The great rock ‘n’ roll festival

Columbus’ Rock on the Range is worth the trip

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Black Label Society will perform at this year’s Rock on the Range; photo: Justin Reich

Some 60 years after the birth of rock ‘n’ roll music, there seems to be more musical categories and subgenres than there are strains of the common cold. In fact, the term “rock ‘n’ roll” has become cliche to the point of being an antiquated concept. But not everyone in the good ol’ US of A feels that way – actually, 20,000 or so people, sometimes referred to as “Rangers,” hold on to rock ‘n’ roll as they descend upon the Ohio state capital for the annual Rock on the Range music extravaganza that takes place at Columbus Crew Stadium every May. And Friday, May 16 through Sunday, May 18 will mark the eighth edition of this continually growing rock ‘n’ roll festival that has quickly become one of the biggest in the entire country each year.

It all started modestly enough. About nine years ago Gary Spivack, now the president of Rockhouse Presents and a founder of Right Arm Entertainment, a leading independent promoter of live music all over the United States, brainstormed an idea for the best rock ‘n’ roll festival for the people who love it most. That brainstorm took Spivack and his partners to the Buckeye State.

“Myself and my partner Danny Wimmer thought, ‘Where is the great American rock ‘n’ roll festival?,’” Spivack said. “There’s some great festivals out there like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, but who’s serving the rock fan? Not necessarily metal or punk or emo but the fan who likes straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. We decided not to do it in a big market like Los Angeles, and instead bring it to the people who like rock the most – that brought us to the Ohio Valley. It’s a great epicenter, as there are so many great towns that love rock ‘n’ roll between Cleveland and Detroit and Cincinnati and Toledo and Dayton, and Columbus is right in the middle. It’s the perfect place for a major rock festival.”

Apparently Spivack and Wimmer’s suspicions have been accurate. Rock on the Range has grown from a one-day, one-shot deal back in 2007 to the full blown multi-day rock festival it is today. Spread across three full days of music beginning at high noon Friday and lasting until 11 p.m. Sunday, Columbus Crew Stadium will once again host dozens of rock fans’ favorite bands – many of whom will be making their ROTR debut this year.

And the star power of this year’s fest is a “who’s who” of some of the biggest rock bands in the world. Guns n’ Roses, Slayer, Avenged Sevenfold, Kid Rock and Black Label Society will share the three-stage extravaganza with mainstays such as Suicidal Tendencies, Down and Living Colour and burgeoning rock acts such as Lacuna Coil, Mastodon and Kvelertak. From classic rock to old school metal to thrash to modern rock radio fare, Rock on the Range serves up an array of styles to appeal to almost any fan of rock music, all in one place. But as Spivack confided, it hasn’t always been so easy to attract the musical star power the festival does today.

“When we started out, we pretty much had to get on our hands and knees and beg for people to play because we had to prove ourselves,” Spivack said. “Now that Rock on the Range is so proven, [the bands playing] are a combination of what we want and what bands come to us. It’s a staple for bands looking to anchor a tour or support the release of an album. It’s becoming a ‘must play’ for any rock band worth their weight.”

One newer concept for Rock on the Range that Spivack and company are giving attention to again this year is the Comedy Tent. After the rousing success of the Comedy Tent’s debut at last year’s ROTR, this year Spivack has invited Jim Breuer, Jim Florentine and Don Jameson – three comedians whose careers are just as synonymous with hard rock as they are with standup comedy – to headline ROTR 2014’s comedic lineup. To Spivack, his addition makes perfect sense.

“It was a smash last year!” Spivack said. “The Comedy Tent was packed. All of our comedians are fans of rock ‘n’ roll music, so nobody will be out of place.”

As for the future of Rock on the Range, Spivack’s aspirations are lofty; but if the success of ROTR in a mere eight years is any indication, those plans aren’t mere pipe dreams.

“Our goal every year is to make Rock on the Range the Super Bowl – the national champion of rock festivals – the very best rock festival in the U.S.,” Spivack said. “With that, there comes a high bar we have to jump every year. We look to improve it and not rest on our laurels. After being to other festivals all over the country and all over the world, I have never seen or been part of a community like what happens at Rock on the Range. It’s this spirit of togetherness, a tribal spirit. It really is a spectacular thing.”

Rock on the Range takes place Friday, May 16 through Sunday, May 18 at Columbus Crew Stadium, 1 Black and Gold Boulevard in Columbus. Ticket prices range from $119.50 to $169.50 for all weekend passes, and $69.50 for day passes. For more information, please visit rockontherange.com.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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