Monday, June 4, 2012

Rocklahoma 2012 Part 1: The Arrival

The Des Moines crew consisted of Rich of Des Moines, CVEeckian, and myself. We made the trip from Des Moines to Rocklahoma in Pryor, Okahoma  in a little over six hours, which defies GPS logic. It had the trip tabbed as a 7 and a half hour drive, and that's without stops and traffic issues. We didn't speed. The cruise was set at the allowed speed limit and we stopped liberally, as needed.

It should be noted: there are very few, if any rest areas on Highway 71 through Missouri. Nor much of anything else for that matter. It's a long highway.

Each one of us were on very little-if any-sleep, but somehow managed to keep the wheels rolling without any incidental contact of other vehicles. About the time we crossed from Missouri into Oklahoma, we began to notice that the gun lobby had a very strong presence, as gun advocacy was suddenly the main topic of billboard advertising.

That and the occasional ad stating that "Jesus Saves."

Strange bedfellows? Gun advocacy and Jesus Saves billboards.
With the presence of these billboards, it suddenly became apparent that we had indeed, entered the South. God help us.

My biggest fear was that I'd have to deal with hard-nosed law enforcement - we've all heard the stories - so I was especially conscience of the speed limit around me, and the traffic laws, construction zones, etc. Though I virtually hadn't slept in about 28 hours, I was wide awake.

We pulled into Adair, Oklahoma, which is actually closer to the Rocklahoma event than Pryor is. It's a quiet, dusty town, with not much to offer except a couple of gas stations and a brand new Dollar Store. Thinking it would be a good idea to fill up the tank, we pulled into a local gas station. I pumped gas as Rich and Cveckian went inside.

Next to me I noticed a guy who was right in the middle of his mid-life crisis. He had his sports car which was a convertible. His hair was slicked back, and he looked noticeably different from the farmers and normal kinfolk in the area. As he pumped gas into his car he looked around, as if to see if anybody (perhaps an interested female?) was watching him. He looked at me, saw me looking at him, and he nodded.

I nodded back.

He finished filling up before I did, and he sucked his gut in as he made his way into the gas station entrance, pausing only to flex his bicep at his reflection in the gas station door.. Surely any love-struck female who saw him would fall immediately in love...

I finished filling the tank and wandered inside. Mr. Douchebag was there, eyeballing a teenage girl who was stocking shelves in the canned food aisle. He made a comment to her, which she totally ignored. When he realized that she wasn't going to respond, he shrugged it off and walked into the public bathroom. I looked at Cveckian, and I noticed that he too had noticed this creep. Looking at me, he nodded towards the guy, and rolled his eyes. I laughed. I picked up a bag of spicy peanuts and stood in line to pay.

Not exactly sure of our whereabouts and our proximity to Rocklahoma, I thought it would be a good idea to use the restroom myself. Of course that meant another encounter with Mr. Douchebag, and sure enough, there he was when I walked in, preening himself in front of the mirror.

"Good lord." I said aloud as I approached a urinal.

As I pissed, I could feel this guy continue to watch himself in the mirror, and even afterwards as I washed my own hands in the next sink. We didn't make eye contact again. I grabbed a sheet of paper towel and made my way back out to the car. According to the kid behind the counter, we were just a few short miles away from the Rocklahoma event.

Hellz yeah.

There is a giant billboard greeting us as we entered Rocklahoma. "LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF ROCK," it said. It was a relief of sorts, as so far my Oklahoma experience had been filled with weirdness. It might have been the lack of sleep, or maybe the fact that the South is indeed a strange place, I'm not sure. All I know is that it sure felt good when we found the VIP gate and entered the campground.

Backstage Rocklahoma on Thursday
The stage was still being constructed.
(Pictured: Rich and Taylor. Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
We were greeted by a friendly lady who seemed to be expecting us. We had been instructed to tell the person at the gate that we were with the "Arizona Group" and that we were looking for (my uncle) Don Church. We did that, and she knew exactly who he was, which was a an unexpected relief. You know how these things go...  Within a moment or two, she had him contacted via walkie-talkie, and she told us that he would be right here to meet us.

I really haven't spent quality time with my Uncle Don since I was a kid. He moved with my grandparents to Arizona when I was still very young, and the times we were able to hang out were premeditated visits we'd take while on vacation, or the rare occurrences when he would come back to Iowa. Either way, it always seemed so planned... And somewhat rushed.

I had memories of being a kid and hanging out with my brother and my uncle's friends in his basement bedroom at my grandparent's house. It was the epitome of a '70s teenager's bedroom, complete with the lava lamp, burning incense, rock and roll posters, and the obligatory '70s strobe light.

It was there I got my first real taste of rock music, as I was pretty much shielded growing up in my parent's home. My brother and I wasn't allowed to own records by KISS, and some of the other popular bands at the time. But my uncle Don had all the KISS albums, and the Queen records, and Rare Earth, and so many others that seemed strange and obscure. Being in my uncle Don's bedroom and listening to the records that he and his friends were playing was like being in a perceptual playground, where I could hear incredible new sounds, and stare at record album covers for hours.

I specifically remember hearing Golden Earring's Moontan album there for the first time and thinking "Radar Love" was the coolest song ever. In fact, every memory I have of my uncle Don involves music... Not only as a child growing up, but even since he and my grandparents moved out to the desert. He has been actively involved in the Arizona music scene since the day he arrived. He is a veteran drummer, and his current band, Return to Custody is widely respected in the rock circles of Arizona. They are also the "house band" of the Phoenix chapter of the Hells Angels, which somehow seems like a good thing. After all, it worked for the Grateful Dead and the Stones.

