their instruments in the foggy background. The band performed a costume change halfway through the set, switching the cult-like masks for “serial killer nurse” costumes for River of Fire and the last couple of songs.
I took a break for the next two bands to rehydrate, meet up with some friends, and check out some of the food and merch tents set up at the festival. Along with the usual festival food offerings of chicken sticks and corn dogs, there were also a few specialty food tents, including a noodle stand and a bar-b-q shack. You could also find a wide variety of other music merchandise on sale, including some hard to find vinyl records from the bands playing that day, tour shirts, and a very cool looking poster.
After finally taking a break from the sun and getting some more water in my system, I went back to the stages just in time to watch Three Days Grace. It was my first time seeing them since the departure of their original vocalist, Adam Gontier, so I was curious to hear how they would sound with the new singer. Opening with a new song, I Am Machine, before launching into songs from earlier in their career, the new singer, Matt Walst, did a good job of imitating Adam’s voice, although he did use a second microphone with voice effects in order to sing a couple of songs. They powered through songs from their most famous album, One-X, and played a few from their self-titled album before closing the set with Riot.
Coming up next was the band Seether, who opened their show with their classic song Gasoline. It was around this point that many of the younger fans that came early to catch some of the smaller bands started to filter out and the older fans that came there to see Def Leppard started to pour in. Seether put on a great light show as they jammed through a smattering of songs from all over their catalogue, including hits Fake It and Remedy before ending the set with Let Me Down.
Papa Roach was up next, playing Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says over the loud speakers while they took the stage, blasting into …To Be Loved as soon as they got up there. They played through a wildly eclectic set that took them though every album they ever put out, with Jacoby belting his heart out to hits like Scars and Last Resort and Maria Brink from In This Moment coming out on stage to join them for the song Gravity. The band then launched into a surprising cover of Blur’s Song 2 and finished off their set with classics Getting Away With Murder and Between Angels and Insects.
Chevelle took the stage before the headliner, drawing a surprising large crowd of people. The three-piece, once consisting of three brothers, but now incorporating their brother in law as a full-time member, started off their set with the song Another Know It All from the album This Type Of Thinking Could Do Us In. Playing in front of a very interesting stage show, which featured lights on poles jutting from behind the drummer and lights that appeared to create spinning motions in the fog on stage, they jammed through a few new songs from their most recent albums before launching into hits I Get It, Send the Pain Below and The Red, before closing out their time with Face to the Floor.
Finally, the main event that everybody that remained had been waiting for was about to begin. After a few minutes of silence and a few final tests of the lights, the mighty Def Leppard began to play. Seeing as they are currently on tour, the band brought out their full production for the festival, including a giant LED screen that played behind the band. They kicked off the set with a new song, Let ‘s Go before launching into the classic Animal. After a few more new songs, which the frontman Joe Elliot thanked the crowd for sticking with, remarking “I know how difficult it is to listen to new stuff in these festival situations,” he launched into a barrage of hits aided by the visuals from their enormous LED wall. After a costume change and an amazing drum solo by the one and only Rick Allen, the band played Hysteria’s Pour Some Sugar on Me, which drove the crowd insanely wild. Then, following a short break, the band come out for a riveting two song encore, consisting of Rock of Ages and Photograph, from their most famous album, Pyromania, but even as the band got off the stage and the crew started taking the gear apart there were a crowd of people chanting for another encore. As I was walking to my car, it was still hard for me to believe that rock legends such as Def Leppard ended up playing here today, and as tired as I was from the show, I was excited to see what day two would hold.