By Greg Maki
It’s been a long road, but hope is on the horizon. The light at the end of the tunnel is strong enough that we could shine it into the air on a moonlit night and use it to summon Batman. With COVID-19 numbers declining in the United States and a number of other countries around the world—largely due to vaccinations; thanks science!—concerts are about to become a thing again. And I don’t mean drive-in performances or the somewhat dubious “socially distanced,” “COVID-safe” shows that have popped up from time to time throughout the pandemic. I’m talking swarms of people jammed into a room, eating, drinking and sweating together, bouncing off each other in the pit, flying over the barricade on the hands of the crowd. And best of all, I’m talking festivals—huge, multi-day events with thousands upon thousands of people united in a shared love of music and the performers who bring it to them.
The last concert I attended was all the way back in 2019—on Black Friday, Nov. 29, to be exact. (It was Diamante at DC9 Nightclub in our nation’s capital.) I considered going to a handful of shows in early 2020 but thought to myself, “I’ll just wait and catch those bands at the festivals this spring.” Of course, there were no festivals in 2020, just as there haven’t been any so far in 2021. (2020 was the first year I did not attend a concert of any kind since I started going to shows as a 10-year-old in 1990.) Barring some unforeseen turn in the pandemic, that’s all about to change in the second half of 2021.
The past few weeks have been a joyous time for music fans. New tour announcements have been coming daily, with some bands planning to kick off their runs as soon as this summer. (Others are waiting until fall or 2022.) While a normal show with a bill of three or four bands is more than enough to get excited over at this point—I was indescribably happy earlier this week when I bought my first concert ticket in I don’t even know how many months (Beartooth at Baltimore Soundstage)—give me those festivals.
My love of festivals goes back to the old HFStivals in the ‘90s, which, while geared toward the “alternative” music crowd, still managed to book enough hard rock and borderline metal acts to hold my interest most years. From there, I progressed to events much closer to my musical tastes—Ozzfest, Mayhem, Uproar, the occasional Warped Tour. In 2010, I made my first pilgrimage to Columbus, Ohio, for Rock on the Range, and I returned there every year through 2018. I added Carolina Rebellion in 2014, and for five years, Charlotte, North Carolina, became my destination on the first weekend of May. The latter two festivals were rebranded in 2019—as Sonic Temple and Epicenter, respectively—but with the imminent birth of my son (he arrived on June 1), I had to sit out that year’s spring festival season. “No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll pick up right where I left off in 2020.”
So I’ve been feeling my heart lift with each new festival announcement these past few weeks, whether it’s the Blue Ridge Rock Festival (Sept. 9 to 12, Danville, Virginia) doling out one band at a time, including 11 promised headliners over four days, or whole lineup dumps such as that of Rock Fest (July 15 to 17, Cadott, Wisconsin) or the plethora of smaller, one-day radio-sponsored festivals. I’m legitimately excited for the M3 Rock Festival (July 2 to 4, Columbia, Maryland), a long-running celebration of ‘80s hard rock and metal, to be headlined this year by Queensryche, Night Ranger and regional favorites Kix. (And, of course, this is just in the United States. A slew of European metal festivals — such as Wacken Open Air, Summer Breeze, Rock am Ring, Rock im Park and Download Festival—have unveiled lineups for either this summer or summer 2022.)
The big guns for me, though, are the festivals produced by Danny Wimmer Presents, the promoter behind the aforementioned Rock on the Range, Carolina Rebellion, Sonic Temple and Epicenter. This year, DWP will present the Inkcarceration Musc & Tattoo Festival (Sept. 10 to 12, Mansfield, Ohio), Louder Than Life (Sept. 23 to 26, Louisville, Kentucky), Aftershock (Oct. 7 to 10, Sacramento, California) and Welcome to Rockville (Nov. 11 to 14, Daytona Beach, Florida).
As always, DWP has stacked the lineups of all four festivals with some of the biggest names in hard rock and metal, plus some of the hottest up-and-coming talent. All four events will feature the return of Mudvayne, reuniting after a hiatus of more than a decade. Headliners include Metallica, playing two nights each at Louder Than Life, Aftershock and Welcome to Rockville; Nine Inch Nails at Louder and Rockville; Rob Zombie at Inkcarceration and Rockville; Slipknot at Inkcarceration; and the original Misfits at Aftershock. Other acts I’m excited to see include Judas Priest, Anthrax, Beartooth, Sevendust, Gojira, Fever 333, Spiritbox, Diamante, Mammoth WVH and Ayron Jones.
Inkcarceration and Aftershock are already sold out. I expect the others to follow suit in short order, so don’t hesitate on buying tickets if you’re interested. I’m planning to make the nine-hour drive to be at Louder Than Life and the anticipation is almost overwhelming.
It’s been three long years since my last proper festival, so I’m ready. Ready for every single part of the festival experience. Give me all the music, all the bands, and everything that comes with it. Give me that lineup of unknowns on the side stages. Give me the main stage acts that so many of us pretend not to like because of all their radio hits. Give me that heartbreaking decision to make when two bands I love play at the same time on different stages. Give me the local radio personality having the time of their life as they introduce the next band to a throng of screaming fans. Give me a hot sun, sweat and sunscreen (re-applied liberally throughout the day). Give me overpriced water and food that will tie my stomach in knots for days to come. Give me never-ending lines at merch stands and restrooms. Give me porta-potties that turn into ovens on warm summer days. Give me dust. Give me rain. Give me mud. Give me a weather delay when a thunderstorm rolls in. Give me tens of thousands of strangers who, for a few days, become my best friends in the world. Give me sore legs and feet from walking around all day. Give me that traffic jam trying to get out of the parking lot at the end of each night. Give me that one-of-a-kind mix of exhaustion, elation and depression when it’s all over and all I want to do is sleep for two days and then find a way to relive the entire experience, to hold onto it forever because there’s nothing else like it.