Blue Ridge Rock Festival: One Disappointment After Another

Written by on September 17, 2023

Review By GS Alvarez

Like many other first-time Blue Ridge attendees, I heard about the festival via one of their many Instagram ads. They touted an impressive lineup, with headliners including Pantera, Slipknot, Til Lindemann, and Evanescence, among many others. Each ad also promised their biggest festival yet, with significant improvements from previous years.

With a five-day weekend at my disposal, I booked a hotel in Greensboro, NC—about an hour south of the festival grounds in Alton, VA—and bought my three-day GA pass in June for a cool $300. The countdown began, and while I knew it would be a long drive solo, it would be worth it to see bands like Job for a Cowboy (who haven’t played a live show in over nine years), Avatar, Shinedown, and Chevelle. But, what I was most looking forward to was a Lamb of God/Babymetal double feature—two of my favorite bands of the last couple years.

Optimistic the morning of Thursday, September 7th, I loaded up my car with a suitcase and my favorite Nine Inch Nails playlist, and embarked on the long trip to Greensboro.

On route 81 through West Virginia, my poor Impreza was hit with a barrage of torrential hail and suffered minor denting on the roof. I would later find out that this hail—which evolved to a thunderstorm as it moved east—would put a complete halt to the festival, causing several Thursday headliners to be canceled.

DAY 1: Friday, September 8th

I left for the festival at about 10 a.m. Friday morning. There were two parking options; the Orange lot was East of the venue in North Carolina, and the Blue lot was West at the Danville Fairgrounds. Each lot was about seven miles away, and required a shuttle to actually get to the grounds. I parked in the Blue lot, a big grass field about a ten-minute walk from the shuttle stop.

Said shuttles were incredibly inefficient, to say the least. The entire line was uncovered, and the 90+ degree sunny weather left many attendees weary after hours-long waits. Having arrived around 11:30, I was able to board within 45 minutes; by the time I left, however, the line had doubled in length (Later in the day, it was stopped completely due to “weather concerns,” but there were rumors floating around that the festival was entirely at capacity, and they had to refuse entry).

The bus ride and subsequent entrance to the festival was a breeze (literally—the open windows on the bus were refreshing after such a long wait). I ended up at the venue at 12:45 and immediately headed to the merch line. It was at this point that re-checked my planned schedule and noticed that Til Lindemann had dropped out due to illness. As a result, the first band I wanted to see, Of Mice & Men, had been moved to 4 p.m.

In line, I talked to a woman with a blue-and-white umbrella, who had camped at the festival the night previous and weathered the storm that swept through. According to her, the rain started at around 7 p.m., only minutes after Coheed & Cambria took the stage. It quickly escalated to hail, then lightning struck one of the stages, and soon the entire festival was evacuated. Campsites were washed away in the rain, and anything that remained was coated in mud.

After conquering the merch stand (which took nearly two hours), I headed towards the Smartpunk Records stage to seek shelter under some nearby trees. My first set of the festival was Afterlife, who performed with an infectious energy and sounded great. I checked out some nearby vendors as Catch Your Breath played—their set seemed to have some audio issues, as the volume fluctuated to almost painful levels even from afar. Before Of Mice & Men, I bought a (nearly $16!) coffee, and a (nearly $20!) kids-sized rice bowl for lunch.

My first looked-forward-to band came on at 4:15 on the second main stage, and while my view was largely obscured by tall people, the set was great. They played a variety of classics and new releases, including one previously unreleased track, “Into the Sun.” Their performance made me incredibly excited for the rest of the day’s sets.

Wanting to conserve my energy (as the 95-degree sun was almost overwhelming), I sat further back for the sets of Coal Chamber and Knocked Loose. While I was mostly unfamiliar with both bands, I found Knocked Loose to be surprisingly impressive, and their energy felt fun even from the back of the crowd.

After a much-needed refill at the festival’s one (!!) water station, I made my way downhill to the Famous Monsters stage, where Job for a Cowboy would be playing later in the day. There was a small window behind the soundbooth where a couple fans were gathered watching the current set—it was here that I ended up setting up camp for the next couple of hours.

