Two days down and Blue Ridge Rock Festival was only halfway done. Even with Thursday and Friday in the bag, dozens of bands were still left to capture festivalgoers’ hearts and minds. Perhaps the festival’s biggest name highlighted the all-star lineup for the day to date, with Slipknot being set to headline. Overcast skies lingered over Virginia, teasing everyone with drizzles but much worse forecasted for later in the day. While Mother Nature wasn’t playing nice, the good news was the buses seemed to be in full swing as we drove into the venue for what was sure to be our most hectic day of the weekend.
A fun set to start the day, Dead Daisies kicked off Saturday’s fun on the Zyn Stage shortly after noon. Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar to you, the talent involved undoubtedly should. Composed of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers from Whitesnake, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple, and others., Dead Daisies may very well have been the biggest sleeper hit of the day. No strangers to the big stage, the quartet performed worth arriving early for, leaving fans happy before what came next.
Originally scheduled to follow their set, Sion was meant to get the day rolling for the Monster Energy stage but had canceled over a week in advance. While some fans knew about this as it was posted on the band’s website, many others still stayed around expecting to see the global debut of Howard Jones’s new project. Nonetheless, it was surprising to be met with silence from the main stages for the second time this weekend. Things went from bad to worse quickly when the next scheduled main stage band, Lacuna Coil, did not arrive. Unlike Sion, Lacuna Coil’s cancellation was far more last minute as the band’s tour bus had broken down. What was supposed to be a fantastic back-to-back of heavily touted musical acts was instead just silence as the drizzles became more of steady rain.
Finally, Municipal Waste arrived to break the silence and wake fans back up. The band may as well have worn superhero outfits with the ovation they received from the now-irate fans. Virginia’s own Thrash outfit had just come off celebrating their 20th anniversary the previous year, which had seen them on tour with other Blue Ridge guests, including Anthrax and Crowbar. From “Breathe Grease” to “Born to Party,” this was a set that entertained everyone throughout. Truly, this was exactly what fans needed after the mid-day delay. While the weather was certainly worsening, at least the show was back on track.
While we were still getting ready to face the dreaded hill, we decided to make our way to the middle of the grounds to check out Traitors on the HeartSupport stage. The deathcore group was ready to have some fun. With a salute to the crowd with some Coors Light, the band showed off their wares, including the new hit single “Enemy.” There was a lot to like from Traitor’s first showing at Blue Ridge Rock Fest, and with any luck, they’ll be back next year to give fans another round of their music.
Our first trip down the hill quickly showed us that the weather had only worsened a bad situation. What was originally a steep incline was now a slippery muddy slope which we saw claim more than one unfortunate fan throughout the day. While the festival tried to combat this with hay, the mud overruled the idea and made trekking down to the URW and Fan Support stage even more of a chore.
Still, Powerman 5000 was not a band we wanted to miss. For over a staggering thirty years now, lead vocalist Spider One has had his claws dug deep into the metal scene. For teens in the ’90s, the band’s second release, Tonight the Stars Revolt!, featuring a slew of hits, including “When Worlds Collide” and “Nobody’s Real,” was a mandatory album for the collection. While many artists have come and gone by his side, Spider One continues to keep Powerman 5000’s name strong, consistently touring everything from smaller concert halls to major music festivals. In a way, the band has oddly become both an act everyone knows and loves. Yet, a band that seemingly is also underrated in this day and age. Still, the group made it known they came to Blue Ridge to invade, destroy and hopefully repeat next year.
Our first trek of the day back up the hill proved even more difficult than the way down. Trudging through the mud and occasionally sliding around a little, the cries from fans were audible, to say the least. Still, it was worth it for the main stages’ next act, Apocalyptica. If you have not seen this group perform, you need to do yourself a favor and check out this Finnish symphonic metal band from Helsinki. They are a perfect mix of elegance and metal and often have special guest vocalists join them on stage, adding a voice to their already unique sound. It’s clear Apocalyptica have as much fun playing live as fans experience them, often smiling at one another in a way that can’t be feigned. Those smiles were contagious as we left the stage in an excellent mood for another trip to the other side of the festival grounds.
