I wonder how many people out there thought that after the first Väsby Rock Festival, back in 2013, that this festival would still be here two years later? Not that the festival was bad by any means, quite the contrary, but the fact is that there are as many festivals out there as there are mushrooms in the woods and the competition is really tough. This festival also takes place when many people are on vacation, meaning that both time and money can be short. The first year was clearly set by a tight budget and mostly Swedish bands were booked. The festival was only on for one day and the price was very cheap. But already by the second year the organisers had added one more day and the whole festival felt more “real”, with a real VIP section, a larger festival area and frankly, the whole thing felt like a miniature version of Sweden Rock Festival. Everything was there, the market and the food stands, but more intimate. They had also managed to book some really cool bands with bigger headliners such as Europe and Candlemass. How many tickets that were sold last year isn’t something I want to – or can – speculate in, but the Europe gig was pretty crowded. This year, however, the line-up was thinner. Of course, that depends on your taste in music, but the fact is, there was no big headliner that would draw the extra few thousand that could make VRF climb another step on the festival ladder. Let’s face it, it is pretty cool to have a band like WASP visiting a smaller suburb like Upplands Väsby, but WASP doesn’t draw a huge crowd. If they would tour Sweden alone they would draw a crowd less than 500 people, so it’s pretty easy to do the maths. Europe draws ten times as many people. So it was up the VRF organisation to put faith in people’s good-will and that there were enough rockers out there that has a music taste that synchronizes with this year’s line-up. And it sure didn’t help VRF that Live Nation decided to put up a free festival right in the middle of Stockholm on the same two days as VRF. That much for helping small festival organisers to survive in the already tough climate. VRF is hardly a threat to Live Nation so the stunt is not ok one bit. Shame on you, Live Nation!
The first thing I noticed when arriving to the festival was that everything looked just like last year except that the VIP section had been moved and the area was larger – a good thing. I didn’t arrive in time to see the first bands play, a bit of a bummer as it turned out that one of the members of opening act, Kardinal Sin, was an old hockey friend of mine. They started to play at 12.00 – way too early for me to make it on time. I also missed Rebel Road and M.O.B., both from Sweden and both unfamiliar to me. I was hoping to get to the festival in time for the newly reunited 220 Volt who started at 2.15, but of course, that fell through as well. When we got there a band called Jono had played half their set. I didn’t know squat about that band, but apparently I missed out here. The band hails from Gotland, Sweden and are heavily influenced by bands such as Queen, Kansas and Melodic Rock / AOR bands with a more progressive touch. Turns out that guitarist Stefan Helleblad is also a touring member of Dutch rockers Within Temptation. I really need to check this band out! But it’s never an easy thing coming to the festival and VIP area at a festival like this, bumping in to friends – old and new – all over the place made the first few hours all about socializing, which also made me miss the following bands Eden’s Curse (I saw a couple of songs, but not enough for a review. The band is good, but unfortunately I find them too uninteresting), Madman’s Lullaby (never heard of them) and Astral Doors (a Swedish band I have heard about but don’t have any relation to except for that singer Nils Patrik Johansson is also in Civil War). An awesome first day with nice beer, a few nice drinks, socializing with great people and of course, some killer rock music ended – as usual – with an after party. Yes, we do love those!
