Anna Hanson, a Janesville 31-year-old, crowd-surfed for the first time Saturday.
She was flushed and exuberant afterwards, like someone who had just had a profoundly emotional or religious experience.
A friend had hoisted her onto his shoulder at Sonic Boom, and then she was laying on her back, held up only by the hands of strangers.
They passed her forward over the crowd of hundreds to the barricade in front of the stage as the band All That Remains blasted its tunes.
“Oh, my God! It was such a rush!” she said afterward. “People are so nice. They’re like, ‘I got you, girl; I got you.’
“It’s like a family.”
People made sure she had a soft landing when she finally descended.
“And everyone high-fived me on the way back. It was awesome!”
She added: “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”
Having fun with friends and like-minded strangers was on the minds of thousands who attended the fourth annual Sonic Boom rock concert on the grounds of the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport this weekend.
Organizers estimated Sunday evening that attendance for the two-day event would be about 20,000.
Hanson was one of many who crowd-surfed, joyfully bashed into each other in mosh pits or danced and held up the two-finger salutes of approval for 29 bands.
Hanson’s experience and the other stories below happened between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and might not reflect goings-on later in the evening, when the headliner acts performed.
The concert promoter discouraged mosh pits and crowd surfing, but no one seemed to know that.
Organizers had men in orange shirts at the barricades in front of the stages to help crowd surfers dismount without injury.
“Remember, those guys in the orange shirts down here are here to keep you safe,” said Phil Labonte, the lead singer for All That Remains, as the band’s concert started. The crowd seemed unimpressed.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Labonte continued after a pause, “you are here to keep them busy.”
The crowd roared approval.
Throwing things also was discouraged, but once in a while an aluminum beer bottle was seen flying over the crowd, beer trailing behind it.
And the smell of marijuana drifted in the air on occasion. Tobacco smoke was much more prevalent.
The first thing you noticed when entering the gates to Sonic Boom was all the black T-shirts. The second thing that hit you was, “Hey, that’s a cannon!”
The Wisconsin National Guard came to recruit with the help of a 155mm howitzer.
“That is actually a real gun,” said Sgt. Ty Rubovich.
It shoots live rounds in training, but at Sonic Boom, just blanks.
Rubovich said they fired it between songs because it is louder than the music.
Back at ya
The cannon fired during Beartooth’s performance, and the band’s front man, Caleb Shomo, acknowledged it:
“I’m having one of the best days of my life. Every day, we get to play a show with a f——— cannon that’s louder than we are. That’s f——— cool!”
“F” bombs were the order of the day, especially for Shomo, who could not finish a sentence without a couple of them.
Fun with horror
A lot of people wore costumes that might have come from a movie about a horrific, post-apocalyptic future.
Most of those costumes were from a tent that was promoting Screamin’ Acres of Stoughton, a haunted house that thrives on fake gore and horror.
Ben Van, who goes by “Gassed,” was wearing a mask and held a device that featured what looked like two rotating circular-saw blades, as if he were ready to saw his way through a wave of zombies.
But the device was made of plastic pipe, and the blades with the drops of blood painted on them were plywood.
Some of his companions would fit in well in a horror movie. Think bloody clothing, dripping fangs and a grown woman dressed as a creepy doll.
“We get tons of people who are just freaking out,” when they see them, Van said.
Young at heart
Dave Cassidy and his wife, Kim, from Gurnee, Illinois, were among a number of middle-aged and older people in the crowd. Sitting on the grass, they looked like a suburban couple whose kids had wandered off. But they were there just for themselves.
“I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll,” Dave said, and he continues to follow newer bands.
Of the Sonic Boom lineup, Dave especially likes Stone Sour, Rise Against, Halestorm and Theory of a Dead Man.
Few children were seen on the grounds. Two very young kids on their parents shoulders were wearing sound-canceling headphones for Beartooth’s show.
Several of the vendors were giving out free earplugs, but not a lot of people seemed to be using them.
At the first-aid tent, Lt. Mike Rosario of the Beloit Fire Department said his outfit was working with Janesville firefighters to handle emergencies.
Two people had been taken to hospital early during the show, but most came to the tent to spray sun block on themselves, Rosario said.
Headaches and dehydration were common ailments. One red-faced man who was helped out of the crowd in front of the stage looked exhausted.
Rosario figured things might get more interesting when the headliner acts played at night.
Lots of tents featured things for sale. The Army and Marines were selling their lifestyles. They had chin-up bars to get people to stop.
“I love it. I grew up listening to this,” said Marine Sgt. Nicholas Ranum, 26, whose job is marketing/communications.
Ranum said the Marines hadn’t recruited anyone Saturday, but many seemed interested, and often it takes several exposures before someone is ready to sit down with a recruiter, he said.
Andrew Galauner of Janesville stood behind about 200 people waiting to get autographs from the band Stone Sour. Someone told them the band would take only 75 fans.
Lots of people stayed in line, hoping it wasn’t true.
“It’s part of the music I grew up with,” said Galauner, 24. “And they’re a renowned band, and very talented.”
Also waiting was Madison Hadley, 21, from Milwaukee. She was willing to wait in the autograph line, “because I love them. Time doesn’t matter.”
Hadley had gotten a spot in front of the stage for Beartooth. She likes the mosh pit, where people will shove each other for the joy of it, but she prefers the barricade in front of the stage. That way, she has something to hold onto, she said.
She took joy in the loudness.
“I can’t stand to see earplugs,” she said. “It defeats the purpose. If this is how I’m going to go deaf, I’m very happy.”
Making a personal appearance in the rear of the venue were the Cherry Bombs, a performance group from Atlanta.
The Cherry Bombs are young women in skimpy, sexy outfits, who perform acrobatics and pyrotechnics on stage, along with pole dancing and other suggestive moves.
“We’re like the Pussycat Dolls meet Cirque du Soliel on acid,” said their leader, Alicia Dove.
The Bombs were posing for photos with concert-goers.
Two local “gentleman’s clubs” also had tents featuring scantily clad women.
One of the strip clubs featured $20 lap dances for anyone over age 18.
No lap dances were going on in the back of the tent when a Gazette reporter visited. One of the dancers asked if he was interested. He said he had to work.
“Stop by when you’re off the clock,” she said.
A big group of characters from Screamin Acres paraded up to one of the strippers’ tents and took a group shot with the women.
Everyone was smiling, like relatives at a family reunion, with fake blood and bottoms peeking out of short shorts.
The Gazette reporter, who is not a hard-rock fan, had a great time.
The grounds were kept clean and safe by people with garbage bags and by cops, who patrolled regularly. But neither had a lot do do—at least before the nighttime shows.
The scene had a friendly, tribal vibe. People celebrated their love for the music and for the liberties afforded by being part of a crowd too big to be completely controlled by the authorities.
The lead singer of Beartooth told the crowd that some are predicting rock ‘n’ roll will die out. Then he reassured them, in a heavy-metal roar: “Through the end of f——— time, it will always be there for you!”