One day remained for the Virginia crowd attending the 2022 Blue Ridge Rock Festival, and perhaps now it was as much on the fans as it was on the musicians to kick it up a notch. After three, and for some four, days of great music, could the live crowd keep the party chugging for one more round? Time would tell. The festival did its part to make sure fans had no excuses, with a fantastic lineup set to close out the weekend’s festivities. Hometown heroes, up-and-coming acts, and a solid and varied set of headliners for each stage made sure there was something for everyone to enjoy before returning to their nine-to-fives on Monday.
While the main stages featured a melting pot of genres throughout the day, the side stages had a Warped Tour feel. Hearing the complaints loud and clear, the festival used an unannounced band’s absence to stagger the start times on the URW and fan-driven stages, giving fans an easier time to catch a bit of every band. This was great news though it did force us to change some planned coverage as bands such as Stray From the Path and HeartSupport stage’s Dying Wish were now playing at the same time instead of a half-hour apart.
Three bands opened the day on separate stages at 12:05 AM. While Velvet Chains and Relent took to the URW and HeartSupport stages, respectively, Icon For Hire was given the go to start the show on the ZYN stage. With vocalist Swedish-born Ariel Bloomer and guitarist Shawn Jump leading the way, the rock group came out ready to play their hearts out for their fans, who they’ve dubbed the Icon Army. The independent act had a lot to live up to after BRRF announced them as “one of the most underrated rock bands today.” While photographers struggled to shoot through foggy lenses caused by the morning’s humidity, Icon For Hire made true to their praise. The Icon Army had many new fans enlisting in their ranks.
Icon For Hire
As the weather cooled and more fans entered the grounds for the final time, the Swedish invasion continued as Solence was ready to light up the Monster Energy Stage. The group wore matching tan outfits and enjoyed a fun set kicking off with “Heaven.” Enjoying their first of three festival stops over a little less than a month, the band was an enjoyable early-day band to check out. While it wasn’t on display, the band recently released a new single, “Cold,” featuring American Pop Star Sarah Barrios.
Lacey Sturm, former lead singer of Christian rock band Flyleaf, was next to take the stage. She and her band shared a prayer before beginning their set. Fans hoped the solo artist would play their favorites from Flyleaf’s earlier albums; no one was disappointed as Lacey didn’t hold back while sing-screaming her heart out to “I’m So Sick.” She was impressed that mosh pits had opened up during their first few tracks calling them “Cute little mosh pits” before twirling around as she belted the lyrics to “Rot.” While getting emotional, Lacey introduced a brand new song, “Reconcile,” for the first time performing it live. Sixteen years old and battling depression, Sturm didn’t believe in God until she hit rock bottom, singing the raw and heartfelt song “Fully Alive,” which left me, among others, with tears streaming down our cheeks. The impassioned set ended with fan favorite, “All Around Me,” before Sturm invited her children on stage to enjoy soaking in the crowd and take a bow together.
The energy flowed through the grounds when Otherwise’s banner was raised on the ZYN stage. The first ever unsigned artist to reach #1 on the SiriusXM Octane charts with “Soldiers.” Otherwise was geared up to prove their live show was even better than catching them on any satellite radio station. The Las Vegas natives delivered at a frenzied pace, often and successfully trying to get the fans in on singing along. Following a cover of “No Rain” by Blind Melon, the band closed out their set by bringing out crew members who were also first responders, police officers, and soldiers for their final song, “Soldiers,” with another cover of “Killing In the Name” of Rage Against the Machine fame.
The day was still young when Nonpoint arrived on the Zyn stage. One of the first ten bands announced for the festival, fans had a lot of time to get psyched up for the Fort Lauderdale-based act. Nonpoint wasted no time showing off the new track “Ruthless” to start their set. When it started downpouring, fans began to worry they would get a repeat of the previous day. The lead singer riled the crowd, “Can I get everyone to yell at the clouds!? STOP RAINING!” Shortly after, humorously enough, it did stop raining. The downside was the already muddy pit was now a total disaster area. Still, for the band and the crowds, this was a great set, with the band even giving fans a choice between “In Air Tonight” and “Tribute,” with the latter winning before they closed out with “Bullet With a Name.”
We then headed over to the VIP tent for a special treat. We were very fortunate to get the chance to cover Shane Told of Silverstein’s acoustic set. The intimate set consisted of “Call It Karma,” “Ultraviolet,” “Massachusetts,” and “Misery.” Shane also covered a small snippet of Elvis Presley’s famous “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Talking to the crowd mid-song, he said, “Elvis is big right now. Did you see the movie? Shits fuckin sad.” to lighten up the crowd after the heartfelt rendition. No pomp. No circumstance. Not even lights, even though the stage had a rig set up. This was just a talented musician playing to a devoted fan base, and it was perfect.
