Austin Winkler anticipates partying with any number of rock ’n’ roll colleagues when Rocklahoma pitches camp north of Pryor today for a guitar-driven Memorial Day weekend. That’s what the frontman of Oklahoma City-based Hinder loves about outdoor festival gigs featuring many, many bands. “You get to see a bunch of bands that you’ve played with, you’ve gotten to know,” Winkler said in a recent phone interview from a La Crosse, Wis., tour stop. “You have fun. There haven’t been too many bands that haven’t got along with the Hinder boys.” And the Sooner-bred hard rock hit-makers will be partying with some of the biggest bands in the business from classic and modern genres, mixing it up with such outfits as indie trio Sick Puppies, Christian-rocking Skillet, alternative metalists Staind and post-grungy Saving Abel, while Motley Crue, Poison and Whitesnake hold up Rocklahoma’s original ’80s hair tradition. And that’s mentioning but a few of the more than 60 bands that will perform on four stages over the next three days.
Fun and successful“We’re the originator,” Poison frontman Bret Michaels declared in a recent phone interview from his Scottsdale, Ariz., ranch. “The first year they did it, when everyone (in Poison) was a little reluctant to do it, I said I think we need a festival like this. In other words, we need a fun festival; we can all go play, have fun. And Poison was the first band to headline. We were the headliner for the first Rocklahoma, and it was hugely successful. “And then we came back the second year, and I came back solo. ... And that was unbelievably great. And I did a big dedication to the military that night, and it was awesome, and then I believe we skipped last year, and then we’re back this year with Motley on the closing night.” 2010 was the year Rocklahoma owners broadened the festival’s palette from exclusively ’80s hair metal to include current and up-and-coming rockers, on the advice of newly hired promoter AEG Live, based in St. Louis. “We brought the idea to the table,” said Joe Litvag, senior vice president for AEG Live and the executive producer of Rocklahoma. “It was kind of a group decision, but when I first got the call from the owners of the festival, that was definitely one of the first suggestions that we made related to the programming was, you need to widen the net. “Rock is a much wider genre and, unfortunately, the talent pool is so shallow when it comes to classic rock artists that, to be able to sustain something year after year and continue to be fresh and viable, you have to have a deeper pool to swim in.”
Taking the plungeDiving into the deep end for the first time this year is Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich. “Yeah, well it’s definitely one of the biggest festivals in the country,” Aldrich said from Los Angeles, where he was rehearsing with his boss, lead singer David Coverdale, and the rest of Whitesnake for a tour to promote the band’s new album, “Forevermore.” “And it’s going to be one of the biggest in the world,” Aldrich predicted. “It’s gonna keep getting bigger and bigger, and this year it looks like it’s gonna be pretty slammin’ with Motley Crue and Black Label and all these bands, tons of bands. As far as I’ve heard of it, I remember it started off as a classic rock/melodic rock (festival), and it’s now evolving into a more full-scope festival, it sounds like. And I think that’s perfect. That’s what the best festivals in the world are. It’s a little bit of everything.” Making their Rocklahoma debut along with Whitesnake are the members of Staind, and guitarist and co-founder Mike Mushok has also done his research on the doings at the Catch the Fever Festival and Campgrounds four miles north of Pryor. “I’ve talked to people who have gone to it before, and I know it’s a pretty big event,” Mushok said from Staind’s Connecticut base, where the band has just finished its seventh album. “So I definitely know it’s an event that people travel to to check out because of the lineup they do put together. ... It’s awesome that people come out to support music, and it seems like with labels and the way things are, it’s getting harder and harder to have a band for sure. If there’s a gig and people that want to hear us play, we usually get there.” An estimated 10,000 people a day attended Rocklahoma last year, and AEG is expecting at least that many to show up again this weekend. For the “Hinder boys” — who’ve been touring behind their third album, “All American Nightmare,” since its December release — it’s a chance to play in front of home state family and friends, and accumulate a few more festival memories. “One of my favorite stories is we were playing a festival in Florida,” Hinder singer Winkler recalled. “We were playing ‘Get Stoned,’ and I started smelling this huge marijuana aroma coming from the stage, and I look and I see (Staind lead singer) Aaron Lewis right behind the drum risers, just sittin’ there smoking a joint and watching us play, and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ ... There’s lots of stories like that since, but that was the first one, so that’s pretty bad---.”
Rocklahoma•When: 3 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. •Where: Catch the Fever Festival and Campgrounds, 1421 W 450 Road, Pryor. •Tickets: Full weekend general admission, $171 plus service fees; full weekend reserved, $377 plus service fees; single-day general admission Friday or Saturday, $67 plus service fees; Sunday admission, $77 plus service fees, available at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at rocklahoma.com. •Camping tickets: (866) 310-2288. •Information, directions, performance times: rocklahoma.com.