With things moving to the Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheatre, the event proper began on Wednesday (18th January), with an "unofficial Canadian day", as declared by host Eddie Trunk, who pointed out that not only were three of the bands on the bill from North of the 49th parallel, but the forth (Steven Adler's band) contained a pair of Canadians too.
With openers Helix celebrating almost fifty years on the road, they gave their all to make sure it was a night to remember for both the band, and the fans. Honeymoon Suite, who followed, filled the evening air with their AOR anthems.
With former Guns n' Roses man Adler suffering from flu, his performance was almost derailed as soon as it began, with the first two songs including opener 'Night Train' seemingly on the edge of falling apart at any minute. Thankfully, after imploring the crowd to have a little patience, the drummer recovered enough to show off exactly why he was the beating heart of the original band. Singer Ariel Kamin meanwhile could only be described as more Axl than Axl, with his soaring pipes and uncanny stage moves.
Headliners Loverboy however, arguably stole the show. Blasting out the hits that built their legacy, it was, inevitably mega-hit 'Working For The Weekend' which raised the atmosphere to fever-pitch, and ended the first full day of the festival on an incredible high.
Heroes Quiet Riot meanwhile, performed their first gig of 2023, with front man Jizzy Pearl declaring that "Rock and roll is still alive!" One of Rokisland's favourite bands, the four piece of course played the hits, as well as teasing with snippets of Type O Negative and Ozzy Osbourne staples, in reference to some of the band members' other works. A full rendition of Love/Hate's 'Blackout in the Red Room' meanwhile, went down a storm.
Following on from their 2022 appearance, Slaughter were In the unique position of being the only band to have played at both Rokisland fests. A late addition to the bill, the four-piece played a stellar set that included their brace of 1990 mega-hits 'Up All Night' and 'Fly to the Angels'. They also ran through Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', showing off the incredible talents of singer Mark Slaughter.
"Hallelujah it's great to see you. Rokisland is the place to be on a Thursday night! Y'all ready for a good time?", declared 38 Special front man Don Barnes, as their set kicked off. Lifting things to a whole other level, the veteran band's deft musicianship and harmony vocals proved why they continue to endure. Self-effacing, particularly when referencing their the soundtrack work to half a dozen "bad '80s movies", the good humour belied their incredible musicianship that brought with it the most polished set of the weekend.
The yellow and black attack of Stryper followed. "It's a pleasure to be here tonight!" enthused front man Michael Sweet, as they arrived on stage. Celebrating their 40th anniversary, the four-piece ripped through an early evening set that took in all points of the career.
One of the biggest acts to emerge in the late '80s, with a huge fanbase still evident, Extreme proved one of the best bands of the weekend, going down a storm with the Key West crowd. With showmanship unmatched by any other band of the festival, Gary Cherone pulled off sone impressive speaker-scaling that looked positively terrifying. With a set that included opener 'Decadence Dance', funk workout 'Cupid's Dead', and the guitar gymnastics (courtesy of the incomparable Nuno Bettencourt) of 'Play With Me', it was musical perfection also.
Drawing easily the biggest attendance of the festival, Styx however, proved nothing less than conquering heroes. With the capacity crowd singing along from the start, Tommy Shaw and company were the perfect soundtrack to Friday night. The highlights were many, and the hits kept coming; from "a song that featured on the first day of MTV" - 'Too Much Time on My Hands' - to the absolutely epic 'Come Sail Away'.
Encoring with the divisive - so much so that it once split the band - 'Mr. Roboto', the long absent track proved a high point in a set crammed with them. Closing with the defiant 'Renegade', one attendee on the Rokisland Festival Fans Facebook group summed up their performance saying; "Styx blew the roof off the amphitheatre tonight! Wow!"
Proving hugely popular, Steven Pearcy knew exactly how to work the crowd. "Alright people, time to party!", he excalimed, ahead of a set crammed with Ratt classics including sleazy anthem 'Loving You is a Dirty Job', and era-defining classic 'You're in Love.' "I really don't know what I'm playing when I get up here", Pearcy confessed; "but I can guarantee you it's Ratt and roll music!"
Playing one of the tightest sets of the weekend, Queensrÿche were in absolutely top form. Perhaps it was the enforced layoff of the pandemic, or the critical acclaim directed at 2022 release 'Digital Noise Alliance', but the veteran act proved a band reborn.
"Were gonna keep it old school for you guys", declared singer Todd La Torre, and with an opening run that included 'The Needle Lies', 'Warning' and 'En Force', he wasn't lying.
After five days of incredible music, it's no easy job being the closing act, but you try telling that to Tesla, who made it look like child's play. Opening with 'Modern Day Cowboy', and going on to play all their biggest hits, they even dropped in a new song - "newer than a six- month old baby's bottom" according to vocalist Jeff Keith - in 2022 standalone single 'Time to Rock!'. More poignant than ever thanks to the recent anniversary of his passing meanwhile, 'Song and Emotion' brought the house down.
With outside events including nightly jams by the Bulletboys and Eric Martin afterhours at the Smokin' Tuna, Rokisland really took over the island of Key West for a week of fun in the sun, and with a nightly guitar auction benefitting local charities raising over $120,000 dollars, the festival also gave back to the local community.
Rokisland is set to return in January 2024. For the latest, visit the festival's official website.