At 12:40 we entered Rock City on Sunday and I wondered if the crowd would still be fit enough to sing along and clap their hands. I had my doubts if the performance from Gotthard from last night could be topped. We’ll see and with fully charged batteries and new memory cards in the pocket I headed to the photo pit.

The New Jersey boys from FARCRY had the honor to warm up the many music lovers who already took their place at the venue. They should have been on the bill last year but the flight prices went of the scale and they weren’t able to fly! But Pete Fry did come to Firefest last year and came on stage during the set of NEWMAN. “She’s Crazy” from the debut album “High Gear” was the first played song on Sunday. The guitar work from Pete Fry immediately caught my ear. The man knows how to stroke his strings. The more melodic “Over And Over (Again) followed and the people who attended last year may recognized this track, because Pete played it with Newman. New singer Mike Ledesma has a limited vocal range, but he still stays between the safety lines. The band played 4 tracks from each album. Keyboard wizard Eric Ragno joined them on stage on the semi-ballad “Better Than This”. But the heat goes on with the furious rocker “Have It All”. The song knows some heavy pounding riffs. Not only Pete Fry shows his skills, drummer Tommy John is a real drum beast! His sticks are flying in the air on regular basis. “Too Hot To Hold” from Optimism” the set close with the hugely catchy “Love Won’t Wait”. It’s safe to say Farcry did prove that they deserved to be part of this fest and entertained the crowd with ease.

Also coming from New Jersey are the lovely FIONA. I had to admit that back in 1985 I bought the album blindly (the version with the blue background and the lovely face of Fiona) without even listening to it. Today I still like that album very much because it’s so divers and holds some real gems (for me). She got the show on the road with two tracks from her latest album “Unbroken”. She immediately palmed me in (again J ) with her feminine charm. Dressed with a sleeveless dress and half boots and a couple of necklaces she shined on stage. Her voice was still top notch and that was a more than pleasant surprise to me! Eric Ragno manages to squeeze in many keyboards so the sound was very open and fresh. “Ain’t That Just Like Love” and “Treat Me Right” follow from that 1992 album “Squeeze”.  But Ms. Flanagan shows the real power in her voice during the awesome “Keeper Of The Flame”. The band is a bunch of high class musicians and Tommy Denander goes all the way on the guitar on this track. Fiona herself has turned 51, but she moves on stage like a teenager and seems to have a whole lot of sun on stage. Just like Robin Beck the day before she’s got a great sense of humor and throws in a few funny lines. I started jumping and shouted along with that classic “Hang Your Heart On Me”. Fiona switched to a more romantic vibe with the calmer “Heart’s On Fire” from the soundtrack of the movie with the same name. She pleases me even more when the bluesy “Talk To Me” comes along. Her forty minute slot comes to an end with the catchy cover “Shadows Of The Night” (best known from Pat Benatar and is also in the movie “Rock of Ages”) from her last album. I would like to have hurt “Love Makes You Blind” or “You’re No Angel” but during such a short set you can’t play everything and we got a fine mix of her repertoire. So, I don’t have to whine! And she still looks lovely! J

Next up was ROYAL HUNT from Copenhagen, Denmark. The band could be considered as the outside here on Firefest because they didn’t bring real AOR. But their music is very melodic and has a progressive and symphonic flair so it might just fit in! And of course band founder Andre Anderson plays according to DC Cooper twelve different keyboards on stage! DC has joined Royal Hunt Again and last year they put out the great “Show Me How To Live”. There were some troubles with the set-up on they started a few minutes later than planned with the new “One More Day”. DC Cooper proves that he is the Joey Tempest of the progressive melodic metal. He got the looks and the moves. He only had to point at  the crowd and he got a great reaction in return. With “Step By Step” and “Last Goodbye” we get two gems from that awesome “Moving Target” album. But when “Half Past Loneliness” starts with his multiple keys from Anderson and the catchy melodic riffs from Jonas Larsen the crowd goes wild and the temperature rises at Rock City! DC Cooper jumps in the photo pit to interact with the crowd. They had to drop one track from the set list due to the technical problems they experienced but DC begs if he still may play the last track “Message To God” from the killer “Paradox” album. The band proved with their very melodic sound and an awesome DC Cooper that they where a true addition to this year’s bill.

