First off, this is in no way going to be a slam of the festival, it’s organizers or the people. It WILL be a review from my perspective and my experience…
Blue Ridge Rock festival started a number of years ago and was a great idea on how to get major bands to play in rural Virginia as there is a definite fan base here. And it grew… Billed as the ‘Fan driven music Experience’, it involves the fans voting on which artists they wanted to have play. It has been held in multiple locations over the years, including Farmland (2021) and ultimately moved to the Virginia International Raceway in 2022 and 2023. VIR is a scenic road course racetrack that offers some of the necessary infrastructure needed for an event of this size. What it offers in space is somewhat negated by the rural area of the venue. The choices are onsite camping or staying at a hotel. I’ve always camped- because I do like camping. There are no nearby hotels, so concert goers are faced with hour(s) long commutes to the venue parking areas and then must take the shuttle buses to the festival grounds. In perfect weather, this is a slight inconvenience, in inclement weather, that becomes a challenge. More on that later…
I was there for the experience, with photo a close 2nd focus. Part of that experience was that I have gotten behind a movement for Breast Cancer Awareness, primarily early detection. Involved to the point that the plan was to distribute 10,000 silicone bracelets and subsequently get a pic of the fists/horns up with the bracelets displayed. Part of this was a success, part of it was mixed due to other factors… Arrival, Tuesday, September 5th. As mentioned before, I camped at this festival and have for the past three years of attendance. While there are some perks the being with the media at a festival, I want to be in the thick of things and base my review on what an average festival goer would experience. Therefore, I purchased my camping so I can be in the section I want to be with the people I’ve come to hang out with. Besides, this is where my festival family is, and we all have camped together every year. This year, they offered an upsell of early arrival on Tuesday for campers. I purchased this option and a friend, and I, set off to Blue Ridge. The early entrance on Tuesday was a breeze to get in, get set up and not have to rush our setup to be able to make the first bands playing at the preparty on Wednesday. It gave us ample time to secure everything in case of inclement weather and to know where everything was. It also provides the opportunity to reach out to friends that are arriving on later days so they can bring anything I might have forgotten. No issues with check in, picking up missing camping wristbands camp set up, nothing to complain about. Preparation is the key to survival. I did notice more porta potties in the camping areas this year, which was a welcome relief…
Day 1, Pre Party Wednesday, September 6th.
The day started for me like all the others, wake up cook breakfast, go to the general store to get shower coupons, get cleaned up as it was HOT (95F/35C). Purchased my shower tickets at $10 (9.37 Euro) apiece to head off to the showers later that day before heading to the festival grounds. I was already set up at camp, but the vast majority of people who were camping were set to arrive on Wednesday. The bands playing at the preparty were scheduled to start at 4 and had 9 bands playing on one of the stages just for those camping at the festival. One of these bands was Nonpoint and were a must see for me. I had plenty of time to kill and just chilled at the campsite hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen for years, and to watch the steady intake of people coming in. This was the first indication everything wasn’t right in this town this year. The lines to get in were backed up. I heard from some people I was expecting that day that they were in line to get through security for hours (9 for one group and 14 for another). They finally got through the security checkpoint at about the time that the last band for the night was starting and they had to set up their camp in the dark in the middle of the night. I also know that there were cars that ran out of gas or broke down in the oppressive heat and entirely too long of a wait time to get on to the festival grounds. I got up at 3 AM to relieve myself and walked up on people trying to set up their tent in the dark using the light on their cell phone. I went back to my camp and loaned them one of my LED headlamps so they could at least see what they were doing. What could possibly go wrong?
As for the show that day, I went into the festival grounds about 4:30 PM to start capturing pics of the artists and the people. This year, unlike years in the past, I went to the festival for the people and the bands were secondary. I wanted to have fun and not look back on it as just a lot of work. It was blazing hot the entire time. Everybody was sweating profusely, and the heat was taking its toll. I drank a lot of water while there. A lot, like 20 bottles and only had to pee once. I was sweating it all out. The crowd was massive. This was just campers, not even the daily pass members. The first band I caught was Scars Remain, followed by Motograter, Tantric, Burden of the Sky, Nonpoint and 10 Years. All of them left it all on the stage. The crowd surfers were in fine form and the mosh pits were very lively. By the end of 10 years set, I had had enough of the heat, and unfortunately missed Scott Stapp’s (Creed) set and headed back to camp to rest and prepare for the following day. I needed to get some rest and prepare for the onslaught of bands on day 1 of the main festival.
Day 2 Thursday September 7th
This is the start of the true festival. Everything up to this point is merely warm up. 34 bands on the bill for the day, including Five Finger Death Punch, Evanescence, Rise Against, Tech 9, Cypress Hill, and Three Days Grace to name a few. A solid opening day.
