FESTIVAL REVIEW: 2021 Blue Ridge Rock Festival


The COVID 19 pandemic has affected many parts of life that we’ve always taken for granted few industries, however, have been impacted in the way that live music has.  Worldwide revenue for live shows in 2020 was about a third of 2019 levels.  That has left a lot of crew, techs, drivers, venue employees, and artists sitting at home waiting for an opportunity to get back out on the road and make a living.  The recent easing of Covid restrictions have opened the door to a condensed festival season.

Blue Ridge Rock festival is an annual multi day festival held in Danville Virginia, located just north of the North Carolina border, approximately 90 minutes northwest of Raleigh North Carolina. This year’s event featured a lineup of 160 plus bands spread across 6 stages and 4 days starting on Thursday, September 9th.  This was an outdoor festival, and there was no mask, vaccination, or testing policy, but free take-home Covid tests were available at a table just inside the entrance to the grounds.  There were a mix of masked and unmasked fans in the audience, unfortunately there were a number of issues that will hopefully be addressed in future Blue Ridge Festivals – waits of upwards of 2 hours to get to the festival from off site parking due to the lack of shuttles and slow moving traffic going into the venue. There were a number of people who did not have a camping spot due to campsites being oversold.  There were a number of last minute band cancellations that were beyond the control of the festival.  Phil Anselmo and the Illegals were still flooded from Hurricane Ida and forced to cancel as a result. Several bands who had members test positive for COVID or face travel restrictions, such as Bush, Gojira, No Point and All That Remains who also had to withdraw from the festival. Other bands who felt it premature to have large crowds assembled, like Limp Bizkit, cancelled their entire tour including their appearance at Blue Ridge.  Given the rapid last minute substitutions and reshuffling many other festivals have faced during the pandemic, Blue Ridge did much better at keeping their lineup stable than most other festivals.   

Despite several issues, there were some things that the festival organizers did very well – the stages, lighting and sound were top notch. The venue setup and show times were done in a way that allowed for easy movement from one stage to another without too much sound bleed between stages.   They also did a very good job in keeping food and drink well stocked as well as making sure the porto potties were cleaned and emptied.  The bottom line is despite some problems faced by the festivals organizers, the absolute necessities of food, drink, and restroom facilities were handled better than at most festivals I’ve attended. The ups and downs of event planning aside, there was an obvious excitement about being able to attend a festival again that eclipsed any problems that came up.  

There are too many bands over a 4 day span to see, much less review, so I will go over the bands that I did see that put on especially good performances. 

Rise Against – Rise against is the standard bearer for punk with a political and social conscience. Whether Rage Against the Machine comes back to regain the title, we don’t know, but no matter who their contemporaries are, Rise against is about as good a band as there is out there. Tim McIlrath’s voice has held up through the years, sounds just as strong as it ever has, and translates exceptionally well live. The vocal range of the songs combined with the constant driving nature and overdriven delivery of the vocals makes these songs exceptionally taxing to perform, and I can’t believe he can still deliver as well as he does, but his voice is as strong as ever. This is a band that combines powerful and catchy songs, incredible musicians, an impossibly gifted singer and a lyricist that actually says something about the state of the world when writing. It’s a hard band to beat and one of the most talented bands of the festival. If there was any justice in the world Rise Against would have been closing one of the weekend nights instead of Shinedown or Five Finger Death Punch.

Lamb of God – LOG hasn’t missed a beat during their downtime. Randy Blythe owns the stage when Lamb of God plays. The music is fantastic, and he has the charisma to grab everyone’s attention. Speaking of grabbing everyone’s attention, my personal favorite part of the set was when he yelled “What the fuck are you doing over there. Get your asses over here!” at the crowd at the next stage where Seether was playing.

Corrosion of Conformity – One of the most underrated bands of the last 30 years, it’s almost criminal how short a set they were given.  Their usual drummer, Jon Green, was in England and unable to make it across the pond.  Fortunately their fill in drummer, Raleigh native Doza Hawes, of Bloody Hammers was more than up to the task, and slipped into the mix seamlessly.   Watching this band play together is really one of the best examples of straight ahead rock and roll I’ve ever seen.  I’m looking forward to see what direction they take for the follow up to their latest release No Cross, no Crown.