However, after parties are real fun while they’re lasting, but the day after, not so much. Being a guy that usually never gets hung over, I still really need my beauty sleep. Result: more missed bands. Melodic rockers Adrenaline Rush, fronted by the talented and beautiful singer Tåve Wanning and this years’ Väsby All Stars members guitarist Ludvig Turner (also with Reach) and bassist Soufian Ma’Aoui, started day two and since I have never seen that band live, it was a bummer that I didn’t catch them now. A bigger bummer was that I missed Dalton. Being a band that I really dug back in the 80’s, but never got to see live, plus the fact that their reunion album Pit Stop (2015) is a real killer, my goal was to make it to their show. But since no one in the household was ready to leave that early, I had to surrender to time. The word said that Dalton was a great act and I also heard Chris Laney guested them for a version of Kiss’ “Lick It Up”. I would have loved to see that. German rockers Jaded Heart is an ok band but I have never really gotten into them at all and Days Of Jupiter I had never even heard of so when it was clear that I would be a no-show for Dalton, I didn’t feel the need to hurry as long I was in time for Nubian Rose‘s 3 o’clock gig – which I was. After Nubian Rose, I thought I’d give Work Of Art a shot. I have tried to find something to make me a fan of W.O.A.’s music and even though I can hear that this band is a bunch of great musicians, I really haven’t managed to find anything that stuck. I watched some songs, but I gave up after a while. Yes, great musicians, well-played music and they do know their AOR. But I guess that band just isn’t for me. But I gave them the benefit of a doubt. That said, they did catch a pretty big crowd. I was thinking about checking out Tygers Of Pan Tang before Eclipse‘s gig, but I just couldn’t be arsed to. Thing is, I own a couple of albums from their AOR days, but I have never understood what it is that supposed to be so great with that band. They’re not for me. Same with American Classic / Melodic Hard Rock band Heaven And Earth. H&E plays Hard Rock in the vein of bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow and Whitesnake with a bit of an AOR touch and even though Stuart Smith is a really good guitar player and that the bass spot is held by one Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, House Of Lords), their songs just aren’t interesting enough. Yes, I have given them lots of shots, but they have never captured my interest one bit. A couple of cold ones and some hanging out replaced their gig for me. The day ended, like yesterday, with an after party courtesy of the Emblads. U rule!
It might seem like I have missed an awful lot of bands this year and maybe I did. But festivals are about more than music, it’s about socializing and hanging out, meeting friends that you too seldom hang out with (there are too many of you out there!) and the way VRF is organised, it’s the perfect festival for both checking out bands and hang out with friends. Speaking of which, I have absolutely nothing to complain about about the organisation this year – well, the VIP area is really in need of some urinals to minimize the lavatory ques – but other than that everything ran smoothly. Really smooth. Speaking of ques, the only ones on the whole festival was around the toilets in the VIP area, so no matter where you were – at the entrance, the exit, the food stands, the merch stands – there were no waiting. Impressive! The fact that there are only two stages – right on the opposite of each other – makes it easy to go back and forth to gigs without missing a note if you wanted to see every band on the bill. Great! Also, the organisers of this festival are amazing people. Despite having shitloads to do and maybe wanting to at least have a glimpse of the bands they have booked – after all, they are all big music fans – they always had a minute or two for a quick hug and some chatting, complete with a big smile on their faces. Also impressive! And the words “music fans” are the key word here. These guys aren’t big businessmen in suit and ties trying to make a big buck. No, were talking about music lovers that has grown up on hard rock music and that really want to put their festival on the map – because of the music. That’s why Live Nation’s stunt pissed me off big time here. I would embrace a free festival in the middle of Stockholm any weekend of the year, except this one. Despite that, I think that VRF managed to pull a decent crowd this year even though they might not climbed up a notch. But the fact that they have already booked three bands for 2016 – Battle Beast, Dare and Hardcore Superstar – shows that the organisers aren’t about to give up anytime soon. So if you’re reading this and still haven’t managed to visit VRF – wherever you live in the world – then do so next year. If you’re a rock fan, if you want to have a good time meeting up with other happy rockers, if you want to feel a festival built on pure, then do get your ticket for next year.
To round this off a big thank you to the all the boys n’ girls that organised this, the volunteers and all the lovely people we met. I had such a blast hanging out. For next year, size wise, I would suggest bands like Queensrÿche, Stryper, Cinderella, Sixx A.M. and Kix. And as headliners, maybe Deep Purple or Journey or maybe Twisted Sister can have a decent price tag on them. Just thinking out loud here. That said, I’m happy that there will be a VRF 2016 at all. See you there, peeps.
Jon “Jompa” Wilmenius
Photo: Hanna Henrikson
Top picture of crew: Henrik Hildebrandt