Since 2004, Guerilla Union has thrown the Rock the Bells music festival every summer touring coast to coast, featuring artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang (with and without ODB), and Rage Against the Machine, and giving each festival go-er an experience that they’ll never forget.
This basic description would get any music lover to go, but why does this not excite me this year? I try to listen to the discography of every artist on the line up, Nas’ illmatic, Sage Francis’ spoken word, Damian Marley’s Halfway Tree, I even watched Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet?
Nothing. I’ve got nothing and I haven’t even been to the festival yet, or I think I’ve been listening to too much of “You’re a Jerk.” Oh well! Check me out as I review, judge, and jerk Rock the Bells.
As I embark upon Rock the Bells 2009, I selectively put my hesitation of the event on hold and start to get excited about enjoying the music. The beats and rhymes of Tech N9ne greet me as I pull into the parking lot and I observe that the parking lot isn’t as full as last year’s RTB, apparently I wasn’t the only one with hesitations about it. But hey, did they have free tickets? Guess not.
I receive my press pass when I enter Glen Helen Pavilion and also get the lecture of “Do’s and Don’ts” that you get when you enter the press booth. I shake my head at the press coordinator and stare into the distance looking for the closest bar. With the press packet in hand and beer on my mind I shake off the lecture, place the packet in the garbage, get a beer and head to VIP where I can get the most of the experience.
Systematically I make my way through the festival as artists like La Coka Nostra and Reflection Eternal play classics, but I didn’t notice them. I only notice the bikini clad females that walked around. I thought to myself, “Self, were you not excited to go to Rock the Bells?” apparently not as I go from 6 to 12.
Then I came to the conclusion that if I stared hard enough it would result in a quick shiv to my already damaged bladder because these ladies aren’t here for Hip Hop. They’re here with their gangster boyfriends that like Ice Cube, no way in hell do they have the mental capacity for Sage Francis. But I’ve often been wrong about the female specimen.
The VIP booth at Rock the Bells is clad with a mini stage, couches, bars, and big fans that allow you to cool yourself as you listen to tunes by word class and local DJ’s, as well as special up-close and special performances by artists. It is an area that is often overlooked at RTB, but is very well worth the experience.
Here I am taking photos in VIP and I get a tap on my shoulder and turn around. To my surprise it is Chali 2Na, and so begins my quick interview with the “Verbal Herman Munster.”
Adam G: Yo, Chali?! You scared me for a bit, waddup man how’ve you been?
Chali 2na: Chillin’ man, you wouldn’t happen to have a blunt?
AG: Nah man, but if you got a second I can I ask you a couple of questions about Rock the Bells?
2Na: Sure, waddup?
AG: How’s RTB treating you?
2Na: Good, would be nicer if I can get a blunt.
AG: Is your tuna dolphin free?
2Na: (pause) giggles: I’ma go find a blunt wrap, good seeing you brutha, hit me up next time you’re in (southern California city that is boring as hell) .
AG: Later Chali.
(Apparently he doesn’t know my name but recognizes me from past meetings. I love it when that happens.)
As the day progresses I make my way between the three stages taking photos. Watching Sage Francis bounce as he puts the American Government in shambles, Eyedea & Abilities match each other with lyrical and turntable skills, MOP performing the Hip Hop hype theme of “Ante Up,” and the special guest Slick Rick tear it up with his laid back rhymes.
From taking photos, there is one thing I have to say about the press. They’re boring. Photographers sit there snapping away shots and pushing each other to get the perfect angle. I then realized that I am fan first as I put down my camera and start mouthing the words to the performance by Dilated Peoples’, “Work the Angles.” I raise my hand and drop it to the beat while making eye contact with Evidence and get the “nod” of approval, all the while photographers try to get my hand out of their pictures. This is where I found that excitement that was previously null. I officially go from 6 to 12 again.
As night falls the hot girls start to blend into the darkness of males, I make my way to the main stage for the headliners. Of all the performers on the bill, no one matches the energy of Busta Rhymes. Bouncing across the stage with his hype man and one hit wonder, Spliff Star, you never realize that every song Busta has ever been on is laced with cocaine. From “Scenario” to “Arab Money” his figure on stage is miniscule by the electricity created by excitement in the crowd.
From Busta Rhymes to Nas and Damian Marley, you get political oppression with Brooklyn rhymes; Pothead anthems mashed with defining beats. Hip Hop and Reggae have officially been merged and I am not talking about that reggaeton shit either. The only thing that I can’t figure out is how do I become the dude on stage that just waves the Jamaican flag around. People have hype men; Damian Marley has a single color guard.
But for LA, the headliner was one of the originators of gangster rap, Ice Cube. He didn’t step on stage as the lovable family actor; he stepped on stage as the “Straight Outta Compton” Ice Cube. I stopped taking photos and started getting hyped as Dub C and Ice Cube “C’ walked across stage, it made me forget that even gangsters know how to spell.
Rock the Bells 2009 managed to not only excite me, but also managed to leave me with ringing ear drums and a mentality to want to stab my radio. Rock the Bells isn’t about who is playing, it is about who is not playing. With a line-up like Nas and Damian Marley, Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube, and with special guest Slick Rick, who wouldn’t be excited?
–Adam G with photos by Adam G and Veronica Amador