Photo provided by: Phil Ryabkin


Metal Insider’s Headbangers’ Brawl is back, and what a comeback it is! Featuring new and veteran contributors, the team has had one heated debate on what the heck happened to this year’s Blue Ridge Rock Festival. Did the early cancellation result from adverse weather, poor organization, or other undisclosed reasons? Were the rumors and allegations circulating on the internet, filled with negative comments and experiences, sufficient to prematurely end the event? Event organizers have since presumed misinformation has been spread. Meanwhile, some festival-goers have already purchased their tickets for next year. Are the chaotic videos and images simply fabrications? Our banter about all of this starts now:


Bram Teitelman: It’s no surprise that the weather played a major part in the fest being canceled. Plenty of other festivals have ended early or suspended operations due to inclement weather, and that’s unavoidable to an extent. However, everything else about it seems suspect. While more seasoned promoters like Danny Wimmer Presents and C3 have festivals down to a science, a simple google search confirms that Blue Ridge promoter Purpose Driven Events has had issues in the past. Not paying the county for past festivals, failing to get proper permits resulting in cancellations and even a class action lawsuit from bartenders have all happened in prior years. 

CEO Jonathan Slye has continued to be the face of the event, and while he’s been putting on fests for years now, he’s not even 30. The son of a preacher (literally), he put on a christian rock fest with P.O.D. and Brian “Head” Welch performing when he was just 17. And while Blue Ridge has continued to get sponsors, attendees and phenomenal lineups year after year, it doesn’t seem like the company has invested in all the infrastructure it takes to put on a fest, and some of the same issues (like not treating your staff right) appear to happen year after year. While fans have certainly complained about past fests, this year, it seems like the story is going beyond metal sites like this one. Judging from all of the disappointed fans stating that they’re done with the fest, if they (as well as the talent and their managers that had a less than ideal experience this year) put their money where their mouths are, maybe Purpose Driven will have the reckoning they seem to deserve. 


Zach Fehl: Heavy metal destination festivals are cursed, and touring festivals like Mayhem & Warped Tour need to come back.


Zenae Zukowski: Exactly. Weather-related disruptions have occurred in the past, but this year’s event seems to have brought us close to a situation reminiscent of the infamous Fyre Festival. I’m eagerly anticipating a documentary on this one! While no festival is flawless, I agree with Bram on Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) festivals having their operations down to a science.

I managed to survive a grueling seven days of hell at Hellfest in 2022, experiencing overcrowded areas, a heatwave, torrential rain, and possibly a few sound hiccups. There were even instances of fellow festival-goers indulging in drunken urination spills. However, despite all that, there were no cancellations, and the experience was a blast overall. Hellfest had multiple water stations and designated areas to cool down, which makes me question the reports of a lack of water stations at Blue Ridge. Considering the potential near-death experiences and possibly unreported deaths, this year has been exceptionally challenging, possibly leading to legal ramifications, as Bram mentioned, with Karma catching up to Purpose Driven.

I’d be both surprised and unsurprised if Blue Ridge decides to return next year. It often depends on the lineup’s ability to entice people to return, assuming they’re willing to take the risk. While we were initially excited about this year’s festival lineup and debating on giving it a chance to cover again despite its past setbacks, it appears that this year’s experience failed to resonate with any party involved, be it festival-goers, bands, or staff. It gives the impression that it was all about the paycheck and little else. I’m uncertain how the festival’s reputation can recover from here, but we’ve witnessed somewhat unwelcome comebacks over the years, so anything’s possible. On a positive note, unlike the Fyre Festival debacle, there were artists who attended. Band members joined together offering impromptu sets after the festival’s cancellation. Those bands that managed to perform gave it their all, and the attendees were having a great time when things were running smoothly-ish during the shortened open time frame. As for Zach’s statement on touring festivals, I must agree that they are consistently enjoyable.. However, sometimes I enjoy major cruises like 70,000tons of Metal even with weather disruptions, there’s places to stay dry with plenty of food and beverages to endure. 