Any Given Sin
We needed those smiles, too, as the light rains turned to heavy showers on our way to the URW stage for Mushroomhead. In fact, the rain got so bad that photographers huddled under the stage while the band’s set was pushed back several minutes for a break in the weather. While down there, fans playfully taunted the media crew for seeking refuge, showing the rain had not broken their spirits. After what felt like hours but in reality was just a few minutes, the rain let up enough for Mushroomhead to take the stage. If there’s one band in which the rain added to the experience, this was it. The band made sure their only US show of the year outside of Ohio was memorable for all the right reasons in a fast-paced sing-along. While the skies sent rain down, drummers sent water back to the heavens with every pound on the drum skins. No one was safe as the vocalists vaulted themselves into the crowd to get in on the surfing action. As soaking wet and already exhausted as we were, this was a set that will forever be remembered for all the right reasons and has us hoping the band announces a full-fledged tour in 2023.
On the way down to the ZYN stage, we almost had our own spill on the hill, but luckily, we could catch ourselves at the last second. This mishap had us change our plans a little bit to reduce our chances of literally falling victim to the sinister slope until later in the night when acts on the URW were just too good to pass up. Making matters worse, we also received word that Slipknot, the night’s headliner, would not be allowing media coverage for the night. We decided to hang out by the main stages where Ice Nine Kills, Motionless In White, and Pierce The Veil would play back to back. First up was Ice Nine Kills. After their fellow touring act Black Veil Brides, reigned supreme on the Monster stage, Ice Nine Kills prepared to continue the thrills on the neighboring ZYN stage. These guys put on a killer show. Die-hard fans were dressed up in costume, some complete with fake blood. Clouds of fog set the scene for a frightfully fantastic set. The horror movie-themed music and theatrics set this band apart from many others. Don’t blink, or you might miss something! The horror movie junkies are currently on tour with both Motionless in White and Black Veil Brides for the sequel to their Trinity Of Terror tour that kicked off early this year. With venues selling out left and right, we expect this tour to become a trilogy in no time.
Ice Nine Kills
While Ice Nine Kills is a hard act to follow, their tour mates, Motionless In White, also know how to control a crowd. With the main stages side-by-side, fans didn’t have to move far to catch the third and final act from the Trinity of Terror tour. Performing a good mix of their most known tracks with a smattering of songs off their newest album Cyberhex, the group returned to the Blue Ridge Rock Festival stage for their second straight year. It once again delivered a pyro-infused set worthy of the buzz surrounding them. However, one of the set’s biggest highlights happened in the crowd and not on stage. Fans united to lift a wheelchair-bound fan up for the surf of a lifetime. Even the band couldn’t help but appreciate the moment. The metalcore outfit are always an entertaining treat and hard to pass up when they come through our city. With the band having several tour dates listed, make sure to catch the Trinity of Terror tour when it creeps into your town. You’ll have a scary good time, guaranteed.
Motionless In White
From three bands known for their vigorous touring to a band that had not seen a live stage in five years, Pierce the Veil were next on the Zyn stage. Much like Kittie on Friday, Las Vegas’s When We Were Young Festival was the first to announce the band’s return. Again, while that festival was first with their announcement, Blue Ridge would welcome the band back live before the West Coast festival had its turn. The show was advertised as their first since 2017, but it was their second as the band played the night prior in Ashbury, NJ. The Pop-Punk band out of San Diego came to the stage, proving they hadn’t missed a step over the last half-decade, providing fans with a selection of tracks designed to bring back the memories. Unlike Kittie, there is no uncertainty for what’s next with Pierce the Veil as they have returned to touring with shows planned with fellow BRRF act I Prevail.
