Many of you have heard of ROCKwell UnScene Magazine and Tattoo.com. You know me as Mischievous Mel and I shoot, I interview, and write, but first and foremost I am a fan. Most of the time I write from a journalist’s perspective, but this time I want to show you the festival through my eyes, as a fan first, and also as a behind the scenes member of the music media. So here are my adventures at the FIRST EVER CHICAGO OPEN AIR festival. Enjoy and hope to see you at a show soon.
Many people ask us if we go to all the shows that we have coverage for. The answer is almost. My husband Rockwell and I cover over 80% of the content in our magazine, personally. We do have a few others who shoot and write for us in different states and in Europe, but Rockwell and I crawl into a car, pack it to the brim with gear, and travel thousands of miles to hit festival after festival and club after club across the U.S.
Photo by Don Woodman
Along the way, we have learned a few truths about the road. Among them is that smell in the car will never go away, Mother Nature is a Whore and the “road” life is not as easy as it looks. That said, we have a unique understanding of what bands go through on the road – so when we say support these bands, we very much understand some of their struggles. Many of them crawl into a van, a car, or an rv and hit the road, driving and playing and driving and playing…. well you get it. Along the way, they might stop to take a nap but there is no rest for the Rocking wicked. So give the band’s love when they hit your town, go to their shows, get the merch (that most likely will provide them lunch and gas), and most of all buy and share their music. Now if you will indulge me, I am going to share my adventure from Chicago Open Air with you all, leaving out the stories on how we got there from Southern California.
As I said, I am a music fan, so when it comes to deciding who will shooting (me or Rockwell), there is usually a fight to do so. Friday, the opening day of Chicago Open Air, was no exception. The headliner was Rammstein. Rockwell quickly declared that he was shooting them. “They are on the top of my bucket list of bands to shoot, I have to.” To be fair, he got dibs to shoot them as soon as he heard the lineup. So me being the awesome wife I am – I agreed. When the time came for him to shoot he skipped – yes – my husband, a full grown man with a big white beard and tattooed head skipped down the hill towards the stage. Beforehand, he was like a schoolgirl getting ready to go to prom. Rammstein did not disappoint. The set kicked off with pyro and thunderous booming fireworks that shot off from the backstage area next to the media where I was at. It was there that a fellow photographer had his head in the Monster Energy Drink Cooler (a sponsor of the show), and when the fireworks began he jumped, hit his head on the lid and said, “Wow! I had no idea what to expect but I was not ready for that.” I admit it, it lifted me out of my seat too.
As for me, I was hell bent on shooting Of Mice & Men, Hatebreed, and Through Fire. I have shot Of Mice & Men and Hatebreed many times, but remember, I am a fan. Every time I get in the photo pit I sing along with the bands as I am shooting. Yes… I’m that superfan in the pit shooting, smiling, and head banging.There is nothing like being so close to the action and a wall of sound so loud that it blows my hair back. Yes that really happens. Not only do I get to shoot the band and feel their sweat, I get to duck as rabid fans fly over my head as they are being body passed over the barrier. As a fan, I cheer them on but sometimes I fear for my (and their) safety.
Through Fire is a band that was new to me. I had heard of them (they are currently holding the number 1 slot on Sirus XM) for good reason and they blew the roof off the place. Not only did they open day 1 of the first ever Chicago Open Air, they also played the pre-party show the previous night. They are a band you must check out. I also had a chance to chat with them in the media tent. Nothing like sitting on the couch smushed between the members of a band and chatting about music, tattoos, and touring.
Friday also included me hanging with the Superstar of the whole festival, Mr. John Hetlinger, the 82 year old man who sang “Bodies” by Drowning Pool for his “America’s Got Talent” audition that went viral. Now explain to me how you have a festival hosting Rammstein and the biggest superstar is a cute little old man who has metal pumping through his veins. Yes, he was a Superstar in his own right. John and I got to talking in the media tent and he took pics with me, and let me kiss him on the cheek. “If you were just 10 years younger I would date you” I told him. “If I was not married I would let you” he replied. Then he looked at Rockwell and said “All the good ones are taken.” I just smiled… he was so sweet, so awesome, and so metal.
