Adversity is something that nearly every concert event will have to face, and with a multi-day outdoor festival, the only nemesis greater to the performers and audience alike that can rival equipment failures is the scourge of nature itself. It goes without saying that a stage performance that goes without a hitch tends to be more the exception than the rule, but for those that were looking forward to a 3rd day of musical triumphs at the Blue Ridge Festival at the Virginia International Raceway, the temptation to go from being an avid throng of onlookers to a collection of wet blankets in the non-idiomatic sense became all too real as rain clouds began to gather. But much like the attitude that the NFL has towards inclement weather conditions, not even a continuous downpour that would leave a muddy mess comparable to the one that haunted Woodstock ’94 would stop this game from reaching its conclusion.
From the first rousing notes of the opening bands that graced each of the five stages in Alton, Virginia on September 10 of 2022, every band waged a battle of wits with the elements and came away triumphant. Of particular note would be the relatively new super group of veterans and hard rock staple The Dead Daisies, who came away from the deluge as victorious as Achilles standing over Hector’s body, though one would expect as much from a group that includes one of Deep Purple’s originals (Glenn Hughes) and the guy who made the original metal arrangement of the Transformer’s “Theme Song” (Doug Aldrich) amongst its ranks. The looming rain in the horizon would become the occasion for this band to come off even heavier than their original studio material, as newly minted bangers such as “Long Way To Go,” “Shine On” and “Face Your Fear” pounded the soggy grounds hard enough to register on the Richter Scale, though the song that truly raised the bar would be the riveting rendition of Deep Purple classic “Burn,” with the aged Glenn Hughes pulling off a veritable swansong as the festival was just getting started.
The next highlight point of the hour of inconvenience via the elements being cast aside would come from a band that one might expect to flourish in less than favorable circumstances. The culmination of Kirk Windstein and his band of not so merry men, aka Crowbar, were a picture of pure stoicism, as the bleak skyline played perfectly to their fatalistic and dreary blend of doom metal and hardcore. On stage high-jinks were virtually absent from the equation apart from the occasional follow-throughs of drummer Tommy Buckley as he punished his hit with a full force beating, but the statue-like nature of what some might have dubbed a less visually flamboyant three-person answer to Mick Mars‘ stage routine (though his has been by medical necessity) had a logic to it when matched with the trudging sloughs was their seven song set, and while their crowd-draw may have been smaller than some of the other bands in attendance, those that were present were moshing furiously as dank crushers like the old time ’90s classic “High Rate Extinction” and newly released hit “Chemical Godz” disturbed the airwaves.
As the afternoon proceeded through a slower rate of precipitation, the tempo of things would go in the opposite direction with a duo of fast-paced metallic beasts ruling the roost. The flamboyant fold of thrashing, borderline extreme heavy metal fury from Los Angeles dubbed Butcher Babies made a formidable ruckus as their two respective front women Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey worked the crowd masterfully, no small feat as they were simultaneously barking with the intensity of a choir of rabid dogs during the neck-destroying beast of an anthem “Monsters Ball,” which along with their bone-crushing thrash machine of an anthem “Mr. Slowdeath” and twisted interpretation of Napoleon XIV‘s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” all but punched a hole through the cloud cover above. Not to be outdone, Virginia-born crossover thrash masters and kings of concise carnage Municipal Waste trotted out a dozen vertebrae-ending songs in the time that most others would put forth 6 or seven, and had a circle-pit of maniacs going full berserker mode to the frenzied fierceness of “Beer Pressure,” “Slime And Punishment,” and “The Art Of Partying,” among others. Suffice it to say, the guys in Stormtroopers Of Death and Nuclear Assault were smiling down on them, and they aren’t even freaking dead yet.
Though much of the early afternoon belonged to the old guard and the more metallic of persuasion, that signature diversity of style that goes with a big festival was also a noteworthy fixture. Las Vegas natives and post-grunge hard rocking trustees Adelitas Way brought an interesting blend of bottom-heavy groove and modern ambience into the equation, walking the line between the older stylings of Nickelback and Seether and the electronic-tinged post-hardcore sound of the 2010s. Lead vocalist Rick DeJesus would prove a rock solid front man between his gritty baritone and his effective crowd work, and accessible anthems like “Sick,” “What It Takes” and “Notorious” inspired plenty of sing-along moments from the audience. On the more unconventional side, Finnish metal and cello-oriented act Apocalyptica brought their usual blend of haunting atmosphere and familiar tunes, and though hampered by some audio issues that cause a couple of songs to need restarts and some time being lost, saw them pull off stellar renditions of Metallica‘s “Seek And Destroy” and Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King.”
