They knew if they built it, fans would come.
Rocklahoma, that is. The organizers of this rock 'n' roll campout established in 2007 outside of Pryor came up with three “dream acts” they wanted to land as headliners as they planned for the growth of the event.
Motley Crue. Check. They came in 2011.
Guns N' Roses. Check. The band is playing Friday night.
TBA, hopefully in 2014, if the third act on their wish list comes true.
Meanwhile, GN'R will close out the first official night of the 2013 edition of Rocklahoma, which stretches over this Memorial Day weekend from Friday deep into Sunday night.
Other acts topping the bill this year include Alice in Chains, Korn, Cheap Trick, Bush, Bullet for My Valentine, Papa Roach, Skillet, Hollywood Undead, Steel Panther, Asking Alexandria, Ratt, Halestorm, Device (with David Draiman), All That Remains, Escape the Fate, Dokken, Clutch, Motionless in White, Big Wreck, The Sword, Young Guns, Thousand Foot Krutch, Otherwise, Red Line Chemistry, Mindset Evolution, Heaven's Basement, We As Humans, American Fangs, O'Brother and many more — nearly 80 acts in all.
“There are certainly other substantial and well-recognized classic rock acts out there that we're going to target in future years, but we're really, really happy that we were able to get the timing to work to get Guns N' Roses to perform this year,” said Joe Litvag, senior vice president of St. Louis-based AEG Live, which has produced Rocklahoma for local founders Pryor Creek Music Festivals Inc. since 2010.
“It's something that we've been talking about for a few years now,” Litvag said of the headliners.
Aside from Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, the last original member of GN'R, keyboardist/vocalist “Dizzy” Reed is the longest-standing player the band, having joined just before they recorded “Use Your Illusion I” and “II,” the 1990 pair of albums that stands as the Los Angeles band's most epic and critically and commercially popular work.
Reed has heard good things about the Pryor festival, which has grown in attendance by 150 percent since AEG Live began managing the event, with about 25,000 a day expected to show up this year.
“Here in L.A., I have a lot of old friends and stuff from back in the day that have played at Rocklahoma the last few years,” Reed said in a recent phone interview from his home during a tour break.
“And also my booking agent that books me, Bigtime Entertainment, over the years they've put a lot of bands on that show, so I've heard quite a bit about Rocklahoma and actually have been trying to get on the bill myself, but now I'm doing it with Guns N' Roses, and that's even better.”
After the 1993 release of “The Spaghetti Incident?” an album of punk covers that failed to capture the rowdy spirit of their previous works, Guns N' Roses famously went into limbo amid reports of Rose's tyrannical behavior and the departures of founding members, including guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin.
But there also were reports of a new album project developing, with an ever-changing lineup of musicians participating.
After millions of dollars and 17 years since their last collection of original tunes, GN'R released “Chinese Democracy” in November 2008.
Seeing it through
And through it all, keyboardist/vocalist Reed had managed to remain a constant in the lineup, which now includes former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, guitarist DJ Ashba, Psychedelic Furs drummer Frank Ferrer, keyboardist/vocalist Chris Pitman, guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, guitarist Richard Fortus, and Rose on lead vocals and piano.
How did Reed hang in there, and is Rose the tough taskmaster people have claimed him to be?
“Well, you know, there have definitely been some ups and downs, but ... when I get involved with something and I start something, I like to see it through,” Reed said. “And so I was as determined as anybody to make sure that we got (‘Chinese Democracy') finished when it was right, and that it came out when it was right. But yeah, of course it got a little discouraging over the years, as it would. You know, it's not a normal process to have something take that long. But like I said, I'm all about determination.”
On working for Rose, Reed said, “I think the main thing about working with Axl, for me, is that he's always made me better, and he encourages one to analyze things a little bit more and possibly just to make sure that everything can be tried is tried, and basically he just gets the best performance out of me and the best ideas out of me. And that's what I like about working with him. And to be honest, contrary to popular belief and what's printed out there in the media, he's actually a lot of fun to be around, most of the time.”
Reed said it's unlikely the fans will have to wait another 17 years for the next album of new Guns N' Roses music, since the members have been trading new ideas in the studio for some time now.
“If it takes that long, I might not be around to see it,” Reed speculated.
The keyboardist said the Rocklahoma crowd should be pleased with the selection of songs the band will perform at the outdoor bash, which will be drawn from 1987's “Appetite for Destruction” all the way through “Chinese Democracy.”
“Well, you know, if we don't play the big hits from the '80s, sometimes you think you probably won't get out of there alive,” he laughed. “Yes, we've been covering the whole library. Little bits and pieces from everything.
“We're lookin' forward to it, too,” he added. “One of my daughters actually just enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, so all of a sudden Oklahoma's a pretty big part of my life.”