Rock N Skull 2016 — the event of the year? RNS founder Justin Murr speaks out.
This year’s Rock N Skull edition has likely gone through more line-up changes than ever but is still looking to be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — event of the year. Sure, the festival does not have a Metallica, Def Leppard or even a Bret Michaels in the line-up but for any ’80s and ’90s hair metal lover, Rock N Skull offers a very enticing line-up with bands or artists that you may not have heard of or seen in a very long time. This year, Rock N Skull is partnering up with Melodic Rock to bring a real international flavour to the festival including European and Australian bands, some of which are making their lone North American appearance this year at Rock N Skull.
Despite recently losing headliner Stryper for its 2016 edition, Rock N Skull seems to have gotten stronger with long-time and former Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy taking the headlining slot while reuniting with some star studded friends consisting of former Ratt bandmate and bassist Juan Croucier, and former Quiet Riot and Ratt guitarist Carlos Cavazo, all of which will be joined by Pearcy‘s current solo band drummer Greg D’Angelo. Speculation abounds that guitarist Warren DeMartini, who reportedly owns 50% of the Ratt name via the company WBS Inc., will be joining Pearcy, Croucier, Cavazo and D’Angelo to make what could be the reunion of the year complete.
Sleaze Roxx recently spoke to Rock N Skull founder Justin Murr who explained the madness behind Rock N Skull. If anything, Murr has proven to be a very driven, passionate and vocal individual who will stop at nothing to bring the best possible line-up to the Rock N Skull supporters.
Murr was asked what prompted him to start the Rock N Skull Festival to which he replied: “Well, I have been doing music most of my life and spent the past 20 plus years doing a project called Liberty N Justice. The music business changed and I still wanted to be a part of it. Arttie Parker and I were throwing ideas off each other and we decided to do an event in Nebraska called Skull Fest, which I consider to be the first Rock N Skull. It failed financially but the people that attended had a great time. I regrouped, decided to do my own fest in my home town and Rock N Skull was born!”
With respect to Rock N Skull‘s surprise partnership with Melodic Rock, Murr stated: “[Melodic Rock principal] Andrew [McNeice] and I always had a good relationship ’til I became competition with his MRF fest. We had a huge falling out and really didn’t talk. In 2016, Monsters of Rock Cruise was doing a fall cruise so I reached out to Andrew and asked him to be a part of RNS knowing I needed his fan base to offset the loss or the peeps going on the cruise. Andrew and I agreed us co-existing is better for the genre than us fighting. We still fight! I’m sure I get on his nerves the way I do things and things he does irks me. We are both competitive and both want the fans to get their monies worth. It truly is RNS vs MRF… and the fans are the winners.”
Running a festival such as Rock N Skull is certainly challenging in many ways including staying within budget. Murr was asked how hard it is to find well known bands for a festival while staying within budget and just how much work goes into putting a festival like Rock N Skull. Murr responded as follows: “What’s a budget?!? [Laughs] Truly, it’s continuing to wrestle with a line-up trying to perfect it while staying within a budget. It takes four months to actually to put together a line-up but the truth is I’m never happy and I’m always trying to tweak it at the disgust and angst of the ticket buyer. I promote RNS for a year and if you follow the event page or me on Facebook, you’ll see that I am always promoting it.”
Rock N Skull seems to change venue every year including another venue change in 2017. In terms of what is prompting the switch in venues, Murr stated: “The first year when it was known as Skull Fest, we had about an average of 130 people per day in a 300 cap venue. The next year, we went to Goodfellas and we had around 500 people in a 600 cap room. Rock N Skull was just a huge success and Goodfellas knocked down a wall so we could go up to an 800 cap. We sold an average of 745 tickets per day. We outgrew Pekin [Illinois, USA] so we are heading north to The Tree In Joliet and again we increased the cap to 1,000. Again, our tickets are way up so in 2017, we are going back to Pekin and going to a 5,000 seat venue. As long as it keeps growing, we will keep moving!”
Murr was asked how he determines the order of where each band should play on each day of the festival and whether he has ever received some push back from any band in that regard? Murr replied: “Of course, bands talk all the time but anyone who actually knows me knows I’m a nice guy ’til I’m not nice no more [laughs]. I am very driven and have a direction for this brand and if a band is unhappy, I try to deal with it ’til I can’t no more. If it’s too much, I remove them from the poster [laughs] which you have seen a time or two in the past.”
Less than a month ago, Stryper pulled out as headliner of the Rock N Skull 2016 edition reportedly on the basis that they could not make it due to their 30th year anniversary tour in support of their To Hell With The Devil album. With Ratt‘s long-time and former frontman Stephen Pearcy already in the line-up and rumours already circulating of a possible reunion between Pearcy, DeMartini, Croucier and Cavazo, Murr seemed to achieve what everyone wanted with Pearcy now set to headline the 2016 edition of Rock N Skull with special guests Juan Croucier and Carlos Cavazo. Whether DeMartini joins his former Ratt cohorts on stage or not at Rock N Skull, there is no doubt that it will be a very special night.
Murr was asked how he deals with the many line-up changes and how difficult it has been, to which he replied: “2016 has been the most challenging for several reasons…. My personal life — I’m going through a divorce and a custody battle and just nonsense so to be honest, I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. We had a sponsor [HighVolMusic] not come through and that hurt the festival financially. Goodfellas in Pekin had a fire and closed down in return costing me $11,000 in refunds for my summer party concert. And when we first started booking for 2016, we had actually three guys booking the bands which caused a cluster. I didn’t like the line-up so I tweaked it. We also had some cancelations and then the Stryper thing. To be honest, I’m truly blessed in losing Stryper. This should have been devastating — and it is — but I came up with an idea of having Stephen Pearcy headline and bring some old friends with him! I’m excited for this year and looking to 2017 to really go big!”
The 2016 edition of Rock N Skull will take place at The Tree In Joliet in Joliet, Illinois, USA on October 28 to 30, 2016 with a Pre-Party taking place at the same location on October 27, 2016. Tickets for Rock N Skull can be purchased here while tickets for the Pre-Party can be purchased here.