Sonic Temple Festival 2023 Concert Review

Concert Review and Cell Photos By Maxwell Williamson

The Sonic Temple Festival 2023 (formally known as Rock on the Range) is a 4 day musical festival held in Columbus, Ohio each year featuring a multitude of rock and music heavyweights, as well as some great new up and coming artists.  Consisting mostly of rock and metal acts along with a few sub genres; there’s music at this festival for most everyone. The venue, Historic Crew Stadium, is a former soccer stadium with the main stage set up in the stadium on the field, with two additional side stages out in the surrounding festival grounds.  Approximately 40,000 fans from around the world gather each day for nearly 12 hours of nonstop live music. As soon as the parking lot opened, fans rolled in and set up shop for one huge party. From any point in the parking lot, you are surrounded with loud music from all sides, the smell of some great BBQ grilling in the air, and thousands of your soon to be closest friends getting their party on from the moment they arrived; let the tailgate party begin!

The staff did an excellent job of keeping the line moving and getting fans into the festival grounds. Once inside, it was as if you had entered a new dimension; and for all intent and purpose, you did!  It was like a mini city that was seemingly lawless, where clothing was optional and wardrobes consisted of any one of your favorite superheros, as well as Barney the dinosaur– and even a crowd surfing Santa Clause – how do you beat that?

Music started at 11:30 am daily with the “early acts” and some fans would take this time to grab a bite to eat or purchase some new merch from the many vendors on the festival grounds. The hardcore fans would stake their claim at the main stage, either at the rail or in a premium seat in the general admission stadium seating area. This year the festival offered a ticket bundle known as The Owners Club which gave fans access to the side of stage viewing area as well as the stadium sections immediately to the left and right of the main stage. Unfortunately, those sections were mostly empty throughout the festival, giving an odd view looking out. The stadium setting certainly had its pros and cons depending on whom you were to ask. I personally welcomed the opportunity to sit down and take in some main stage acts; especially during the closing days of the festival.

This year’s lineup was a diverse one to say the least, featuring such acts such as Vended, Yelawolf, Sublime With Rome, Point North, Filter, Knocked Loose, I Prevail, Falling In Reverse, Beartooth, (Columbus natives), Trivium, Nothing More, Suicidal Tendencies, Sleeping With Sirens and many many more. There were unfortunately two bands, Fever 333 and The Bronx that dropped off the bill on the morning of their scheduled performance. The main reason most fans came out to this festival of course was for the headlining acts, which consisted of KISS (playing their final ever Ohio performance), Foo Fighters, Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold, Rob Zombie, Deftones, Queens of the Stoneage and Tool. It’s one thing to be able to play on such an auspicious festival such as the Sonic Temple Festival but to be able to play this festival on two different occasions in two different bands is remarkably cool. Tool’s front-man, Maynard James Keenan did exactly that as he is the front-man for Tool and Puscifier. Keenan, the great front-man that he is, was lucky enough to get out and rock the masses with both bands that not only gave the audiences another dimension to his abilities but also gave the attendees another reason to be part of this monumental event.

Around the festival grounds you could find fans lounged out in the shade, some even catching a quick power-nap. Understandably so, the energy around the stages was second to none. Massive Circle pits wreaked havoc on either side of the mid stage split. Essentially non stop crowd surfing over the sea of jumping fans, all having the time of their lives listening to legendary acts as well as some of the latest upstarts.

The security staff was phenomenal going above and beyond to keep all the fans safe and catching the overflow of crowd surfers at any given time. If you’re keeping the security busy with crowd surfing; then you’ve definitely come to the right party!

I can honestly say that I didn’t watch a single performance that left me disappointed. There was high energy, great stage presence, lots of crowd participation and overall solid sets put on by the 100’s of acts slated on the 2023 Sonic Temple lineup. I can’t possibly begin to pick a favorite band of the weekend. A review of each performance I witnessed would be a bit lengthy, so here’s a few highlights that stood out to me.

During Avenged Sevenfold’s set, lead singer Mike Shadows noticed a fan in the front row wearing their Cap & Gown. He proceeded to ask the fan if he just came from graduation. The fan informed him that he actually skipped graduation to be at this festival. A bewildered Shadows asked the fan to toss him his cap, to which Shadows would sign and pass it along to the rest of his band-mates. Probably one of the most unique pieces of autographed rock n roll memorabilia out there; don’t loose or wash that cap!!!

Deftones, Chino Moreno (lead vocalist) left the stage and entered the crowd during the performance of “My Own Summer” and then reemerged on stage with a bloody face. I wasn’t able to catch exactly what caused the injury but all I can say is….enter the crowd at your own risk!

Godsmack, was celebrating their 25 year career in the business with a fiery show that of course included their epic drum battle between vocalist Sully Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin. Both drummers went back and forth playing a very upbeat and intense drum off that had the audience pumping fists and feverishly rocking out. Then the biggest surprise of the weekend, in my opinion was during the Godsmack show. The band’s crew rolled out a grand piano to showcase another side of Sully Erna who took a seat at the piano and began to play. He informed the fans that he had a very special guest to introduce, and proceeded to welcome Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford for a cover of Aerosmith’s classic from 1973, “Dream On”.

 While we’re on the topic of the 1970’s, I have to touch on how amazing Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons sounded. I grew up singing along with them about wanting to “rock and roll all night and party everyday” and for 2 hours I got to rock n roll and party with the legendary Kiss with what was one of the most pyrotechnic filled performances of the ages. 

The Foo Fighters led a 2 hour set full of fan favorites. The crowd  sang every lyric along with singer/guitarist Dave Grohl. An emotional moment during their set, was when the band took time to pay homage to the late Taylor Hawkins. Foo Fighters closed out the weekend to a roaring standing ovation. And just like that, 48 hours of amazing music would come to an end. Fans stumbled out of the plastic cup and water bottle littered festival grounds and headed back to their respective cars; hopefully! A post festival gloom was in the air, as it was “back to reality” for most, that is until their next big show or festival. If you have a chance to attend a multi day festival, I highly recommend attending any event put on by promoter Danny Wimmer Presents. They are very well organized, have stellar line ups and several ticketing options, even layaway opportunities. Every music fan needs to experience at least one multi-day festival, but I warn you, you’ll be hooked for life!!

Sonic Temple Festival 2023 | Official Aftermovie
(video credit to Sam Shapiro, Kevin Garcia, Alex Ochoa, Sebastien Paquet, Nick Siemens, Jake Miller)