There was no mistaking the July 22nd Hard Rock Cafe Rockfest Presented By Oldsmobile Alero for a non-commercial music event. An estimated 97,000-plus fans turned up at the Chicago Motor Speedway to see the potent and unlikely combo of Metallica, Kid Rock, Stone Temple Pilots Veruca Salt, Third Eye Blind, The Tragically Hip Barenaked Ladies, Tonic, Guster, Vertical Horizon, Nine Days, and luvjOi.

It cost fans $65 to see 12 bands play full sets at Rockfest – a reasonable fee considering tickets to Metallica’s Summer Sanitarium Tour went for about the same price. Rockfest was relatively affordable because of its numerous corporate sponsors. Along with Hard Rock Cafe and Oldsmobile, the event got a boost from Discover Card, Mountain Dew, Motorola and Entertainment Weekly.

There was no escaping the corporate tie-ins and promotions during the festival – they were omnipresent and expected. It’s part of the now-commonplace synergy between corporate America and the concert industry. Big companies give big money to promoters and special events like Rockfest. The money helps cover the artists’ guarantees and production costs. In return, the companies get to advertise their products to the audience in a myriad of ways.

It certainly isn’t a new concept, but for the band Guster, the corporatization of the Hard Rock Cafe Rockfest Presented By Oldsmobile Alero was just too much. Throughout the band’s Rockfest set, singer/guitarist Ryan Miller sarcastically expressed his disgust.

“The commercial, corporate presence was just over the top. Commercials were being shown between each band,” Miller told POLLSTAR July 25th. “It was so blatant, so overt, so egregious. It was too much for me. I couldn’t passively accept it so I made some comments about Oldsmobile. I mentioned something about how we were all present because we represent a certain demographic. I wasn’t pissed off about Oldsmobile; I was just pissed off by the whole environment.”

No one attempted to sensor Miller’s remarks while the band was onstage but when it came time for Guster to settle with the promoters, Rockfest refused to pay the band the $5,000 balance of its guarantee.

The conflict between the band and festival organizers escalated when Guster drummer Brian Rosenworcel posted the band’s side of the story on its Web site that same day.

He wrote: “The corporate presence was particularly egregious at the event. Between bands, there was a giant screen on stage showing Oldsmobile and PlayStation commercials, and people dressed as gorillas pumped Oldsmobile t-shirts into the crowd between sets, sending kids into a frenzy clamoring for the free projectile, even though it was just an Oldsmobile t-shirt. When did rock concerts start showing tv commercials? While we play sponsored events sometimes, it seemed exceptional that you had to pay $65 to be treated as a consumer moron and so Ryan got on stage and spoke his mind a bit.”

The post went on to say: “We can live without the five grand. What sucks is feeling that you have to kiss corporate ass to expose your music to people. We could have gone up there and sung a bunch of lyrics about gay-bashing and that would have been fine. That we made fun of Oldsmobile earns us a penalty? Something’s wrong with that.”

To hear Miller and Rosenworcel tell it, the band got fed up, fought back and was punished for exercising its right to free speech.

But Guster’s story sounded very, very different to the people involved with the festival.