Clutch – Another personal favorite of mine, the Maryland rockers were obviously overjoyed to be on stage.  Neil is always a blast to watch, but seeing the huge smile on his face for the entire set made it obvious how much he missed touring and playing for his fans. 

Halestorm – It was my first time seeing Halestorm live, and the band in general, and Lizzy Hale in particular, put on a fantastic show. 

Body Count – Body Count is Ice T at his angriest fronting a heavy metal group full of killer musicians. It is exactly what you expect and it is awesome. I don’t even really have to say more.  This just sells itself

Anthrax – Anthrax put on a strong, tight performance. Joey Belladonna puts on a great live performance.   Although some of my favorite anthrax tracks feature John Bush, it just isn’t Anthrax without Joey. Even with the sound muted, watching Scott Ian and Frankie Bello bounce around the stage would keep everyone entertained for hours. 

The Hu – It was a definite change of pace, but watching the Hu perform their Mongolian throat singing folk rock with a mix of traditional and modern instruments was really impressive.  This band doesn’t need a gimmick.  You put them on stage and their unique sound and look are enough to keep anyone’s attention.

Suicidal Tendencies – Beartooth and Suicidal Tendencies were scheduled on different sides of the festival with essentially the same start time.  Beartooth was a tough one to miss, but I’ve heard such great things about Suicidal’s live show, I had to check it out.  I can’t say I regret going to see them.  Along with D.R.I, and the aforementioned Corrosion of Conformity, Suicidal Tendencies were one of the bands that were able to morph hardcore punk and Thrash metal into the hardcore Thrash that paved the way for many of the acts we see on these festivals stages today.  Their Frontman Mike Muir has an amazing stage presence.  The energy that he brings to the show makes their live performance stand out from their recorded offerings, which is no mean feat.  Festival goers were also treated to an impressive guest performance by Tye Trujillo filling in on bass guitar. Tye is the son of former Suicidal Tendencies and current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, and fittingly sounds like he was born to play that set. 

Fit for a King – Although Metalcore isn’t usually my wheelhouse, this band was really enjoyable to watch.  The band in general, and bassist Tuck O’Leary specifically put on a fantastic show, jumping off anything he could find and spinning his bass around his neck without missing a beat in the songs. 

Five Finger Death Punch – If you like Five Finger Death Punch, they delivered exactly what you would expect.  They sounded like Five Finger Death Punch, but with only one cover song.  Their show injected more political divisiveness for its own sake than I would prefer.  If you’re going to be political, turn it into a song and make it part of the act.  “Fuck Joe Biden” is hardly keen commentary on the state of the world today. 

Megadeth – Megadeth puts on a killer show live. Great musicians, amazing stage setup, and Dave Mustaine blowing most bands on the bill off the stage.  Dave’s playing and singing were both in great form during this performance. 

Rob Zombie – Rob Zombie put on an amazing performance.  His backing band of John 5, Piggy D, and Ginger Fish combined with his over the top live show make for one of the best live acts on the road today. 

Honorable mention to Chevelle, Underoath, Offspring, Asking Alexandria, Killswitch Engage, Pop Evil, Motionless in White, Sevendust and We Came as Romans. 

There is one thing about festivals that is even more important than the music. Despite the presence of the population of a small city, the sense of community and care for others was evident and as strong as it’s ever been. My accommodations had unraveled at the last minute (non festival related) and a fellow photographer and his friends put me up with them. Our common love for the music, the positive atmosphere, and their generosity of spirit drew me into a group who accepted me and became immediate friends (A special thank you to John, Kim, and the rest of the Mayhem Crew). I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve gone to a festival where I have not met at least a few people I keep contact with long after the concert is done. Festivals are where the metal community comes together in a very literal way and petty issues are put aside in the name of a mutual love of music. This demonstration of love and community among people who understand why music is such a big part of your life is something I didn’t realize was so important until it was gone. Here’s to better days ahead, filled with new bands, new friends, and new experiences with our extended metal family.   

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Blue Ridge Festival Atmosphere

All images © David Booth
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