Pop-Break Live: Rockin’ the Rivers Fest (Montana)

Written by Molly Boekenheide

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Rockin’ the Rivers Day 1: Lita Ford & Queensryche

HELLOOO MONTANA! Such was the greeting issued by band after band, in the sleepy little town of Three Forks, before beginning their sets at the annual Rockin’ the Rivers Festival in…Montana?! That’s right; Big Sky Country, home of geysers, glaciers, and dinosaur fossils to name just a few. RV’s, campers, bikers, locals and vacationers alike flocked to the picturesque valley nestled at the base of the Northern Rockies to hear some good, solid rock ‘n’ roll. Bands both old and new jammed for three straight days, to a crowd of over 10,000 rock enthusiasts who were ready to party.

Ah, rock ‘n’ roll.

On the first day, the line-up included Winger, Vixen, Rail, Sin City Sinners, Lita Ford and Queensryche. While all of these bands were outstanding, for the sake of this article, I’ll only have the space to review two. Lita Ford is my personal favorite – hopefully, she’s yours too!

Lita was garbed in a black leather catsuit which looked just as good on her at the festival as it did when she was sporting similar looks as a Runaway. She was accompanied by her band of “Hollywood’s finest musicians,” Mitch Perry (bass), Bobby Rock (drums), and Marty O’Brien (guitar).

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Ford kicked off her set around 6pm with an old Elton John hit, “The Bitch Is Back,” and plunged right in with the aid of her Stoli guitar, wailing unapologetically, “I’m a bitch, I’m a bitch! Oh, this bitch is back!” The Queen of Metal blazed through the brazen “Hungry For Your Sex,” before tackling the unyielding “Relentless. Fans looked up at the stage with pride and adoration as Ford waxed lyrical about overcoming constant rejection and adversity: “Every door slammed in my face, told me a girl needs to know her place. I never listened, I proved them all wrong, rocked their asses from here to Hong Kong…I’m not invited, but I’m coming anyway…”

The title track of her 2012 album, Living Like A Runaway followed, before Ford decided to lose the guitar and “dance around a little bit.” Unfortunately, her sound board operator seemed to have downed one too many Budweisers that day, because guitars began screeching feedback, while the mics were cutting in and out. Ford, seemingly unfazed, handled the disturbances like the pro that she is…”I don’t know what’s going on with the sound…but it’s making me horny!” she laughed before asking her audience, “well, it seems like the PA system is a little fucked up, but you guys don’t mind, right?!”

Nope! For a few minutes, the music took a back seat to the spectacle on stage (screeching guitars, Lita’s lips moving without any vocals), nobody seemed to mind at all; the crowd was content to bask in the presence of the legend, Lita. So, Ford’s set continued on, covering the hard and fast, “Can’t Catch Me” and “Black Leather,” the dramatic “Back to the Cave,” and the 80’s duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever.” Next up, “Cherry Bomb,” a Runaways original. It rallied the crowd to a fever pitch with, “Hello, daddy! Hello, mom! I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-CHERRY BOMB!”

Ford wrapped up her set by bringing Eddie Trunk, host of That Metal Show, onstage, to wish him a Happy Birthday. With cake in hand, Ford and her audience sang an enthusiastic “Happy Birthday” to her friend, and then moved on to her biggest solo hit to date, the infectious “Kiss Me Deadly.” As there was no time for an encore, the fan-connected Ford thanked everyone for coming out before exiting the stage, and then surprising them with an unannounced meet and greet! Well played Lita Ford!

Apparently everybody in Montana wasn’t on vacation like yours truly, so when the sun went down and the locals were free to play, the crowd in the festival swelled…SIGNIFICANTLY. Queensryche had arrived! If you caught my interview with drummer Scott Rockenfield last week, the band’s new lineup with Todd La Torre as frontman, was discussed. Rockenfield explained, “The morale, for us, just kind of became perfect. I mean, the second we transitioned and got Todd [La Torre] in the band, the morale just went through the roof for us, you know?” The good feelings resonated. The closeness of the band was palpable as Queensryche exploded onto the stage. They played off of one another, interacted with the crowd and had an infectious energy that only comes from loving life; they rocked it! The new and improved Queensryche is on a path to greatness.

One of the many highlights of their set was “The Needle Lies.” A harrowing tale of hitting rock bottom while struggling with a drug addiction, “The Needle Lies” seemed to resonate with the audience, who watched with rapt fascination as La Torre wailed, “Cold and shaking, I crawled down alleys to try and scrape away the tracks that marked me…slammed my face into walls of concrete, I stared, amazed at the words written on the wall…” La Torre’s glorious hair (Did I actually just write that?!) was blowing in the cool Montana wind as the band’s fans joined in for the chorus: “Don’t ever trust, don’t ever trust the needle, it lies…don’t ever trust, don’t ever trust the needle when it cries…”

Another stand-out was “Empire,” which truly showed off the new frontman’s impressive range (shout-out to the two drunken, burly bikers who were smoking next to me…they were adorably impressed, and very animated about it as well). La Torres’s vocals were enhanced with the help of his bandmates, as they jammed strong, pulsing riffs and unrelenting percussion. Queensryche closed out the show to an incredibly enthusiastic crowd. Keep on, keeping on guys, because your new formula is perfection!