I made it onto the grounds early to catch the set of Heartsick who was a fan voted in up and coming band out of Lansing, Michigan (US). I had met them earlier as they were arriving, and I was taken by their energy and passion. Their set was exactly what I expected: a lot of energy, a lot of crowd interaction, a lead singer who had no qualms about hopping off the stage and going into the crowd, to crowd surf, mosh in the pit and take selfies with fans. The band, led by one Alfonso Civile is one to watch. Catch them on the small stage while you can because they will be on the big ones very, very soon. There were one of the bands that they had set up in the camping area along with Scars Remain, I Set my Friends on Fire and Fight from Within to provide shows after the shows ended on the main stages.
After Heartsick’s set it was off to catch Kingdom Collapse and Stitched Up Heart, who absolutely crushed their set. Then it was up the hill from the main stages to catch Bodysnatcher on a different stage. Another well performed set from the band from Melbourne, FL (US).
Then back down to the main stage for Highly Suspect (a guilty pleasure of this metal head). By this time, I had planned to stay at the main stages for the rest of the day as the bands I wanted to capture the most were there, save for one.
After Highly Suspect, I was waiting on Coheed & Cambria, and I felt what was an early sign for the day, a raindrop. Okay, maybe it was just a waterdrop from a thrown bottle of water, but no, I felt another. Having been through a rain deluge at Blue Ridge in a previous year, I wrapped up and headed to put my gear away. No sooner did I get it put away, the bottom fell out of the clouds. It poured and word was put out that we needed be prepared to leave the festival grounds. Then we were told to evacuate the festival grounds as inclement weather was approaching. Campers were told to head to their campsites and shelter in their vehicles and day pass attendees were to head to the shuttle area and shelter in the shuttles. So off to camp I went. It wasn’t even raining on me on the way to camp.
There were some rumblings of thunder in the distance. Maybe this is erring on the side of caution. I get back to camp and throw my gear on top of everything else in my car (I literally leave nothing out except for my tent, my canopy and cooler as this is literally in the woods and there are critters in the woods that would love a free, easy meal). Then it started to rain again and got heavier and then the wind started to pick up. And then in a flash, the brunt of the storm was on us in campgrounds. Lightning, thunder, wind that I estimated at 50-60mph and rain, which at times was blowing sideways and then the hail came down. At this point, I retreated to my car. Those that did not take the time to secure their campsite and stake down all potential items that could be blown away, paid dearly in this storm. I watched canopies flipped and destroyed, I watched tents that were blown away, I saw people who had everything that they brought suddenly have nothing dry to wear, nowhere dry to sleep, their festival ruined. After what seemed like hours, but really was only about 30minutes, it was done. I walked around to survey the damage and I could see damage of some sort in every direction I looked. I was talking to one camper and over his shoulder, I watched as lightning hit one of the vertical supports for one of the stage video screens. There were no more storms that evening, and as expected the rest of the shows for the evening were cancelled. They did say they were going to try and get some of the big acts to play their sets starting around 9:45, but that was eventually cancelled as there was some equipment damage that they needed to take care of.
Day 3 Friday September 8th
The day started with several people leaving the festival as they had lost their place to stay in the storm the day before. Blue Ridge did communicate that the people that had left, if they wanted to come back after securing new tents and such, would be allowed back in. I do not know how many people, if any, went to the local department store and got new stuff, but that was still a good gesture as inclement weather can and will happen in Virginia. As I’m typing this, my phone alerts keep going off to remind me to be prepared for inclement weather approaching tomorrow as a tropical storm will be over us tomorrow 60 mph winds and about 7 inches of rain. Friday started off with the bands starting around noon and there were a lot of the lower card bands that I wanted to see, but I delayed going in early and helped friends get their campsites back to liveable conditions, fed a bunch of people and tried to help where I could. I missed a lot of the bands I wanted to see that day, but I really wanted to see the headliners that night. And they did not disappoint.
Motionless in White has been a staple at Blue Ridge for the past three years and in 21 they were a mid-day act, in 22, they were closing on one of the smaller stages, and in 23, they were the direct support of the headline of the day. Chris Motionless and the rest of the band showed their gratitude by delivering one of most emotional performances I’ve ever witnessed from a band. At one point he asked the crowd to light up their cell phone flashlights to see the whole crowd, and as far as you could see it was a massive crowd that I would estimate at around 40- 45,000 people.
He was in awe of how many people were there to see them and stated that he wasn’t even sure he could sing. But he did. I was happy to be there at that moment. After MIW, there was one other artist that I wanted to see before the headliner, if only because I hadn’t seen him in many years and that was Danzig. It was an interesting crowd in that there weren’t a whole lot of people who seemed to know much of his material until he played Mother. But the crowd that was there was waiting ever so patiently, okay, chomping at the bit, for the headliner for the day. And when they hit the stage, the crowd was ready. Slipknot hit the stage in all their glory, but it was a little different than what I had seen in the past. It seemed more polished, more sedate an opening. But the show grew in intensity.
