A good cause and four metal bands lead to a weekend of rock n’ roll at the Double JJ Ranch & Resort on a beautiful June weekend in Rural Michigan.
The weekend of June 13th-14th found me driving across the scenic state of Michigan to the west side town of Rothbury to attend the 26th Annual Sandy Corley Memorial Run. Sandy Corley was a hard-working businessman who operated a successful sporting goods/lawn and garden business in Fremont, Michgan that became a major Harley Davidson dealer in 1976. After losing his battle to cancer in 1989, Barb VanBogelen, along with several friends and family, gathered together to embark on a 75-mile ride through rain and sleet. Thus began the origins of the Annual Sandy Corely Memorial Run which has endured and grown every year with thousands of people, bikers and non-bikers alike, gathering for a week-long celebration of life, community, friendship, and American pride.
My attraction to the event was the announcement of the bands on the bill. Friday night featured Queensryche with Saliva opening, with Saturday night hosting Quiet Riot with Pop Evil providing support. Though I just saw Queensryche with Great White a week prior in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, this seemed like an even better venue to see them play at yet again, twice in a week even!
The event is held at the Double JJ Ranch and Resort just outside Rothbury, where the Electric Forest Festival is held every year. Several volunteers of Electric Forest even took time to volunteer in setting up this event.
The three-hour trip across the state was a pleasant one, even if overshadowed by dismal gray clouds threatening rain along the way. But as soon as we hit US 31 North, the blue skies emerged chasing the gloom away to shine upon us for the entire weekend.
Arriving at the entrance to the campgrounds Friday afternoon, I was amazed at just how immense this event truly is. Rows of campers, house trailers, and tents adorned the site, with throngs of motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, mini bikes, and even lawn tractors hauling trailers with picnic tables loaded with attendees dashed about the grounds. It felt like a huge family reunion, and even though I was a stranger in the midst, new to all this, it didnâ€™t take me long to become right at home.
We were fortunate enough to have our campsite hosted by a generous group of people, Gary and Jane Bredeweg and Dave and Pamela Schultz, who let us pitch our tent between their campers and plug-in for power. They are involved in the event in a major way and publish Thunder Roads Magazine of Michigan, a free monthly publication geared towards the Michigan biker community.
General Sandy Corley Memorial Run images by Gary Bredeweg
As I dashed off to the stage area to conduct interviews with Bobby Amaru of Saliva and Michael Wilton of Queensryche, I took time to check out the vendor area near the main stage. Lots of cool stuff was available from motorcycle clothing and gears, to custom etched glassware, handmade crafts, and a myriad of other cool art. The main beer tent held an auction of donated merchandise from various merchants and artists, which raised over $50,000 this year for the benefit.
The stage area was lawn general admission and though a few thousand people were in attendance, there was enough room to feel comfortable and enjoy the show from any vantage point.
Saliva took the stage around 8:45 pm to the earnest audience. Touring non-stop in support of their release Rise Up, which hit the shelves this past May, they kicked this festival in to top gear right off starting line. Singer Bobby Amaru joined the band a couple of years ago and appeared right at home on stage with founding members Dave Novotny (Bass), Wayne Swinny (Guitar), and longtime drummer Paul Crosby. Both the band and crowd were really feeling the festival vibe as they careened through a dozen or so songs of their catalog, ending with a few cover songs thrown in for good measure.
It was rumored that the band later commandeered an ATV or golf cart later in the late evening hours to let loose and hang with some friends in the crowd, which might account for the rumbling drive-by karaoke I heard fly by my tent at 2 am. Redneck Freak Show indeed!
Headlining Friday night, and one of the main reasons I made this trip, was Queensryche. I had the great fortune to see this amazing band just a week before in Mount Pleasant at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort. (Read the review from show). There are few bands that have successfully relaunched their career after a period of low times, and Queensryche is certainly one of the greatest comeback stories of the new millennium. Fortified with the powerful, soaring voice of singer Todd La Torre and guitarist Parker Lundgren, this group is well on their way back to the spotlight of the Empire/Mindcrime days.
â€œWe have our band back,â€ founding member and guitarist Michael Wilton was quoted as saying in an interview with The Vinyl District recently. Back is an understatement. Back in spades, in your face, undefeated and more determined than ever before to revive that Queensryche sound.
