As we approached Mapfre stadium on Friday for the opening of Rock on the Range there was a different feel to the event this year. The rock world, and the music industry at large, was still reeling from Chris Cornell’s death and Mother Nature was mourning in her own special way with torrential rain and winds. It seemed appropriate. Soundgarden was slated to be the headliner on Friday night and the rock community at RotR decided to come together to honor Cornell’s memory with a special Friday night tribute.  From Bush’s Gavin Rossdale mashing up of Soundgarden’s “Back Hole Sun,” and REM’s “The One I Love,” to Live’s poignant rendition of Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway,” emotions were high yet low in Columbus. The evening was punctuated with a special video tribute to Cornell followed by Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor performing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” and Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.”

Day 2 saw a return of the rain but Mother Nature decided to come with less intensity and the crowds were out early and in full force. One of the best things about being at RotR is the exposure to new bands and artists. While music discovery has moved to a world dominated by apps and algorithms, nothing compares to the feeling of listening to artists connect with a live audience. On the Bud Light stage we saw that happen first-hand with In Flames.  This Swedish band describes itself as playing “melodic metal,” and they in no way disappointed the crowd as everyone was grooving with In Flame’s unique clean sound that is very raw all at the same time.  Their music makes me think of putting an orchestra into a food processor and getting some metal-worthy mixture.

From there it was back to the main stage to watch a blistering set from Skillet. If you’ve never seen Skillet live they are an experience to themselves. Husband and wife duo of John and Kory Cooper led a blistering, high-energy set that had the crowd surfing in full force. The musical chairs of Skillet’s performance continued throughout the set as drummer Jen Ledger took turns on lead vocals, while Kory and lead guitarist Seth Morrison were literally lifted high above the stage on platforms.

As the sun went down on Saturday night the Offspring took the stage and played a high-energy set of their greatest hits. Lead singer Dexter Holland and guitarist Noodles enjoyed their regular on-stage banter as the audience roared their approval singing every word of “Why Don’t You Get a Job” or screaming out the final lines to their closer with “I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem.” The Offspring still produce a set that is true to their punk roots and it gives you the same feelings you had the first time you heard it.  Punk is punk is punk…and the Offspring are still punk, thank goodness.

Day 2 closed with a powerful and heavy set from Korn. Lead singer Jonathan Davis seems to have found a way to freeze the aging process as he howled with intensity and power as the band kicked off their set with “Right Now.” Unfortunately, his powers didn’t extend to manipulating Mother Nature, as Korn’s set was cut short as the skies opened and thunder and lightning filled the skies once again drawing Day 2 to a close.