Bayfest: Hedley, Simple Plan and The Offspring; rain and mud, die hard fans, great memories and generosity highlight final day

Photography provided courtesy of Kerry Belliveau.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on." ~William Shakespeare

This is a quote that came to mind as Rogers Bayfest 2012 wrapped up late Sunday night. That's it folks. It was truly a phenomenal 4-day weekend flanked with astounding talent, unparalleled music, great food and cold beer, community spirit and good ol' fashioned fun.

Often by the fourth day, music festivals can start to lose steam. But at Bayfest, it seemed to raise the energy even higher. As jacked up as the atmosphere and energy were Saturday when Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden came to town, those elements were taken to a new level altogether Sunday with the likes of Big Wreck, Hedley, Papa Roach, Simple Plan and legendary punk rockers The Offspring all in one day.

After three hot sun-drenched sticky days at Centennial Park, the final day of Rogers Bayfest 2012 was highlighted with downpours and mud reminiscent of Bayfest six years ago when Collective Soul headlined the festival on a Saturday night. The rain slammed down on thousands of fans, but that didn't stop anyone from having a good time, enjoying the great music.

It’s true that a music festival of this class is very much about the musical talent, but a lot goes into these events behind the scenes that often goes unseen or unnoticed. Along with the music, Bayfest boasts some of the best, most dedicated volunteers, vendors, food and amenities across the board.

Ben & Jerry’s decided to set up camp this year and give out free ice cream for four days to the thousands of people that went through the festival. Bayfest lead sponsor Rogers gave out thousands of dollars in prizes including cash, small ticket items and bigger items like the new Samsung Galaxy S3 cell phone.

The generosity and community spirit of the organizers, and in particular Michele Stokley, was also quite evident through the their funding raising efforts to raise money for a crisis follow-up program with St. Clair Child & Youth Services and, independently, for the Jim Stokley Foundation.

Moments before the evening show started, Michele Stokley was outside generously upgrading people for free from general admission to VIP.

The afternoon show featured three great bands including newcomers USS, Canadian juggernaut band Big Wreck and headliner Hedley who, like Toby Keith three days earlier, was making their second appearance at the national music festival since opening for Nickelback in 2007.

First act out of the gate in the afternoon was Toronto-based band Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, more widely known as USS, officially consisting of lead vocalist, guitarist and Erhu player Ashley Buchholz (a.k.a. Ash Boo-Schultz) and turntablist/hype man Jason "Human Kebab" Parsons.

The best way to describe these guys is Linkin Park on steroids, a first-class ensemble of talent, to be sure, that for all intents and purposes took the festival by storm with their high-impact, "in your face" brand of hip hop-infused modern rock.

Like Bleeker Ridge accomplished the previous day, USS marked new territory catering to diehard fans who already know their music and winning over new fans by the end of their performance.

When it looked like the dark clouds were rolling in over the festival and the rain was coming, lead vocalist and guitar player Shultz remarked that he wanted the rain to keep moving and head for Mississauga.

“We don’t care about the rain,” he added. “The water feels good on my lips.”

Parsons backed up that sentiment when, in between songs, he told everyone to put their hands in the air and wave them back and forth to show the rain they don’t care, all while playing a classic clip from George Michael’s song Careless Whisper. The crowd loved it.

Another high point was when Parsons spontaneously stood on his head during a song and, while upside down, continued working his turntable without missing a beat and while air dancing with his legs.

The band finished their set with an arousing cover of Outkast’s smash hit Hey Ya!.

After not too much of a wait, legendary Canadian band Big Wreck hit the stage, greeted by thousands of fans eager to hear the songs of their youth. As many younger people there to see Hedley as there was on a Sunday afternoon, there were thousands of more people representing a slightly older demographic there to see one of the best Canadian bands of a generation perform.

Big Wreck frontman Ian Thornley was clearly in top form Sunday as he worked the crowd like a seasoned professional, interacting and telling his ardent fans how glad he was to be there with them. The day’s first bout of hard rain still hadn’t descended and it was hot and humid to the tune of 41 oC when Thornley remarked, “It’s hot, sticky and wet. It’s lovely.”

There were numerous instrument changes after every song for the most part which included a turn each for Thornley and Doherty on dual necked guitars. The show was placidly smooth and it seemed the crowd enjoyed every minute of it.

Although everyone liked the whole performance, it was clear that a haunting rendition of Blown Wide Open and an aurally surreal, slowed down Albatross were preeminent highlights. Another high note, at least to the fans that couldn’t get enough of their music, was the fact that these guys came out and played almost ½ an hour more than they were slated.

It was clear that Big Wreck is, after 18 years including an eight year hiatus while Ian Thornley successfully branched off on his own, bigger than ever.

