Well Blue Ridgers, after a year of incredible band announcements, tons of exciting upgraded features and what seemed like an endless amount of anticipation, we finally walk through the gates of Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2023. For me personally, as I walked through the gates and already hear live music filling up the entrance area, it really hits me that we are all going to be in for an amazing week of live music. Something else that immediately catches my eye is the new stage layout. Last year as everyone knows, was a bit challenging for festival goers to make it from the main stages down to the lower area stages due to the long distance and of course, “The Hill”.
This year however would create a straight shot for fans as the Famous Monsters Stage would be dropped to the left of the main gate, providing a straight shot for fans to make it to all stages without the worry of missing their favorite bands. Or the possibility of developing shin splints.
Wednesday night would be the official kickoff to the biggest festival in North America as nine killer acts take to the Famous Monsters Stage in front of a small ocean of music hungry fans. The night would start off with some ripping talent from hard hitting acts like Braincell, Scars Remain and Madam Mayhem. As the crowds excite grows, so did the incredible talent of each upcoming band. Soon more veteran acts like Motorgrater and Tantric would start to pick up the momentum and adrenaline across the masses.
A band that really surprised me with their crushing sound and phenomenal stage presence was Burden of the Sky. Their set was dropped later in the lineup with big names like Nonpoint and 10 Years, and the handled themselves like seasoned vets as they pumped out ragers like Catalyst, The Flood and Lights while lighting up the sky with a stellar light display. To no surprise, as soon as Nonpoint emerge from the shadows in head-to-toe red outfits, the cheers could probably be heard a county away from the venue. Once singer Elias Soriano stands tall with his mic stand over his head, it cues up the band to drop right into Victim, igniting mosh pits throughout the crowd.
The Ft. Lauderdale five piece were absolutely explosive from the first note as they dropped bomb after musical bomb on the fans with songs like A Million Watts, Ruthless and What a Day just to name a few. That energy would carry over into another highly anticipated act with 10 Years. Singer Jesse Hasek wasted no time interacting with the fans and setting off their time on stage on a high note as he jumped off the stage and made his rounds around the barricades, singing face to face with the fans, shaking hands and even hugging some luck concert goers all while belting out lyrics from Fix Me.
That performance is a tough act to follow. But the louds chants and cheers from the crowd as the lights go out was an indicator that things were about to blow up. Soon Creed frontman and one of the most iconic voices in rock, Scott Stapp steps up to center stage and ushers in with his solo track World I Used to Know. For fans that might not be too familiar with Scott’s solo work, have no fear as the rest of his set would unfold like a Creed Greatest Hits album.
Stapp would lineup and tee off on some of Creed’s biggest titles like What If, My Own Prison and of course their world-renowned ballad With Arms Wide Open. Even though the majority of the festival is clearly geared to the metal genre, these sonnets had even the biggest metal heads singing along. Following an epic ten song set which wrapped with the iconic Higher, Stapp would roll back on stage to belt out the biggest tracks of them all with One Last Breath and My Sacrifice.
What better way to break fans into four killer days stacked with some of the biggest bands in the world than what we had tonight. The majority of these bands could easily hold their own on the main stages. But to have these fans packed around this stage really made tonight a little more special. As we walked back to the car, the excitement was already building for what was waiting for us tomorrow.
Walking into Virginia International Raceway Thursday afternoon, the sight of thousands upon thousands of metal heads roaming the grounds, taking in the bands on stage or just catching some shade under the trees was an amazing thing to see. Because at the end of the day, the fans are what this whole thing is really about. First act of the day brought me down to the ZYN Stage to catch the excitement and energy of Stitched Up Heart.
The L.A. four piece hit the stage running as the punishing tunes pounced through the speakers. Singer Mixi Demner unleashes a fury of violent headbanging in between her soaring vocals and furious growls. The crowd immediately responds with wave of crowd surfers and devil horns high in the sky. The heavy tunes and electric presence was just the thing we needed the get the day going.
Fans wouldn’t have to go far as Adema would kick things off next door at the Monster Energy Stage. The Nu-Metal outfit come out swinging with fan favorites like Close Friends, Immortal and Ready to Die which just gave the fans just a bit more fuel to their fire. Singer Ryan Shuck lead the charge over the barrage of heavy down tuned guitars and thunderous beats.