Saturday started with Coffee and KoRn. Yuppers.. Fieldy from KoRn was up in the media area with one of his kids just hanging. He wasn’t doing interviews… he was just hangin’ out and checking out the the Rockwell UnScene print magazines at our media tent (and he got to see himself and the band in a few different issues). He took some time to chat with us and take a few pics. I was trying to not scream ‘Holy sh*t I am hanging with Fieldy!’ at the top of my voice. Success, I kept my mouth shut. But in my head I kept screaming ‘HOLY SH*T I AM HANGING WITH FIELDY FROM KORN.’ It’s one thing to shoot bands from the photo pit and quite another to have a member of an iconic band like KoRN stopping by to chit chat with you. Even though I am in front of a camera doing interviews, I am a fan first, so these type of experiences are priceless to me.
The awesomeness did not end there because the day was full of headlining bands. The lineup for the day included KoRn – obviously, Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Alter Bridge, Helmet, Saint Asonia and Nothing More to name a few. Again it was a battle of who was shooting who. I claimed Nothing More, Saint Asonia, Miss May I, Breaking Benjamin and Pop Evil. One of the best parts of day 2, besides hanging with Fieldy was talking with Ben from Breaking Benjamin. I found out he too is a fan of ROCKwell UnScene print magazine and has one of our issues in a special place in his home. He let me be a fangirl and take a photo of me and him and the magazine that he graces the cover of. What an awesome guy to chat with about music and who he is a fan of, in a non interview situation. When super-band Saint Asonia were passing through I told them they gave an epic show. They seemed pleased and popped in took a seat on the couch and we had a fun talk.
Sunday, day 3 and the last day of Chicago Open Air, started with Mother Nature being a whore. That is right. We have been on the road doing shows facing, rain, sleet, hail, blazing heat, cold and twisters all over the U.S. Chicago Open Air was also hit with extreme weather. Our awesome set up of a pop up tent, couch, and table with all our magazines could have been blown to BFE but the good people of DWP (Danny Wimmer Presents, who put on the festival) did us a solid and took down the canopy (before it tore off the base and landed somewhere in Indiana). Since more severe weather was forecast later in the day, we downsized our spot but not our spirit. Rain or shine ROCKwell UnScene and Tattoo.com have you covered, with or without a roof over our heads. So how did the rest of the day proceed?
Kicking off the day was a hometown band for us (straight out of LA)… the amazing Gemini Syndrome. They started with a 30 minute delay due to the weather. Again, Mother Nature is a Whore. I do not think Chicago was ready for the extreme metal that was about to explode from the stage,but the fans knew. The pit for Gemini Syndrome was off the hook. Body passing, circle pits, and fists in the air. All this before noon on a Sunday. Gemini Syndrome also played new music from their new album. Rockwell got to shoot them and I was up in the media tent screaming along with my favorite songs from the band. I got strange looks from others in the area when I started head banging. Then I ran to the stage to see the rest of set and let me tell you, this band gives a thousand percent every show. Later on we interviewed lead singer Aaron Nordstrom and caught up with A.P. and Brian.
To put into perspective the degree of fangirl in me I have to share this tale. Two years ago Rockwell was out on the road covering Rock on the Range and he was telling me that he shot and interviewed Jim Breuer and I lost my shit. I said “Jerry Garcia in a bag Jim? Butterflies Jim? Jim Breuer and the Loud and Rowdy?” Yes, he said. I was angry for 2 years because I am a bigger fan than you are (Rockwell). So I made up for it. I shot the band and I got my fan girl pic. Jim was gracious and I sounded like a crazy lady as I explained why I needed this pic, and that when I have a bad situation I look for my Jerry Garcia in a bag. He looked at me like I needed a padded room… but hey, just another day at the festival for me.
If you ever wonder what bands talk about behind the scenes it’s real simple because they are real people. They have conversations like you and me. Many of them are gracious and kind. They appreciate the love that fans and media give them. For me that moment was real when Bullet for My Valentine thanked us for our coverage and interview. Wow… how humbling. One of my favorite bands not only liked our work but shared it and thanked us.
That in a nut shell, was my experience at Chicago Open Air. I could tell you more but you want an article, not a book. Thanks reading and we’ll see you on the road!
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