By Greg Maki
Still a relatively young event, the Blue Ridge Rock Festival has grown quickly to become one of the biggest rock festivals in the United States. Hosted by a new venue in 2022, the Virginia International Raceway, the festival featured a massive lineup of more than 180 acts performing on six stages across four full days and the campground pre-party. The list included everything from some of the biggest hard rock/metal acts around to some of the most brutal to reunions of classic bands to lesser known, up-and-coming groups.
I’m well aware that there were many issues with this event, most significantly the hours-long wait many endured for the shuttles to take them to and from the satellite parking lots. (Media were allowed to park on-site, so this wasn’t a problem for me.) At the venue itself, the most glaring deficiencies I noticed were a lack of hand-washing stations outside the porta-potties (ew) and not nearly enough security working the barricades at the stages. Both are significant health/safety issues and absolutely must be addressed next year.
The music was what brought us all together, though. That’s what I focused on while I was there, and I’ll do the same here. Here’s how my day went.
11 A.M. – GATES OPEN
A staggered opening allows VIP ticket-holders in first followed by general admission. The festival grounds are enormous, so I hope everyone is wearing comfortable shoes. Hills create natural amphitheaters at most stages but don’t help with all the walking. (Festival-goers quickly nickname the largest hill “Kate Bush.”) It’s not too hot, and the sky is overcast, but no rain expected today. I’ll take it given the forecast for the weekend.
NOON – URW STAGE – THE LONELY ONES
Featuring former members of Bobaflex, The Lonely Ones play to a small crowd to open the festival. I feel bad for them having to kick things off on a stage that’s at least a half mile from the main entrance. The band is more melodic than Bobaflex with some solid three-part harmonies and a cover of Queen’s “Flash Gordon” theme—didn’t see that one coming.
12:55 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – ALPHA WOLF
Make that 1:05 as we’re already running late here. Alpha Wolf brings a ton of energy to this stage at this early time, and the crowd responds in kind. I take in a couple songs before hurrying to my next stage.
1:15 P.M. – ZYN STAGE – FIRE FROM THE GODS
The first main stage act I’m taking in and there’s a huge difference between the atmospheres here and at the smaller stages. Of course, Fire from the Gods has a few recognizable songs, and frontman AJ Channer’s message of peace and anti-hate always resonates.
1:50 P.M.: URW STAGE – UNEARTH
A band I couldn’t get away from in the 2000s but haven’t seen in years. The lineup is mostly the same, but there seems to be less of the playful energy that I remember. Still, Unearth rips, and I forgot how much these guys shred. Our first real guitar heroics of the festival.
2:30 P.M. – ZYN STAGE – SHADOWS FALL
“I would tell you to pace yourselves, but you’re not gonna fuckin’ listen. So party til you puke motherfuckers!” – Brian Fair
There might be some gray in frontman Brian Fair’s dreadlocks, but they’re still enormous and Shadows Fall is as much of a monster as ever. It’s just the band’s second show since 2015 yet it’s absolutely on fire. I missed these songs and this band more than I realized. The set list includes five tracks from “The War Within,” which holds up as one of the best metal records of the 2000s.
3:10 P.M. – HEARTSUPPORT STAGE – VAMPIRES EVERYWHERE
Here’s a band I hadn’t really heard from since the Warped Tour in 2012 and in fact was inactive from 2016 to 2021, when frontman Michael Vampire reactivated it with a new lineup. (Michael started a new band, Dead Girls Academy, in the interim.) The band is heavier than I remember, and the lead guitarist is a shredder.
3:40 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – BRAND OF SACRIFICE
A heaping helping of deathcore to get you through the afternoon. Brand of Sacrifice might be the day’s heaviest band not called Cannibal Corpse.
3:50 P.M. – URW STAGE – THE UNION UNDERGROUND
One album released over 20 years ago, but people seem to still recognize The Union Underground. The band is tight and the time seems to be right for its brand of industrialized nu metal to make a mark again. I want to stay for more than two songs, but it’s a long walk to the next stage.
THE UNION UNDERGROUND SET LIST: “Drivel,” “Killing the Fly,” “Bitter,” “South Texas Deathride,” “Faith,” “Turn Me on Mr. Deadman,” “The Friend Song,” “Across the Nation”
4:15 P.M. – ZYN STAGE – SPIRITBOX
It’s time to stop referring to Spiritbox as a “buzz band.” Though it has just one full-length record under its belt, a string of hit singles has the band well established at this point, as evidenced by the huge reaction here. Frontwoman Courtney LaPlante commands the stage with a quiet confidence, and when the music hits, she’s nothing short of a force of nature as she alternates between hypnotic singing and screams of all-out rage. Spiritbox won’t be performing this early at festivals for much longer. Bigger things are in store for this band.
