At the beginning of this week, the lineup for the inaugural Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival was announced, and it is impressive, to say the least. Foo Fighters, System of a Down, and Disturbed are the headliners of an eclectic bill that also features The Prodigy, Bring Me the Horizon, Ghost, The Hives, Refused, Meshuggah, Lamb of God, The Distillers, and many more.
The three-day extravaganza runs May 17th-19th at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, taking the place of the popular and long-running Rock on the Range festival. Prior to the recent lineup announcement, promoter Danny Wimmer Presents initially revealed the formation of the new fest back in September, with Wimmer himself telling us, “We had to make moves to improve the experience to truly make Sonic Temple the biggest rock festival in America.”
So, now that the lineup is out, is Sonic Temple the biggest rock festival in America?
Looking at perhaps the two biggest fests in America — Coachella and Lollapalooza — it’s hard to call them “rock” festivals these days. Coachella has had very few rock artists on its recent lineups, and Lollapalooza seems to be moving more in a pop and hip-hop direction, with acts like Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, and Travis Scott among this past summer’s headliners. So, in the sense of a pure rock event, Sonic Temple definitely has a valid argument that it is indeed the biggest rock festival in the States.
After the Sonic Temple lineup announcement was made, we spoke with Gary Spivack, the Executive Vice President at Danny Wimmer Presents and one of the major players in booking the talent. In asking him what sets apart Sonic Temple from Rock on the Range, which was a massive fest itself, Spivack told us, “There’s a great legacy with Rock on the Range, and we always need to honor that, but I think with Sonic Temple, we’re now able to move rock forward into the next 10 years by continuing the evolution of casting a wider net, curation-wise.”
He continued, “Foo Fighters and System of a Down are two bands that we’ve coveted for 10 years, and to land them on the same weekend alone should show all past Rock on the Range fans that we mean business. We had to step up and bring our A-game. And that was first and foremost at the top, to have Foos and System together on the same weekend, along with Disturbed and The Prodigy, and Ghost and Bring Me the Horizon, etc. That was really important.”
While Rock on the Range was deeply rooted in the bands that top the mainstream rock radio charts, a look further down the Sonic Temple lineup shows a more diverse lineup. “If you look at the lines [on the poster] below the top bands, you’ve got things that have never been done before in Columbus, such as Pussy Riot or Tom Morello’s new project, or having Andrew Dice Clay headline the comedy tent,” remarks Spivack. “That along with Henry Rollins, which is introducing our spoken-word segment. So, we’re introducing new things while really staying true to what we are, which is at its core, a rock ‘n’ roll festival.”
Looking at some of the initial social media reactions, a few commented that the Sonic Temple lineup is on par with those often seen at the massive European festivals, and Spivack tells us they’ve looked at fests like Glastonbury, Reading / Leeds, Rock Im Park / Rock Am Ring, and Download for inspiration over the years. “We’ve always scratched our heads on why in America, specifically, things are so formatted. Is it radio? Is it the press? We never understood why things had to be put in boxes so much here, so it was important for us to cast this wider net and get out of this box, and stop putting square pegs just in square holes. We can mix it up, too.”
Regarding the fan experience at the new festival, Spivak says, “First and foremost, it is about the music. We want to unleash the bands, to prove to everyone that we are bringing our A-game to make sure that this is America’s No. 1 rock festival. And then between now and May, we are going to be very laser-focused on secondary entertainment and beefing everything up, and making sure that when you park your car, and walk through that front gate, you’re going to see something that’s new to your eyes, enhanced and improved.”
As to whether he sees Sonic Temple as America’s biggest rock festival, Spivack responded, “Yes, and it was very important for us to recognize, again, the history and honor the legacy of Rock on the Range, and that’s why it was so important for us to have it at the same venue, on the same weekend, in addition to having bigger and better music.”
He concludes, “To have Foo Fighters and System of a Down on the same weekend, we’ve never seen the likes of that at Rock on the Range. We kind of feel as promoters, we have an obligation to wave the rock flag 24/7, 365 days a year, and by doing that we need to continue to raise our own bar. And we think we’ve done that.”