Rockin’ the Rivers Day 2: The Pretty Reckless and Pop Evil

You’ve gotta love an RV. After a night of partying with live bands and beer, it’s there for you, just a stumbling distance away. It’s all of the comforts of home, just waiting to welcome you in; no need to drive, well, maybe tomorrow, or the day after that. In the morning, you can watch as the sun comes up behind the mountains while sipping freshly brewed coffee – sooo sweet…but realistically, I should probably save that fantasy for my golden years. Undoubtedly, it’ll be closer to 3pm before I fall out of bed after being jarred from a deep sleep by a Rockin’ the Rivers sound check. I’ll recover though. Just a few aspirin; maybe a beer and some fresh air…this is Montana, man – and there’s music!

The Pretty Reckless kicked off their set with the eerie “Follow Me Down,” off of their latest album, Going To Hell, garnering hoots and hollers thanks to the track’s sex-fueled intro. Momsen stormed the stage dressed in a gold-embroidered black kimono and aviators, her signature long blonde locks swayed seductively as she sang in a menacing whisper, “Follow me down to the river, follow me down to the trees…follow me down to the river now, and I’ll be down there on my knees…” Guitars crashed to signal the chorus, as frenzied fans clamored up against the guard rails blocking the stage.

The crowd for Momsen was noticeably younger than the crowds of previous acts – a surprising amount of kids turned out to see the former Gossip Girl star. Momsen, known for her signature scowl since she left acting, was sure to recognize her younger fans, with plenty of winks and smiles throughout, but never fully held back; “MONTANAAAAA! WE’RE THE PRETTY RECKLESS, WHAT THE FUCK IS UP?!” she screamed, garnering raucous cheers from the crowd.

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Diving headfirst into “Since You’re Gone,” off of their 2010 debut album, Light Me Up, Momsen enraptured the crowd with provocative dance moves, grinding with her guitarists and shimmying for her drummer. “Cold Blooded Woman” saw Momsen rid herself of her kimono, leaving her in combat boots and a black t-shirt with an upside-down, gold-sequined cross. Cue the next song…

The parochial “Heaven Knows” had Momsen taking a call-to-action with her fans, keening, “Oh Lord, heaven knows…we belong way down below…SING IT!” Concertgoers didn’t miss a beat, bemoaning, “Oh Lord, tell us so…we belong way down below…”

Jumping from one uplifting song to the next, Pretty Reckless headed full speed into their debut single, “Make Me Wanna Die,” before the previous days audio issues struck, with amps screeching feedback into the crowd. “It seems we’re having some technical difficulties with my very expensive amps,” Momsen mused before adding with a chuckle, “it’s all VERY rock ‘n’ roll.”

Thankfully, the sound dilemma was resolved quickly, and The Pretty Reckless was able to conclude their set with the combative, take-no-prisoners “Going To Hell,” and their latest single, “Fucked Up World,” leaving her fans, young and old, eager for more.

“…and now, let’s show some love for…POP EVIL!!!”

Pop Evil stormed the stage to rousing applause and a toasted crowd, ready to rock! No formal salutations were needed as frontman Leigh Kakaty screamed, “MONTANAAAA! MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” …aaaand, noise was made. The guys of Pop Evil then blasted into “Hero,” a track about finding an escape and breaking free. Kakaty cried, “I am barely breathing, I’m barely alive. When did it all come tumbling down? Your actions speak louder than all of the thunder that you brought down on me…”

A quick tweak, and the mood shifted as Kakaty announced that “It’s a very special day to me tonight,” he confessed, “It’s my fucking birthday! I want to do something special…” The crowd went wild as members of Aranda walked onstage, joining Pop Evil for a few songs. Unabashed, Kakaty raised his red Solo cup and offered, “A toast to my fucking birthday!”

The birthday boy was clearly satisfied with the camaraderie. Aranda then ceded the stage to their compadres as Kakaty and his boys blew into the contentious “Boss’s Daughter,” growling out, “That giiiiirl, she’s a loaded gun…gonna take em’ out, take em’ one by one. She knows when she’s dressed to kill, she’ll put a bullet in your heart just to feel the thrill…” Next, came the determined “Last Man Standing,” which was followed by an apparent crowd favorite, “Sweet Sex.”

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Multidimensional AND insightful, Pop Evil switched gears again as Kakaty got sentimental with their hit, “Torn To Pieces.” “I love you Daddy, I miss you brother,” he mused solemnly, raising his cup to the heavens, singing, “I’m torn to pieces, I’m broken down. I still see your face when you’re not around…I sit here in misery wondering if I’ll ever be half the man you wanted me to be…” It’s an incredibly sweet song, performed by a group of tough rockers, making it even sweeter. Check out the the music video; you’ll probably shed a tear, but it is a fabulous visual of a beautiful tribute.

Kakaty recovered quickly, in part, by thanking some older fans sitting in the back, for introducing rock ‘n’ roll to the younger generations. He reminisced about rock ‘n’ roll in his childhood, saying matter-of-factly, “There were no Katy Perry concerts in my house.”

With a little Kakaty persuasion, an estimated 10,000 festival goers rose to their feet as Pop Evil blasted their monster hit, “Trenches,” a track about fighting back against adversity. The crowd sang along with Kakaty as he snarled, “I’ve waited all my life to get out of the trenches…I’m ready to fight for what I believe you can steal from me, I won’t take this, gonna fill these trenches and stand up” Just one last call to action…

…before the set came to a close. Rockin’ the Rivers, Montana, USA!

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.