From a respectable opening on Day 1 to a veritable dustbowl on Day 2, and then a gargantuan mudslide on Day 3, the 2022 Blue Ridge Festival has been nothing else if not an interesting outing for those who made the trek. But whether the element of chance promised smooth sailing or stormy weather, both performer and audience alike demonstrated a level of determination and tenacity that is to be commended, regardless of whether it arose from a sense of desperation for normalcy following two years of anything but that, or if it's something that is naturally built into the rock community as a whole. Having said that, no event is perfect, and for everything that this festival possessed in stellar performances, favorable responses from loyal fans, there were other areas where some room for improvement was definitely present. That being said, little was wanting wherein the musical content was concerned, and Day 4 was no exception.
The earliest entries into this grand finale of a fourth day were an exercise in melodic fanfare, and a pair of well-established millennial outfits would lead the charge. Las Vegas-born post-grunge rockers Otherwise would make a respectable splash with an even mixture of new and old material as vocalist Adrian Patrick serenaded the crowd with his husky and forceful baritone, often competing with guitarist Ryan Patrick and bassist Nick Bedrosian for who could work the crowd the most. Whether it was the poignant and patriotic anthem that originally broke their career "Soldiers," newer groove-steeped bangers like "Exit Wound" and "Full Disclosure" or older fanfare like "I Don't Apologize (1000 Pictures)" and "Coming For The Throne," the name of the game was fun and everyone present was playing. Former Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm would strike a more intimate note with a heavily acoustic performance, relying partly on nostalgia with several entries from her prior band and a few melancholy odes of her own. Between her soulful and somewhat rough-edged voice and the performance of husband and guitarist Josh Sturm and the rhythm section, a synchronicity between beauty and darkness was established that was not lost on any onlooker.
As sure as Murphy's Law, not long after festivities were under way, the weather opted to take another turn at raining on everyone's parade. For their part, Fort Lauderdale natives and nu-metal maniacs Nonpoint and their fans could not have cared less as the water droplets fell, as front man Elias Soriano led a raucous set featuring punchy, hip-hop tinged bangers like "Paper Tigers" and "Bullet with A Name" to a thunderous result, no pun intended. The air would prove a bit lighter when California alternative rock playboys and radio darlings Hoobastank said their piece, garnering a decent crowd draw with smooth melodic fanfare like "The Reason" and "Running Away" and occasionally going a little heavier with more rocking numbers like "Same Direction," vocalist Doug Robb's ultra-clean croons stealing most of the show. But the band of the hour when it came to turning rainy weather into a cause for celebration would be crazed metalcore Britons from Hertfordshire Enter Shikari, whom proved not only to be the most unique player thus far into things, but also the most energetic. Vocalist Rou Reynolds gave fair warning as he asked the crowd if they still had an ounce of energy left for them, and as they freewheeled through a set that included electronic-tinged, progressive post-hardcore furies like "Juggernauts," "Sorry You're Not a Winner" and "Arguing with Thermometers," he would become a veritable one-man mosh pit on stage and an unintentional spokesman for Red Bull.
With its twice sworn enemy, namely the elements, backing off a tad as the afternoon proceeded, the air of energetic defiance from band and fan alike would do the exact opposite. Late 2000s metalcore stalwarts and former touring mates of As I Lay Dying and August Burns Red (among others) Erra brought the auditory carnage something fierce, as lead vocalist J.T. Cavey would approach the stage with an everyman getup and proceed to all but bark out his lungs to the pummeling riff fests of recent released bangers "Pull From The Ghost" and "Nigh To Silence," along with some older bestial entries, with the soaring and occasionally piercing high-pitched counterpoint of guitarist Jesse Cash helped seal the deal. Seattle Christian metal trustees Demon Hunter would make a slightly more measured ruckus with a cleaner cut take on the same metalcore/alt. metal niche, with punchy anthems like "I Will Fail You" and "Dead Flowers" laying a more melancholic flavor on top of the mayhem between Ryan Clark's somber baritone and Patrick Judge's wailing melodic guitar work. This slightly calmer interlude would then be chased by a truly insane display by metalcore mainstays The Devil Wears Prada, whom embodied every aspect of the concept of pandemonium in their musical and physical performance, and led a frenzied pit through newer offerings like "Time" and "Salt," alongside rousing renditions of older favorites "Danger: Wildman" and "Born to Lose," with Mark Hranica's multifaceted vocal performance being as powerful as it was schizophrenic.
Evening beginning to loom, the frenetic tone of the previous couple of hours would give way to a less bombastic yet equally compelling presentation. Lords of psychedelic doom with a sludgy edge Baroness brought the swampy tones of otherworldly wonder like it was going out of style, the interplay between John Baizley's and Gina Gleason's muddy riff work all but stealing the thunder from the former's singing between classic Sabbath-inspired sloughs like "A Horse Called Golgotha" and "The Sweetest Curse." Then again, their rendition of the fuzz-steeped rocker "Shock Me" would be the high point of their set, and not a soul in attendance was spared the nagging question of how this band can sound twice as powerful on stage as in the studio. Fans of 2000s nu-metal sensations Saliva would then be in for a treat as original vocalist Josey Scott would join the band half way through their set, and in addition to banging out old radio hits like "Always" and "Click Click Boom" to a booming response from the crowd, threw in an impressive medley of classic rock songs including Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Way (Pt. 2)" and Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight."
