As I walked through the grounds on Sunday, it became bitter sweet knowing that even though we had another full day of great music in front of us, it was going to be the last of this truly amazing festival. By noon, the line to get there was almost the length of the entrance to the parking lot. And as soon as the gates opened, fans stormed the festival grounds. Most conjugated to the Hot Topic Foundation Stage to get their spots for the first band of the day. By 1:30pm, the heavy hitters in Prison begin to take the stage. Singer Johnny Crowder had the crowd pumped up as the front man pounced across the stage as he’s fueled by the crushing tones behind him. As heavy as a Seven String guitar and detuned bass can be, Prison pulls out a wild card as their guitarist picks up another bass. And as the fans cheer on, Crowder asks “Have any of you ever seen two bass guitars and no guitars? That’s right, just bass and drums. Let me see what you got!”.
When the band dropped in, it was surprising you couldn’t see a shock wave explode from the mouth of the stage. But it had no problem sending the crowd into a frenzy. Across the lawn on the main stage, Cali prog metal prodigies Silent Planet gear up to melt the faces and ears of those watching. The four piece’s ability to paint different layers within their music is only magnified when they hit a stage. Singer Garrett Russell’s intro monologue to 2016’s Panic Room had fans opening up the pit. And when that breakdown hits, those safe open areas quickly turn into close quarter combat. The chaos would continue when Hardcore outfit Harm’s Way decimated the HTF Stage and served up a blistering set of adrenaline raising disorder. As one of the few Hardcore acts, Harm’s Way made their presence known as one of the heaviest acts of the afternoon.
Next is a band that is as unconventional as they are heavy, and always gets fans buzzing about what they just witnessed. The rambunctious sounds of 68′ are best described as the illegitimate love child of The White Stripes and some form of raucous extraterrestrial rock. Nothing about this band is traditional in any way. As a two piece band, singer Josh Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada face each other in the middle of the stage. But it’s so easy to see how they feed off of each other, only driving the anarchy on stage. Scogin rips back and forth across the stage and even launches his guitar high in the air, twice while Yamada plays half the song standing up. These guys had the crowd cheering and laughing at the same time as Josh removed everything from the drum kit but the snare while Nikko played on without missing a beat. I’ve never seen such a unique performance and there is no other band with as much non-stop energy as 68′.
The later afternoon slots would be filled with as much nostalgic Emo music as these fans could handle. The biggest being the boys from Ohio in Hawthorne Heights. The band knows the impact their early music has had on their fans, so they stacked their set with songs that take you right back to high school in most cases. The crowd’s voice mirrored every word from tracks like Saying Sorry, Niki FM, Pens & Needles, and what Hawthorne set would be complete with that classic Ohio is for Lovers. Another band that was sure to be on a CD mix in your car at one point is none-other than Senses Fail. Their set was definitely one to remember, because aside from the laundry list of fan favorites like You’re Cute When You Scream, Buried A Lie and Bite to Break the Skin. The band had put together a list of classics for a quicker cover song mash including Chop Suey (System of a Down), Down With the Sickness (Disturbed), Break Stuff (Limp Bizkit) and Bulls on Parade (RATM).
The next two bands would pick up the pace a bit and get the crowd moving. Back at the HTF Stage, Four Years Strong would have a huge dust cloud swirling through the air as fans got the pits going through Get Out of My Head and Go Down in History. The band would attract not one but two fans in banana costumes and the crowd surfing Santa, who was easily in his late 60’s. But I guess you’re only as old as you feel. Our friends to the North in Silverstein would draw the crowds back to the BetterHelp Stage for a long set of classic songs. Things would kick off with Infinite and right into the heavy hitter It’s Over. Silverstein would make a big request to the fans before Die Alone, by asking for the biggest circle pit of the day as a dedication to Rise Against. And the fans had no problem handling that task as the almost 30 foot wide circle pit engulfed anyone who was fortunate, or unfortunate enough to be anywhere near it.
With an afternoon full of upbeat, nostalgic and rocking bands, it’s time for the Hot Topic Foundation Stage to come to a close with the heaviest band to hit the stage all day, with Spiritbox. The Canadian metal lineup put on a crushing and really atmospheric set with songs like Circle With Me, Yellowjacket, and Halcyon. Singer Courtney LaPlante vocal range and devastating roar has truly set her apart from a lot of vocalists in the genre that always blows people away live. Former As I Lay Dying bassist Josh Gilbert adds the extra layer with his soaring harmonies and incredible stage presence.
Their energy is undeniable and that translates right to the crowd as they left their feet for almost the entire set. Not to mention the fans that were at least a hundred yards or more away from the stage were going nuts as they took in Spiritbox’s set. Whether it’s a smaller venue or a large festival setting, this band consistently puts on a great show and can no doubt hold their own with some of the biggest bands in the world. And their performance this weekend was more than enough proof of that.