Here in Oklahoma, I was excited to see Don, and hang out with him for the weekend. He had brought his son Justen along with him (my cousin) so I was excited on two fronts. Justen was now 23, and a long ways away from when I had seen him last, which was a bout 15 years ago. I didn't even recognize him when he and Don pulled up in a golf cart. Eager to get out of the car and get the weekend started, we made our way to our camping site.

The eastern part of Oklahoma is very humid and windy in late May. Because it hadn't rained in awhile, it was also very dusty. It was Thursday afternoon, and the camp ground hadn't really began to fill up yet. We parked the car, and proceeded to meet and greet the others with whom we'd be sharing a camp with for the next 4 days. There was Don and Justen of course, and a kid from Arizona named Taylor. There was (Mark) Gruici, who had also brought his sons, Andrew and Dan, along, also from Arizona. Along the way while passing through Albuquerque they picked up a friend, James.

In the RV next to ours was Dagger, a band from the Phoenix area. Arriving at exactly the same time we did, they were slated to play on the Jagermeister stage later that evening.

As it turns out, I was able to catch Dagger twice during Rocklahoma weekend. Once on the afore-mentioned Jagermeister stage, and again on Saturday afternoon on the Axis Entertainment stage. They're style of rock and roll is right out of the golden age of heavy metal with loud and wicked guitar riffs, earth shattering drum beats and vocals that transcend into other galaxies. It's raw, it's dirty, and it's in your face. There is absolutely nothing that I've heard in Des Moines that sounds quite like Dagger, and for that matter there's not much I've heard from anywhere that does. They take all the ingredients of that incredible '80s metal sound (think Judas Priest and The Scorpions) and twist it into a version that sounds modern to our own day and age. They've been playing together for 25 years, which is evident in their cohesiveness. Unfortunately, one has to wonder that if these fellas haven't been discovered yet, will they ever be? I think it says alot about the current state of modern music. I'd put Dagger and their stage show up against most of what's popular in today's music. And in hindsight, I'd put them ahead of several of the bands that played on the main stage at Rocklahoma last weekend.

John Harper of Dagger. (Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)

We made our introductions and immediately gravitated for the beer cooler. As VIPs were were promised free beer and free food all weekend. Unfortunately, this didn't apply on Thursday as it was still considered to be pre-festival. (Actually, in hindsight, I think we did get a free dinner that evening.) It didn't matter much. We offered to buy beer several times throughout the evening, but each time we were told to help ourselves to the cooler. I'm not exactly sure who's beer it was that I was drinking all night, but whomever you are, thank you! You made the transition from driving all day to sleeping on the ground all night that much more pleasurable.

Yeah. There was some confusion with the RV situation.

From what I could gather, some people in Arizona had cancelled coming, and therefore one RV was cancelled. It just happened to be the one that the three of us were to be sleeping in. This pretty much left us to fend for ourselves. Because of my lack of sleep, and the slight beer buzz I was enduring, I was okay with just sleeping on top of the ground on a blanket. Charles took the passenger side seat in the car, and I have no idea where Rich ended up. Sometime during the night I was woken up and told that Don and Justen had set up a tent with an air mattress in it. I graciously went there and finished my night of sleep. Music from the Jagermeister stage continued to play throughout the night, and I remember sleep being very sporadic. It didn't matter at this point. At least I could do it on my own terms.

I woke up early for the amount of sleep I had gotten in the last couple of days. I found Cveckian in the car, and Rich was nowhere to be found. The toll of driving all the day the day before and not getting a shower had begun to take it's toll on me. Without getting too personal, let's just say that I was in serious need of some baby powder. Each step I took was torture, and I knew from experience that as the day got warmer and more humid, that I was in for a world of trouble if I didn't act fast. I slowly made my way to the car and woke up Cveckian.

"Hey man," I said. "We have a tent now."

"That would have been good to know," Cveckian replied.

"I need a shower, and I don't think I would be able to walk all the way over there. Plus I need to go into town. Sorry to bother you."

Charles woke up, and decided that a shower was indeed a good idea. Afterwards, we drove into Adair to look for a place that sells baby powder, plus a few other essentials that we were lacking. I remembered seeing the Dollar Store, so I drove there. The clock in the car said 8:52, and the sign on the door of the store said that it opened at 9:00. Charles walked next door to the gas station as I waited for the Dollar Store to open.

Finally, at about 9:04 I began to beat on the door. I could see people inside stocking shelves and I figured that they were unaware that we had reached the hour of store operation. Some guy sauntered over to the door and unlocked it. he opened it slightly, leaned out and asked if he could help me.

"Um, yeah. I want to shop in here."

"We are not open." He replied.

"Well, your sign says 9:00 and it's well after..."

"No, sir. We are not open... As in the store ISN'T open."

He pointed to a huge banner that was hung on the building. It said in big block letters" DOLLAR STORE OPENING SOON!.

"Oh, for crying out loud..."

How in the hell had I missed that sign? It was as big as the building itself... And I had been standing outside there for over ten minutes. Cveckian returned at that point, and I told him that I had to go to the gas station that he had just came out of. To my relief, he acted like he hadn't seen the huge banner either.

I bought the baby powder (2 bottles) and as I got back into the car, Cveckian says, "Hey check it out." He pointed to the a guy who was walking into the gas station. It was our friend from the day before, Mr. Douchebag.

"I could tell it was him because of the way he flexed as he approached his reflexion in the glass of the door." said Cveckian.

Sure enough, it was him, convertible and all. The guy must be cursed, I figured, to be suffering through a midlife crisis in such a small town where nobody wants anything to do with him...

With two bottles of baby powder in tow and a bit of breakfast in our stomachs, Cveckian and I made our way back to our Rocklahoma campground. It was to be a weekend that we will likely never forget.