The long festival weekend had passed in the blink of an eye, because just as soon as Bastardane had opened the festival, Sunday had already rolled around. The mighty Foo Fighters were set to headline Day Four of Sonic Temple, and with Memorial Day just hours away, the crowd swelled to its largest volume yet. And aside from the threat of light rain that never materialized, the weather across the festival weekend was nothing short of springtime perfection. Sunday’s tender sun and light breeze were certainly no exception.
Holy Wars opened the main stage with alternative metal bliss and an energetic gathering of fans to sing their praises. Despite being an opening act of the festival, the up-and-coming band has already amassed a significant (and almost cult) following, and their post-show autograph session generated a line that stretched as far as the eye could see. Kat Leon’s eye-catching charisma balanced beautifully against the musical skill required to execute such an energizing set, and the band’s artistic presence filled up the entirety of the main stage with unwavering confidence. As with many other bands that graced the Sonic Temple lineup – particularly the opening bands – there is little question that Holy Wars is an act worth keeping an eye on as they continue to climb the ranks.
The Soundwave Stage opened with unbounded celestial ferocity, starting with the pink-saturated spectacle Starcrawler and continuing to the proper supernova that is the Nova Twins. Starcrawler didn’t settle for the black amps and neutral-tone instruments that most bands gravitate towards. Instead, the Soundwave stage was soaked in shades of bright baby pink, as were the band’s instruments and wall of amps. Arrow de Wilde wore one of their signature eclectic outfits along with untamed blonde hair, while bandmates matched the unique appearance with wild smiles and nonstop motion. Nova Twins were similarly magnetic in their entirety, with vocalist/guitarist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South having traveled from England to dish up their sonic magnificence. These two musicians were on absolute fire for every second of their set. They wielded multiple musical duties on stage while shouting out at the audience, entertaining with the grace of seasoned performers, and never dropping their smiles. Melting into their brilliance was effortlessly gratifying.
Another treat to watch perform was Ayron Jones. This band dialed back the speed a bit from some of the day’s earlier performances, and they brought with them irreplaceable swagger. Bassist Bob Lovelace was the picture of instrumental thrill as he lunged low to the ground and plucked out thunderous bass notes. As for guitarist Matthew Jacquette, not a single heart at Sonic Temple was still as he smiled his way through the set with irresistible charm. Masterful guitarist and frontman Ayron Jones not only wowed with his guitar skills, but he also changed a string mid-set and mid-song after one broke. What had begun as a small but curious crowd slowly morphed into a solid mass of people craning their necks and trying to get a better glance at the spirited stage. If there were any skeptics when the set started, there were none as it finished, and a fresh handful of fans were evidently eager to follow Ayron Jones wherever he and his talented crew might walk.
The Pretty Reckless had a similarly impressive draw for the thrill of the performance itself, namely that from vocalist Taylor Momsen. She took to the stage with confidence under the early afternoon sun, and she danced along with her alluring vocal melodies. Nothing More matched the same artistic energy, particularly as vocalist Jonny Hawkins emerged (shirtless, as is his signature) and drenched in dripping black and red paint. His sweat-soaked curls bounced as he floated from left to right on light feet, microphone clenched in an eager hand, and his eyes were furious with passion and zeal. Both acts were alight with tangible ardor.
There were more attractions than just the artists at Sonic Temple, and aside from vendors and nonprofits scattered across the stadium grounds, there were special spaces dedicated for concertgoers with particularized needs. One such example was the Sober Temple, hosted by Harmonium, Inc. DWP has partnered with Harmonium for more than a decade. The organization aims to connect with individuals at the intersection between music and sobriety, and is composed of individuals that staff events while remaining both clean and sober.
