Headbangers’ Brawl: What was the real reason behind Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2023’s cancellation?

Posted by on September 13, 2023


Photo provided by: Phil Ryabkin


Sara Elizabeth: Last year Andrew and I attended BRRF as media, it was our first and only year at the festival.  We had reservations going back this year due to what we witnessed while covering the festival last year. I am so glad we didn’t waste our time, money and energy on what seemed to be “the year Blue Ridge Rock Fest gets its right.” To no one’s surprise this festival was again very unorganized and a chaotic mess for all. To be honest BRRF had multiple years to get things right, but to no avail. Weather is out of anyone’s control, but when it comes to water, food, and basic necessities it is doomed to fail. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t come back next year. 


Andrew Fiero: Last year Sara and I had the chance to cover Blue Ridge Rock Festival live for Metal Insider which gave us a bit of an inside track to the running of the fest. The festival was in its first year at a new venue. The team behind it seemed to be working towards fixing issues the festival had in previous years by upgrading the venue and addressing other complaints. We both went in knowing this and expected a festival that was maybe a little rough around the edges but fun overall. As media, we mostly got what we thought we would but, as fans, we saw the holes were just as glaring as the stories we had heard from years past. We had our fair share of storms over that weekend and also witnessed fans in lines lasting hours to get back onto buses back to their cars. We dealt with the dirty porta potties, the overflowing garbage cans and the overall sense that not enough care was given into everything. Still, with a stellar lineup and a great group of fellow media members, we were able to make the best of it. We left a bit weary, and for the first time in any article I’ve worked on, we aired our concerns during our review stating that the festival needed to continue to improve if it wanted to succeed. Instead, it seems to have done the opposite.

This year, we knew we weren’t covering again. Our reason wasn’t based on the festival though, but was due to a lot of personal events using up a lot of our vacation time. We knew things were set to improve again on the media side of things due to a changeover in who would be handling media for the event. We won’t go into names here on that, but I will say that by all accounts, things were very much improved in that regard. Sadly, that’s where the praise begins and ends. I wasn’t as quick to complain as others when I heard about what happened during Thursday’s storm. By all accounts it was a freak storm that wasn’t on the weather radars and left everyone scrambling. It’s hard to place a majority of the blame on the festival for the amount of chaos that ensued due to that storm. The festival made the right decision canceling the rest of the night. The storm, however, exposed how unprepared the festival was for something out of the norm like that. Having fans lined up waiting for buses for hours surrounded by trees with thunder and hail could have ended disastrously. It’s a bit of a miracle we haven’t read about a downed tree or other object seriously injuring fans or worse.

While Friday seemed to be better, we started hearing stories and hearing rumblings that all wasn’t right and by the next day the floodgates were fully open with comments, reddit posts, YouTube videos and more condemning the festival. I like to look into things, almost obsessively, until I come up with my own opinion. To answer the opening question of what I believe caused Blue Ridge’s cancellation, I can’t in good conscience say I think weather had much to do with it. Though the storm on Thursday surely uprooted several fans’ plans for the weekend, it was negligence, poor planning and cutting one too many corners that caused this show to fail on nearly every level. Everyone from fans and staff to the bands and their tour managers are being vocal about the shortcomings. BRRF has promised fans refunds for the event, but it’ll take a lot more than that for fans, the musicians, the workers and us to ever return. Despite being signed on for one more year at the raceway and with tickets already for sale, I just can’t imagine people lining up to take part in this festival again in 2024. I hope they prove me wrong. I really do. I’d love to see the festival make a 180 and start delivering top notch rock fests, but right now I think it’s time to take this festival out back and put it to down.

To end this on a positive note, I have to give major props to the people that turned this turd sandwich into something halfway edible. Shinedown, Papa Roach and Oliver Anthony performed an acoustic set in the camping area while others performed in small pop-ups throughout Southern Virginia. Local residents helped fans with rides and invited them into their homes in times of need. Fans helping other fans who lost it all during Thursday’s storm.


Zenae Zukowski: A question for you, Andrew, would you like to see the return of Exit 111 festival? It’s a shame some good ones are no longer. And yes, as per this YouTube video from Electric Callboy’s touring manager, referred by TankTheTech, no one wants to share such negativity and burn bridges with anyone. However, seeing the distraught by the mass amount of festival-goers has made reactions like this warranted. I do recommend this video (thanks Andrew): 



Andrew Fiero: I would be ecstatic to see Exit 111 return. That one-and-done festival had a ton going for it. A great lineup, fantastic staff and a site that knew how to handle the amount of people attending (in fact, Bonnaroo handles far more every year). The only problem that festival had, sadly, was the attendance.



Categorised in: Headbangers Brawl