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Commentary: Crew Stadium ready to rock hard

Quinn Stocker / Lantern photographer

Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits: Some of the biggest names in the music festival circuit. Three festivals respectively in or near Los Angeles, Chicago and Austin, Texas, the respective second, third and 14th largest cities in the nation, according to the 2010 Census.

Columbus is right behind Austin at 15th. Rock on The Range, occurring for the fifth year this weekend, could qualify as the city’s festival de force.

I don’t expect Rock to catch up in terms of crowds to any of the aforementioned. Crew Stadium can only hold 22,555 people, and the music is aimed at a much narrower audience. Rock; good old, American (regardless of the acts’ nationalities), fist-pumping rock. Is it as hip as Bonnaroo? Maybe not. Regardless of whether the headliner is the Arcade Fire or Avenged Sevenfold (as it is at Rock this year), ROTR deserves some applause for its reliable production of star-studded lineups.

Avenged Sevenfold is a sales and performance powerhouse. Their last record, 2010’s “Nightmare” topped the Billboard 200 after its release. The musicianship is what rock fans drool over: bleeding-fingertips soloing and equally aggressive drum fills.

The showmanship is often too over-the-top for more mellow listeners and occasionally myself, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for ROTR. This appearance is especially poignant for the band. Their last stop in Columbus in 2009 for the festival was their last American show with drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who passed away early the next year.

The previous years have also included chart toppers like Godsmack, Kid Rock and Slipknot. Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor realized after its 2009 headlining slot that it was the largest crowd the band had performed before up to that point. Groups like Slipknot aren’t granted spots at the “hipper” gigs like Lollapalooza. Rock on The Range is one of the few chances for fans of the genre to check out all their favorite acts for the festival-value-pricing.

“It’s the premier rock festival of North America,” said Gary Spivack of Right Arm Entertainment, the company promoting the shows.

Spivack gave me a similar quote when I interviewed him while I was first covering the event during its third incarnation. I was weary at the time; it’s his job to promote it after all. But this time, I could only agree.

Compare it to the other rock shows; Rocklahoma can’t hold a candle (I’m glad Right Arm brought the big guns to Columbus), Ozzfest is debatably existent, and Projekt Revolution is too reliant on Linkin Park to run it. In 2009 I spoke to pilgrims from Indiana, Michigan and impressively, Maryland. That’s good business for Columbus, regardless of how much you dislike rock.

As I’ve admitted, the biggest names in rock don’t always appeal to me. That’s why it’s great that the organizers always book one name that is difficult to see otherwise. In 2008, grunge era mavens the Stone Temple Pilots made ROTR its reunion site. Not its hometown, San Diego, not New York or Los Angeles; Columbus, Ohio.

Limp Bizkit made a rare U.S. tour stop last year and this year features A Perfect Circle, the “supergroup” consisting of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. The latter is my big draw this year; the group is talented and quirky, and a favorite of my girlfriend, who is incredibly jealous I’ll be there and she won’t. She’ll get her chance; it’ll be in a headlining slot for Lollapalooza. Yeah, a Lolla headliner is headlining Columbus’ big show.

Being the premier rock festival of North America and all, will ROTR look towards a bigger city to showcase its wares? Not according to Spivack.

“Columbus is our home. We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “As soon as you get greedy, that’s when you lose what made you great.”

Rock on the Range has embraced Columbus, and I encourage Columbus to embrace it, even if it isn’t your scene. This is a big event that brings attention and cash to Columbus, and that’s something any Ohio city could use.

So, while I’ve got your attention Right Arm, I’ve got a wish list for 2012: Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, Tool. Any or all will suffice.

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