The Fiesta Oyster Bake has been a part of San Antonio lore for more than a century for a variety of reasons: food, drinking, partying and carnivals accompanied by the soundtrack of various genres. The 101st version last Saturday at St. Mary's University, the annual kickoff shindig to the Alamo City's 11-day Fiesta celebration of parades and festivals, continued that tradition.
This time, a few thousand panheads came along for the ride.
Skillet headlined the main stage with a loud and energetic show consisting of furious headbanging by the husband-and-wife duo of singer/bassist John Cooper and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Korey Cooper. Much to the delight of their fans, termed "panheads" by the band, Skillet's 75-minute set resulted in 15 songs in support of 2016's Unleashed.
P.O.D. (Payable On Death), which played the Oyster Bake in 2015 (coverage here), provided direct support and was preceded by Ohio rockers Red Sun Rising, Adelitas Way and Austin natives Black Heart Saints during the only cloudy day of the week, with temperatures surprisingly mired in the high 60s and dipping throughout the night.
Skillet's wide-ranging performance included the showcasing of Jen Ledger's multiple talents, which at times featured the British drummer joining John Cooper at the front for vocal duets. Sometimes she'd make her way back to the kit but in other instances, Skillet employed a crew member to do the honors while she focused on singing. Ledger's calling card with Skillet, however, is behind the drums while providing backup vocals, and she made an impression on the crowd with her range of duties. One fan could be heard saying, "That drummer rocks," while her friend replied, "Yeah, she's bad-ass!" Unassuming lead guitarist Set Morrison, meanwhile, more than complemented the band on a variety of solos.
As he normally does in the Lone Star State, John Cooper told the crowd Texas is his favorite state in which to play, punctuating it with, "No, I don't say that at every show." Cooper, who normally channels his inner raspy-pitched "Dizzy" Dean Davidson of '80s metal group Britny Fox from their 1988 song "Fun in Texas" when he plays the Alamo City, did a slightly different version this time. As if to further prove his affinity for Texas, Cooper added, "Don't tell California I said this, but finally! A place where you can get decent Mexican food," to roars of approval.
Skillet opened with new track "Feel Invincible," which World Wrestling Entertainment used last summer as one of its pay-per-view theme songs. After playing the likes of "Hero," "Whispers in the Dark," "Back From the Dead" and "Undefeated," John Cooper singled out "a nice woman battling cancer right over there," pointing to the VIP section.
Skillet often employs two masked string players but this time had one cellist occasionally join them, Tate Olsen. Changing things up from its frequent closer "Monster," Skillet made that tune the third-to-last of the night, followed by "Rebirthing" and lone encore "The Resistance," opening and ending the show with the first and last songs, respectively, from the latest record.
The Oyster Bake is littered each year with pessimistic fans who lament "lame" choices for the rock lineup. While such reactions have a certain degree of legitimacy to them when the Bake recycles bands that played the festival two or three years prior, Skillet's inclusion did not warrant such sentiments. Band members rocked hard as if their lives depended on the performance, and the group's uplifting songs are nothing to sniff at. Sure, the frontman of a festival's headlining act probably doesn't need to tell the audience the name of his band on three separate occasions, but that's beside the point. Skillet's first San Antonio visit since the inaugural River City Rockfest in 2013 was overdue and on point. And the band delivered in a big way.
P.O.D. turned the crowd that was partaking in 10,000 pounds of Oyster shells, 8,500 steaks on a stick, 5,000 turkey legs and hamburgers plus carnival rides on to its San Diego rap-metal. Vocalist Sonny Sandoval, as John Cooper would do afterward, jumped off the stage that was about 15 feet from the audience and leaned into the first couple of rows, singing and sticking his mic into the crowd surrounded by a slew of police and state troopers who frown upon crowd surfing at every Bake. Sandoval is an energetic frontman who knows how to keep a crowd buzzing, but P.O.D. doesn't strike as a band that needs to play longer than 45 minutes. Also, alums of the 2014 Fall Ball outside of The Rock Box (then known as 210 Kapones), the main P.O.D. tunes that continue to draw consistent reaction are 2001 tracks "Youth of the Nation" and mandatory closer "Alive."
If not for Sandoval's intensity and interaction with the crowd, plus the energy required to play drums in a metal band, P.O.D. wouldn't have much stage presence or liveliness. Bassist Traa Daniels and guitarist Marcos Curiel prefer to go with the flow, with the former remaining fairly stationary much of the performance and playing it smooth. Still, P.O.D. deserves many kudos for employing the same lineup since 1994, including three original members going back to 1992. Sandoval, in particular, speaks at various schools and helps kids with uplifting messages of hope and perseverance, further fueling the group's most popular tracks.
Red Sun Rising, meanwhile, is, well, rising out of the "up-and-coming" ranks with every passing day. The band was making its third visit to the Alamo City, with two coming at San Antonio's two largest festivals. Having opened for hometown heroes Nothing More at the Aztec Theatre in June 2015 (coverage here), Red Sun Rising played the second stage of the 2016 River City Rockfest outside of the AT&T Center (more here). This time, the band gave a new twist while opening with arguably its best song "Amnesia," with each member singing the chorus a cappella style as it took the stage at 5:30 p.m. The instruments and energy soon followed.
Red Sun Rising probably didn't need to be allotted an hour on stage either, but that's because they only have one non-independent album out. However, 2015's Polyester Zeal is littered with solid tunes such as "Push," "The Otherside," "Unnatural" and "My Muse." Vocalist Mike Protich, guitarists Ryan Williams and Dave McGarry, bassist Ricky Miller and drummer Pat Gerasia proved in front of a festival totaling 60,000 patrons annually over two days that its brand of rock and metal is likely going to be heard in San Antonio for a long, and deserved, time to come.