By the end of Big Wreck’s show, the crowd was clearly primed and the attendance numbers had noticeably jumped with the accession of several more thousand younger fans flowing through the gates to see Jacob Hoggard and his band Hedley.

Hedley put on an electric performance marked by catchy hooks, high impact theatrics and a charismatic frontman who, in a short eight years, went from a runner up on Canadian Idol season 2 to becoming a world-class performer backed by a talented ensemble of band mates with fans all over the world.

The Canadian music icons from Abbotsford, British Columbia, kept their fans on the edge of their seats and delighted them with many of their hits including On My Own, Never Too Late, Old School and Perfect.

The afternoon show ended on an exceptionally high note despite several downpours that turned the park into a virtual soupy mud bath for the whole of Hedley.

Less than two hours after the afternoon show ended, the evening festivities officially kicked off with the gates opening on time at 6:30 p.m. The park was slightly dryer and there was a whole new crowd, along with some afternoon holdovers, in the venue to see, frankly, a triple header main event featuring Papa Roach, Simple Plan and legendary punk rockers The Offspring.

California's Papa Roach came out a bit later than expected due to the afternoon show running longer, but it was definitely worth the wait as these definitive bad boy rockers came out in high gear, ready to rock the park.

Lead vocalist Jacoby Shaddix had more energy than a 3-year-old spun out on sugar. He could rarely be seen standing still, constantly working the crowd. The entire venue was on their feet jumping and singing along to the very solidly performed numbers.

At one point during a track, Shaddix jumped from the stage and ran up the center column [reserved for security and photographers] and into the crowd. After running around for several minutes and interacting with fans all the while being followed by several security guards, he returned to the stage with a sea of fans around him singing along.

Papa Roach lead guitarist and backup vocalist Jerry Horton provided an entertaining subplot during the show by openly and overtly flirting with a young lady in the front row and asking her at one point, "If I came down there and made out with you, would your boyfriend get mad?"

The band played many of their fan favourites including Last Resort, Broken Home, She Loves Me Not, Scars and Forever; and only for the second time live performed a brand new independently released single track called Still Swingin’.

Next up on the menu was Simple Plan, a band that has successfully headlined events all over the world and put out 16 U.S. Billboard Top 20 hits over four outstanding albums in 13 short years.

To be sure, Simple Plan was simply perfect.

Like with Papa Roach, Simple Plan frontman Pierre Bouvier fervently interacted with the audience and, twice during the almost 90 minute performance, jumped off the stage and continued the party among the crowd for several minutes before returning to the stage again.

This is a band that knows their fans quite well, in fact just as well as they know their own music, an understanding and confidence that intrinsically transcends the one dimension of talent, ultimately allowing the Montréal-based ensemble to unleash a uniquely entertaining, charismatic performance.

Anthem after anthem, everyone across the venue knew each of the songs performed word for word, including such hits as I’m Just A Kid, I’d Do Anything, Addicted, Welcome To My Life, Shut Up!, Crazy, When I’m Gone, Astronaut and Summer Paradise.

Simple Plan capped their show with a smooth rendition of their Canadian Billboard Top 20 and U.S. Billboard Top 25 hit Perfect.

The weather, despite some off and on light showers during the first two acts of the evening show that, at worst, kept the mud muddy, held out for the most part and the near-capacity crowd was ready for the main event of the evening – 90’s super punk rockers The Offspring.

This band, originally formed in 1984 then known as Manic Subsidal, have been around the proverbial block more times than we could count today and, despite 28 years of water under the bridge, there’s no question that they’re as good as they ever were – if not better.

The Offspring are widely credited, alongside fellow California punk, ska punk, and pop punk bands Sublime, Green Day, Bad Religion, and Rancid, with popularizing and reviving mainstream interest in punk rock in the United States in the 1990s.

This chart-topping band has released nine commercially successful albums since coming together that’s spawned 31 Billboard chart-topping hits, many of which they performed during their festival closing show Sunday. Some of their more widely known tracks that were played include Why Don’t You Get A Job, Original Prankster, Hit That, Hammerhead, Days Go By and Come Out and Play.

This is a band that’s built a strong reputation over the span of their stellar career and their experience on stage, their smooth showmanship and natural-feeling comfort when talking with the crowd, as well interacting with each other during and in between songs, was quite evident during the show.

A notable characteristic of their stage show was a series of multi-color high-density laser projectors that symmetrically worked in unison and lit up the night sky, visible as far as the clouds.

It was a late night and a long day altogether, but it was a definitive final day for a music festival, now in its 13th successful year, that has helped put Sarnia in the national spotlight and transformed the community into a global summer festival destination.

On a final note, it’s important to point out that this community likely wouldn’t be enjoying this annual national music festival had it not been for the hard work and dedication of one man – Jim Stokley. He started Bayfest 13 years ago and remained at the helm until his untimely passing three years ago.

That said, would like to say thank you, Jim.

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