With dusk beginning to rear its head, the later billed bands would definitely bring their "A" game in their own respective ways. Post-grunge icons and disciples of one of the Seattle originals Seether pulled no punches as they threw a series of powerful performances of old Nirvana-inspired bangers like "Fake It," "Fine Again" and "Bruised and Bloodied," each one eliciting a louder response from the throngs of onlookers. The quality of the performance was continually exemplary, and one couldn't help but be impressed at how they seamlessly switched from the bombast of the aforementioned rockers to the intimate balladry of "Broken." But the peak of the set would arrive when the band spotted a teenager standing in the front rows and holding a sign reading "Let me play ‘Remedy' with you," subsequently inviting him to join them one stage. To the surprise of everyone 18 years old James Hughes wielded Shaun Morgan's guitar and rocked the song with total aplomb. Visibly emotional James was greeted and hugged by the four musicians at the end of the track, while the audience roared and cheered in approval. We later knew James is a 100% self-taught guitar player, and have always dreamed of being on stage with Seether. Mission accomplished kid!
The metal masses that had assembled in Virginia for this 4-day marathon concert would then take things over with the entry of this state's favorite sons and groove metal masters Lamb Of God. Words like pandemonium, madness, bedlam and mayhem don't even begin to describe the crowd's response as this riff-happy powerhouse banged and crushed their way through neck-destroying entries like "Memento Mori," "Now You've Got Something To Die For," and "Ruin," rivaling the audience carnage precedents original set by Slayer and Pantera. It got so intense that during the latter half of the set when "Laid To Rest" was destroying ears and bodies alike, things had to be cut short a couple times due to some moshers getting injured in the pit, which thankfully proved to be only minor and allowed the show to resume. As the 10-song set was closed out with the crunchy beast with a southern rock edge "Redneck," the implicit phrase "Follow that!" hung over the sky with the cessation of the last note.
True to form, the final acts that would be tasked with trying to keep up the ridiculous energy level that was just established were bigger sellers from a box office standpoint, but also not quite up to the task in the ferocity department. 2000s post-grunge mainstays 3 Doors Down made a respectable showing with a solid series of renditions of the early rock anthems that introduced them to the world beyond their native Escatawpa, Mississippi, and "Kryptonite," "Loser" and "Duck And Run" are by no means a collection of snooze-fests. Likewise, the soulful, yarling baritone of Brad Arnold and the combined efforts of the rest of the band turned several other entries into standout moments, especially the Guns N' Roses-inspired romp "Better Life." Props should be given to guitarists Chris Henderson and Chet Roberts for playing a major part in keeping things reasonably aggressive, often channeling the old days when Izzy and Slash were cutting heads in the late 80s when not sticking closer to their Pearl Jam meets Candlebox niche.
With the night now in full swing, the final headliner of this long weekend invasion of southern Virginia would make their mark. Rock titans Disturbed would find themselves before a crowd that was noticeably smaller than it had been a couple acts prior, and one couldn't help but wonder what the promoters of the event were thinking as they threw together the order of acts for the evening (perhaps a similar logic to that which put Alice Cooper before Mudvayne during Day 2), but the performance given was no less bombastic and well-accomplished for it. As this Chicago-born quartet muscled their way through the infectious grooves of "Ten Thousand Fists," "Are You Ready" and "The Vengeful One," the stomp of the riffs and rhythm section led by the incessantly moving John Moyer, and the gravely growls of David Draiman shook the masses something fierce, ditto the band's poignant anthem on the issue of suicide in "Inside The Fire" and the bottom-heavy re-imagining of Genesis' politically-charged classic "Land Of Confusion." In short, Disturbed definitely left an impression, and it may well take a few days for it to disappear from the skulls of all who stuck around until the end.
When all was said and done at this year's edition of Blue Ridge Rock Festival, a question remains to be answered: how did the 2022 edition fared in comparison to the 2021 well-documented debacle that enacted so much turmoil and negative coverage one year ago? The answer is honestly three-fold: when it comes to logistic and organization the improvements were palpable and signaled the work of a team who certainly listened to the feedback and the grievances from the previous edition and tried to resolve them as much as possible. There's still a considerable room for correction in several areas: security was overwhelmed at times, numerous performances started considerably later than planned, throwing off the scheduling of hundreds of fans – even more so when the Monster and Zynn stages were separated from the URW and the Fan-Driven stage by more than a quarter mile and a heinously steep hill that was cause of several memes online, and at least for the first two days the number of buses available to transport the attendees in and out the festival grounds were not even close to the amount needed, causing delays and waiting times that exceeded one hour.
The most glaring and unacceptable failure of Blue Ridge Festival 2022 was one that hits close to home and was arguably transparent for most of the fans: the manner media and photographers were treated. I won't describe it here in details as I certainly don't want to drag the attention of the readers of this chronicle away from what matters most – the music; but the organizers really need to revise their protocols, take a hard look at how things are done, and who is really capable of doing them in this area (we were treated as an annoyance, and an afterthought the four days, instead of a group of professionals trying to do an important work to the benefit of the event), or else they will soon find themselves without any press coverage whatsoever.
Finally, in terms of performances the Blue Ridge Festival 2022 line-up was once again packed to the gills with diversity and a fair number of special reunions and unique performances, and likely almost every soul in attendance left the event after the last day with a significant sense of fulfillment. It's not common to find such musical assortment in a single event, and the work of the acquisition and planning team really deserves recognition for that, as they ensured that particular side of the celebration was a momentous and noteworthy one for the thousands who reunited at Virginia this past weekend.