Full Review Of HeartSupport Fest- Day 1
When you think of mental health, the last thing that would come to mind is metal music. Though music as a whole can help bring people happiness, as well as a wave of other emotions, sometimes it’s just not enough.
But when you’re a musician, fans come and tell you their stories of how your music has helped them in a multitude of ways or how it gives them an escape from the troubles in their lives. And for August Burns Red front man Jake Luhrs, he struggled to find a way to help them with more than just his music.
In 2011, Jake founded the nonprofit HeartSupport to give people the means to obtain help and regain their mental wellbeing as well as helping them find a new lease on life. His tireless efforts with the foundation, as well as opening the first mental health gym in the entire country with The Your Life Gym, has given so many people struggling with mental health an outlet for help.
And through his never-ending quest of giving to others, Jake envisioned a music festival that could bring people together in their love of metal and in his own words, a home. That dream became a full reality on February 18th as thousands flocked from across the country to take part in something so special and so much bigger than we could have possibly imagined. Welcome to the first ever, HeartSupport Fest.
As you walked through the gates, you couldn’t possibly have better weather. With a cool 73-degree day and a little bit of wind, it kind of makes you wonder why more festivals aren’t taking advantage of the Florida winters. By 1:20pm, the crowd is already in full force at the Hot Topic Foundation Stage as the South Texas four-piece Bloodlines get ready to kick off two days of non-stop music. At 1:30pm on the dot, the band got in place and when singer Alexis Rodriguez hit the stage, Bloodlines got the fans moving and brought the pit to life. The band had some minor sound problems throughout their set, but it could not tame their intensity by any means.
The BetterHelp Stage would serve as the festival’s main stage and that is where Currents would cut the ribbon on where some of the biggest acts of the festival would call home. Their seamless mixture of crushing riffs, hypnotizing melodies and explosive breakdowns makes them a can’t miss on every tour they are on. And this set in front of such a large crowd, only raised the bar. There has been a lot of buzz about Scotland’s own Bleed From Within making their U.S. debut on ABR’s current 20th Anniversary Tour. So needless to say, they drew in quite a crowd. Their explosive stage presence paired with the absolutely devastating setlist quickly made them the high point of the morning.
The afternoon would treat fans to the raucous and hard-hitting sounds of He Is Legend followed up by The Word Alive. One set that I was really looking forward to was Comeback Kid. They are just one of the bands I’ve liked for a long time, and just never got the chance to catch them live. Right out of the gate, their energy and ferocity were undeniable as the pit erupted and waves of crowd surfers made their way to the barricades. Front man Andrew Neufeld at one point, jumped off stage and got up close and personal with the fans up front as he held the mic out and let anyone with a voice drop a line into the mic. But it was the band’s iconic anthem Wake the Dead, that really set it off for the fans.
Next, The Devil Wears Prada would blow up on the HTF stage in front of a massive crowd. Front man Mike Hranica tore across the stage like a tornado while belting out ragers like Chemical, Watchtower and Sacrifice. Even with a shorter set, TDWP made the most of their time on stage and put on one of the best performances of the afternoon. After a short stroll back to the BetterHelp Stage, we get there just in time as Memphis May Fire takes the stage.
Singer Matty Mullens takes in the sight of thousands of screaming fans before leading the charge into the brutal opening track off Remade In Misery with Blood & Water. Mullen’s screams and lifting vocals would have fans regurgitating every word over a mind field of brutal riffs and seismic rhythms that had everyone jumping off of their feet the whole time. They would make sure to stack their set with fan favorite anthems like Somebody, Sinner and Make Me Believe which to no surprise, had fans cheering with excitement.
It wasn’t a shock that Tampa’s own Underoath was going to draw an insane crowd. And as the time ticked down to their set, the mass of humanity in front of the Hot Topic Foundation Stage was staggering. But when they hit the stage, the crowd’s reaction was overpowering. Singer Spencer Chamberlain wasted no time kicking things off as the band launched right into It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door. Wave after wave of crowd surfers began to flood the barricades, which seemed to only fuel the band’s performance.
During In Regards to Myself, Chamberlain stood at center stage and threw out a big high kick as the breakdown set in. But as that Vans shoe left the stage, it just so happened to hit this photographer’s camera on the way up. As I was making sure everything was in one piece, I hear someone say, “Hey man!”. And when I look up, Spencer is kneeling in front of me, pulls me in for a hug, and under the cover of that long blonde hair he says “Man, I am so sorry about that. Are you ok?”. And as we both laughed, I said “All is good man! I really appreciate it, but you get back up there and do your thing.”. The rest of the set was incident free as they ripped one classic track after another.
I’m sure the highlight for most fans was when Spencer jumped on the barricade as he let loose during Writing on the Walls while passing the mic around the crowd. And what better way to wrap up such an amazing set! At 6:45pm, our unofficial hosts August Burns Red get ready to make their mark on HeartSupport Fest.