I walked into the first song of The Black Dahlia Murder’s set. Their lead singer, Trevor Strnad, unfortunately passed away in 2022, and the performance was dedicated to him. Brian Eschbach did a fantastic job on lead vocals, even if the mix was a bit muddy at times.

After TBDM’s set, I struck up a conversation with Mario Scuderi, guitarist of Philadelphia-based metal band Suicide Conspiracy (of which he was proudly sporting merch). He had been hunkered down behind the sound booth for most of the day—partly because of the view, and partly because of the shade it provided. We chatted for a while about driving through the northeast, work, and nearby Durham’s “Can Opener Bridge.” He too was around for the debacle the day prior, and had to wait over three hours for a shuttle to his car with his bandmates.

Soon enough, my favorite band of the day, Job for a Cowboy, took the stage. Their performance was unreal—Jonny Davy was nearly unrecognizable, sporting much shorter hair and impressive bulk, but his stage presence was commanding, energetic, and technically brutal. Hearing “Entombment of a Machine” live was almost ethereal, and the experience was only elevated when Edgewater native Will Ramos joined the stage for the final few moments. Their set—which included the bass-driven “Sun of Nihility” and the downright evil new single, “The Agony Seeping Storm”—left me feeling positive that this entire experience was worth it.

The few minutes between the next set passed almost too quickly, and soon enough, New Jersey-based deathcore group Lorna Shore started up as the stage headliners for the day. Almost every track played was off their new album, Pain Remains, save for “To the Hellfire.” Each track carried an incredible energy, and Will Ramos dripped confidence through the whole set. Jonny Davy’s return to the stage for a few minutes added to the already-crazy crowd aura that had been building all night.

Riding on the high of two brutal sets, I headed to the main stage in near-complete darkness to catch a bit of Slipknot. While the band was fantastic for the first couple songs, the set had to be paused during Yen because of a medical emergency in the crowd (during which Corey Taylor had to shout at the fans to “get the f- out of the way and let [EMS] do their f-ing job”). I ended up leaving to catch the bus halfway through their set, unfortunately missing Spit It Out to cut down on my wait time to get back to the hotel.

Even having left early, my wait in line was over three hours. There was no signage to which line went to which lot, there was no security to enforce line-cutting, and everyone was in a bad mood. The bus ride home was silent with the occasional complaint between groups. I didn’t get to my car until 2 a.m., and didn’t get to my room until 3 a.m.

DAY 2: Saturday, September 9th

I woke up late, exhausted from the previous day’s travel extravaganza, to find that the first shuttles to the show were not running due to a “weather delay.” The in-app notification assured us that there would be no backup, and the shuttles were going to be up and running shortly. A quick glance at the radar made this unlikely, with thunderstorms possible for the entire day. I delayed getting ready to get some more sleep.

I woke up again around 1 p.m. to find that the entire day had been canceled, and that plans for the following day (which saw sporadic rain) would be announced at five. While I was upset, there weren’t any bands I was dying to see (save for Stabbing Westward and Asking Alexandria), so I headed over to Facebook to find any local events or places to hang out for the day. There happened to be a Folk Festival going on a mile from my hotel; I walked over there and ended up having a great time watching local bands for free. It was easy to tell who else had come from Blue Ridge.

As I was headed back to my hotel, I got the news—the festival had been canceled for the entire weekend. The Facebook post cited rain, but the subreddit alleged striking workers, a visit from the fire marshal, and a lack of a safe shelter-in-place or evacuation plan.


DAY 3: Sunday, September 10th

Bummed about the cancelation, I bought tickets to Babymetal/Deathklok on Thursday in Boston and used my hotel points refund to grab a free night. I checked out early and made the drive home through torrential rain—which, unsurprisingly, only started after I left Virginia completely, adding a bit of credibility to the cancellation rumors. On my way, I stopped to see the Can Opener Bridge in Durham, and I met a Twitter mutual in Maryland for dinner.

I wouldn’t go to Blue Ridge again. Next year, I’ll head to Louder Than Life in Kentucky.

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