Diane Webb: I often wonder if weather related issues and cancellations are more of a regional or Americanized thing when it comes to festivals. I say this, because like Zenae mentioned being about Hellfest, and the conditions yet there were no cancellations. Myself being a veteran of European festivals like Wacken Open Air and Sweden Rock Festival, they’ve each experienced different levels of weather conditions and while yes, they may delay parts of their shows depending on what’s going on like this past summer at Wacken they had such bad rains, and the conditions were just miserable for many and it caused a lot of people not to be able to get there. The fields were worse than many years before, yet the show still went on, festival attendees helped others out from situations of either cars being stuck or people needing rides, or they needed shelter and security made sure everyone that got there got in and were safe. Then you had the extreme Festival fans that were there that love the mud and make the best of it. They were doing yoga in the mud, swimming in the mud, and a Viking ship rowing in the mud. You name it they did it but they made the best of it. 

There’s a huge contrast here in America, and I’m sure I’m gonna get some hate for what I say next. Americans for the most part are too tender to enjoy going to shows where they have to deal with rain, mud, the heat, etc. I kinda have to give props to the folks that were out at Burning Man this past week that stuck out the conditions that they were in and made the best of it. In all honesty, that’s really a rare attitude to take.

The thing about Blue Ridge Rock Festival, with how bad it was in the past that fired up the infamous Facebook group, and all the headlines in the news, I’m actually surprised anybody ever gave them a second chance to make the same mistakes. My thoughts seeing all of this news from their current run is that I’m just not surprised. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if I’m going to a music festival I need to know that I’m going to be safe and there is properly trained security on staff. I need to know that I’m going to be able to get into the festival that I paid cold hard cash for my ticket to. I don’t give festivals much of a second chance to make the same mistake, if they burn me once it’s not something I’m interested in trying to do again. From the sound of the reports that are coming out it was a shit sandwich. They didn’t seem to learn from their past mistakes, and make sure to be prepared in the future to avoid those mistakes again. While yes, the weather played a big part in it, there was still a lot of other confusion that should have already been negated because they planned for it, and unfortunately that’s not what appears to have happened. I wonder who’s willing to play another round of Russian Roulette with this particular festival? Is BRRF the new Fyre Fest? 


Zenae Zukowski: Well said, Diane. I had similar thoughts about American vs. European festivals. Americans seem to be more sensitive about situations compared to my experience, for example, at Hellfest, which lasted for seven days of hell across two consecutive weekends. If anything remotely close to what I experienced were to happen in America, I’m sure we’d see headlines or a group filled with complaints about issues like the heat and limited water supply in the showers. These are just things that many people in America may not be accustomed to. However, with that being said, there are many legitimate reasons for complaints. My newsfeed has been flooded with posts from the “Screwed By Blue Ridge Rock Festival” Facebook group over the last few days. While I can’t confirm the accuracy of all the claims, many of them are likely valid. I’ve read about musicians being poorly treated, looked down upon, and barely allowed access to water. I’ve even heard cases where a member of the stage crew, or someone involved in some aspect of the festival, almost gave up their seven years of sobriety because the conditions were that bad.

The event organizers released an updated statement on their social media, claiming that misinformation was spread about the entire situation. However, it’s hard to believe this when thousands of posts state otherwise. Nonetheless, I have spoken to a few individuals whose experiences weren’t as terrible. This takes me back to the comparison between American and European festivals. One person mentioned waiting four hours for a shuttle, which was the only “difficult” part of their experience. They ended up going to another festival or concert shortly afterward and didn’t seem phased or surprised, as they expected such things to happen. So, it appears that some people didn’t experience the full extent of the chaos, which could be mainly attributed to those who were camping. However, every person’s experience is unique.

What I appreciated about this festival was the lineup. I think some people are looking for the closest thing to a European festival experience compared to American festivals here in the United States. This includes featuring more international artists and more extreme bands. A European festival offers a significantly different experience than an American one. I believe festivals like Psycho Las Vegas and Full Terror Assault have come close to capturing that spirit. At some point, we may need to accept that if someone desires the European experience or one from anywhere else in the world, they should save up and attend such festivals or simply embrace and enjoy the American experience. Both have their merits depending on the lineup. I do believe that some form of action should be taken regarding the alleged poor treatment of staff, the shortage of porta-potties, the lack of water, and other issues that have been reported. Now, I’ve grown an appetite to book a European festival experience, but I have to wait until the completion of the 2023 & 2024 Metallica M72 touring cycles. But we can save that for a different conversation.