There was a different feeling in the air this year as Rock on the Range 2017 began. The celebration was underway, but one day after the shocking and devastating news about the death Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, sorrow hung over the festival that was supposed to see Soundgarden headline on opening night. Even without the band there, concertgoers and artists alike made sure to honor the contributions that Cornell and his bands made in the rock community.
With Live thrust into the position of de facto headliner, the band honored Cornell by covering Audioslave's "I Am The Highway." Yet the night's most powerful tribute was still to come.
Within moments of Live leaving the stage, the stadium fell black. The video screens lit up with a single burning candle with a still image of Chris Cornell behind it. This is where things began to get really heavy. Jeff Buckley's masterpiece "Hallelujah" played to the silent 20,000 or so Rangers that remained. The video then transitioned into a montage of Cornell's performances throughout his career. The audio of "Black Hole Sun" faded in before isolating Chris' vocals, highlighting his range and legendary vocal talent. As the outro faded out, a single light lit up a single acoustic guitar on the stage. For a moment this appeared to be a simple nod to Cornell and where he was supposed to be. That changed rather abruptly.
Simply put, the tribute from Stone Sour and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor and his bandmate Christian Martucci was something that will live on in legend. They each played an acoustic guitar while Taylor, visibly choked up, sang two iconic rock anthems. During the first song, Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", a stiff wind picked up and it began to sprinkle again. It felt so appropriate, as if we weren't alone. Hearing 20,000 Rangers sing the chorus to that song is something that will never be forgotten by those that witnessed it. Taylor then went into Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike". It was truly an emotional moment that left no one in the venue with dry eyes. The video tributes then continued to play on, including an acoustic performance of Cornell singing John Lennon's "Imagine" and Temple of the Dog's "Say Hello 2 Heaven."
Though his fans' hearts are still heavy, one thing is certain after the beautiful tribute that Rock on the Range organized: music is the ultimate healer and unifier. Check out a slideshow of the best photos from day one of ROTR by AXS.com contributor Amy Harris in the gallery above, and watch fan-shot video of some of the tribute performances below. For more coverage of Rock on the Range 2017, keep it here on AXS.com.