The band I was really looking forward to was the Canadian BRIGHTON ROCK. Their second offering “Take A Deep Breath” is a personal favorite of mine. On the other side I had my doubts if singer Gerry McGhee still could hit the high notes. Guitarist Greg Fraser suggested to tune down the songs so that they were easier to sing. But Gerry said: “No, we do it the way we wrote it!”. Knowing that the man actually doesn’t sing anymore, it must have been a hell of a job to get into shape. Gerry proved his point and kicked off with full force during the heavy “Unleash The Rage”. And he sounded exactly like he did during the mid 80’s. The rocking “Yong, Wild and Free” from their debut was second on the list and they threw in another from 1986 with “Barricades”. But then I was in for a real treat! They brought the melodic “Hangin’ High ‘n’ Dry” and on hot on its heels there was my favorite “Take A Deep Breath” track “Outlaw”. They even scored a hat trick with the pumping “Rebels With A Cause”. We got a true Rock ‘n’ Roll intro for “Harlem Shuffle”. The slightly more poppy “We Came To Rock” became the first sing along. But things got crazy from the first tone of “One More Try”. The track was being fully sung by the audience. Gerry proved with this track that his voice is still more than awesome. Things turn dark and heavy with “Nightstalker” from the “Love Machine“ album. It’s the personal favorite from singer Gerry and he even did the spoken newsflash live during the song! I went in the melodic heaven for sure when they played the sixth track from “Take A Deep Breath”: the party rocker “Power Overload”. This awesome performance came to an end with rough “Bulletproof”. Brighton Rock was for many attendees a pleasant surprise and they played, for me, the perfect set list. The band also seems to have the time of their live on stage!

Another band I was looking out for was the New Orleans based LILLIAN AXE. They always were a more darker ‘hair metal’ band. I found their first four albums very special and their latest effort “XI – The Days Before Tomorrow” was a big surprise to me. They had said that they would be focusing just on those albums, so things couldn’t get wrong! They kept their promise, because “Misery Loves Company” from that debut album was thrown in my face. With “Deepfreeze” they went to the stunning “Psychoschizophrenia” album. They showed some more melody with the catchy and hooks overloaded “All’s Fair In Love And War” from my favorite album “Love and  War”. They continued with the guitar driven “Mercy” from album number three “Poetic Justice”. New singer Brian C. Jones could prove he’s the best possible singer for the band during the somewhat calmer “The World Stopped Turning”. The newcomers within the band are younger and it shows because the drumming from Ken Koudelka during “Hard Luck” was just awesome. The catchy riffs from Steve Blaze in the intro for “True Believer” gets the crowd going. But Steve can really show off his skills on the strings with new track “Babylon”. It reminded me even a bit on a young Diamond Darrell (Dimebig) on the first Pantera albums ( like “Projects in the Jungle”). The absolutely fabulous and personal favorite “Ghost of Winter” was the ballad that ignite again my tear canal!  Simply wonderful! The guitars rule again in that killer new track “Death Comes Tomorrow”. But it’s singer Brian who steals the show here with very melodic vocal lines. “Show A Little Love” is the most AOR-ish song of their set and gets a real great reaction of the pleased crowd. But it’s set closer “No Watter What” that proves to be the ultimate Lillian Axe sing along!

I saw the next band for the first time in my life on the 2010 edition Firefest. I was more than pleased to welcome the Norwegian STAGE DOLLS back on stage. Man two years ago that put down a wonderful show. I wanted to know if they could do that another time. When they kicked off with the title track from their latest album “Always” I knew this was gonna be a stellar performance! Guitarist and singer Torstein and bass player Terje where definitely very eager to please the crowd because they followed with the absolute cracker “Love Cries”. They turned the stage into a boogie rock saloon with the extremely hip shaker “Left Foot Boogie”. They were at the set of a true romantic movie with “Hard To Say Goodbye”.  They even switched to the comeback album “Get A Life” with the happy sounding “You’re The One” and the bass dominated “24/7”.  Flakne’s voice is still super sexy and he proves that one’s more on that heartbreaker “Sorry (is all I can say)”. The songs are not so complicated but they are that catchy that everyone feels the need to sing along! When I look at the stage I think that the band also had a great time. They couldn’t stop laughing. The song “Taillights” was the first surprise for me and was spot on. During the  song “Commandos” the crowd spontaneous did the back ground harmonies and again that was proof of the totally dedicated audience at Firefest. But the track with the highest sing along factor must have been “Love Don’t Bother Me”. Oh man, what felt it great to be standing among the crowd when this tune hit Rock City! The temperature had raised at least 10 degrees at the venue but when they played “Wings of Steel” and “Still In Love” the sweat simply was dripping on the floor! The show ended with the Celtic inspired “Soldier’s Gun” from 1985! I just couldn’t believe what Stage Dolls just had pulled off. They topped their own performance off two years ago.