As we walked back to the main stage, so many fans were talking about how much they have been looking forward to The Ghost Inside. Since their tragic accident in 2015, fans have had few opportunities to catch them live and I have a feeling that this is going to end up being the biggest set of the entire festival. When the band gets ready to hit the stage, drummer Andrew Tkaczyk makes his way to the kit. The crowd’s cheers and applause was as loud if not louder than at any other point so far. But when singer Jonathan Vigil runs out with the mic, they light the fuse and explode into Engine 45. The reaction was incredible to witness and it was hard to miss the band’s response to it all. During The Outcast, multiple people run out from backstage and toss out a plethora of pool inflatables including rafts, beach balls and bones just to name a few. They would be a recurring site across the crowd throughout the set and lets be honest, how many metal shows have done that before.
After I leave the photo pit, I sprint back to the soundboard and just take in the unobstructed view of everything unfolding in front of me. Another surprise moment was when none other than Jake Luhrs runs out to join in the mayhem of Between the Lines. The vocal power of Luhrs and Jonathan was insane to take in. Before the start of Out of Control, Vigil tells the crowd that he’s got twenty signed setlists that he’s going to give out to crowd surfers. Needless to say, there were fans making their way to the stage well before the song even started. I can only imagine the security guards at the barricade going “… oh shit” at the sight of just an endless wave of bodies coming towards them.
Of all of the awesome things that happened through The Ghost Inside’s time on stage, literally the biggest, was just before they went into Shiner. Vigil tells the crowd that he made a bet with another band, that they could get the biggest circle pit of the night, and he doesn’t want to lose that bet. As he builds it up, he demands that it gets bigger and bigger. If I had to take a guess, the pit had to be almost 20 yards in diameter and was hands down the biggest circle pit I have ever witnessed. The remaining songs of the set would just be one juggernaut fan favorite after another including Faith or Forgiveness, Me Me and Avalanche. But it would be Aftermath that they would have until the end and close out this unbelievable performance on the highest note. It’s impossible to not stand there and be blown away by not only the show. But the incredible amount of perseverance it takes to go through such a devastating event, and to make it back to the level that The Ghost Inside is at now.
Well folks. As much as nobody wants to admit it, this tremendous festival had to end at some point and as we stand waiting for Rise Against to close it all out, it’s bittersweet to say the least. Soon, the legendary four piece from Chicago roam the stage under thick red lighting and ring out the beginnings of their anthem Re-Education. The fans thunderously chant every word back to the band like they are going into battle. You could just sit back and feel the excitement from the thousands around you and it’s really a magical experience to have at a show.
As the setlist plays out, it very well could have just been a “Greatest Hits” album played from start to finish with iconic songs like House on Fire, Help Is on the Way and Give It All. As energetic and epic as the show has been to this point, it’s the more intimate moment then when Tim McIlrath returns to center stage with his acoustic guitar and begins to serenade the crowd with a moving performance of Swing Life Away. As he stands on stage by himself, the stage lights triangulate around him and create such a majestic display. Throughout the song Tim would stop singing and let the fans have a crack verses here and there. As they sang, most swayed back and forth with their arms around others that they probably didn’t even know. But that right there, is what the power of music can have on people.
The band would return and hit a homerun with their battle cry Prayer of the Refugee. Fans were climbing on top of each other to get as high as they could to shout out the song’s iconic chorus line. As the band wraps it up, the chants for “One more song” swell towards the stage. Being a band of the fans, Rise Against would make sure to get as much time with them as possible. They would come back out and rip through classic tracks like Make it Stop, Paper Wings and of course, what Rise Against show would be complete without their acclaimed area Savior. When the song concludes, the cheers and applause seem endless and carry on well after the bands leave the stage. It’s not difficult to speculate that it was a mixture for both the band and just a flooding of admiration they have for being able to participate in such an unbelievable weekend of music.
Over the years, I have been to so many concerts and festivals and had a mixture of feelings while there. However, I can say with 100% certainty, that HeartSupport Fest was put together and executed flawlessly. Throughout my time shooting, talking to people and just walking around I never saw one incident, anything that made me regret my decision to attend or even heard a single negative comment by anyone. To have such a successful festival is a huge undertaking and accomplishment. But to be able to do that on the first try and totally knock it out of the park is just unheard of. I can not say enough positive things about Jake Luhrs for not only creating this amazing event for the thousands who came out. But for being such an amazing human being. I’d be pressed to even try to come up with another musician that has dedicated so much of his life to helping others. It goes without saying that he changes people’s lives on a daily basis and this world is better with him in it. On behalf of Dread Music Review, I’d like to thank Jake and HeartSupport for having us out to cover the first ever HeartSupport Fest. And I know that I can speak on behalf of every person that walked through that gate when I say, I hope we can do it all again next year!