The band has appeared at ease and fluid on stage each time Iâ€™ve seen them in the past year but tonight it was transcendental. Even with a sharp chill in the air of the night, the crowd and band were full throttle as they ripped through classics from The Warning, Rage For Order, their latest release, and others. One of the most amusing moments of the weekend came when one of the campers held their dog up high near the stage, prompting Todd La Torre to pet and sing to it, chuckling on the words for a brief second. He would later recount that was a first for him and an abrupt departure from the swooning lady I caught him on camera singing to the week before.
Saturday morning, I awoke shortly after dawn to a gentle rumble of motorcycles around the campsite with the scent of smoldering campfires, brewing coffee, and breakfast drifting across the morning dew-laden field. This was the main day of the weekend as thousands of riders assembled for the memorial run beginning in Fremont at the dealership Sandy had run for so long.
Lacking a motorized vehicle other than my Ford Escape, I jumped on my trusty BMX bike and took a leisurely ride around the grounds taking in the community that had sprung up over the past week. Warm â€œGood morningsâ€ (and a few friendly cracks at my bike) greeted me on my tour which easily took a good 1/2 hour to travel the perimeter of the site. Bikes of all sizes and models gleamed in the morning sun, their riders preparing themselves for the scenic 100-mile plus drive through the splendor that is West Michigan.
Later in the afternoon brought a medley of motorcycle events and contests. Best bike, motorcycle rodeo, burn out competitions, and other related events filled the sunny day as the revelry began again in earnest. The most important and most attended event of the day was the military salute at 7:30 pm in front of the main stage. Thousands gathered in respectful silence as a military honor guard composed of active and retired veterans bearing flags somberly marched down the field led by representatives of the Patriot Guard Riders.
The ceremony took place in front of the main stage honoring those who had fallen in duty abroad. The ceremony was conducted by Doug Pickel, president of ‘We The People Giving Back’, a non-profit organization that honors the sacrifice of veterans, their families, and those in public service. This memorial honored Sargent David Jillian lost to the ravages of war, presenting his family with a Purple Heart award. Country artist Kelly Trudell performed a special song written just for his daughter, which elicited more than a few tears, even among the more stoic men in the crowd. A heartfelt and profound ceremony that was also attended by the members of Quiet Riot who stood off to the side to pay their respects. Jessica Bull led concluded the ceremony with a touching rendition of the National Anthem.
The Saturday night music lineup consisted of local hometown heroes Pop Evil and the reformed Quiet Riot. Pop Evil originated in nearby Grand Rapids have made headlines around the world. By far the most energetic and powerful performance of the weekend, they let loose with a rowdy and ass-kicking set. Fresh off tour having played in Europe and most recently Rock On The Range, this band showed no signs of road wear. They also just announced that they were joining the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar tour later this summer.
Quiet Riot closed out Saturday night with a reformed band led by one of the original Metal Health line-up, drummer Frankie Banali. Vocalist Jizzy Pearl, bassist Chuck Wright (who joined in 1985 and has played with QR on and off since), and guitarist Alex Grossi made up the rest of the live crew for a non-stop barrage of classic Quiet Riot hits. It was a great homage to one of the original heavy metal bands of the Eighties.
With the passing of original singer Kevin DuBrow a few years ago, it was uncertain if Quiet Riot would ever be seen live again. After much soul-searching and with the encouragement of his peers and family, Frankie assembled a veteran lineup to once again bring the Metal Health sound to life and preserve the legacy. A recent documentary about the band, Well Now Youâ€™re Here, Thereâ€™s No Way Back was recently produced through a Kickstarter campaign and premiered at the Newport Beach Film Festival on April 29, 2014.
We had to leave shortly before the end of the Quiet Riot set, but we have already made plans to return next year. You just canâ€™t beat this weekend for the price! Admission was $50 in advance per person for the weekend with a rustic camping site included. Thatâ€™s $12.50 per band for major national acts! With all the other activities going on through the weekend, this is a canâ€™t miss event for us going forward. We hope to see you there in 2015 and beyond.
Saliva images by Mick McDonald
Queensryche images by Mick McDonald
Pop EvilÂ images by Mick McDonald
Quiet RiotÂ images by Mick McDonald