Now the time was come for the absolute headliners of this year’s edition. The American DANGER DANGER had the almost impossible job to give us a better show then Stage Dolls just did. Their first two albums most be in the collection of every AOR lover. With the first note they threw in the air the crowd just got nuts. “Rock America” sounded way harder than on the album and the people started to sing along. This was going to be a BIG show. They jumped to album number two with the pumping “Beat The Bullet”. Ted Poley proved us that he is a front man who lets the crowd eat out of his hand during the whole set. Bass player Bruno Ravel had some big trouble with the storm ‘Sandy’ back home at this moment, but the band took Rock City like a hurricane. The album “Cockroach” was represented by “Shot o’ Love”. They are particular proud of their latest album “Revolve”, so “Killin’ Love” was thrown at the already boiling audience. Back to album 1 with the very smooth and melodic “Don’t Walk Away”. Poley was that impressed about the reaction that he decided to walk off the stage and visited the VIP area on the first floor. He did that by walking through the audience. Do I need to say that the crowd loved it big time? But I believe the security guys didn’t know what hit them, because Ted’s action was spontaneous and nobody knew what he was going to do (not even the band members!). Ted spoke to the audience and said: “ I wished I had four hands right now, so I could give you four thumbs up! “. This party full of happiness continued with the thundering bass from Bruno during “Don’t Blame It On Love”. “Hearts on The Highway” from ‘Revolve’ was dedicated to Kieran and of course the whole song was sung by the audience. This track holds fast, furious guitar solos from Rob Marcello and at some point it took almost shred like proportions. The Def Leppard riffs (Hysteria era) from “Feels Like Love” were followed by another gem “Bang Bang” from that fabulous first album. The lovely ballad “I Still Think About You” was sung in its entirely by the crazy crowd. The finale was set in with the catchy “Crazy Nites”. Well no song could better describe what we experienced here this Sunday evening! Ted and Poley had also a nice sense of humor and entertained the audience with their chatting. Mitch Malloy joined the band on stage to perform together “Monkey Business”! But they soon got the company of two banana throwing monkeys on stage! What a hilarious moment! After they disappeared behind the curtains they quickly got back on stage for their set closer. Bruno an Rob teased the audience with several snippets from known classics from all kinda bands but everybody knew what song was coming. But in full American style they had a very long introduction and at last they were ready to go down and dirty! Robin Beck, Terry Ilous, James Christian and Tommy Denander got also on stage and together they put down an unbelievable version of THEIR ultimate song “Naughty Naughty”.

Man, Danger Danger had just performed the ultimate Firefest show! The concert was packed with killer tracks. There was an unbelievable reaction with the crowd by Ted and everybody at Rock City had shouted the lyrics and clapped their hands. Know I know what the people mean with the expression: “They blew the roof of!”. And when Ted left the stage he have us all some good advice: “Stay horny everybody” J

How can we summarize this weekend? Well in short: fucking awesome! No seriously, I did see only good bands, the sound was always top (good balance between the instruments and never too loud), the time schedule was strictly followed and the crowd and the atmosphere were superb.

So when you attend this festival you won’t see devil horns in the sky, mosh pits or head banging people. What you get is a feeling of an actual family or a pack of people who all love their music and show this by singing along, clapping their hands and simply get crazy.

Next year there is the 10th edition of this awesome party and I wonder what the surprises will be this time!

Text  and photo’s by Rik Bauters

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