In the 1980s they were gods to many. Virile titans with long, flowing hair and guitars that screamed in tremolo dive-bombs and lightning-fast hammer-ons. In 20,00-seat coliseums fans saluted them with sold-out ticket sales. Their videos hit heavy rotation on MTV. They partied with Hef and the bunnies at the mansion. They had everything—everything, that is, until Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” made their music a joke. Flannel replaced leather and hair bands tried fruitlessly to evolve. Most of them didn’t have much success and their albums disappeared to record store cutout bins.
“We ventured out a little bit,” says Warrant bassist and founding member Jerry Dixon, remembering the band’s post-Nirvana, alternative-inspired flops. “We tried to fit in. But as we all know that doesn’t work.” Warrant and their cock-rocking peers were ebbing toward a forced retirement with no hope in sight. Then something strange happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, a few former fans felt a wistful yearning for something wonderful lost deep in their past. They became momentarily bored with their Tool, Cake and Weezer albums and found themselves out in the garage searching for the old turntable and a stack of scratched vinyl. They needed to hear “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
“There’s a lot to be said about being nostalgic,” says Dixon. “I think it’s great and the best thing that can happen to a band.”
Dixon’s point makes sense. After all, feeling nostalgic toward something is a complement. It’s the recognition of pleasure that one feels when reintroduced to something once loved and still valued. Think about the Uptown Diner. It isn’t in business because of the neon, cherry Cokes and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. The diner’s atmosphere may draw a person in once, but a repeat visit has to be attributed to quality food and service. This same logic holds true for Warrant or Poison or Mötley Crüe. Reunion tours and ‘80s packages thrive because, while people may go once for kitch, they return because they enjoyed the experience. Or at least that’s what Warrant and their cronies in Ratt, Dokken, Firehouse and LA Guns hope. These five bands have recently pooled their recent, collective cachet and jumped back on the road with Rock Fest 2002. Sponsored by Metal Edge magazine, the tour rolls into Missoula this Saturday, and the bands plan to peel what little remaining paint there is off the walls of the Western Montana Fairgrounds.
Some might laugh and consider this a far cry from other packages like the Warped Tour or Ozzfest. But Rock Fest doesn’t ask to be compared these other tours. Rock Fest isn’t about breaking new ground, expanding minds or introducing up-and-comers on the side stage. It’s about songs people listened to while losing their virginity or getting sick off the peach Schnapps in their parents’ liquor cabinets.
“If you like rock and you like the ‘80s thing there is nothing better than this,” says Dixon. “We’re all just going to go out and play our hits.” And there are a lot of hits to play. Between them, the five bands have sold 30 million albums worldwide and produced twenty Top 40 hits typified by flamboyantly overwrought anthems like Ratt’s “Round and Round” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” While these songs may offer little insight into the human experience, they certainly present an accurate and pleasurable portrait of what are, after all, rock ’n’ roll’s core values: parties, women and good times.
“With everything going on in the world right now people just want to escape and have fun again,” says Dixon. “It’s like people just want to look at some chicks and have a few beers. It’s a no-brainer.”
While none of the bands on Rock Fest will ever be the Beatles or the Stones, neither will so many of the grunge acts that sapped hair-metal’s thrust. In another decade, Bush, Collective Soul and Creed may themselves join forces and head out on the road. Some will laugh dismissively at this, but others will feel the kiss of nostalgia and want to go. They’ll want to hear “With Arms Wide Open,” remembering that first taste of Peach Schnapps. After all, it’s only rock ’n’ roll…
Rock Fest 2002—featuring Dokken, Ratt, Warrant, Firehouse, and LA Guns—comes to Missoula Saturday, June 29 at the Western Montana Fairgrounds. $30. For more information, visit www.metaledge-rockfest.com.