Musical Family Tree
It was a typical Saturday afternoon, sitting in my bedroom, playing cards with my sons. While playing a semi-competitive series of games of Blackjack, the boys and I were talking and the conversation of supporting/opening bands came up. I explained to them that a supporting band or an opening band was a band that performed before a headlining band and benefitted from their fan base. I told stories about the concerts and festivals that I’ve attended and the bands I’ve been introduced to as a result.
As this conversation continued, and the idea worm continued to burrow through my mind, I thought of the musical family trees I’ve created through my many musical experiences over the years. A musical family tree is the figurative connection made as you experience one band because of another and so on. It’s likely that we have not only created these trees but that we have so many possibly intertwining trees.
In this piece, I wanted to revisit some of the stories of the creation of a few of my musical family trees. I feel that I should start with a band I would consider to be the de facto matriarch of my primary musical family tree, Evanescence.
Back in 2004, a friend of mine introduced me to a band called Evanescence and their debut album, Fallen. I thought the gothic rock music with the incredibly angelic voice of lead singer Amy Lee was simply life-changing, if I may be so dramatic. Songs like their hit single “Bring Me to Life”, as great as it was, barely held a candle to the real gems on the album. “Going Under” starting the CD, followed up by songs like “Everybody’s Fool” and “Haunted”, to the seamless transition between “Tourniquet” and “Imaginary”, to the powerful closing three tracks of “Hello”, “My Last Breath”, and “Whisper” - Fallen is nearly flawless and I instantly became a fan of the band.
Around this time, another friend introduced me to this new internet radio product called Pandora. Pandora, as it was explained to me, took musical artists that you already liked and searched for other musical acts that were similar. This was not long after I was introduced to Evanescence so they were one of the first bands I entered into my new Pandora internet radio. After playing a popular Evanescence song, Pandora would typically play one song in particular, almost as if it was the song was genetically related. It was from a band that was based in Europe and shared the same gothic rock energy led by another amazingly beautiful voice. The song was called “The Howling”. The band was Within Temptation.
The beginning of this song was so beautiful and melodic, but right before it lulled you to a warm, comfortable slumber, the rock music kicked in and picked you right back up. The music video for the song is partly set in this post-apocalyptic world and it was simply beautiful. The combination of electric guitars and violins with heavy drums is why I love music that fits the motif of gothic rock. From here, I was introduced to hit after hit like “Forgiven”, “Hand of Sorrow” and my favorite, “Our Solemn Hour”. The only downside to being such a fan of Sharon den Adel’s band is that I would rarely see them live in concert.
That is until I did.
In 2014, I would find out that Within Temptation, releasing a new album “Hydra”, would promote it with a World tour including dates in the United States. The closest the band was booked to play was Chicago, Illinois. Since Chicago was one of my favorite cities that weren’t my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and it was just a six-hour drive north, this was a must. As a bonus, Louisville was starting its own annual music festival that year and it begin only days later.
The trip was booked and once we got to Chicago, I would learn of their opening band. A six-piece rock band also making a trip across the ocean for this tour. A quick internet search followed by the chorus to “Drop Dead Cynical”, Amaranthe became just as must-see as Within Temptation. Their live show did not disappoint. The triple threat of their singers, a male lead, a female lead, and their “growler” absolutely worked for them. Vocals that would be overlapped in post-production for an album recording could flawlessly be reproduced in person because they were already done by different people.
Evanescence branched to Within Temptation which led me to Amaranthe. Though, this would not be the only tangent Evanescence would cause me to follow. For this, we go back to Chicago.
In 2011, I would learn that Evanescence was playing a show in the relatively nearby city of Chicago, Illinois. What made this show so special was that it would take place on my birthday. As a gift to myself, I took a friend to Chicago for this Evanescence concert. At this time, I didn’t think to look into opening acts to see who was supporting the show. As the first band, whose name I don’t remember, finished their admittedly lackluster set, the second opening band started to play and I was instantly blown away by their entire presentation from the very beginning. The music hit you hard from the start and the stage presence of the lead singer drew you into their show completely. As Taylor Momsen performed on stage, you were captivated. Her band, The Pretty Reckless, nearly stole the show that night, but they left enough of an impression that I bought their first CD, “Light Me Up” as soon as I saw it for sale.
Today, The Pretty Reckless is officially my number one favorite band. I love their presentation and the way the band has continued to grow and evolve over the years, from “Light Me Up” to “Going to Hell” to “Who Are You Selling For?” to the latest release of “Death by Rock and Rock”. One of my goals for 2022 is to see Momsen perform their song “25” live and in person.