As the stage is covered in darkness, the thunderous chants of “ABR” fill the Florida air. Soon drummer Matt Griener darts out from the shadows, and as he gets behind the kit, the rest of the band emerge from backstage, firing up the crowd with every step. Then, the man of the hour Jake Luhrs pounces on the riser at center stage and lets out a mighty roar as the band pull the leash on their crushing track Fault Line.
The atmosphere this band creates every time they touch the stage is nothing short of incredible. Their earthmoving energy and sound shook the ground under our feet like Xerxes’ army in 300 and caused multiple pits to open up through the insane crowd. Fans wouldn’t have to wait long to get a taste of some new music as Ancestry would drop in as the third song of the night, which only kicked up the level of excitement.
Once Luhrs announces that “This is the heaviest song we’ve ever written”, fans immediately know that Bloodletter is about to be unleashed. When the song’s devastating breakdown hits, it seemed like the entire festival grounds came alive. And to witness the chaos from the hill as the flickering stage lights danced over their heads was a spectacular sight to see.
ABR would let loose a flurry of crushing hits like Paramount and their classic White Washed. But the highlight for me was as Marianas Trench was building up, Luhrs asked the massive crowd “Hold up their cell phones and light this place up.”. And as thousands illuminate the grounds, Jake says “Take a look around. See how much light you can bring in the world if we all do it together. That’s right, that’s what home looks like.”. That was such a touching and accurate depiction of what we all witnessed at that point. As much of an uplifting and sentimental example as that was, August Burns Red would end it all with their iconic brutal track Composure and set the grounds ablaze one last time!
Following up the legends of Lancaster would be the unique brand of pop and metal of the incredibly talented six piece from Sacramento, Dance Gavin Dance. The one-two punch of singers Tilian Pearson and Jon Mess bring so much contrast and animation to their performances and help them produce a one-of-a-kind dynamic. The opening of their set was riddled with great songs that you could both dance and get rowdy to with tracks like Lyrics Lie, Summertime Gladness and Prisoner.
With all of the vocal divergence, it’s hard to not acknowledge the incredible musical talents of guitarists Will Swan and Andrews Wells. Their ability to completely change the tone and tempo of each song so flawlessly is impressive to say the least. From complex jazz and blues composers to blistering leads and heavy breakdowns, there are very few bands as musically diverse as Dance Gavin Dance. Throughout their performance, the large video screen above the stage played a myriad of animated sequences that tie into the band’s album artwork and their graphic novel. With live performance going on just underneath, it was like the band was conducting a score to the comical visuals above. The band was a fan favorite throughout the day, and this memorable performance more than lived up to the hype.
And that will bring us to the last band of the day, and arguably the biggest name of both days. It’s been almost five years since Parkway Drive has stepped foot in Florida, and these fans have been dying for their chance to see them again. And what a make up for lost time this set is going to be. While the stage fills up with smoke, bright white lights take life around the entire stage, which wouldn’t be too hard to spot from a window seat of a passing plane high above. As the silhouettes of the band float through the smoke, singer Winston McCall rushes to the front of the stage and is met with a deafening ovation. PWD wasted no time setting things off as they ripped through devastating songs like Glitch, Prey and the goliath from Horizons with Carrion. McCall works the stage like a man possessed and just fuels the crowd’s energy with every gesture and lyric.
The anticipation building around Parkway’s set was unbelievable. And at the sound of the first note, the crowd for lack of a better term, completely lost their shit as circle pits ignited across the ground. The band had their foot on the gas almost every second they were on stage, and it seemed like their intensity grew song by song. Security was definitely working overtime with the just absurd amount of crowd surfers that made their way up to the stage. PWD reached back and pulled out the most brutal tracks over their eighteen year career, and really took their dominating performance to another level. But through the musical wave of brutality, Parkway Drive would shift gears and perform one of their more subtle tracks.
Guitarist Luke Kilpatrick and McCall would have the stage to themselves as they serenade the sea of fans with the acoustic ballad Darker Still. Rays of light spin through the thick purple spot lights as the guitar and whistling transports you into a Clint Eastwood movie. Almost immediately, phones and lighters shoot into the air and begin to wave back and forth. Between the crowd and the stage, the visuals were amazing. And as we are completely immersed in this hypnotic canticle, lead guitarist Jeff Ling launches into a blisteringly soulful solo which causes fans to transition their phones with waving devil horns.
When the band walked off stage following the chaos left from Bottom Feeder, the fans wasted no time starting chants of “One more song!”. Parkway Drive would oblige them and as soon as they heard the ominous chants for the intro of Crushed, every hand as far as the eye can see shoots up in the air. That would also que up the biggest circle of the festival. The madness would roll right over into the last song of the night when Jeff Ling leads everyone into Wild Eyes. The sound of almost ten thousand people chanting along to that guitar intro could probably be heard at Disney World. Fans had been lining up at the gates since before 11am, and a lot drove through the night to get to doors before they opened. But they gave every shred that they had left in them to this band as they capped off Day 1 of the first ever HeartSupport Festival. But certainly, one of the best days of music a lot of these fans have ever seen. They better save their strength, because we have a whole day left of great music left!