What do you get when you attend a festival in Florida during its rainy season? A lot of cancelations. But what do you get when you attend a festival in Florida with your family during rainy season? Chaos is probably the best word that comes to mind, but it still made for a weekend full of memories I’ll cherish forever.
Back in November, Guns N’ Roses were announced as one of the headliners for the 2022 edition of the Welcome to Rockville festival at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. The other three nights were to feature KISS, Korn and Foo Fighters as the main acts, but just knowing it would be Guns’ only 2022 performance in the U.S. was enough to convince me to go. Plus, my dad’s brother lives about a half an hour away from Daytona with his family, so I convinced my dad to agree to join and make it a family trip. What could go wrong?
Well, for starters, Taylor Hawkins tragically died in late March, so Foo Fighters canceled all of their upcoming performances. The Danny Wimmer Presents team rallied together and recruited Nine Inch Nails to take the Foos’ performance slot, so at least we had another great act to look forward to seeing, but it did seem as if the festival had some sort of curse put on it from the start.
I want to preface this article with saying none of the events that happened during that weekend are anyones’ fault — not DWP, not the staff at the Daytona International Speedway, not the bands or any members of their crew — no one. Fans who purchased tickets for the festival were given a disclaimer that there wouldn’t be refunds if there were cancelations due to severe weather threats, so everyone knew the risk they were signing up for when buying passes.
It just so happened that a lot of unfortunate things happened, but we all still made the best of it, and managed not to strangle each other in the meantime. And I’m going to tell you how. As I chronologically tell the story of our experience at the 2022 Welcome to Rockville, I’m going to include some survival tips, and then list them all again at the bottom of the page for your convenience.
The first day of Welcome to Rockville kicked off on Thursday, May 19. My dad and I didn’t make our way over to the festival until the evening because we wanted to spend the day with family, but we did really want to see KISS. They didn’t go on until 10:30PM though, so we had a couple of hours at the festival grounds to scope out the layout of all the stages and vendors.
That first night was absolutely gorgeous. We arrived to the speedway as the sun was setting. It wasn’t humid and there was a cool breeze. There were four stages located throughout the grounds, and they were spaced out enough so that the overlapping performances wouldn’t drown each other out. However, this meant a lot of walking was necessary to get from stage to stage, so comfortable walking shoes were absolutely necessary — this is Survival Tip No. 1.
Doc Martens are not comfortable walking shoes until they’re completely broken in.
In the center of the field near the main stage, there were art installments that featured popular albums by some of the performers, including Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Shinedown‘s Sound of Madness, Smashing Pumpkins‘ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, NIN’s The Downward Spiral and more. There was also a Ferris wheel and a couple of other rides, which added to the overall experience.
One aspect I really liked about the setup was that when a band was playing at one stage, the audio came out of the speakers at the main one, so you didn’t actually have to walk all the way to the Octane stage and lose your spot at the Space Zebra one.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about all of the performances… although we really only got to see a couple of them anyway, but — KISS were awesome. Are they as young as they were in the 1970s? Obviously not, but the performance was still wildly entertaining. Gene Simmons acted as if he were possessed as blood gushed out of his mouth and all over him, Paul Stanley zip-lined from the stage to a platform above the soundboard and the rest of the band had turns playing from risers on the stage as well. It was one of the most visually compelling shows I’ve ever seen, and I assure you that you don’t need to be a fan of the band to have a good time watching them.
Friday, May 20 was the start of the weekend’s bad weather. The Welcome to Rockville app sent out notifications regarding weather updates, which was much more convenient than checking their social media pages, so Survival Tip No. 2 is to take advantage of any apps the festival you’re attending may have. It had a map, updated set times and more.
There was a lightning delay during the afternoon, and we hadn’t left the house yet, so we decided to wait until it was all clear to go. Once fans were given the green light to re-enter the venue, we made our way over.
When they did decide to let everyone back in, security wasn’t checking anyones’ bags or pockets, and that was a little concerning because some of those people — including us — were only arriving for the first time that day. In a Q+A session that DWP CEO Danny Hayes hosted a couple of days after the festival was over, he explained that security checks can increase the likelihood of crowd surges, which can be dangerous. So when a large mass of people were re-entering the festival grounds, they halted checks in order to prevent a surge.
“We saw the early stage of a surge and the only thing you can do at that point, if we send security out there and they can’t get it calm, then you drop the gate and you let people in and you relieve that pressure point,” Hayes elaborated.
The first artist we went to see that night was Seether, and they were fortunately able to play a full set. It did start raining though, and we could see flashes of lightning lighting up the sky in the distance behind the stage, so it was only a matter of time before another code red was called.
We did get to see part of Ministry and We Came As Romans‘ sets, too, and by this point, we were completely soaked. That leads us to Survival Tip No. 3 — if we had brought in the ponchos we brought with us (that we stupidly left in the car), we would’ve been a lot drier. I’ll admit it was kind of fun being out in the rain, but we were completely soaked, and when they called a code red and we had to retreat back to the car, sitting in drenched clothes was not fun.