Pierce the Veil
As content I may have been staying by the main stages for the rest of the night, it was hard to argue the desire to see GWAR’s performance back on the URW stage. It can be challenging for a band to set itself apart from the rest at a festival that boasts nearly two hundred acts. That is not true for GWAR. Though native to Virginia, the thrash metal band looked otherworldly when they took to the stage, appearing more as warriors from another planet to satirize everything us meek little humans hold so dear. Despite being without any of their original members, GWAR has continued to thrive as the years have come and gone. Seeing GWAR live is a rite of passage for many fans. Soon, the rain was the least of the fans’ concerns as blood (among other questionable fluids) covered those gutting it out through the stormy evening. The hits were unleashed onto the Virginia crowd, and new tracks from their 2022 release “The New Dark Ages .”With tour dates continuing to plague the United States, there is no end in sight for GWAR’s reign of terror.
While strobe lights lit the night’s sky from I Prevail’s set over on the main stages, the URW stage had what was easily its largest crowd of the night. For Kyle Gass and actor Jack Black, collectively known as Tenacious D, Blue Ridge Rock Fest was a very rare festival performance, yet the two were ready to rock the socks off of the thousands of concertgoers as the stage’s headliner. While no one would ever be quick to classify the duo as a heavy metal outfit, the two have always been seen as metal-adjacent due to their unrequited love for the genre. In BRRF’s ongoing quest to branch the festival out in new directions, Tenacious D was the perfect get for the Saturday lineup.
As has been the case since its release, Apocalypto was the focus of the first half of the band’s headlining slot. Fan favorites like “Tribute” and “Beelzeboss” weren’t left out, and of course, the band had to bring “The Metal” to the party. Of course, no Tenacious D set is complete without “Fuck Her Gently” closing out the show. Apocalypto has gone on to take a new meaning since the album’s release, given the end-of-the-world feelings that Covid and the rest of the matters of the world have made it feel like an apocalypse. Tenacious D, in one fell swoop, let the Virginia crowd know that the two are ready to be the humor needed to persevere through everything life throws our way. The D continued to bring the thunder through the US, giving the second festival in Louder Than Life a show for the ages two weeks later.
Despite Tenacious D attracting a massive audience on the nearby URW stage, Cinematic Rock group Starset had its own legion of fans ready for a rare nighttime outdoor festival set. The Fan Driven stage played host to one of the most touted live productions in rock today. Lasers, pyro, and fog! Oh my! “Welcome to tonight’s demonstration!” quipped vocalist Dustin Bates after the band opened up with “Carnivore .”Despite the long, wet day, there was no quit in the Virginia crowd who made their presence known throughout ten songs. This set had everything while a static television on a screen behind the band displayed videos, sometimes lyrics. The night ended for the Fan Driven stage with the end of “My Demons,” having fans making a mad dash for the main stage for Slipknot to close out the night.
As much as we would have both loved to have stayed, there was no arguing from either of us that it was time to call it a night. Soaked to our souls, worried for our electronics, we made the tough decision to head out before Slipknot came to the stage. It wasn’t without regrets, however, as all signs point to the masked Metal legends out of Iowa ultimately owning every moment of their closing set.
Above all things, Saturday’s defining characteristic was the undeniable love from the fans. To stand in the pouring rain all day for the love of the music speaks volumes more deafening than any amp on the market. The bands that played are also to be commended, as the vast array of amazing performances made it worth the struggles. Our walk to the car revealed a much different scene than the last two days, with very few people waiting for buses compared to the previous two days. We left before what was sure to be a mass departure after Slipknot’s set, but all signs pointed to transportation back to the parking lots being much more quickly accessible than days prior. With three days down and so much experience already, it was almost a daunting thought that we would wake up tomorrow and do it all one more time. Would the show go out with a bang or whimper? Would mother nature still wreak havoc? Would there be any more cancellations? These were just some of the many questions we asked each other as we walked back to the car while hearing Slipknot’s opening tracks playing in the distance.