Bang your head! Crowds pour in for Welcome to Rockville at Daytona International Speedway

·6 min read

DAYTONA BEACH — For Kevin Gage, securing a spot at the front of line to see KISS on Thursday at Welcome To Rockville carried on two of his most sacred rock traditions.

"I've seen the band 10 times," said Gage, 55, a karaoke DJ from Orlando. "The first concert I went to was KISS in 1979 in Hampton, Virginia. That was the Dynasty Tour."

It's also Gage's eighth trip to Welcome To Rockville, which he describes as "a ritual to me."

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Crowds packed in early on the opening day the Welcome to Rockville four-day heavy-metal music festival at Daytona International Speedway. Danny Wimmer Presents, the festival's Los Angeles-based promoter, announced on Thursday that Rockville will return for its third year at Daytona International Speedway on May 18-21, 2023.
Crowds packed in early on the opening day the Welcome to Rockville four-day heavy-metal music festival at Daytona International Speedway. Danny Wimmer Presents, the festival's Los Angeles-based promoter, announced on Thursday that Rockville will return for its third year at Daytona International Speedway on May 18-21, 2023.

Gage and other KISS fans had plenty of company on Thursday.

Powered by heavy-metal headliners KISS, Korn, Guns N’ Roses and Nine Inch Nails, among others, the four-day Welcome to Rockville music festival will showcase nearly 90 bands through Sunday in its return to Daytona Beach.

The crowds arrived early on opening day, waiting eagerly for the gates to open at 1 p.m. to take in the diversions on the midway and sounds of opening bands that included As You Were, an ensemble of U.S. Army soldiers based at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

On another stage, Moodring, a Florida-based alternative outfit, also pounded out a series of intense propulsive songs that inspired audience fist-pumping on demand to material that included the title track of the band's first EP, "Show Me the Real You."

That was a mission statement for many fans who arrived in all manner of unique, personalized garb.

One of the most eye-catching fashion statements was offered by Hal Johnston, of Augusta, Ga., who was attired in a theatrical pirate hat, frilly tie-dyed purple dress shirt, psychedelic 1960s-era bell-bottoms and an assortment of pendants, puka shells and even fuzzy dice dangling from his neck.

Hal Johnston, of Augusta, Ga., shows off his festival attire, which doubles as "every day" wardrobe at the opening day of the Welcome to Rockville music festival at Daytona International Speedway. "I go around to concerts and have fun," Johnston said.
Hal Johnston, of Augusta, Ga., shows off his festival attire, which doubles as "every day" wardrobe at the opening day of the Welcome to Rockville music festival at Daytona International Speedway. "I go around to concerts and have fun," Johnston said.

"This is my festival outfit, and my every day, too," said Johnston, who bills himself as "Hal the Broken Clown" as he makes his way to music festivals throughout the Southeast.

"I go around to concerts and have fun," he said. "Sometimes people laugh, and when they see me, I make them smile."

Yet, with temperatures reaching the low 90s and a lot of ground to cover in the expansive Speedway infield, even colorful clowns needed to make concessions.

"I usually have platform boots, but out here, there's too much walking," he said, gesturing to his well-worn sneakers.

There also were practical considerations made by KISS fans who arrived in costumes to honor the beloved band, now out on its "End of the Road" tour.

Kenny Dotson, a KISS fan from Charlotte, North Carolina, arrived in his own custom-made KISS hockey mask decorated with the images associated with each of the original band members.
Kenny Dotson, a KISS fan from Charlotte, North Carolina, arrived in his own custom-made KISS hockey mask decorated with the images associated with each of the original band members.

For Kenny Dotson, 52, of Charlotte, N.C., that meant skipping the face paint for a more breathe-able custom-designed "Jason"-style hockey mask adorned with the signature designs associated with all four of the band's original numbers.

"I put this outfit together a month ago," Dotson said, "but it's too hot to paint my face. So I incorporated all the members into the mask. When I took home economics back in the day, I never knew it would come in so handy."

Dotson has seen Kiss 10 times, but keeps coming back for more.

"They keep drawing me in with this last tour," said Dotson, a warehouse worker. "I'm a sucker for it."

