If you ask Chang Weisberg how he’d describe Rock The Bells, he’ll fling terms that only the musically initiated would likely grasp–"a conscious socio-political hardcore hip-hop fest." But for everyone else, an oversimplified yet apt descriptor would be like a rap-based Warped Tour, minus the ramps, ‘hawks and punks (and instead, add acts like Rage Against The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan and Nas). Are you with us? Launched by Weisberg’s San Dimas-based company Guerilla Union four years ago, Rock The Bells takes its cues from various European festivals, as well as Lollapalooza and the now-retired Smokin’ Grooves tour. And after nearly a decade in the concert business, Weisberg’s passion for putting on prominent parties is finally starting to get some serious national recognition, largely because his tour has been crisscrossing the U.S. over the past few weeks–and also because he got a big-time draw in getting Rage Against the Machine to come aboard (at least for select dates).
We attained a little back (and front) story on the tour, which launched July 26 in Boston and is scheduled to hit our ‘hood this Saturday, categorized below by the song titles of some of our favorite Rock the Bells headliners.
"BRING THE NOISE" (Public Enemy)
For those who missed Rage Against The Machine’s grand re-entry at Coachella earlier this year, you’ve been granted a second chance to catch them in the I.E., as they’re slated to headline our Rock The Bells date (which is privileged, as they’re only on four dates of the entire tour). Other must-see main-stagers include rap royalty Wu-Tang Clan, Southgate stars Cypress Hill, political poets Public Enemy, old-schoolers EPMD and the über-conscious foundation of The Roots.
Seeking sounds of the spectrum that don’t require gold records for access? Check out the Paid Dues stage roster, sporting intriguing indie hip-hop talent, including dazzling duo The Coup, thinkin’ man’s rapper Sage Francis, truly nameworthy Living Legends, and the mind-blowing Brother Ali. "We’re really about trying to bring exposure to a genre of live hip hop that’s not really getting a lot of exposure in mainstream media and radio," Weisberg says.
"ROLL RIGHT" (Rage Against The Machine)
Originally cast as an exclusive Southern California-based event, Rock The Bells is now part of a 17-date tour that spans several national markets, in large part due to popular demand. "The thought is to really go out there and prospect the country," Weisberg says. "We do get lots of e-mails, messages on MySpace and our message boards and even phone calls in the office about why we don’t do Rock The Bells around the country." (Weisberg hopes to take the festival global, with Japan, Europe and Australia as possible destinations as soon as next summer.)
"PEOPLE OF THE SUN" (Rage Against The Machine) Though the festival originated at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, this year’s event now has a new home at the Hyundai Pavilion. (Weisberg cited construction at the N.O.S. as the reason for the forced change of venue).
Despite the new party pad, Weisberg plans to champion the tour’s general admission status, removing roughly 5,000 seats from the Pavilion’s orchestra section. "There’ll be quite a large pit out front, so we can keep the vibe for the fans and the artists as well." Which begs the question: though we’re happy to keep Rock The Bells in our backyard, why host such a major event some fifty-plus miles east of L.A.? "I think the Inland Empire is kind of what I call ‘neutral ground’ for people in Southern California," Weisberg hypothesizes. "There are people in L.A. who really don’t want to go to the O.C., and there are people in Orange County who really don’t want to go to L.A. You take that 30 or 45-minute drive to the I.E., and it makes a nice little roadtrip."
"CAN IT BE ALL SO SIMPLE" (Wu-Tang Clan)
How hard was it for Weisberg to coax some of these artists into submission? "Nothing’s ever really that easy," Weisberg admits. "It took a lot of years to develop, and we were blessed when Rage Against The Machine told us that they were willing to play our show. When that domino falls, it does make my job a little bit easier."
But there’s also a little incentive for those really wanting a slot on the bill. "I really try to support artists that have new material coming out," he adds. "It really serves its purpose to try and help elevate some of these artists, even though they’re in an industry that says pushing shiny silver discs isn’t going to be around much longer. Showcasing the live element will always be there, because you can’t download that experience."
"DO YOU WANT MORE?!" (The Roots)
If all the above ain’t enough, go scope the Verses Stage, which is exclusive to the Hyundai Pavilion appearance, featuring a host of b-boys bustin’ their moves, MCs manning the mics, and turntabilists diggin’ on their decks in a battle for the best in show.
"Y’ALL BEEN WARNED" (Wu-Tang Clan)
But if you’re the type who’s down with the Wu-Tang Clan, you probably don’t heed warnings anyway.
Rock the Bells hits the Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen in Devore on Saturday, August 11. Doors are at 11AM. Tickets are $77.00-$152.00. For more information, check out the tour’s website, www.rockthebells.net.