RotR 2016 or: How I learned to stop being afraid of metal and love crowd surfing

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I had the good fortune of being able to attend Columbus’ annual Rock on the Range this past weekend. I got some shots of some of the performers, but I didn’t have much of an opportunity to photograph many of them. I wasn’t in the pit taking photographs with the rest of the photographers and music journalists. I had a much clearer view of something else.

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I was standing in line, pressed against the rail, or deep in the crowd anticipating the next performer. I was among the screaming, smoking, drinking, sweating, pierced and tattooed bodies smelling of burnt flesh and sunscreen, or wet dog (depending on the day). I was making new friends; asking people who they were most excited to see; discovering what had been the highlight so far, and photographing their experiences. See for a massive 3-day rock event of this size, there was a lot more going on than what you saw on those three stages.

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This was my first experience of the now 10-year-old event. Early on the first day, I made my way to the main stage. Despite several empty seats below, I notice the top row of MAPFRE stadium filling up quickly. It wasn’t until I saw Megadeth on stage 2, that I realized, these brilliant minds had simply turned around so they could watch the next act on the next stage without even moving. I realized I could learn a lot from the fans.

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There was Kelly, Zack, Alex, Braxton, Abby, Andrew, Bryan, Charlie, Jeff, Chris, the crowd-surfing superheroes, the Amish guy, that tiny little angel who Five Finger Death Punch brought up on stage, and several more perfectly legit rockers in the audience.

We bonded over tattoos and piercings, which porta-john to stay clear of, and of course what performance rocked the hardest. We built a rapport with those whose opinions we shared, and even trust with strangers we met 10 minutes earlier. I learned I could rely on the crowd. On Sunday, people in the few rows behind me were signaling if they saw something worthy of a photograph.

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It wasn’t just me reporting on the day’s events. We worked together to capture the essence of the festival. We learned the most anticipated attractions were A Day to Remember on Friday, the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Sunday, and Island Noodles—a food vendor with two separate stations at the event.

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These photos were taken by me, but this is our consensus of Rock on the Range 2016.

PARTY IN THE PARKING LOT
Stages two and three were set up in the parking lot, just outside the Main stage in the stadium. The musicians stationed on the third stage seemed most excited to see their fans and introduce their sound to the newcomers. Memphis May Fire was one such band who also happened to have at least two people in attendance who had Memphis May Fire tattoos. I’m partial to the lesser known acts, and these guys were a great bonus to any expectations I had.

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On the first day, on the smallest of the three stages, Detroit’s We Came as Romans set the proper tone stating, “If you can’t participate, then get out of the way.”

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The group was focused on creating positive music and helping the crowd enjoy their set. It was real good advice for anyone who wanted to enjoy any of the performances. Know your limits. Those responsible for the venue know mosh pits and crowd surfing will happen, so they staff accordingly. They can’t stop it. Neither can you. Be part of it or, move to the side.

ROCK IN THE RAIN
Nothing goes exactly as planned.

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Things get spilled. People hit their heads.

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“Cap’n Spider-Man’s” spider-sense will fail him, and he will make a mad dash for the main stage at the wrong time.

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Rain will fall.

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None of these things will stop the rock (except lightning. They will definitely stop for lightning).

The clouds remained most of the day Saturday, but all the rain had washed away so the Struts could celebrate on stage by Sunday.

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NO ONE LEFT BEHIND
Shawn Muller commented on RotR’s Facebook feed: “Man, woman, or child, we take care of each other, crowd surfing or in the pit. Respect for the music. Rock on!”

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While we have hardcore punk to thank for the mosh pit, these metal heads have refined it.

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If anyone fell to the ground, you could rely on the other participants to stop everything to pick up their fallen comrade. Yes, these were co-ed mosh pits and although they were fueled with aggression, it was all in fun.

CROWD SURFING
Wolfmother post on Facebook following Rock on the Range: Amazing crowd, never seen so much crowd surfing.

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I’ll speak in generalizations because I can only go on what we witnessed and heard. At RotR there was a strong mosh pit and crowd surfing etiquette. They were a tightly knit community who roistered in these events and meant no harm to anyone. People were lifting crowd surfers of the opposite sex with flattened palms, even when their attire was not conducive to crowd surfing. 

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Andrew McCoy also captured himself over the crowd on his phone singing along to A Day to Remember here. Coincidentally, Abby Marko recorded artist from the second stage, Machine Gun Kelly crowd surfing during the same set here. On more than one occasion I saw father and son, and mother and daughter crowd surf together and walk back to their posts after being escorted by the security staff.

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And then, there was the youngest of the surfers!

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ROTR’S SUPERSTAR
Felisha Hardison brought her daughter to this year’s Rock on the Range, and this little girl was born a rockstar! Chylynne was one of the children brought up on stage on Saturday by Five Finger Death Punch (Her favorite band). She knew how to rock and pose for the camera without any guidance.

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As a parent who took my son to a music festival to see the Kills and Holy Fuck when he was eight, I’ve heard both sides of the debate. Some may argue against the notion of bringing their own young children to the show, but this little girl was likely in less danger here than outside the venue. Here is where the fans really shine. Everyone looked after her like the future of all rock depended on her alone. She was guarded like the Queen. Heaven help anyone who would have laid a finger on her or allowed her to get hurt. She made it out without a scratch and some great stories to tell her friends for years.

ROCK ON THE RANGE
Rock on the Range isn’t just a showcase of all things metal. There were other types of music as well. The only stipulation is that it had to be rock. There was a comedy tent available as well as a vape center so people could smoke … inside? Overall, it is a positive experience for those artists and fans that get a bad rap for their tastes in attire, piercings, music, friends, and tattoos. Some are tired of conforming, and others stopped giving a shit many years ago. It was exactly these things that brought these people from across the US, and several locations overseas together for a 3-day weekend in Columbus Ohio.

Although there is always someone who takes things a step too far, for the most part, RotR is a fantastic outlet for people to let it out in a fun and (dis)respectful way with others who share the same daily life stressors. There was a true sense of community regardless of which band you were there to witness, if you were a Michigan fan, or if you smoked American Spirit cigarettes. This event allowed people to relive the metal they grew up with and experience the next generation of rock.

Of course, the music was the largest of the common bonds that brought everyone together. New lineups will be announced each year, and you’ll need to decide if the music is right for you. If you’re on the fence or worried about the crowd, rest assured that this is what happens when rock brings out the good in people (even if through aggression).

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Memphis May Fire had a loyal group of followers that convinced me to stick around for their set. Keep an ear out for these guys!

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Sick Puppies took the main stage on Friday, the day of their latest release.

Highly Suspect started Sunday morning on the main stage, with an open container of Jameson.

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Sevendust walked away making sure everyone knew who they were.

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Wolfmother was my personal favorite. They were energized, grateful to be there, and of course, they destroyed it!

All photos courtesy of Harry Acosta

Harry Acosta is the art director for Manta with more than 15 years of experience in marketing. Harry is an avid concertgoer and loves to capture his favorite musicians and unseen moments we take for granted in everyday life.

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