As afternoon drew closer to evening, the weather would take the opportunity to test the mettle of some of metal’s most elite acts, and two powerhouses would laugh in the face of a torrential downpour. Like a quintet of fearless heroes kayaking towards a waterfall, Hollywood favorite sons glam-tinged hard rockers Black Veil Brides held nothing back as the rain fell in literal sheets, engaging the crowd to the maximum as water descended and mud rose. Whether it was never material like “Born Again,” “Crimson Skies” and “Scarlet Cross” or some of their classic material from yesteryear, they were a picture of precision and auditory clarity playing to a legion of mud-covered yet highly animated bodies. Scranton, PA metalcore maniacs Motionless In White were no less determined to fight the elements to a flawless victory Mortal Kombat style, and their fans were even more pumped up to turn rain and mud-soaked lemons into lemonade. Pyro and smoke machines blazed away in spite of the unrelenting precipitation, and as infectious anthems like “Masterpiece” and “Another Life” rang out the audience participation ante continued to be upped, reaching its pinnacle when a guy in a freaking wheelchair ended up crowd-surfing.
Likewise, elder statesmen and original power and progressive metal masters Queensrÿche brought their A-game and cut through the foul weather like a perfectly refined sword, with vocalist Todd La Torre awakening a sleeping giant in the audience as he shouted “Blue Ridge! We are gonna hit you with that old school shit!” which this Seattle metal institution would then proceed to do. No stone was left unturned in their legendary early era, as a hefty dose of classic material from the 1983 eponymous EP, The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime and Empire riveted every onlooker. True to form since his entry into the fold 10 years ago to fill the mighty shoes vacated by Geoff Tate, La Torre delivered a performance both reminiscent of his predecessor’s signature soaring wail, but with an added level of grit and force that often recalled Tate’s original rivals and dearly departed icons Midnight and Warrel Dane during their respective ascents to prominence in the late 1980s. The beats of former Kamelot drummer Casey Grillo never skipped a beat, bassist Eddie Jackson was a foundation solid enough to hold up an entire palace, and the twin guitar assault of Mike Stone and Michael Wilton exuded both power and metal nostalgia all but to a fault. Highlight moments included the mighty opener “Queen Of The Reich,” “En Force” and “Jet City Woman,” but in all honesty, every moment was one for the ages.
The comeback phenomenon seemed to become something of a theme as the latter part of this festival came into view. San Diego sons and late 2000s metalcore meets pop punk darlings Pierce The Veil would see their second performance this evening since 2017 following a lull in activity and some controversy, and there was no shortage of effort or energy to be found. Their on stage high-jinks were a key feature in their task to reclaim the live medium, and bassist Jaime Preciado would do his part by bouncing up and down like the stage beneath him was on the verge of combusting, all but stealing the show from Vic Fuentes‘ jagged and, if you’ll forgive the expression, piercing vocal display on punchy fan favorites like “King For A Day” and “Bulls In The Bronx.” 90s and Memphis born Christian rockers Skillet would prove no less enthusiastic as the rocked the Monster Energy Stage in the face of continual rain fall, pounding out seamless renditions of hit bangers “Feel Invincible” and “Hero” like the original studio versions were playing through the PA system. The stage show was equal to the fire of the set, with vocalist John Cooper sending the smoke machine’s contents directly to the crowd while wife and guitarist Korey Cooper rapidly roamed the stage like a raging animal and all but banging her head clean off.
As the grand conclusion of this mad day of mud and metal came into site, theatricality and chaos would rule the evening. Comedy rock act and project of famed actor Jack Black, known to the world over as Tenacious D, may well have claimed the honor of inspiring the craziest crowd response of Day 3, if not the whole festival. It was tough to tell whether lyrically farcical yet ultra-catchy songs like “Sax-a-Boom” and “Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)” or their rendition of Thin Lizzy‘s “Jailbreak” got the masses jazzed up, but as early as 3rd song “Save The World,” the pit became so insane that dozens of audience members poured into the photo-pit like bulls in a china shop and forced the many journalists shooting the performance to elbow their way out. On the other hand, electronic rock surgeons and Columbus, Ohio natives Starset would mark their entry into the fray with arguably the most elaborate and spellbinding stage and light show of the day, reminding of the iconic laser security systems often depicted in Hollywood cinema, a fitting set of surroundings for a band that performed while decked out in full space suits. Highlights would include their powerful rendition of infectious keeper “My Demons” and the equally catchy banger “Monster,” but the whole performance was a spectacle of sight and sound from start to finish.
The much anticipated apex and headliner moment of the day, namely the performance of metal icons Slipknot, would be both the most well-attended of any performance, yet one also marked as the only one in which the band opted to ban any press from the photo-pit and the surrounding areas, likely only allowing access to their own hand-picked tour photographer. As a consequence, around 40 journalists working through mud and rain to offer promotion – in most cases a free one – for the massive amount bands and first-hand accounts for the gargantuan event, were unable to do so for the most awaited band of the musical celebration. Word of mouth speaks to a grand event for every mud-covered fan to behold, and the draw would prove so massive that it would take upwards of 90 minutes to clear the venue. As the scores of onlookers who put up with soaked clothes, the chill of the night air and a the swampy landscape, removed themselves from the festival grounds, the day finished on a winning on almost every front despite the losses to Mother Nature and a few technical hiccups.