A lifelong music fan who endured the dearth of concerts during pandemic lockdowns with monumental distress, Dotson said that he vowed to mark his return as a live-music fan with as much over-the-top behavior as possible.

"I told my friends, 'When it comes back, I'm going to make an obscene gesture of myself all the time," he said.

Fans stroll the infield at Daytona International Speedway as Welcome to Rockville opens its four-day run in Daytona Beach. Many fans on Thursday were there to see KISS, out on the band's farewell tour.
Fans stroll the infield at Daytona International Speedway as Welcome to Rockville opens its four-day run in Daytona Beach. Many fans on Thursday were there to see KISS, out on the band's farewell tour.

Festival marks second year in Daytona

A popular outdoor concert festival fixture in Jacksonville for nearly a decade, Welcome to Rockville made its successful, if COVID-delayed, Daytona Beach debut in November. Showcasing back-to-back headlining nights by rock royalty Metallica, the event attracted a record 161,000 fans.

This year, attendance again is expected to reach about 40,000 fans daily over the event’s four-day run, said Chamie McCurry, chief marketing officer for Danny Wimmer Presents, the festival’s Los Angeles-based promoter.

On the event's opening day, the promoter also announced that Welcome to Rockville will return to Daytona International Speedway for a third consecutive year on May 18-21, 2023. No acts have yet been announced.

A fan strolls past one of the colorful murals as Welcome to Rockville opened its gates at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.
A fan strolls past one of the colorful murals as Welcome to Rockville opened its gates at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the music festival’s return is being hailed as another successful shot-in-the-arm for the area's hotel industry. Many hoteliers have reported a flood of bookings for the event well ahead of the first clanging power chords on Thursday.

Rockville's new home in Daytona Beach also earned high praise from vendors on the midway that stretched almost length of the Speedway grandstand. There, rock fans could find everything from T-shirts, blankets, buttons and magnets to information on social causes and U.S. Army recruitment.

"We were here last year and we love the site," said Melanie Deans, working the counter amid the skull-emblazoned T-shirts at the tent operated by Trails Clothing, a Southern California company.

"We love the vibe and the NASCAR thing that's going on here," Deans said. "We love the people out here."

As You Were, a band of U.S. Army musicians based in Kentucky, take to the stage at Welcome to Rockville at Daytona International Speedway on the event's opening-day on Thursday.
As You Were, a band of U.S. Army musicians based in Kentucky, take to the stage at Welcome to Rockville at Daytona International Speedway on the event's opening-day on Thursday.

Rockville's main attractions

In addition to KISS as the opening-night headliner, Rockville rolls on with a lineup of heavyweight bands through the weekend.

On Friday, the marquee act will be Korn, a vanguard of 1990s nu-metal out on the road behind its latest release, “Requiem.”

Another well-traveled band, Guns N’ Roses, will be the Saturday headliner, featuring the reunion of original members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan.

On Sunday, Nine Inch Nails will close the festival, filling a slot unexpectedly vacated by Foo Fighters in the wake of the death of that band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins.

More: Welcome to Rockville: Meet the headliners for Daytona Beach heavy-metal fest

A day before the gates opened on Thursday, yet another lineup change was announced for Sunday’s closing night. One Perry Farrell-led alternative rock band, Porno For Pyros, will be replacing another, Jane’s Addiction, after Farrell announced on social media that Jane’s guitarist Dave Navarro was suffering from a “long bout of COVID.”

None of those changes bothered the fans on Thursday, who were ready to rock and roll all night.

"To me, it's a KISS show," said David Ryan, 60, who traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to see the band. "That's what I'm here for: The fire, the explosions, to spit a little blood. I just thought, 'I gotta see 'em.'"

When is Daytona's Rockville music festival at the Speedway?

WHAT: Welcome to Rockville, four-day music festival featuring nearly 90 heavy-metal bands 

WHEN: Thursday-Sunday; gates open at 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: Daytona International Speedway, 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach

COST: one-day general admission passes $119.99 plus fees for Thursday; $129.99 plus fees for Friday; one-day VIP passes $239.99 plus fees for Thursday and Friday;  weekend general admission passes $294.99 plus fees; weekend VIP passes $614.99 plus fees.

ONLINE: welcometorockville.com 

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Welcome to Rockville 2022 opening day packs them in at Daytona Beach