If last year’s inaugural Rolling Rock Town Fair was the beta edition, this year’s event, billed as Rolling Rock Town Fair 2.0, definitely was an improved version -logistically, at least. Musically, it could be argued that, while Saturday’s headliners Live and Stone Temple Pilots really delivered, they were no match for last year’s Moby and the Red Hot Chili Peppers combo.
The daylong event at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds, an hour or so southeast of Pittsburgh (concert traffic notwithstanding), also featured metal-minded modern rockers Deftones, Incubus, Staind, Tantric and Oleander… and, of course, beer. The entire event, in marketing terms, is meant to solidify Rolling Rock’s brand identity among the younger drinking crowd. It’s held amid the lush rolling hills of rural Westmoreland County because the famed green-bottled beer is produced in Latrobe, just minutes away from the fairgrounds.
Aside from music and beer, the event also featured attractions such as the Blue Monkey Sideshow, a sky-diving exhibition, midway games (one of which used band posters as throwing targets), a climbing wall, pie and hotdog-eating contests and watermelon relays. Gone were last year’s petting zoo and milk-a-cow offerings, apparently deemed a little too Hicksville.
“We wanted to go a little more carnival-like,” said spokesman Dan Hilbert, a senior brand manager for Labatt USA, Rolling Rock’s corporate parent.
“Carnival-like” could describe aspects of STP frontman Scott Weiland’s performance. The oft-rehabbed singer, bending and twisting in his rubberband-balletic style, made sure his compelling stage antics would not escape the lenses of cameras taping the show for an August 11th Showtime Event Television pay-per-view airing.
But one of the most affecting parts of the band’s performance was its “unplugged” segment, in which Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo and bassist Robert DeLeo all sat on bar stools (with a second drum kit for Eric Kretz) for renderings of the ballads “Creep” and “Days of the Week,” a tune from their new Shangri-La Dee Da disc.
Two more new tunes, “Long Way Home” and a heavy-pop “Hollywood Bitch,” were well-received, but the crowd particularly loved “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Down.”
For the Led Zep-laden encore, Weiland appeared draped in an American flag, which he dropped to reveal elbow-length red-velvet gloves and a cap that read “Outlaw.” Then he shinnied out of his trousers, bare butt toward the audience, and tied the flag around his waist like a bath towel. Doing Robert Plant better than Plant himself, Weiland finally left the stage after striking a few religious poses. As he exited, he ripped the flag off and tossed it, confirming again just what a tantalizing showman he is.
Live singer Ed Kowalczyk may seem tame by comparison, but he’s no slouch in the frontman department either. Since he learned to drop the pretension and relax, his stage presence has gotten even stronger. Easily the most melodic band of the day (though Incubus was an unexpectedly funky second in a day full of sludge guitar and screamed vocals), Live delved deep into their catalog for such audience faves as “Selling the Drama,” “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition),” “The Beauty of Grey,” “Shittowne” and “All Over You.” The band also threw in cuts from its upcoming album Be Fine (due September 19th), including “Deep Enough,” a grinding rocker, and the first single, “Simple Creed.” Kowalczyk gave props to John Lennon and Bob Marley during the funky-pop “They Stood Up for Love” and let the audience do much of the singing on “Lightning Crashes.”
Encoring with “Run to the Water,” in which the former York, Pennsylvania resident and Los Angeles transplant declared, “These Pennsylvania streets, I’ll never leave you.” Kowalczyk then launched into “I Alone.” Asking the crowd if they were as sick of the ‘N Syncs and Backstreet Boys as he is, he shouted “Let’s start a revolution in Pennsylvania” to get the rhythm back. His listeners may not have recognized his mid-song quoting of Eminem’s “I Am What I Am,” but they certainly responded to the message.
By the time Live took the stage (a revolving deal that virtually eliminated breaks between bands) at 4:45 p.m., a Woodstock-like colony of mud-wrestlers had taken over an area behind the Jumbotron tower, dragging in some unwilling recruits and tossing the slop at others. Earlier in the day, Staind vocalist Aaron Lewis chastised moshing mud-slingers, saying, “You fucking idiots would rather throw mud than enjoy the concert.” Then he slipped into the band’s biggest hit, “It’s Been Awhile,” while trying to dodge mud clods and clouds from smoke bombs.
Asked if he would attempt to stop the mud mess next year, Hilbert said, “I don’t think there’s anything we can do… it’s Mother Nature.” (He didn’t quite deny rumors that the event may be held next year in Pittsburgh’s new football stadium, Heinz Field, where Rolling Rock will be the official beer.)
While they weren’t exactly getting back to the garden, most of the 45,000 concertgoers – including 12,000 comped VIPs – seemed more laid-back and less disgruntled than last year. Exceptions emanated from the beer garden, where fans waited up to twenty-five minutes for $5 beers, which they were not permitted to carry out of that area.
Concert organizers could have increased the number of beer lines, Hilbert said, but they believed they needed to balance access with “responsible drinking.” “Frankly, this event’s not about selling beer,” he said.