They started off with The Blister Exists, followed with The Dying Song, and Liberate before launching the onslaught with Yen and Psychosocial and The Devil in I. They had a 14-song set and closed out the night with Spit it Out. All in all, a great day for music and it really set the stage for Saturday and Sunday, which had well over 35 bands that were must sees for me. At the end of the days shows on the festival grounds, there were after part bands mentioned before of Heartsick and Fight from Within playing at a stage set up in the camp grounds after the headliners were done. I missed this show as I was a little tired from the heat and the storms and vowed to catch one of their shows later in the weekend.
Saturday September 9th
The day started off normally at a festival. Wake up, grab beer, grab rear, put on some scene gear. Oh, wait, that’s a different story by a band that wasn’t there this year. But typical morning, get cleaned up, cook breakfast, get ready to rock out to some of the bands I really, really wanted to see, like Beartooth, Asking Alexandria, Parkway Drive debuting their full and enhanced pyro set that they have never bought to America before, Megadeth, I Prevail, Papa Roach and Shinedown. The day was really going to make up for some of what was missed on Thursday. I wandered around camp and found some people had set
up a tarp for a slip and slide. After watching for a bit, I told them that I had some extra tarps and went off to get them. We got a rather long slide going and were having way too much fun that early in the day. But that is the magic of festivals. We just kept laughing and some were already partying and then, wham. They announce that the festival is in a weather delay. We all looked at each other and looked at the partly cloudy sky and figured there was something on the radar that we couldn’t see. Out come all the phones and a whole bunch of confused looks. We didn’t see anything on radar. Well, at least we’re
having fun now, so back to the sliding. About an hour and half later, they announce that the days shows have been cancelled due to weather. It hasn’t rained, there was no wind, no lightning and the people are a bit angry. They also said that a decision about Sundays shows would be made around 5:00 PM. I tired of the slip and slide and head back over to my campsite. It’s about 5 and I notice a lot of campers are heading over towards another camping section and someone said they were having an acoustic popup show in the campground. I grab my camera and head that way. I get over there and head ”backstage”, mind you this is up against a guardrail on the side of a racetrack and there is nothing
between the performers and the crowd but a low guardrail and there are band members from a few bands there with acoustic guitars. The people playing are members of Papa Roach, Olliver Anthony and members of Shinedown. They are alternating between
Jacoby Shaddix singing Papa Roach songs, Oliver singing his songs and Brent Smith singing Shinedown songs and then they would launch into cover songs that all of them knew. It was like an open mic night at the bar with some very familiar names and faces.
It is a performance I will never forget. And it still hasn’t even rained. About at the end of their performance they announce that Sundays shows have been cancelled due to weather. Okay, this has become confusing. Later that evening, I did catch the Heartsick show at the campground and the crowd was very, very appreciative of it. To be honest, Heartsick closed the festival, so technically, they headlined it.
Sunday, September 10th
Well, no more shows at Blue Ridge, so might as well pack up and head out. Rearrange stuff in the car to make room for the tent and canopy, and a light rain starts to fall. I suppose that is the inclement weather.
I head out but hear that 12 of the bands that were supposed to play at Blue Ridge are doing a pop-up show at a small venue about an hour away. Well, I was at blue ridge to see bands. I didn’t have to be at the day job for a few days, so off I went to the pop-up show. That pop up show included Attila, Gideon, Until I Wake, Dropout Kings, and VRSTY, amongst others. Three of these bands also did another pop-up show Monday night closer to home, which I also attended…
Okay, if you made it this far, here is my observation. I go to Blue Ridge for a multitude of reasons. The first being the people, the second (at least this year) the cause centered around the need to get people to understand that early detection of breast cancer is the key to survival and lastly, the bands. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary, so to speak. There are people where this was their only vacation this year, they spent thousands to make this happen and were there just for the opportunity to see a lot of their
favorite bands. There was a loss experienced at some level by everyone who was there. Yes, there was some inclement weather on Thursday. That was a necessary cancellation. Friday went off without any problems. Saturday was officially cancelled for weather, but I never saw that weather. Sunday was the same. There was some light rain, but nothing that I wouldn’t endure to see the bands that day. I could speculate about what the true cause of the cancellation of half a festival was, but that is not my role. All of us can do a web search and I am sure there are countless ‘experts’ on the topic who can put their spin on it. I waited on posting my review to see if there would be some official word on what really
happened, but as of now, there has been no communication on that matter from the organizers.
I have been multiple years. Will I be back? That’s still undecided. For reference, by this time last year, I had already invested over $1,000 to attend in 2023. That hasn’t happened for 2024. If there is a 2024 event. I will say that if there is an event in 2024 that some changes need to be made to improve the infrastructure. While it still is a work in progress, a lot of people were not delivered what they invested so much money into. There has been talk of some type of refund, but several days after the event, there has been no clarity on this. Personally, I had a lot of fun at the event. But I went for the reasons I have stated earlier. Yes, there was disappointment. Yes, there were parts of it that still make me angry.
Yes, there were good memories that I will never forget. I could easily say I will never go back. But, just as easily, I could also say I wouldn’t miss it for the world. For years, I have said this is my family reunion that some cool bands play at. That hasn’t changed. But time will tell. Your mileage may vary…