Next would be a band most have never seen live, or for some, in a very long time. CKY made their mark in the late 90’s and jumped to notoriety through exposure on the TV show Jackass. With Jesse Margera on drums, Ronnie “Elvis” James on bass and the always eccentrically talented frontman Chad Ginsburg, fans would get an overdose of heavy punk grooves, blistering solos and tons of charisma. Their set would take long time fans back to the beginning with staples like Escape From Hellview, 96 Quiet Bitter Beings and Flesh Into Gear. But the highlight for many might not have been the performance itself, but when April and Phil Margera emerge from side stage to address the enormous crowd and they lead them all in with a massive “CKY” chant.
After a lite jog to the Famous Monsters Stage, we get ready for brutally anticipated set from Vended. Singer Griffen Taylor was an absolute force to be reckoned with and his ferocious growls and commanding stage presence not only solidified his status as a solid front man. But also showed he’s a chip off the old block from his father, Corey Taylor of Slipknot. Vended’s set caused insanity in the crowd as the mosh pits engulfed fans from one end to the other as waves of crowd surfers take in the crazy views on their way up to the stage.
This time slot of the day was filled by notably iconic 80’s rock acts like Stephen Pearcy of RATT and of course, the legendary Vince Neil of Motley Crue. Both musicians packed the crowds in front of their stage as they unleashed an arsenal full of some of the most famous riffs and songs of the last forty years. In the middle of those heavy hitters was a set I was dying to catch as Born of Osiris was tearing it up high above on the Punk Rock Records Stage. Watching the virtuoso performance of Lee McKinney and Nick Rossi on the six strings as they tap dance up and down the neck and drop in those explosive breakdowns is amazing to see live. And with songs like Angel or Alien and Under the Gun it’s no big surprise that they drew in the biggest crowd the stage would see all day.
As we were just talking about some of the classic acts on the bill for the day. You could not overlook that fact the thrash legends Exodus were about to decimate the Famous Monsters Stage promptly at 4:30. Within seconds of the band hitting the stage it was like they were shot out of a canon. Between the percussive explosions from drummer Tom Hunting and the shredding wizardry from guitarists Lee Altus and Gary Holt, this would be the finest specimen of face melting metal you would experience all day. Old school metalheads and the newer generation were in total unison of head banging and a ripple effect of devil horns high in the sky.
Everything you have read up to this point has been a hundred percent accurate and sincere. So, when I tell you as I walk back to the Monster Energy Stage I was absolutely confident that we were about to witness the most insane set of the entire day, and that statement would be true to form. As soon as the fans roars come to a climax, The Ghost Inside frontman Jonathan Vigil announces the first song as Engine 45, the crowd reaction was almost deafening. Within the first few seconds you could feel the ground reacting to all of the movement behind us as one brutal riff after another fuels the chaos through the crowd of easily 20,000. The band would just pull the pin on one absolutely crushing and explosive song after another.
As hard as it was to pull myself away from this killer set. I still had a hankering for some more thrash metal. So, I high tailed it back to the Famous Monster Stage to check out the legendary Cavalera brothers rip it with Cavalera Conspiracy. I can’t lie, seeing those guys together on stage for the first time gave me goosebumps. Sepultura had such an impact on me growing up and I was convinced for a long time that I would never get the chance to see something like this happen live. Max just lit up the front of the stage with that iconic voice as he and guitarist Travis Stone chugged away on classic Sepultura songs like Troops of Doom, Funeral Rites and Necromancer.
But there was one song that I wanted to hear and purposely didn’t peak at any previous setlists in order to keep up my own suspense. And to my absolute delight, at the end of the set, one of the most famous metal intros of all time pulsate through the speakers. It was then that I just about lost my shit and was raging out with the thousands of fans around me. That moment is safely secured in my top three favorite BRRF moments over the last three years.
As much of a high point as the Cavalera Conspiracy set was for me personally little did I or anyone else know, but that was going to be one of the last bands we would see for the remainder of the day. Around 6:15 heavy rains pelted the festival grounds and was followed up by 60+mph winds. The storm dropped in out of nowhere and just about everyone including BRRF staff was caught by total surprise. While we stood in the massive droves of fans being evacuated, the heavy rains started to produce hail which made the entire experience that much more daunting. No matter how much preparation goes into a music festival, that unpredictable element that is always in the back of people’s mind is the weather.
Fans got word that BRRF would re-open gates at 9:30pm with the four headliners closing out the day’s festivities starting at 10pm. But when we arrived back at the venue, we noticed that there were way too many people standing in line to leave. Once we passed through the gates, media personnel were walking out. And it was then that we were told that they had to cancel the rest of the night. Multiple bands had equipment damaged by the intense weather and would be unable to perform. As much of a disappointment as the news was, at the end of the day, there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent this from happening. All you can do it chalk it up to the unfortunate unpredictability of the weather and remind yourself that tomorrow is another day.