While most Southern California music lovers headed to Indio for that other music festival (*cough Coachella) this writer fled the hipsters and drove to Mesa, Arizona with Thomas Allard, and Monique DiLeva for 98 KUPD’s spring rock festival, Ufest. The show featured bands like A Day To Remember, Asking Alexandria, and Escape the fate. These hard rock heroes played late into the night on the festival’s side by side stages giving hard rockers plenty of reason to bang their head. The show may have had its share of technical issues and less than optimal lighting come nighttime making lead singer of Escape the Fate Craig Mabbitt’s hometown show not exactly what he expected, but each band played on and sang their hearts out all afternoon and evening.
Technical issues aside, the radio station had a unique take on making a big festival feel intimate for a few lucky fans. Those who shelled out the extra cash for VIP tickets had the unique experience of standing in an up-against-the-stage section ahead of the general admission barricade. These fans were free of crowd surfers and the extreme pushing expected when by the barricade. This experience was unlike anything this writer has ever seen. The very cool idea resulted in some inexperienced fans trying to hop on stage and frustrated ones inadvertently messing with monitor cables trying to retrieve whatever musicians left on stage. In terms of layout, there should have been a second barricade between the VIPs and the stage with a few security guards supervising them. If that were the case, executing the added VIP perk would have gone off without a hitch.
Speaking of security; 98 KUPD did a great job picking bands that revolved around the same genre of music, each with just enough original flair to mix things up. Unfortunately, the crowd energy that comes along with a line-up as heavy as this one was clearly not taken into consideration when it came to security staff. The peanut gallery barricade crew consisted of inexperienced or incapable ‘security guards’ who were expected to catch crowd surfers as a safety precaution. Some of the kids playing the role of security guards were as young as 14 and spent a noticeable portion of the show standing around, texting, or taking selfies in front of the performers instead of focusing on crowd safety. This resulted in several avoidable injuries with both fans and security guards alike and was more of a nuisance than a safety measure.
When it comes to performances, one major stand out was returning festival favorite, Powerman 5000. After Redlight King’s slower set their sci-fi electronic rock filled the afternoon with cheers and screams as singer Spider One belted the lyrics of hit songs “Worlds Collide” and “Bombshell.” It was easy to see why Rob Zombie’s younger brother connected so well with this Arizona crowd and had been asked to return after 2013’s Ufest. His rock star persona sure gave the crowd reasons to scream and sing along throughout the entire set.
In a completely different musical route, legendary rapper ICE-T hopped on stage with his rocked out Hip-Hop band, Body Count. The band took Hip-Hop style and mashed it together with old-school punk rock aggression. Along with Powerman 5000, their act was unique, and unlike the rest of the show. The heavy emphasis on being murderous cop killers to gain street cred may have been considered out of place by some, but as ICE-T sang new tracks off of the band’s upcoming album Manslaughter it was clear to see a dedicated group of fans made the trip to Ufest specifically for Body Count.
Both were extremely refreshing considering the festival had its fair share of bands who only sang in guttural screams. These two variations took Ufest up a notch, and kept it from being just another rock show. The acts seemed to get the exhausted crowd’s energy back, but by the end of the night fans were more than ready to hear A Day To Remember play tracks from their newest album Common Courtesy.
A Day to Remember’s first Arizona performance (and second U.S. performance) of the year took all the best parts of the “House Party Tour”, and threw in several new additions. The hour-long set was heavier, more energetic, and just flat out crazier than all of the day’s other acts combined definitely giving fans their money’s worth. CO2 cannons sent pressurized air skyrocketing during critical breakdowns of the heavier songs in their set giving the songs even more intensity. The band’s tour photographer Adam Elmakias darted out on stage dressed as a mad scientist wielding a T-shirt cannon to shower fans with free merch, and the always popular toilet paper toss made its return during “All Signs Point to Lauderdale.” Even lead singer Jeremy McKinnon’s signature human-sized hamster ball made an appearance as he scampered over the audience’s heads.
Overall, Ufest took unique ideas and combined them with a fantastic lineup resulting in a somewhat diverse group of bands. This mix combined both the new and old-school sounds for all types of hard rock fans. Several very noticeable technical issues, weak security line, and dim and sometimes nonexistent lighting made this show seem unprofessional, but still enjoyable. By the Barricade recommends Ufest if you are already in the greater Phoenix area, and aren’t afraid to take part in 98 KUPD’s unique and sometimes amazing concert layout experiments. The team will have to see next year’s lineup before packing up and heading from California to Arizona for next year’s Ufest.