A Non-Metalhead’s Guide to Houston Open Air

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Despite being a fan of hard rock music, I don’t claim to be a metalhead. It’s slightly akin to how I like trying new restaurants and cooking new dishes at home, yet wouldn’t describe myself as a foodie (in part because the word “foodie” is nauseating). Point being, you can appreciate something without being a total diehard about it.

Houston Open Air, taking place at NRG Park this Saturday and Sunday, is what metalheads in Houston have been pining for — a full-scale festival devoted to metal and those that support it. It’s also tailor-made for casual hard-rock types, those who know the big names and may want to sample a few new bands, but aren’t intimately familiar with the lineup. The former need no primer for Houston Open Air; metalheads have been awaiting this festival for some time. As for the latter, here are some of the key bands to watch (and perhaps a couple to avoid) at Houston’s next big rock fest.

9:50 p.m. Saturday, Monster Energy Discovery Stage
Alice in Chains was perhaps the most underrated band of the grunge era. Sure, Nirvana had the era’s anthem, as well as its de facto voice in Kurt Cobain. And Pearl Jam had — and still has — the longevity that allowed it to long outlive the era from which they were born. But Alice in Chains? Man, they had “it.” Late front man Layne Staley’s rangy voice, coupled with some of the most depressed, laid-bare lyrics of the era, set the tone for what the grunge era was all about. Sadly, Staley and fellow founding member Mike Starr both died of drug overdoses; Comes With the Fall front man William DuVall eventually became the band's new singer. This isn’t purely a nostalgia act — in fact, some of AIC’s best music has come since DuVall entered the fold. Plus, with the heart of the band (Jerry Cantrell) still in play, this is a show worth making time for.

5:15 p.m. Saturday, Monster Energy Discovery Stage
Your opinion of this band may very well hinge on your feelings toward former Creed front man Scott Stapp, considering Alter Bridge is basically Creed without its former lead singer. If you’re among those who support Stapp (it’s an exclusive club for sure) you may want to wait until the next solo Stapp show or a Creed reunion gig hits Houston. But for the former – those who saw potential in Creed, only to have it derailed by an egomaniacal front man with a Jesus complex – Alter Bridge is a better live experience than one might expect.

4:25 p.m. Saturday, Bud Light Endeavor Stage
Let’s make this one quick. If you go to a metal festival – one with Anthrax featured prominently on the bill – and you elect not to see one of the pioneers of thrash-metal, well, this might not be the festival for you.

8:40 p.m. Sunday, Monster Energy Discovery Stage
Metal doesn’t sell quite like it once did, when bands like Metallica and Megadeth were ruling the roost, but Avenged Sevenfold’s last two records have both debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart. Plus, whereas some metal bands stick to screaming, Avenged Sevenfold — which closes out HOA on Sunday night — boasts one of the more diverse sounds you’ll find at the festival. Don’t get it twisted; there is still ample room for screaming and angst, but these headliners manage to weave in enough melody and imagery in appealing to metalheads and non-metalheads alike.

5:45 p.m. Saturday, Jack Daniel’s Atlantis Stage
Hard rock is not a genre for subtle types, and perhaps no band in history – at least from a mainstream radio point of view – better encapsulates that notion than Buckcherry. This is a band whose biggest hits bear titles such as “Lit Up” (hint: it’s about cocaine), “Crazy Bitch” (you can venture a guess) and “Too Drunk” (you see where we’re going with this). In short, Buckcherry don’t care much for musical metaphor, but they are an energetic lot.

6:50 p.m. Sunday, Monster Energy Discovery Stage
Chevelle is one of those bands that gets a bad rap in certain circles, mostly because they’re viewed as being a pop-rock band masquerading in hard-rock gear. This isn’t entirely inaccurate, but Chevelle is a rarity in today’s hard-rock landscape — a band that has been able to consistently sell records and gain radio play for the better part of 15 years. Couple that with a solid live show and you get one of the more anticipated sets at HOA. Plus, “Shameful Metaphors” is one of the more underrated rock radio songs of the past decade.

7:45 p.m. Sunday, Bud Light Endeavor Stage
Deftones has been experimenting and pushing the boundaries of hard rock for more than 20 years now. They have dabbled in raw adrenaline (the appropriately titled Adrenaline), gone more mainstream (White Pony) and even gotten a little weird and new wave-ish (Around the Fur). It’s unlikely you will find a more musically satisfying show than the one Chino Moreno and crew are going to give HOA on Sunday night.

8:45 p.m. Saturday, Bud Light Endeavor Stage
I once sat third row at a Slayer concert. The boom and bass that emanated from the amps was so intense, I had trouble breathing and eventually succumbed to a panic attack. Point being, Slayer is the most metal band on the HOA bill, and anyone who misses out on their set is doing themselves a major disservice.

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