Clarkston, Michigan (September 25,2022)-Rock may not rule the commercial end of the music world these days as it has in past, and in the eyes of music pundits, the overall concensus is the genre is no longer on the radar. But for nearly nine hours of WRIF-FM’s annual Riff Fest on Saturday at the Pine Knob Music Theatre, rock and roll showed it was still potent and alive, still loud and for its fans, reason to be optimistic about its future supported by a slew of talented artists.
The great thing about Riff Fest is that it gives fans a vast potpourri of artists and bands to enjoy. Heavy hitters of the genre such as Disturbed and In This Moment on the main stage, while newcomers make the smaller parking lot stage come alive on a chilly autumn day.
There were the upstarts, including established recent arrivals Dirty Honey, Dorothy and the Violent, while Taylor Michigans own Eva Under Fire — whose new album “Love, Drugs, and Misery” had just been released the day before — staked its own claim on the second stage in the Pine Knob parking lot. Don’t sleep on the all female band Plush, fronted by Moriah Formica and “B” stage headliner, whose EP has been gaining momentum on Sirius XM Radio and WRIF since its release.
Festival headliner Disturbed returned for the first time in three years as part of a string of dates introducing its new album, “Divisive,” due out Nov. 18 — “the same day as Nickelback,” frontman David Draiman noted, before quickly assuring the 9,000 or so at Pine Knob that he was not being disrespectful. “I think it’s a serious…challenge,” Draiman said. “I love Chad (Kroeger) and the boys. I think they kick…ass.”
Draiman and company did exactly that for the most part, though challenged by a bad sound mix during the first few songs of its 80-minute set. Those were eventually worked out, however, and the metal ledgends powered through 15 songs that included what Draiman said was the live debut of the new Divisive track “Unstoppable,” along with another new song, “Hey You,” as well as Disturbed’s hit covers of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” (during which Draiman hopped into the pit in front of the stage) and a vibrant take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” The latter was an emotive opus accompanied by two guest string players, with guitarist Dan Donegan playing piano and drummer Mike Wengren whacking a couple of timpani.
It was also a stripped-down representation of Disturbed’s usual expansive production this time out. There were no pyrotechnics or visual special effects, just an onslaught of sound and bright but minimal lights. All four members prowled the stage sporting black sleeveless shirts (Donegan’s a hoodie) as they stormed through favorites such as “Ten Thousand Fists,” “Stupify,” “Indestructible” and “The Light” before finishing with “Down With the Sickness” and a promise to be back — most likely next year(2023) .
On the other end of the spectrum was In This Moment, a choreography dependent metal band hailing from Los Angeles, which did not just mail it in because they playing a truncated support set of 40-minute instead of their usual 90 minutes. Aided by two dancers, the band performed on a smoke-filled, multi-level set that was changed slightly between songs, with front-woman Maria Brink and two dancers changing costumes for each song.Perfomance influences such as Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson were vividly clear and impactful throughout the show — culminating during the closing “Whore,” which Brink performed from atop a tall podium, sporting a pointed dunce cap, while black and red balloons were released around the Pine Knob pavilion. In This Moments sound was big and vibrant with production to match, but so did the smoky haze that permeated the performance and made a otherwise stellar presentation disappointing in the eyes of the fans.(Unfortunately, In This Moment does not allow media photographers so no images are available of their performance)
Another of the early standouts at Riff-Fest was the band Dirty Honey. Even though they are a relative newcomer on the scene by comparison to the other artists on the bill, their on stage performance made fans stop and take notice. Formed a mere five years ago, they hit the stage with Gypsy from their self-titled album and tore through a entertaining set that featured “Rolling 7’s,” “Another last Time” and a most entertaining cover of the Prince classic, “Let’s Go Crazy.” These young upstarts know how to get the crowd rocking from the first guitar lick. They have the presence of old-school rockers with a sound similar to the Black Crowes with hints of Zeppelin emanating from singer Marc Labelle’s pipes.
Detroit’s WRIF radio has been an album oriented rock station broadcasting on 101.1 for over five decades in the Motor City. Their annual Riff Fest at Pine Knob Amphitheatre has become a summer tradition that brings the biggest names in rock and roll together with support from young upstarts much to the delight of the 14000 that pack the venue each year. From one off accoustical performances in the WRIF VIP lounge (Dirty Honey this year) to an extended autograph session of the days performers, its all for the benefit and enjoyment of the fans. Make plans to attend next year and be assured you are in for a full day of rock and roll pleasure for a few paltry dollars…….BABY!!!