SPIRITBOX SET LIST: “Circle with Me,” “Hurt You,” “Yellowjacket,” “Holy Roller,” “Rotoscope,” “Hysteria”
4:50 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – BAD WOLVES
My first encounter with Bad Wolves 2.0, featuring frontman DL Laskiewicz and guitarist Max Karon replacing Tommy Vext and Chris Cain, respectively. It’s also the first set I’ve taken in at the Monster Stage, which has a VIP area up front that was mostly empty and definitely seemed to sap some energy from the show. It takes a few songs to get the vocals at the proper volume, but the band soldiers on with a set highlighting its latest release, “Dear Monsters,” without ignoring the past. During “House of Cards,” Karon takes a casual stroll through the crowd. We’ll see guitarist Doc Coyle later this weekend at the God Forbid reunion show.
BAD WOLVES SET LIST: “Sacred Kiss,” “Killing My Slowly,” “Lifeline,” “No Masters,” “House of Cards,” “Hear Me Now,” “No Messiah,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Zombie,” “I’ll Be There”
5:40 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – ATTILA
One of the rowdiest sets of the day, definitely enchanted by being on one of the smaller stages.
5:55 P.M. – URW STAGE – KITTIE
There are so many women in hard rock and metal bands these days that it’s easy to forget how innovative Kittie was in its time. Playing its first show in five years, the band is in great spirits and sounding just as good. Here’s hoping this show leads to more and it’s not just a one-off.
KITTIE SET LIST: “My Plague,” “Cut Throat,” “Oracle,” “Spit,” “What I Always Wanted,” “Never Again,” “Empires (Part 2),” “Mouthful of Poison,” “Charlotte,” “Burning Bridges,” “Brackish,” “We Are the Lamb”
6:30 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – ?????
I guess we won’t get to know what the mystery band was going to be. The stage is set up for Anthrax, which doesn’t go on until 8:20.
6:55 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – WE CAME AS ROMANS
First time I’ve seen We Came as Romans since the passing of singer Kyle Pavone in 2018. Dave Stephens is doing an excellent job holding things down. Energetic performance and the crowd is digging it. I skip out after a couple songs for something a little heavier …
7:15 P.M. – URW STAGE – CANNIBAL CORPSE
The brutality! The neck! That can only mean one thing: Death metal legends Cannibal Corpse are here to give BRRF a lesson in heavy. They absolutely lay waste to everything in sight. So weird and cool to see Cannibal Corpse on the same bill as radio rock bands like Pop Evil and Daughtry.
8:20 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – ANTHRAX
Celebrating 40 years of metal madness, Anthrax sounds as good as ever. The core of rhythm guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante is ultra tight, while frontman Joey Belladonna is seemingly ageless. A little variation in the set list—give or take a song or two, Anthrax essentially has been playing the same set for a few years now—but it’s hard to complain too loudly when the songs in question are thrash metal classics.
Scott calls out the weird, still mostly empty, VIP section in front of the stage: “Nothing makes a band more thrilled than a big empty lawn in front of them.”
ANTHRAX SET LIST: “Caught in a Mosh,” “Madhouse,” “Got the Time,” “Keep It in the Family,” I Am the Law,” “The Devil You Know,” “Antisocial,” “Bring the Noise,” “Indians”
9:35 p.m. – URW STAGE – STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
No professional photography allowed for STP, but I’ll still watch the set. Singer Jeff Gutt has had the job since 2017 and he’s really grown into the role. Sure, he’s channeling the late Scott Weiland, but there was a lot of Scott in Chester Bennington when he was with the band, too. I think there’s just something about these songs that makes you move a certain way. And of course the band behind him is still intact. Together, they perform arguably the most well-known songs of the day, and it’s a real treat that they’re keeping these tunes alive.
10:30 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – GHOST
The church-like stage is set, with a stained glass window backdrop, and the unholy ritual of Ghost begins. The show just keeps getting bigger and better, with Papa Emeritus IV (aka band mastermind Tobias Forge) now backed by eight Nameless Ghouls. The set includes four songs from this year’s “Impera” album, with “Spillways” going over particularly well. At one point, Papa says there are two songs left—a “doublet of destruction”—but there’s no way the show is ending without “Square Hammer,” which follows and brings BRRF day one to a spectacular close.
GHOST SET LIST: “Kaisarion,” “Rats,” “Faith,” “Spillways,” “Devil Church,” “Cirice,” “Hunter’s Moon,” “Ritual,” “Call Me Little Sunshine,” “Watcher in the Sky,” “Year Zero,” “Mummy Dust,” “Dance Macabre,” “Square Hammer”
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