Sober Temple table staff and Harmonium representative Zach said that the Sober Temple booth aimed to “provide a safe space for individuals who are choosing to be sober or abstain for the duration of the festival.” The booth was well-attended throughout the festival, with more than 45 individuals attending the Saturday afternoon meeting, and two meetings were hosted per day throughout the festival. These daily meetings reached individuals that included “people in or seeking recovery, their friends, supporters, and allies.” As a longtime DWP partner, Harmonium representatives and sober spaces can be found at DWP events across the country. For those interested in spaces like Sober Temple at Sonic Temple and other DWP events, check out official DWP festival maps and publications for locations and more information.
One artist that may not have seemed like a perfect genre fit for the rock-oriented Sonic Temple was Grandson. The Canadian rap-rock and alternative hip hop artist was the closing act on the Soundwave Stage, and he brought forth fans and crowd surfers to the barricades in droves. The enticing stage setup included a deep forest backdrop – a homage to the cover of his latest album – and a platform for both Grandson and his supporting artists to stand upon as they performed. Touching music accompanied a setlist that balanced new material with major hits, but as the crowd demonstrated, even recent releases like “Drones” had hundreds of voices singing along in time with the music. Grandson was all smiles for the crowd as he bantered between songs, no matter how serious those songs might have been. He also teased those in attendance for their own weak performance: “you guys mosh like old people fuck!” This banter was quite the contrast to the gut-wrenching live rendition of “Despicable,” which had tears welling in even the most stoic of eyes.
Youthful energy and pain-made-art defined Grandson’s gut-wrenching performance. He climbed down from the towering stage with a single jump, and clambered back on with apparent effortlessness, running back and forth across the barricade in between. Perhaps the most exciting part of Grandson’s wholly engrossing set was the closing song “Blood // Water.” Grandson began by speaking directly to all queer, trans, and other persecuted audience members, and he told them that they would always be welcome at a Grandson show and at his stage. This monologue continued as a smiling crew member tossed more than two dozen water bottles out and into the crowd. When the first chorus hit, Grandson called for the crowd to open the bottles it had just been passed, and an endless spray of water exploded in a chorus of sun-catching rainbows and raucous cheers. The timeless saying may assert that blood is thicker than water, but as Grandson demonstrated, the bonds of music may be the most tenacious of all.
Sublime With Rome (a Sublime spinoff headed by Rome Ramirez and with a focus on Sublime songs) were certainly some of the weekend’s greatest crowd pleasers. With a rock-heavy set that focused on feel-good beats and spirited energy, dusk fell amidst smiles and heads nodding in rhythm. Tens of thousands idly munched at their dinners – including everything from loaded fries to cartons of ramen noodles to lobster mac ‘n’ cheese – while Sublime With Rome enticed them. It was so easy to listen to, and a mixture of cerebral visuals and comforting vocals made this a perfect transition from evening into nightfall. Planes overhead mixed with cerulean lights made the entire set feel like something from a multidimensional music video.
Foo Fighters were the final headliners on the impressive and expansive Sonic Temple billing. This show was particularly special as the band was still fresh in its return from the devastating and untimely death of drummer Taylor Hawkins approximately one year prior. There were countless shirts offering tributes to Hawkins in the crowd, and there was also incredible support for newly announced drummer Josh Freese. The set also paid care to material that was nostalgic to the Hawkins era of the band, as well as including a medley of covers that officially introduced Freese as the new drummer of the band. David Grohl was just as kind and charismatic as the reputation that has long preceded him. With a two-hour closing set, Foo Fighters sincerely impressed, and left tens of thousands of satisfied concertgoers cheering for more long after the encore.
Sonic Temple 2023 was nothing more than a veritable success. Tens of thousands streamed through the doors of the Historic Crew Stadium across four days, thousands more shored up for four nights of camping, and Columbus was flooded with cross-country and international travelers. There was cheering, crowdsurfing, moshing, and even marriage proposals amidst internationally famous acts performing their sets. DWP has once again delivered nothing short of sonic excellence, and has paved the way for a successful return of Sonic Temple in 2024.
Special thanks to Samantha Buckman for her writing contributions to this article.