Something just wasn't quite right backstage at this year's Rockfest.
There were rows upon rows of massive, silver tour buses parked around Liberty Memorial, each vehicle serving as a temporary home to some big-name rock band. Inside, members of bands such as Godsmack, Buckcherry, Sevendust and other radio-friendly hard rockers reclined in air-conditioned comfort before taking the stage at radio station KQRC 98.9's annual summer festival.
But amid the enormous RVs and buses, one rig caught the eye first. It was a beat-up, green '94 Chevy Astro minivan hitched to a tiny, rented U-Haul trailer. Borrowed from their album's producer (Wes West of Studio West Productions) and affectionately dubbed "The Green Lantern," this was the home base for the members of Kansas City's own Red Line Chemistry.
Talk about standing out in a crowd.
"I think that's the only reason any of the big bands even knew who we were," says lead guitarist Andy Breit. He's sitting at a table at Overland Park bar Fuel a few weeks after the June 9 festival. "You pull up in the land of giant tour buses, and there was our U-Haul strapped to a beat-up-ass minivan." (In fact, he's pretty sure it's what got the band an invitation to play a little softball with the guys in Chevelle.)
Not counting the former ties between Kansas City and festival headliner Puddle of Mudd, only one other local band, Federation of Horsepower, got a 2007 Rockfest slot in front of a sold-out crowd of 40,000 horn-flashing metal fans. But Federation of Horsepower plays every year, and even those guys rented a bus.
"I think it was Taz [Bentley] from the Burden Brothers who asked us, 'What time do you have to have the U-Haul back?'" rhythm guitarist Dave Fyten recalls, laughing.
No one in Red Line Chemistry — Breit, Fyten, lead singer Brett Ditgen, bassist Tom Brown or drummer Mike Mazzarese — seems too upset about having taken some well-intentioned shit from their idols, including some of the biggest names in mainstream hard rock.
Maybe that's because Red Line has gotten used to its outsider status, at least locally.
The band's debut album, Chemical High and a Hand Grenade, is arguably one of the most well-produced records to come out of Kansas City in some time, and the album's catchy songwriting could share shelf space with the bands that headlined Rockfest.
The group has also opened for national acts 30 Seconds to Mars and Flaw and has a spot lined up on the Warped Tour local stage at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater August 15. "The Empty," the first single from Chemical High, is getting regular radio play on 98.9, KRBZ 96.5 and stations in Manhattan, Kansas; Wichita and Joplin.
But on the local scene, things are a little different.
It's not that the band members don't get along with other bands — in fact, they say they love the fact that they're able to share the stage with different types of music. The problem, they agree, is that Red Line is too hard for the indie crowd and too mainstream for the metal crowd.
"The scene has always been good to us, but there's always going to be people you can't please," Ditgen says. "Something would be really wrong if everyone liked our shit."
It may actually be a good thing that Red Line Chemistry isn't just some puzzle piece that fits easily into the local scene.
"Us getting on Rockfest put us in an entirely different market," Brown says. "It also put us in front of people who don't necessarily support local music."
That could be their best chance at a ticket out of town.
"It [Rockfest] was the least nervous I've ever been for a show," Mazzarese says. "It was just complete elation. The coolest part is that it used to just be our friends at our shows, but now people we don't even know are coming out just to hear our songs. It makes you want to play that much harder."
Someday, Red Line Chemistry might need a bigger U-Haul.