Three veteran bands of “America’s Biggest Memorial Day Weekend Party” are returning to Rocklahoma this year as headliners, bringing back mostly fond memories of their past experiences at the outdoor music fest near Pryor.
Twisted Sister guitarist, vocalist and founder Jay Jay French — who played the event in its inaugural year of 2007 and again in 2009 — had only one unpleasant recollection of past Rocklahoma gigs.
“We headlined it twice,” French said in a recent phone interview as he was riding a public transportation bus through Manhattan. “This’ll be our third time. The first two times were real ’80s shows. This one is like a mix of different eras, and we look forward to these things. Except, what I’m really looking forward to is the fact it’s not in July this time.
“The last time we did it, we flew from the Arctic Circle (after a show in Norway) ... landed in Oklahoma, and it was 110 Oklahoma summer degrees. Did the show and went home. Someone said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this in the middle of July.’”
When Los Angeles-based AEG Live began producing Rocklahoma in 2010, the festival was moved to Memorial Day weekend, and the exclusive ’80s hair-metal format was dropped in favor of a program featuring both classic and contemporary hard-rock acts. Audience attendance has grown more than 150 percent since then, with about 60,000 fans expected to show up for the three-day musical campout this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This year nearly 100 bands will be performing on four stages.
Main Stage headliners include Kid Rock, Five Finger Death Punch, Deftones, Staind, Theory of a Deadman and the aforementioned granddaddies of the bunch, Twisted Sister, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its biggest album, “Stay Hungry,” and its monster hit singles, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.”
French, who founded the band in 1973, with frontman Dee Snider joining in 1976, has also had success as a producer, manager and owner of a motivational speaker business, among many other things, yet here he was riding a public bus as he spoke with The Oklahoman.
“Sure, why not?” he said. “I walk, I ride a bus, I take a taxi. You know, in New York City, I mostly walk everywhere because I love walkin’. It just so happened a bus happened to pull up, so I just jumped on the bus.”
Twisted Sister no longer tours on a regular basis and only plays shows to which the band is invited. French says Twisted Sister has been around for so long that its motto is now “Sex, prescription drugs and rock ’n’ roll.”
Not dead yet
Another two-time Rocklahoma act (2010, 2012) now making its third appearance is Vancouver’s post-grunge heavy-hitters Theory of a Deadman, who’ve been around since 2001.
Tyler Connolly, frontman and chief songwriter of Deadman, in a phone interview from Billings, Mont., said he doesn’t clearly recall his band’s two previous appearances at the Pryor festival.
“No, we’ve done it before, Rocklahoma,” Connolly said. “We’re not virgins. I can’t remember. I mean, God, it’s one of those things where you know you played it, and then if someone starts talking to you about it you go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember.’ Ahh, probably. I love the heat. So, it don’t matter to me. Sure hope it’s hot. I like it.”
Theory of a Deadman will be releasing “Savages,” its fifth album, in July, and Connolly promises a preview of the new music.
Staind and deliver
Meanwhile, Staind is another return attraction, having played the 2011 edition of Rocklahoma. Mike Mushok, lead guitarist for the Springfield, Mass., nu-metal band, said playing festivals is always like “a family reunion.”
“It was really a lot of fun,” recalled Mushok of the band’s last Rocklahoma gig, as he spoke from Columbus, Ohio, where Staind was playing the Rock on the Range festival. “I mean listen, we’re playing a festival today. I enjoy them. I enjoy playing them. I mean it’s, you know, the crowds are always great and you look forward to it just because you know you’re playing with a lot of these bands that you’ve played with before, and some of them that you might not have. Tonight, Guns N’ Roses plays after us. You know, never played with them before. So it’s cool.
“If you do this for long, you get to meet a lot of people. I just saw a Guns N’ Roses security guy who worked for us for years. A gentleman from Germany, and I love him and I haven’t seen him in years. I saw him this morning, and you know, it was great to see him and get caught up. You know, things like that. It’s just cool.”
Staind hasn’t released a new album since 2011’s self-titled seventh studio effort, but Mushok said he’s worked up an album’s worth of material. But frontman Aaron Lewis’ foray into neo-traditional country music has caused some delays for Staind.
Finally, among the many newcomers to Rocklahoma, there’s Deftones, an alternative metal band from Sacramento, Calif., that mixes heavy riffs and scream-o vocals with ethereal melodies and hushed, sensitive voices.
Bassist Sergio Vega, who replaced the late Chi Cheng in 2009, also sees festivals as meet-and-greet events among musicians and fans.
“I just kind of run around and just try to make friends with bands and stuff and meet people,” Vega said from his New York City home. “I’m kind of like pretty social in a real-life kind of environment.”
So far, Vega has performed on two Deftones album, “Diamond Eyes” (2010) and “Koi No Yokan” (2012), and is proud of the way the other members of the band — Chino Moreno, Stephen Carpenter, Frank Delgado, Abe Cunningham — have welcomed him into Deftones‘ full-band style of collaborative songwriting.
“We’re into each other as people and players,” Vega said. “And I think everybody in the band has a very distinct voice and the way they approach music, and the other people are very excited about what that person comes up with, whether it’s Frank or Stephen or Chino or myself or Abe, anybody.”
He said Deftones will be offering the Rocklahoma audience old songs and many of the newer tunes from “Koi No Yokan.”
Vega said the band is looking forward to Rocklahoma with “a lot of excitement. And we’re gonna be really stoked to actually be playing those tunes (from the last album). I know I’m psyched. I’m actually gonna start practicing today.”
IF YOU GO
•When: Noon to 2:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
•Where: Catch the Fever Festival Grounds, W 450 Road, Pryor.
•Tickets: $84 single-day general admission, $189 weekend general admission.
•Information: Email firstname.lastname@example.org, go to www. rocklahoma.com/tickets or call (866) 310-2288.
“I just kind of run around and just try to make friends with bands and stuff and meet people. I’m kind of like pretty social in a real-life kind of environment.”
Bassist for the Deftones