Thunderstorms and Amazing Sounds: Welcome to Rockville 2019

There's something special about an extended road trip. The thrill of seeing places outside of your own personal little bubble, the sights along the way, or maybe it’s the time during the drive spent jamming out to whatever music you deem worthy enough to invigorate you as you travel down the open roadway. It's perhaps one of the things most taken for granted in the United States, the ability to travel freely if we so desire. When a road trip is taken though with a multi-day music festival with some of the most exciting new bands and undeniably legends of rock and roll taking the stage, it's enough to get any fan of the genre's blood pumping.

This is precisely what happened as ConcertHopper packed up and drove down to Jacksonville, Florida over the weekend. Welcome to Rockville was the destination, one of the country's preeminent music festivals, to say nothing of the rock and roll genre. The festival has been running since 2011 where it began as a two-day festival that drew 25,000+ visitors over the two days and sold out for three years straight, growing up to 75,000 attendees in 2017 and then expanding to a three-day festival in 2018.

This year's festival was a stunner that saw much anticipation as legendary acts took to the stage including Tool. The buzz around the band has been growing fervently as fans anticipated any news of their promised (but with no date) new album and everything about the new record had been kept under tight wraps. When they took the stage at Welcome to Rockville, Sunday night though, the fans in attendance were treated to two new songs off of the album.

There was also tragedy surrounding the festival as the frontman of the legendary group The Prodigy, Keith Flint passed away leaving a gap in the festival's lineup. This gap was filled by Papa Roach who, with the final song of their set paid homage to the group that had suffered such a significant loss and thereby allowed them take the stage by playing one of their most well-known hits, Firestarter.

There were other epic moments at the festival too, Rob Zombie stopping his set because one fan was attempting to ruin the fun of everyone else in attendance comes to mind. Fans and artists joining in on shenanigans together in a frenzied celebration of rock and roll like when Hyro the Hero crowd surfed mid-set. Or when Fever 333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler did the same during the band's song We're Coming In, riding the hands of the excited fans towards the front alongside other crowdsurfing concertgoers.

There were certainly some surprises at the festival as well. The top-secret Zippo Encore acoustic sessions were something special to behold. Extremely intimate sets with bands like Beartooth, Shvpes and Fever 333. ConcertHopper was on hand for the latter two and they were both incredibly special to witness. The fan interaction was incredible, the bands themselves seemed to relish the toned down and intimate nature of the sets, cranking out incredible renditions of their hits with stunning vocals and even great backstories. Shvpes for example, claimed they had only practiced one of their songs acoustic once before in a bathroom "somewhere in Tennessee." If you're attending a festival with a Zippo session,  we highly recommend you go, it'll be an experience you can't get anywhere else and is well worth checking out.

Another surprise was Zeal & Ardor, a Swedish band born out of some very controversial comments on the infamous internet messageboard, 4Chan. Frontman Manuel Gagneux would visit 4Chan and ask users to give him two genres of music and then would go and create a song using the two genres in 30 minutes to an hour. One of these users suggested a less tactful version of African-American music while another suggested metal. Gagneux and his group combing slavery era songs with a sundry of other genres from metal (black metal, post-black metal, melodic death metal and more) with his trademark bluesy tones and the rest is history. Gagneux has also been on record as saying that the band came from the question "What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?"

On stage at Rockville, Gagneux admitted the band wasn't much for words and that he hoped the fans wouldn't mind. Those in attendance seemed to not mind at all as the three vocalists on the stage belted out the songs that have propelled the hype surrounding the band to a fever pitch. Songs like “Devil is Fine”, “Blood in the River” and more left the crowd a mixture of impressed and in awe, depending on whether or not they'd been privy to the magic that is Zeal & Ardor before.

Rockville can not be discussed though without bringing up something that was well beyond the control of anyone, whether they be an attendee, an organizer, a vendor or a musician. Mother nature reared her head twice over the course of the festival, on Friday and on Sunday. On Friday, this forced an evacuation of the venue and cut Killswitch Engage's set short. On Sunday it delayed entry to the venue by four and a half hours and cutting several bands from playing, unfortunately.

In spite of all of that, the rain and the lightning were well worth enduring for the reward that was the festival. A stunning experience where, across the board the musicians offered amazing setlists, the audio quality was superb, the stage shows were amazing, there were even fireworks during Shinedown's set. Whether you saw the show from the pit, from the back of the crowd, from a picnic table, the top of a ferris wheel car or the Monster Energy party deck, you were in for a treat and we at ConcertHopper can not wait for next year's festival or for the other Danny Wimmer Presents festivals.