In 2013, I was celebrating my 30th birthday with a weekend trip that included a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana to see The Pretty Reckless headline a show. One of the supporting bands didn’t show, but the other band showed up and definitely showed out. Even though their set was plagued with equipment issues, Louna, from Russia, held the crowd’s attention and kept the show going with their professionalism and presence.
Even today I can remember the vibe with “System Destroys” and “Mama” filling the air of the Old National Centre. As much as I loved seeing The Pretty Reckless headlining their own show, Louna became the highlight of the birthday celebration weekend. I look forward to the next time Louna makes their way back to my part of the United States.
The impact of the musical family tree is greatest at music festivals, where multiple bands and artists all perform within the same space over one or more days. Typically, a few big-name headliners pull people to the festival where you eventually experience lesser-known bands.
Rock on the Range, now known as Sonic Temple, is a multiple-day festival that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. In 2012, we attended this festival being headlined by Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Incubus, and Shinedown. At this festival, I would experience a few bands for the first time.
For this festival, I decided that I didn’t want to go in completely blind. I would review the line-up and pick a band I never heard of before and listen to their music and then experience them live. I chose a band and after listening to “Blood” and “Whore”, I knew that there was no way I could miss out on seeing Maria Brink, Chris Howorth, and the rest of their band In This Moment live on stage. Their music is hard-hitting and raw, their lyrics are explicit and sexy, and if Maria’s incredible body and provocative clothing don’t hold your attention, her switching between her sensual singing voice and her fierce roar of empowerment will.
The 2012 festival would be the first to feature a half-day of performances called the Friday Night 4Play. The success of this would lead to the festival’s official expansion to three full days the following year. Bands like Hardball and Hells Bels would perform on the 4Play stage, but it was another band that played that night that would stick with me.
I was standing by a group of trees as the band took the stage. The 45-minute set would be eccentric, to say the least. Afterward, the band was participating in a signing. Not many people were lined up for the band and workers of the booth went out trying to gather people who would be interested in autographs. To be fair, I think the lack of people was most likely due to the fact the event for the night was close to over and most of the people had already left.
Either way, while I was still trying to figure out what even just happened on that stage, I was convinced to get in line, purchase a CD (as was the requirement for the signing), and wait for the band to autograph it. At the end of the night, on the way back to our hotel room, we played the CD and much to my surprise, the CD was absolutely incredible. “The Church of Rock and Roll” is still one of my favorite albums by any band. It’s one of those albums that you never skip a song and if it happens to start over, you just buckle back in and enjoy the ride all over again. Foxy Shazam is just a great band and before I had the pleasure to see them live again, the band took a break, but if I’m not mistaken, they are preparing for a comeback.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the on-stage performance on this next band, the band for which this branch of the tree splinters again later, but it was the radio that was to blame.
Columbus radio station WRKZ, The Blitz, was present at the festival throughout the entire weekend. There was one song that I would hear them playing at nearly every single turn. Each day of the festival, as I stood in line waiting for the gates to open or when I was waiting for a band to begin their set, or while I was waiting in line for food, I heard the exact same song. While this would almost guarantee that I would never listen to this band on purpose, the song was really good. Naturally, the band was playing that weekend and their set was great too. It would turn out that “Love Bites” wouldn’t be the first song by this band that I’ve heard before. Their song “I Get Off” was a popular song for my friends to quote for their sophomoric reasons.
All these metaphoric puzzle pieces would fall into place leading me to see Halestorm, not only then, but at least once a year for about the next four years. It didn’t matter if it was in Ohio or at home, if Halestorm was playing close, I wanted to be there.
This would include Halestorm’s show in Louisville, Kentucky at the Mercury Ballroom in 2014. While not my favorite venue, Lzzy Hale (yes, that’s spelled correctly) and the gang are guaranteed to put on an excellent show. They also know how to pick an opening act.
Once again, the first band was good but failed to impress. This would lower the exception for their follow-up act, but instantly the crowd was awakened by a dose of the band New Medicine and the sounds of “Breaking the Model” and “Broken Girl”. That band was such a pleasure but sadly, just like with Foxy Shazam, the band would split before I had the chance to see them live again but it would appear that New Medicine has a new song, “Life Like This”, available.
There are so many musical family trees of varying sizes. Korn led me to Five Finger Death Punch. 3 Doors Down led me to Aranda. BabyMetal led me to Band Maid. In This Moment actually led me to New Years Day and Ded. One of the best parts of fandom is when something you like connects you to something else that you also like. One book leads you to a new author in the same genre. A concert makes you a fan of an unknown opening act. A movie introduces you to a new actor or actress whose career you now get to follow from the beginning. It’s a beautiful thing and soon enough, you can take a step back and look at this wonderful ‘family’ you’ve acquired.