There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing. For festival organizers though there is a wrong weather – thunderstorms. Someone up above though has a soft spot for the yearly Rockaue Festival down at Bonn Rheinau. Three Festivals, each one in sunshine. Not that there’s time to watch the weather with 29 bands on three stages to hear. Get a festival programme as soon as possible and start planning how to get from A to B and back to A again before the band at C is plugging in. I had my timetable mapped out in good time: Danko Jones, Kyle Gass and Blues Pills were must sees. In Extremo were one for the photo gallery if not necessarily my ears and who knows – I might just discover a new band…
For long-time local Rock fans this will always be ‘Rheinkultur!’ by another name – were it not for the admission price…
I actually almost went to Rheinkultur once, but a station full to bursting with drunken teenagers at mid-day changed my mind. I suspect that quite a few people give Rockaue a miss too, expecting the same problem. A great pity, because After visiting all three incarnations of this one day festival I have yet to see any drunken behaviour, any fights or any stoned drug addicts. I have seen only thousands of happy faces, joined strangers to dance in front of bands I’ve never heard of before, and discovered some great music along the way. So here’s the million dollar question: why has the initial interest in Rockaue decreased since 2015’s boisterous crowd of 20.000? Last year it was 15.000 and this year’s estimates put it anywhere between an optimistic 10.000and a police figure of 5000 (I give it somewhere in the middle).
So where does the blame lie? Entrance tickets of c. 30 Euros for an all day festival are hardly excessive, but I suppose, again, there is still the ‘free’ Rheinkultur millstone hanging round the new Festival’s neck. Or maybe the organizers mis-judged the popularity of the electro stage? In an effort to put the ROCK purely in the Rockaue that was removed this year. Maybe there is simply too much free music available in Bonn during the Summer? JazzTube, Stadtgarten, Rheinau Jazz, Kunsthalle Roof…
It seems a tragedy that the number of visitors goes down even as the quality of the festival goes up. The organizers have given thought to previous problems and suggestions of improvement. It always seemed something of an insult to the talented local bands to tuck them away in a corner of the site like an animated refreshment booth with speakers. I always suspected that many of the listeners at the old site never bothered to take the ten minute hike to the main stages, but now they don’t have too – all hail the Talent Stage: where the techno Beats stage used to be – although there was never much more than a dj to see on it – some great young bands and I no longer had to walk half a mile and back again from the main attractions.
Old habits do die hard though and I always seem to gravitate initially towards the Rock n Heavy Stage maybe because listening to hundred mile an hour riffs for even a short time is an energy drainer and there are some 8 hours of music here to soak up. My plan actually was to catch one of two British bands on the programme at 3pm. First act on my list – and already my careful planning is blown: The mysteriously named Dinosaur Pile-up are not here. I guess you can’t trust cold blooded reptiles in hot weather. Whether replacements Watch Out Stampede were better than the band I missed I may never know. They had a name almost as odd though.
I was at least confident of recognizing Suburbian Rex having seen them in last year’s Toys 2Masters Final. Guitarist Anton always reminds me of Grimsby’s finest rockers the Brew and Jason Barwick. There’s a lot to like about Suburbian Rex’s sound and I do like them. They could maybe take some tips about stage presence from Jason and Co though – Move around a bit more and work off each other. A Barwick style jump every five minutes is not obligatory though guys.
I don’t have time for the whole set though because the other english band here tonight is due to start only 15 minues after SR have begun and hopefully they will actually turn up!
Skinny Lister is the name of the London band in the programme, and not only do they turn up but they are absolutely brilliant. Named apparently after a famous family of pioneers in anasthetic you won’t be falling asleep easily to this sextet. Comparisons to The Pogues are inevitable and maybe if Mr MacGowan and co were now in their heyday they too would be labelled ‘Shanty Punk’. The songs are not yet in the league of MacGowan but then even his genius for writing was short lived. They are however excellent, often witty and always attention grabbing ditties. I loved the thumping ‘Beat it from the chest’ and Skinny Lister being ‘Hamburg Drunk’ is a whole lot healthier than MacGowan reminiscing about “When you pissed yourself in Frankfurt and got syph down in Cologne” (Sick Bed of Cuchulainn). SK are a band that know how to entertain. Charming singer Lorna Thomas seems to almost bounce around on stage and bounces with equal ease over the barrier to join the audience for a dance. I get some pictures before even I am pulled along in a row of hand-holding dancers.
That ‘Schunkel’ that I missed out on at the Brings show last week. The Germans know how to ‘shunkel’ and the Londoners know the music to get it started. I assumed she must collapse in an exhausted heap after the show – but by the time I walk to the merchandise table there is Lorna already unfolding T-shirts and linen bags with the band logo on. Oh, and CD’s too. I bought one and ordered another the next day. Skinny Lister. Make a note of that name. They are back in Cologne on 26 October at The Underground – don’t miss!
