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.
12:10 P.M. – HEARTSUPPORT STAGE – DYING OATH
The aggressive metalcore stylings of Dying Oath kick off the day on the festival’s smallest stage, and the energy is already high. The band features two vocalists, with a bit of twist in that the male singer takes more of the cleans than the female. I’ll have to look into this band more.
1:20 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – VENDED
Featuring the sons of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Clown, Vended is a band on the rise. Griffin Taylor can’t help but sound a bit like his old man, but this is far from a Slipknot clone. Favoring heaviness over melody, the band leans a bit toward metalcore with its breakdowns, which whip the pits and crowdsurfers into a frenzy. Multiple “holy shit” chants break out throughout the set. It’s early, but Vended might have just won the day.
1:50 P.M. – URW STAGE – FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY
Today is all about the heavy, and as evidenced by the clouds of dust rising from the crowd, the circle pits are going at full blast for Fit for an Autopsy. Brutally heavy but not without a little groove and technical showmanship.
2:55 P.M. – URW STAGE – SLAUGHTER TO PREVAIL
“We are Slaughter to Prevail from Mother Russia!” Taking the stage in masks, the band absolutely slays in a rare U.S. show. The sound is incredibly thick and heavy for just one guitar, and the massive crowd is eating it all up. In fact, there are so many here that there are very few people at the Fan Driven Stage.
3 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – SEEYOUSPACECOWBOY
A band with a name inspired by the beloved anime series “Cowboy Bebop” is always worth checking out. Its sound is more hardcore punk than the metal I favor. The audience grows a bit throughout the set, but this kind of music really requires a more engaged crowd.
3:40 P.M. – URW STAGE – WHITECHAPEL
The bloodbath at URW continues with veteran deathcore act Whitechapel, which is turning the area in front of the stage into a dusty wasteland. I don’t know what’s going on over at the main stages, but the fans on this side came here today to throw down.
4:50 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – SEVENDUST
Playing an abbreviated version of its tour set, Sevendust is celebrating its beloved “Animosity” album, released 21 years ago. Frontman Landon Witherspoon is almost overcome with emotion when he talks about how special the record is, both for the band and its fans—make that family and friends, not fans.
5:45 P.M. – URW STAGE – IN FLAMES
In Flames’ lineup now includes former Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick. This band seems to have at least one new member every time I see it but always sounds tight and cohesive. The Swedes’ set list seems to lean heavily on older material.
“We are going to take you back all the way to the beginning of this band,” frontman Anders Friden says after three songs.
Audience: (mild enthusiasm)
Anders: “That was a very shitty reaction, people.”
He tries it again and gets the response he’s looking for.
IN FLAMES SET LIST: “The Great Deceiver,” “Fear Is the Weakness,” “Cloud Connected,” “Behind Space,” “Graveland,” “Episode 666,” “State of Slow Decay,” “The Mirror’s Truth,” “I Am Above,” “Take This Life”
7 P.M. – URW STAGE – HATEBREED
Metallic hardcore at its finest. Frontman Jamey Jasta is his usual whirlwind bouncing around the stage, radiating positive energy and constantly pumping up the crowd.
7:15 P.M. – FAN DRIVEN STAGE – BAD OMENS
It’s nice to actually see the members of Bad Omens, since they normally perform in almost total darkness indoors. Security pulls a quick hook and kicks out photographers during the second song when the crowdsurfing picks up. Seems like an overreaction, but their word is law here.
7:25 P.M. – ZYN STAGE – HALESTORM
A brisk walk back across the grounds takes me to see a band I’ve been watching for a long time. It’s been incredible to watch Halestorm grow from playing bars to the hard rock giant it’s become. The band is in fine form highlighting songs from its latest release, “Back from the Dead,” but it’s a brief stop for me before making the long journey back to URW. I learn later that the band had to pause the show for a bit due to an injury in the crowd.
8:20 P.M. – URW STAGE – DOWN
You won’t find better riffs from any other band performing this weekend. Down hasn’t played many shows in recent years, which makes this feel like a real event. Phil Anselmo is overjoyed at playing under a full moon and in genuinely good spirits throughout the show. The set list mostly comes from the band’s classic 1995 debut “NOLA.” And why shouldn’t it? Phil dedicates “Lifer” to Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul.
DOWN SET LIST: “Lysergik Funeral Procession,” “Hail the Leaf,” “Lifer,” “Losing All,” “Ghosts Along the Mississippi,” “Eyes of the South,” “Stone the Crow,” “Bury Me in Smoke”
9:50 P.M. – URW STAGE – ALICE COOPER
What’s a guy gotta do to get on a main stage around here? Alice Cooper is a living legend and, at 74 years, young still puts on of the best shows you could ever see. He opens with “Feed My Frankenstein,” the song immortalized by “Wayne’s World,” and the set list includes some songs I’ve never seen him play before, such as “Hey Stoopid” and “Bed of Nails.” Unfortunately, a late start to the set means I have to cut out early to get back to the Monster Stage.
10:30 P.M. – MONSTER STAGE – MUDVAYNE
Sometimes going away for a while can be a genius career move. Mudvayne was a successful band in its original run, but a festival headliner? Not even close. Since reuniting in 2021 after a break of more than a decade, the band is bigger than ever, co-headlining a summer tour with Rob Zombie and topping festival bills. With music that isn’t exactly easy to play—or sing—rehearsals must have been intense. They appeared to have worked, though, as the band sounds like it hasn’t missed a beat. The makeup and all the hits are here, and the appetite for Mudvayne appears to be strong.
MUDVAYNE SET LIST: “Dig,” “Under My Skin,” “-1,” “Severed,” “Death Blooms,” “Internal Primates Forever,” “Cradle,” “Determined,” “Not Falling,” “Nothing to Gein,” “Dull Boy,” “World So Cold,” “Happy?”
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