Silverstein (acoustic set)
As Told finished his set and left the VIP stage to interact with a few fans, the nearby HeartSupport stage had Dying Wish preparing to take the stage. The band is currently on tour with Hatebreed after spending a good portion of the year tapped to open for Limp Bizkit’s first arena tour in over a decade. The metal group headed by vocalist Emma Boster dominated the stage and took no prisoners. From her karate kicks to her head banging, there wasn’t a moment that Boster stood still as she encouraged the growing crowd to do the same. Many fans leaving the VIP tent and other nearby areas were noticeably taken in, and it seemed the crowd doubled or more throughout the set. It was well-earned and we left wanting to see more of Dying Wish in the future.
Speaking of things we wanted to see more of, the sun started poking its head and heating things up, perhaps even a little too much. We headed to the Fan Driven stage, which was noticeably warmer than the others due to being the only one where the raceway weaved through the crowd, allowing the sun to bounce off the blacktop. Hanging out by the Fan Driven stage, some festival goers were spread out on a small shady hill. Many fans sought refuge in the shade off to the side of the stage, where they still had a decent view and could hear ERRA perfectly. The progressive metal band was celebrating three new recently released singles, including “Vanish Canvas,” featuring Spiritbox’s Courtney LaPlante. While that song, and obviously LaPlante, was absent from the set, it was still full of greats, from the opening track “Gungrave” to the closing tune, “Snowblood.” ERRA battled through the heat and gave fans their all in one of our favorite sets of the day. As the show ended, ERRA took their performance to the land down under, treating Australian fans to a tour throughout the rest of September.
As the day slowly began to turn to night, Demon Hunter’s turn had arrived on the URW stage. While the band has a staggering eleven albums to their name to give fans plenty to listen to, live performances have become rarer over the years. Their Blue Ridge Rock Festival debut was their first Virginia show in nine years. Hailing from Seattle, Washington, the Christian Metal group’s most recent effort Exile had tracks the crowd the Virginia crowd was itching to hear live after the album had been released just two days prior. While sadly, Judas Priest’s Richie Faulkner wasn’t in town to lend his portion of “Godless,” the group still could showcase the track among others in front of a motivated crowd. Choosing to play live so infrequently only draws interest in the act. With a smattering of shows in the near future, see the band live while you can because you never know how long it’ll be before they roll into town again.
We then made the loop back around to the Fan Driven stage, a back-and-forth we’d stick with for quite a few bands. Up next on the stage was The Devil Wears Prada. While Demon Hunter may be hard to find live, The Devil Wears Prada has been in a touring frenzy throughout most of the year. In 2010 the band made waves with their first EP, Zombie, and when Blue Ridge announced the group, a big selling point was that the band would be playing the five-track EP in its entirety along with some other music. That’s precisely what the band delivered with the other three tracks going to “Sacrifice,” “Danger: Wildman,” and “Watchtower” sprinkled in for good measure. The whole set was, simply put, a ride.
The Devil Wears Prada
Some argue that URW’s next band, Baroness, may have been a better fit for the main stage for its time slot. Swapping the band with New Found Glory, who started up on the ZYN stage around the same time, would have helped the URW stage stick to the theme the side stages were running. Instead, there was a lot of noticeable movement as metal fans took over the stage while others left to head to the main stages. That’s not to take away from either New Found Glory or Baroness, and we were happy to be able to catch the latter for a hell of a great showing. The Grammy-nominated heavy metal band made the most of their Blue Ridge debut, not just keeping heads banging through an intense set, but also acting as one of the day’s advertised Meet and Greets for VIP fans. Seven tracks showed off why Baroness are some of the best in the business, with “Take My Bones Away” closing out a great showing.
Our loop of the side stages continued at The Fan Driven Stage, which welcomed Silverstein. Told had changed into a jacket that read, “Misery Made Me,” an ode to the title of their newest album by the same name. With the full band backing him up, Told kickstarted things off with “Infinite.” Over eleven tracks, only “Ultraviolet” was performed both acoustically and with the full band, giving Silverstein reasons which had decided to double dip on the band’s unique sets both times. This stage and the URW stage had seen many names that have played at Warped Tours in previous years, and Told showed the solidarity that developed between the bands known for the former traveling festival. Told asked fans how they enjoyed several of the bands before them while also pumping the crowd for acts still to come on both the Fan Driven Stage and the neighboring URW stage. Gone but not forgotten, Warped Tour lives on through its fans and those lucky enough to grace their stages.
While Silverstein has been selling out shows for its 20th Anniversary Tour, URW’s Story of the Year was playing their first show in the area since 2013. Story of the Year pulled out all of the nostalgia feels. Cocky and joking, vocalist Dan Marsala kicked off the show by saying, “Of all the bands playing, right now you’re seeing the best band ever.” With a cheeky grin on his face, the group kicked into “And The Hero Will Drown.” Other blasts from the past, including “Anthem Our Dying Day,” came and went before the band bowed out with “Until the Day I Die.” We hope it won’t be almost another decade before Story of the Year performs in the area again.
