Epicenter Music Festival: And so it begins.
Well, Year One for the Epicenter Music Festival (May 10-12th, 2019) is now in the books and what a weekend it was! Located on the Rockingham Speedway / Festival Grounds in Rockingham, N.C., this three day festival really kicked off Thursday evening (May 9th) to those campers arriving early to the festival. The camper’s pre-party included the Hellzapoppin Circus, a sideshow, and tribute bands for Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC. Of course, the real party kicked off on Friday (May 10th) at 2:10 PM with DED on the Sirius XM Octane Stage (and guest MC- Jose Mangin) and carried all the way until the last band, Foo Fighters, who would close it out on Sunday night with a blistering 19 song/nearly three (3) hour set.
Let us touch on some of the partnerships and food vendors located throughout the festival: Heavy Tiki, Angry Bird Grill, Auntie Anne’s Truck, Rockingham Village, FXCK Cancer, Cheese Louise, Funnel Cake Fantasy, Comfort Cooking, Electric Slider, Chicago Taste Authority, Charlie Poppers Kettle Corn, Flip Flop Robs BBQ, Chinchillas Eatz on the Streetz, Hebros Kitchen, Gouda Boys, Grumpy’s Homemade Ice Cream, Take Me Home, Ben’s Cantina, F.Y.E. Fan experience, Meltdown Truck, Larry’s Breakfast, Barrett’s Breakfast, Caduceus Wine Garden (some very delicious wine made from the vineyards of Maynard James Keenan from Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer fame), and an excellent craft beer bar named Headbanger’s Bier Hall which were all on-site during the festival weekend. Plus, an exclusive onsite collaboration with Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey (crafted by the late Master Distiller Dave Pickerell) and Enter Night Pilsner (a partnership with Metallica and Stone Brewing Company).
Now let’s get the elephant out of the room now. Yes, due to some really bad weather the festival had to stop all activities at 5:30 pm on Saturday (May 11th), which was right after the third (3rd) song of Black Label Society. Poor Zakk Wylde had to be the one to break the unfortunate news to the crowd of fans that gathered to watch him shred on guitar. After getting back to camp I was able to witness first-hand the onslaught brought on by Mother Nature: some tents went airborne in seconds thanks to the lack of weight/stakes and the HIGH winds that came through. Not to mention the torrential rain that ensued with these high winds. So add that on top of damage done throughout the festival grounds to stages, equipment, video screens, and various installations (R.I.P. Zippo installation) around the venue. There was only one course of action to take under these circumstances -cancel the night’s performance and fix all this mess. Yes, that meant no Judas Priest. The Cult would not perform. No Yelawolf. No Circa Survive. No Memphis May Fire. And yes, that especially meant that Tool would not be performing at this event. The amount of Tool shirts all weekend was at an all-time high. The collective ‘sigh’ and ‘moans’ of campers/festival attendees could be heard all at once across the grounds when the announcement was made to cancel the evening around 8:30 pm. No one can blame the festival promoter (Danny Wimmer Productions) or the county officials though who made the actual decision. Even some of Tool’s equipment was wet after the rain came through. It just was not a good situation to be in, but at least no one was injured after the storm rolled by. Enough of the sad news! Let’s talk about the highlights from each day at the Epicenter Music Festival!
Highlights from Day 1 (Friday):
Zeal & Ardor – This was my first time really watching and listening to this Swiss avant-garde/death/black/post-metal band. Manuel Gagneux (vocals/guitar) leads this collection of musicians who wanted to blend the sounds of Negro spirituals with black metal. I was told about this band from a fellow Concerthopper (Richard Davenport) who saw their set at Welcome to Rockville the previous weekend. So I gave them a chance- Holy Hell! Their energetic set included tracks like: “Servants”, “Blood in the River”, “Row Row”, “Devil Is Fine”, and my personal favorite “Baphomet”. This band is headed to become a household name in the metal community, so get acquainted with them now!
Meshuggah – The first time I was able to witness the madness that is Meshuggah was when they were the opening support for Tool during their Winston-Salem, N.C. tour stop in 2002. The energy that came from their performance did not wane whatsoever from start to finish. I could see why Tool brought this band on tour with them. Fast forward to 2019, Meshuggah has now released eight (8) LPs and toured North America countless times. Their fan base has also increased dramatically and it shows by the amount of fans who gathered to witness what Meshuggah was bringing to the table at Epicenter. Starting off the set with “Born in Dissonance” got the crowd into a frenzy! Playing “Rational Gaze”, “Bleed”, and closing it out with “Demiurge” were definite highlights for me during Meshuggah’s set.