Survival Tip No. 4 is to take the weather evacuations seriously. Don’t go under a tent or structure with aluminum as it’s extremely dangerous. Go to your vehicle or to the designated shelter areas.
We were smart about this next move. Survival Tip No. 5 is that if you are driving to the festival, packing a cooler with drinks, snacks and easy food such as sandwiches is a really good idea. We were able to munch and sip in peace, and for free, while we waited for an update about the weather. Unfortunately, the rest of the performances that night were called off, so Breaking Benjamin, Korn and a few others weren’t able to play. Megadeth didn’t even get to make it down to Florida at all because of the weather, so a lot of fans were really disappointed.
We blasted Korn in the car on the drive home in their honor.
We arrived a bit earlier on Saturday than the previous days. Spending more time at the festival grounds likely means you’ll be eating and drinking there. One of the most important survival tips is No. 6 — staying hydrated. It can be tempting when there are bars and other alcohol vendors all over the place, but drinking water is of utmost importance at these types of events, even if you don’t drink alcohol. There were free water-filling stations located in various areas at the speedway, so attendees were allowed to bring clear, empty water bottles in to take advantage of them.
It was quite cloudy and humid that day, but the temperature was great. We set out for the main stage to catch Jerry Cantrell‘s set, and he made it about three or four songs in before they called a code red again. We were screaming our lungs out to Alice in Chains‘ “Man in the Box” when the band faded out, and Cantrell announced that they were calling a weather delay. It was the worst timing ever, so we sought shelter in the media area.
After a while, the venue’s staff declared that it was safe enough for us to go outside, so we stayed by the bar in the media area until they rearranged the setlists for the remainder of the night. In the meantime, Heidi Shepherd from Butcher Babies gave me a screaming tutorial there. We definitely turned a couple of heads — she calls it her “Yogi bear” vocal technique.
Shinedown eventually took the stage, and were a couple of songs in when another code red was called. This time, the sky actually looked scary because there was lightning everywhere. Shortly after, the Welcome to Rockville app sent out a notification that all remaining performances for the night had been canceled. No Guns N’ Roses for us either.
Needless to say I pretty much felt defeated by this point of the weekend. Four days is long for a festival, but it’s at least worth it if you’re able to see everyone that you want to see. It feels like an eternity when you’re just waiting around for weather updates and notifications as to whether or not the show will even go on.
That Sunday, the weather was on our side, though perhaps a little too much. It was bright and sunny, and the air was still thick from the storms that had swept through the area the previous two days, so it was hard to breathe. Survival Tip No. 7? Sunscreen. My face was fried from being in the sun, and I looked like a lobster by the end of the night.
This, of course, was the day we got there the earliest, because I wanted to Spiritbox. Loudwire named their debut album Eternal Blue our 2021 Album of the Year, and I was excited to see whether their live performance captured the magic that the record did — and it did. They were phenomenal, and the crowd was really into it, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re slotted much later on the bill in the next few years. They deserve it.
The heat started to become a bit unbearable, so we found some shade and relaxed for a while, making sure to stay hydrated and cool. Survival Tip No. 8 would definitely be to take breaks in the shade whenever and wherever you can so you don’t pass out.
Our feet were all killing us by this point and we were moving pretty slowly. Again, a four-day festival is not for the faint of heart. Bringing a pack of bandages is Survival Tip No. 9, because no matter how comfortable you think your shoes are, walking miles and miles back and forth all day can cause chafing and blisters, which doesn’t feel great when you know you still have a walk back to your method of transportation once the night is finally over.
Finally, we got to see Smashing Pumpkins and some of Nine Inch Nails’ set — which was interrupted by some technical issues. It’s almost as if the universe had to give Rockville one last hurdle to get through, but they were able to resume as normal afterward. Trent Reznor also gave a special shout-out to Taylor Hawkins, which was nice to hear.
We left pretty early into their set… which leads to a survival tip that many of you may not be too fond of. But No. 10 would be to leave at some point before the set ends so that you can beat the masses of people who leave after the finale. Even if you can get just a head start on the traffic, you’ll be in luck. But, if it’s one of your favorite artists performing, it’s worth it to tough it out and wait.
Survival Tip Recap
1. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
2. Download the festival app (if they have one).
3. Bring ponchos and be prepared for rain.
4. Take potential weather advisories and evacuations seriously, whether you think the weather is dangerous or not.
5. If you’re driving, pack a cooler with snacks and drinks in your car in case there are weather evacuations.
6. Stay hydrated!
7. Use sunscreen.
8. Take breaks in the shade whenever you can.
9. Pack bandages for your feet in case of blisters.
10. Leave before the end of the final set to beat the crowds… unless it’s one of your favorite artists.
Bonus tip… enjoy it. Check out my TikTok recap below.