Story of the Year
They say, “Virginia is for lovers,” and there was clearly lots of love in the air when we returned to the Monster Stage for the hometown heroes, Lamb of God. Coming hot off the release of their 9th release, “Omens,” Lamb of God had fans crowding the main stages eager to see the performance. Speaking of hot, there was no shortage of pyro throughout their main stage appearance. The band had become a staple of the yearly festival, but this was their first time on the stage they were made for. While an injured attendee interrupted the set, causing “Laid to Rest” to be cut short, the set was still easily one of the most attended and enjoyable sets throughout the weekend. The heavy metal outfit showed as much concern as the fans while the incident was tended to, reminding fans that we’re here to have fun but to be safe. The band gave fans one more with “Redneck” when the lights went back down before calling it a night.
Lamb of God
As sick as we had become of the hill over the four-day festival, one more trip was in order for URW Stage’s performance from Killswitch Engage. While fans waited for the final performance on the stage, the LED screens projected various fans in attendance. Easily the most fun stage to be at all day, the URW stage had become a bit of a community during Sunday’s lineup. The left side would mock the right side. The right side would shout how they were better. Both sides would cheer whenever a young fan was shown on screen and boo the second a different fan or advertisement replaced the image. This had been going on all day, and with only one band left, it seemed as if everyone was making sure to make the most of their remaining time.
Seeing both Killswitch Engage and SION originally on the bill for this festival, fans were hoping that meant there would be a possibility that Howard Jones would join the Westfield, Massachusetts, Metalcoreband on stage for a song or two. After Howard Jones departed from the band in 2015 due to health issues, original lead vocalist Jesse Leach returned and reclaimed the microphone. Sadly, when SION’s canceled their appearance, it was clear the night would belong solely to Leach. That said, Killswitch’s performance was *chefs kiss* perfection. Adam Dutkiewicz ran around the stage like a madman from the opening chords of “Strength of the Mind.” A few songs later, fans roared at the start of “This Fire.” The track, good enough on its own merit, reached legendary status while being used by then-WWE wrestler CM Punk near the height of his popularity, coming out to the track in front of millions of fans every week. Halfway through the set, the crowd nearly doubled in size as the Fan Driven stage’s crowd joined following the end of Knocked Loose’s set. The now-massive crowd were treated to more fan favorites, including “Hate By Design” and “My Curse,” had the mosh pits going into overdrive before the band closed out their set, as well as the stage with a cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” Killswitch Engage’s performance is always a welcome one on a big stage, and this one was no different. After four days of hosting some of the best in the industry, The URW stage saw off its final performance, and like a horror movie, a massive mob made their way up the hill to join the rest for Disturbed.
As we finished our last trek up the hill, we both turned and gave it a one-finger salute for the pain it had caused us over the weekend. Still, weirdly, we’ll miss hiking up and down excited over what band was coming next. With no other bands left except one, that excitement turned to the final headliner, Disturbed. One of the most decorated names in Heavy Metal, the band was the perfect choice to close out the final night. With over 17 million albums sold and plenty of accolades, Disturbed had die-hard metal fans and casual festival-goers united and energized for the last set. The band kicked off with “Ten Thousand Fists,” leading into “Inside the Fire.” Vocalist David Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, and Bassist John Mayer worked to pump up different crowd sections during “Stupify.”
Later in the set, after a cover of Genesis’s “Land of Confusion,” the band unveiled the new track “Hey You” off the unreleased album Divisive which arrived later in November. If the track is anything to go off of, the new album will be one for the collection of any metal fan. Two tracks later, the band slowed it down with arguably one of the best covers in the industry with their rendition of “The Sound of Silence,” popularized by Simon and Garfunkle, before closing the set with “Indestructible.” As the lights went out, fans were vocal about not wanting the final night to end. Of course, most knew an encore was inevitable, and soon the band rejoined to loud applause as they blasted into “The Light.” One last track to go, and fans were ready to prove that even in what is hopefully the waning stages of a global pandemic, they were very much still “Down With the Sickness.” Despite four days and nights of giving everything they could, fans dug down deep to make the closing moments of the night as energetic as any others.
We left the final day of the Blue Ridge Rock Festival battered, bruised, tired, and wet. Was it all worth it? In most ways, yes. While the festival has its work cut out if it wants to continue to grow, there is no denying the insane amount of content fans can experience over the four-day affair. Still, some issues can’t be ignored, and if the festival wants to succeed, items such as transportation hiccups and communication with fans need to improve. That wretched hill aside, Virginia International Raceway’s grounds proved massive enough to house countless fans that rocked out across the fields. Still, with many new and exciting festivals popping up more and more as Covid hopefully becomes more controlled, Blue Ridge Rock Fest will need to remain one step ahead if it wants to be the must-attend event.
With tickets already available and feelers going out for which bands should be featured in the 2023 outing, next year’s edition of Blue Ridge Rock Festival could be a make or break for the event. If the company can buckle down and produce a show filled to the brim with talented bands while also taking steps forward with issues fans had this year, BRRF can be one of the true greats among American rock festivals. It could be detrimental if the problems persist and fans continue to feel down. Still, we can’t wait to see more from the Virginia fest and look forward to hearing what next year has in store for fans.
Written and Photographed by the Metal Insider duo Andrew Fiero and Sara Elizabeth. ICYMI: Check out the recap from Day 1 & 2 here and here, as well as day 3 at this location. Blue Ridge Rock Festival will return in 2023. First wave of bands already announced!