REVIEW BY DAVID TAYLOR AND PHOTOS BY PAM WHISENHUNT
Saturday, August 20, was the return of 89.7 the River’s Rockfest to Westfair Amphitheater in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Thousands of people came to see bands like Alice in Chains and Breaking Benjamin, amongst others.
Omaha’s own Arson City kicked off the day of live music. This was Arson City’s third time playing Westfair. They come out to the Stone Cold Steve Austin theme (more on that later), which was incredible. Arson City is just one of those bands that perform well on a large stage. A large part of that is lead vocalist Patrick Wilson’s gravitas. It also helps to bring attention to the crowd when you bring percussionists to your live show. They are as much integral as the band itself. Much like what happened in 2015 and 2018, I feel like Arson City gained a wide variety of new citizens of the band. I hope to hear some new music in the near future.
Messer from Texas came out in full force. I didn’t know much about this band heading into Rockfest, but they were a ton of fun! They knew they were playing to such a huge crowd, so they seized that moment by bringing in so many beach balls of various sizes for the crowd to play with. Music-wise, this was your typical radio rock band, in all due respect, but they still brought energy to keep you engaged. They are a band that loves to move around onstage and have fun. Check out their latest single, “Hope In This World” wherever you stream your music.
Now, it was time for the touring package to start, beginning with The L.I.F.E. Project which, ironically, is from Iowa. This is the side project of guitarist Josh Rand of Stone Sour and lead singer Casandra Carson of Paralandra. This band was a surprise. They brought an old-school thrash and heavy sound to the bill. It’s no wonder they performed a cover of Anthrax’s “Caught in a Mosh”. Amazing singing from Casandra Carson, who had her moment to shine, alongside her sister in the band, keyboardist Diana Weishaar. A great showing from these “newcomers”. I’m excited about their future.
Legendary 90s alternative band Bush played their first ever Westfair gig. Which was a surprise to me for having been playing shows in the US regularly since 1995. It is always a blessing to be graced by the presence of one Gavin Rossdale. The man continues to bring it and still looks good doing it. I also loved the presence of guitarist Chris Traynor, pumping up the crowd at the right moment. Rossdale did his usual running through the crowd, which was fun to watch him run through the lawn at Westfair, which is very vast and spread out. But, the stand-out moment of their set was when it started raining during Gavin Rossdale’s solo performance of “Glycerine”, as Rossdale called it like performing at “a European festival”. Easily, it is in my top 5 favorite Westfair moments. It was an amazing set from Bush. I’m so glad they finally crossed Westfair off the places they haven’t played list.
Pennsylvanians Breaking Benjamin was the direct support of the bill. This marked their return to Westfair since fully touring again in 2015 when they played River Riot. So much has changed for them, say like, bringing full-on pyrotechnics on this tour. It was a full-on spectacle. The band still continues to be one of the greatest live bands, period. I love it when a band is rhythmically tight, and that’s what Breaking Benjamin excels at. They took a moment to slow things down with an acoustic rendition of Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever”, which is a favorite cover of mine. They are a band with many radio hit singles, so, of course, most of the crowd was singing along to every word. Benjamin Burnley told this touching story about getting to tour with his heroes, Bush and Alice in Chains, which he learned how to sing by listening to records from them in his car when he was a teenager. No other person deserves this more than Benjamin. I’m so glad Breaking Benjamin gets to be a part of this tour because they definitely fit the bill.
Finally, Alice in Chains returned to Council Bluffs. These guys haven’t been in the area since 2015 and the past couple of times they came to Council Bluffs, they played Stir Cove. So, when I heard they were playing Westfair, it felt like a perfect fit for them. And it was. I am continually awestruck by how amazing these guys are live. Jerry Cantrell, my god. His guitar playing and harmonic singing are unmatched. I know it’s tough to follow in the steps of Layne Staley which, when I’m writing this, would’ve been his 55th birthday. But, William DuVall still continues to crush it on lead vocals, bringing so much soul and strength to the mic. I couldn’t be remiss to give the rhythm section of drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez their flowers, bringing straight grooves. The crowd reception for the band was phenomenal, another band with a catalog of great songs to sing. It was another great Westfair festival produced by 89.7 the River. Since we finally had Alice in Chains play Westfair and had Soundgarden play there in 2017, I’m going to start manifesting Pearl Jam to play a concert there. Let’s continue having those big Seattle grunge bands roll into town!
Alice in Chains
The L.I.F.E. Project