The Main Stage was really difficult to leave this year. How could you miss Dave ‘Onkel Udo’ Onz? This guy is the World Champion ‘Air Guitar’ player. I’ll wait for you to google that because I know you won’t believe me. There. All true. At this point I too felt confused and decided to get out of the sun for a while and grab an apple juice and burger, but within sight and sound of Kyle Gass from Los Angeles. Even from a distance Gass’s yellow T-shirt with former band ‘Trainwreck’ logo made him easy to spot. Cool guitar runs by Mike Bray helped the chips go down. ‘Bro Code’ was for all the men in the audience – the women kindly leave the room for a few minutes. It’s a man’s band really and they were enjoyable enough. I’ve seen a cover of Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’ on YouTube by them – glad they didn’t attempt it at Rockaue. There are some things better left alone…
Burger, chips and applejuice finished I was rejuvenated for my highlight of the evening. I missed the appearance on 18 October 2013 of Swedish band Blues Pills during the Harmonie Rockpalast Croosroads shows. It was the forerunner of a major European tour that brought the band a lot of attention; a lot of great press in Blues and particularly Rock magazines. Time to take a listen – and some pictures too. Lead singer Elin Larsson looked a good bet for some rockstar images. Then a halfdozen songs into the set she’s waving to backstage and next thing she’s apologizing for losing her voice and asking the audience “If there was just one song you’d want to hear today which one would it be?” The number chosen is ‘High Class Woman’ and that’s it – end of set. If like me you were disappointed not to hear more this was the post on Facebook next day after the show in Bochum was cancelled:
“I had problems all morning and day and the same today. Sometimes the body just can’t deliver even though you really want to . it’s heartbreaking when you want to give it your all but simply nothing comes out and you let all people down. Them behind stage and the fans in front of the stage . All I can say is – I am very sorry . Hopefully I won’t fuck up the upcoming shows for this summer and looking forward to be back in full power .
The band’s music isn’t your standard Blues. It takes some time to click into it and time was what we didn’t have on Saturday. Shame.
So, a big chunk of unplanned time to kill. What to do? There’s a band from München just starting up on the Talent Stage. Apron? Yes, another odd name. Still, they’ll pass the time until Danko Jones. In the event they did more than pass the time. There’s a white papier-mache horses head stuck to the mike stand and a bloke with coloured spandex trousers and long permed hair blowing up balloons whilst a bass player with white Kiss style make-up is sitting back of stage as a half white faced drummer soundchecks. It all looks super cheap, super silly and super sleazy – but actually it’s all also great fun. Vocalist Till Herence has a suitably paranoid air about him when you look into his eyes. It’s a wild west medicine show of a set. selling you a world of Spinal Tap meets Harry Enfield. One of those rare occasions when the show itself is so good that you have a vague recollection that there was great music in there somewhere too. Hats off to Apron – or should that be aprons off? A LOT of effort to make the show come alive.
In fact Apron are so enjoyable that I’m running back, Nikon straps flying in the wind, to where Danko Jones has already started his set – earlier than planned. I hope there is still a song left of the 3 songs rule to grab some pictures…
Gotta love the super sized kitty on the back of stage logo. Makes a great counterpoint to Jones himself who regularly growls visually from his microphone. The Canadian’s sound is a tilt in Thin Lizzy’s direction and visually Jones is a young, angry, Robert Cray. He certainly has some of the best stage patter of the day. “Hey, I was just singing and playing on the last one and out the corner of my eye I saw a dismembered horses head on the end of a spike waving in front of the stage – I mean, what IS this shit???!” (actually it was a nod to headliner In Extremo’s singer Michael Robert Rhein whose nickname is ‘The Last Unicorn’).
Later Jones points out that “probably you spotted some mistakes in the last song? I do that from time to time. I mean, rock n roll isn’t meant to be perfect. I may throw in some more mistakes later on purpose…” The audience was lapping it up and by this time there was a veritable conveyor belt of stage divers arriving with German clockwork precision at barricade front to be hauled down by a big man with black gloves and sent scurrying back to the crowd like they were kids lining up for a helter skelter.
Before the main act there’s just time to grab some atmospheric shots of the crowd as the sun goes down on the Deutsche Post Tower to the distinctly non-sun goes down music of Düsseldorf’s Massendefekt. No falling asleep at the Rock n Heavy stage for sure. I can’t believe anyone has been here all day. Ten hours of adrenalin?
Then it’s back to the Main Stage for the Main Event. It’s actually 2 songs no flash and more precisely, songs 5 and 6. Were we to photograph songs 1 to 4 we might lose our hair or even heads as there is a veritable arsenal of pyrotechnics stuffed into nooks, crannies and pipes at the front of stage. I’m just glad I didn’t bang any of them with my camera bag during my previous visits. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
In Extremo are from another of those genres that when I think I know them all another pops up. It’s not a new genre either. The band have been purveyors of Middle-ages Rock since 1995. I find myself bizzarely thinking that the last time I saw a hurdy gurdy it was an inoffensive rather fragile looking instrument at Bonn Folk Club. Here someone was playing it amidst flare pots that would singe a space shuttle. I’m not qualified to report on the plusses or minuses of In Extremo’s performance. What was the guy in a clown costume doing wandering around ther stage? Some of their lyrics are apparently medieval and others German. I left around the time they were playing ‘Quid Pro Quo’ and the audience was enjoying it. Personally I’d have preferred Status Quo. Odd that the main band’s singer was probably the oldest musician of the day. Odd that a band who I’d have though had niche popularity in a niche genre should be such crowd pullers.
I headed home. Looking forward to hearing my Skinny Lister CD. A new band found. That’s what it’s all about really. Those people who say “I only want to see band ‘X’ so why should I pay the equivalent of a full shows ticket for them and only get maybe an hour? Or why should I pay anything at all when there are so many shows for free coming up?” People, if that’s your attitude then you are killing live music. Many years ago I saw Thin Lizzy with a band called Clover supporting. Clover had a young harp player in the band by the name of Huey Lewis. You never know what you might find – and in 29 bands the chances of finding something new are pretty damn good. Hopefully there will be a next year for Rockaue. I intend to be there – I hope you do too.
Finally, my band of the day…