Following the less-than-perfect eleventh year at Daytona Beach in 2022, with several performances cancelled or shortened due to extreme weather, walking into Daytona International Speedway for the twelfth annual Welcome To Rockville was almost nerve-wracking. According to local forecasts, we were expecting rain daily, and anyone who knows Florida knows that could mean either a twenty-minute sunny rain shower or a full-blown tropical storm with hurricane winds. So, walking into the venue on Thursday, most were on pins and needles, not really knowing what we would see over the 4-day festival.
With bands like Silly Goose, Conquer Divide, and Rain City Drive opening the stages, music could be heard from all angles walking into the venue. With clear skies so far, New Delhi metal band Bloodywood took to the Space Zebra Stage, and the crowd was engulfed in a mix of what can only be described as heavy metal meets Bollywood. Working through the day, Brutus, Wargasm, and Malevolence filled the afternoon with hits, followed by Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry. Known for their southern rock and roll sound, their entire set was a medley of their greatest hits, with a couple of shots of bourbon tossed in. Before Vended and Avatar hit the stage, the skies grew darker, and a storm loomed in the area. No sooner did Avatar lay into their second song than the screens went down, and up came an evacuation notice. Avatar, mid-song, stopped and walked off stage, no questions asked. We were all asked to seek shelter and leave the venue.
After a short rain delay and most of us prayed that we wouldn’t have a repeat of last year, the gates opened back up, and set times were re-arranged to squeeze most of the bands in still. Lost in the storm was Trivium, who was removed from the performance list. Bullet For My Valentine reopened the show, followed by Maynard’s band Puscifer, which, I must add, I have never seen live before. Knowing what I do about his performances, I was still shocked to see him on stage in a persona, moving about, and not hiding behind a bright light or drapery of some kind. He looked like someone pulled Max Headroom out of the 80s and dyed his hair black.
Rob Zombie, who hasn’t put out new music since 2021’s “The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy” due to him working on the new “The Munsters” film, played a set similar to ones in the past, with only Mike Riggs being the most significant change. Slipknot, as always, came out hard and created a wake of havoc in their path. The crowd, which up until this point dragged on throughout the day, had life breathed into them, and chaos ensued. Getting special permission from the city of Daytona Beach, Slipknot went on at 11 pm (instead of the 10:15 pm originally posted) and played until after midnight.
Today was the day most fans were waiting for… the return of Avenged Sevenfold! With a slathering of newer bands on the bill this afternoon, fans could get a taste of up-and-coming music while recovering from the late-night Slipknot delivered on Thursday. Bands like The Warning, and Ayron Jones, mixed with heavy hitters like Born Of Osiris and I Prevail, allowed fans to choose how easy they would like their day to be. Badflower took to the stage with the same setlist as we’ve seen before, but lead singer Josh Katz donned a dark hair color and a pretty rough-looking beard. That only lasted until midset, when he shaved while playing. Sleeping With Sirens took us all back to our Warped Tour Days, which, with the humidity, really did feel like the old days, standing in an open parking lot with the sun beating down on us.
Motionless In White gave us the greatest hits medley with their 10-song set, while From Ashes To New garnered more fans with their newest single, “Hate Me Too.” I Prevail came out heavy as always with “Bow Down’ followed by “Body Bag” and didn’t stop over their 12-song set, which included a cover of System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey.” Country/Rock superstar Hardy played through the rock side of his new album, not touching any of his famous country hits, adding in covers of STP’s “Big Empty” and Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” to fill the time slot.
Direct support for the evening was Evanescence, with a 14-song set that concluded with hit single “Bring Me To Life” being sung more by the crowd than Amy Lee. Avenged Sevenfold took the stage to a thunderous cheer from the crowd as they started with a song from their new album, “Game Over”. Wearing a ski mask throughout the first song, with the words “We Love You” stitched into it, M. Shadows sounded as good as ever. As it was only their 2nd show in over five years, the setlist of choice spanned six albums and touched on fan favorites like “Nightmare,” Bat Country,” and “A Little Piece Of Heaven.” With a timeslot of an hour and a half, Avenged Sevenfold finished early and, much to our surprise did not end with an encore. Although short, their set proved they still had it, and we’re only getting warmed up.
Today was a real mash-up overall, with bands covering multiple genres, including Rap. The Violent opened the doors, followed by Starcrawler and Dayseeker. Our first Rap/Rock artist was Zero 9:36, with Pop Evil drawing a larger crowd as they started flowing in the early afternoon. Punk/Rap group Ho99o9 played on a side stage while bluesy rock group Rival Sons took to the main stage. During the set, a screen popped up stating that Alter Bridge was removed from the bill due to illness, leaving an empty time slot, before Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience graced us with a 10-song throwback of Led Zeppelin hits.
Fans of rap headed over to see Yelawolf at this point, while rock fans headed for Chevelle. Both amazing groups, in their own right, played stages that were relatively close to each other, which made one side of the festival grounds look overrun with people. Shock rocker Alice Cooper whose career has spanned more than five decades, played 16 songs, which only touched on half of the records he’s released during his set. Godsmack, whose newest album, “Light Up The Sky,” released this past February, was the direct support and gave the crowd a bit of everything, including a 20-minute drum battle between lead singer Sully Erna and full-time drummer Shannon Larkin.
Headlining this evening was the mighty Pantera! Whether you want to call it a reunion, or a tribute, there was no mistaking the fact that fans showed up in the masses for this event. With a 14-song set, Phil, Rex, Charlie, and Zakk ripped through the songs just like we all remembered. Drummer Charlie Benante tucked himself behind a drum set that bore the faces of both Vinnie Paul and Dimebag, with “CFH” plastered all over. While the performance was utterly insane to witness, the group kept it true to the Pantera we love and remember.
Today was more musically sporadic than the others, with more Punk Rock on the bill, Anti-Flag and Pennywise, rappers Ghostemane and Sueco, then more traditional rock like Deftones and Coheed & Cambria. The Mars Volta, lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, worked magic onstage. He could be seen throwing and kicking the microphone around between lyrics like a yo-yo with expert skill. Incubus took the stage with the crowd singing along the entire time, allowing lead singer Brandon Boyd to take it all in from 40,000+ fans at times. Throughout their 15-song set, a few times, music was stopped as Brandon caught eye of injured fans and would not continue until he got the all-clear from the crowd. Deftones were direct support for Tool this evening and played for more than an hour, touching on seven of their studio albums, with hits like “Tempest,” “Diamond Eyes,” and “Nosebleed.”
Tool closed out the weekend with ten songs, which still took most of 2 hours, opening with “Fear Inoculum” and ending with hit “Stinkfist” Lead singer Maynard James Keenan, could be seen in full drag for the performance, hinting at a dig to a newly instated Florida law, about Drag Show restrictions, although afterward, he said his choice was personal, not political, and that he has been dressing drag for years. Overall, this year’s Welcome To Rockville went off well, and helped prove the point that a rock festival is possible in hurricane country, amidst early summer heat, and a lack of shade. With next year’s dates and lineup soon to be announced, keep up to date at the official website here.