Rob Zombie – Now we have all heard at least one song from Rob Zombie (or his former band White Zombie- 1985-1998) over the years or quite possibly one of the many horror movies he has written and/or directed. Not going to lie, I have never been a huge fan of his music per se. It is good for what it is, which is more than likely the song a stripper chooses for her time on stage. But after witnessing the stage presence, showmanship, and energy that Rob Zombie and his merry horde of musicians gave us- I am now sold. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a fan of his movies since his directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses (2003); and we were even treated to a sneak peek to his new movie and rounding out the trilogy, 3 From Hell -but, back to Zombie’s performance: I’ve never gotten the opportunity to witness what he does best (as a solo performer) and that is entertain the masses on stage with classic songs like; “Living Dead Girl”, “Dragula” (encore), and “Superbeast”. He even dusted off a few White Zombie tracks like “Thunder Kiss ‘65” and “More Human Than Human”. And let us not forget the incredible covers of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones and “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.
Highlights from Day 2 (Saturday):
Crobot – Crobot rocked the Sirius XM Octane Stage just before the abrupt end of the day’s activities. This four (4) piece from Pottsville, PA threw down with their unique brand of rock/funk rock with songs like; “The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer”, “Keep Me Down”, “La Mano de Lucifer”, and “Nowhere to Hide”. I have been curious about seeing these guys live and was happy to finally get the chance. Definitely an enticing set, chockfull of energy thanks to the dynamic stage presence from front man Brandon Yeadley who commanded the crowd’s full attention.
Black Label Society – Getting to watch a master of his/her craft is always a treat -and speaking of a master of his craft, let me introduce you to Zakk Wylde for those of you who have lived under a rock for the last thirty years. Not only did he garner his fame by slaying it onstage with Ozzy Osbourne (circa 1998), but he also created a name for himself with bands like Black Label Society, Pride & Glory, and Zakk Sabbath. Black Label’s set included only two (2) full songs (“Genocide Junkies” and “Funeral Bell”) and a partial version of “Bleed for Me”. Not going to lie, having this set cut so short really blew. I waited all afternoon to catch the crowd surfers for Zakk’s onslaught of guitar mastery. Since this was the last performance of the day for me… this definitely was a great memory.
Highlights from Day 3 (Sunday):
Mastodon – FYI- My hometown boys are always going to be on my highlights for any festival that they play. Sorry, not sorry, but Mastodon is Grade A 1000% freaking amazing live! Over the years, the evolution of this band has been documented perfectly with every new release since their debut LP, Remission (2002). Fortunately for die hard Mastodon fans they are also on a summer tour with Coheed and Cambria plus Every Time I Die for “The Unheavenly Skye Tour” performing their LP, Crack the Skye (2009) in its entirety. See you at the Roxy show in Atlanta (05/31/2019)! I digress, back to their epic performance at this year’s Epicenter Music Festival. Kicking off the day with “Sultan’s Curse” and playing mostly recent tracks from Emperor of Sand (2017) and Once More ‘Round The Sun (2014); it was a treat to hear them play “Toes to Toes” off the Cold Dark Place (2017) EP. And of course, ending the evening with their classic, “Blood and Thunder” off of Leviathan (2004). In closing, Brann Dailor (drums/vocals) did his civic duty for the day by announcing on the microphone that in “Lot 2 a blue Ford Escort with the license plate ‘2 SEXY’ was double parked”. Hope they got that situation taken care of in time. Hate to see ‘2 SEXY’ get towed away.
Foo Fighters - Closing out the inaugural Epicenter Music Festival on the main stage Sunday was none other than the legends of modern rock ‘n’ roll – Foo Fighters. Ok, so these future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers will be known for a lot of major hits across their vast nine (9) LP discography since their self-titled debut LP, Foo Fighters (1995). Plus the lead singer, Dave Grohl, A.K.A. Uncle Dave, looks a lot like the drummer from Nirvana… ok bad joke, but we all know someone who never got the correlation between the two. Just admit it. So the Foo Fighters were slated for a two hour set, but they managed to stretch it out to be just under three (3) hours featuring nineteen (19) songs. Starting off a set with “All My Life” is definitely the way to get people moving. Making jokes and keeping the crowd engaged is also a damn good way to get the crowd to participate. As Uncle Dave said a few times, “We got all night, mother fuckers!” One of the best parts was close to the end of their set, Dave mentioned that the cancellation of the previous day was very unfortunate for everyone and that Tool not being able to play really sucked! To paraphrase Mr. Grohl, “We wanted to learn some Tool songs to play for you all tonight. But that shit is hard! No one on this stage can play any of those songs!” Dave, I love you for that. (Also, fun little fact: the Foo Fighters did not play a single song off of their debut LP, Foo Fighters.)
Now, I understand that this was the first year for this festival and there will always be some kinks to work out but there was one thing that was a little over the top. To begin, camel packs/bladders were not allowed inside the venue. Also, each person was only allowed to bring one (1) unsealed bottle of water (20 oz. max) into the venue. Water inside cost $4 dollars and the vendors would keep the lid after purchasing. Many attendees voiced their concern that this felt like a ploy to maximize profits with little to no safety precautions involved. These “rules” that festivals are implementing are getting out of hand. Try telling people at Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, or any other camping festival attendees that you are not allowed to use a camel pack. That’s very laughable. I really hope they work something out better for next year when it comes to making sure everyone is hydrated for free.
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Remember don’t think about it, just buy the damn ticket! As always, hope to see you at a show or festival soon!