Blue Ridge Rock Fest 2021: Day One

Day One of Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2021 in Danville, VA… This was quite an event to wrap up! Four days, six stages, 150 bands and mounds of obstacles every step of the way for promoter Jonathon Slye. Was Blue Ridge Rock Festival a shit show disaster or a brilliant success?

We traveled from San Diego to Danville, which is not an easy task. Major airports are either a one to three-hour drive away. We really weren’t sure what we got ourselves into, but we are always down for an adventure. We flew into D.C. and did the touristy thing for a day before we made the four-hour drive down to Virginia. The closest hotel we could find was still an hour away from Blue Ridge Amphitheater. When we arrived at the grounds, it was quite a debacle. Yes, we could go into every detail of what went wrong, but let’s talk about what went right instead: people were EXCITED and HAPPY to be here. Metalheads together for four days! That’s why we were here. Walking by the line of cars, with you could hear music blasting, see people high-fiving and making jokes about all the chaos. There was one girl who made it a point to high-five everybody who was waiting in the car line; whether they wanted a high-five or not, they got one! We were instantly bonded with strangers. When we got through the gates, we had to wait a bit inside the gate for things to be set up. It was kind of like showing up to a party and the host wasn’t ready yet, so you awkwardly waited while they ran around in a frenzy, trying to get everything in order.

At this point, you don’t really care about the frills — we’re here, let’s have fun!

When we were finally given the GO, my daughter and Top Shelf Music journalist Kaiya went straight to the URW stage for the best spot to cover her fav band, Slaves (now Rain City). I went cruising around to figure out the stages and my game plan for the day. I’m a big advocate for going early. Go see the opening bands and you’ll be surprised at the talent! Everyone has to start somewhere. Who knows…? You might see the next Metallica and can say you saw them open way back when! Show your support. Most of them really appreciate it as they feed off the fans’ energy.  Many bands I had heard of or knew some of their music, but seeing them live gives me a completely different perspective and I become a true fan. 

Forever We Roam was the first band up on the Clinic Stage. I was on a mission and almost bypassed them, but they caught my attention, because they are young, talented and had crazy energy. Even being in that tough opening spot, they were crushing it! The band formerly known as Slaves has a pretty amazing story. I kept hearing their name in conversations as I passed by fans throughout the festival. Their songs reach down in your soul and say ‘I feel you, you’re not alone’. If you haven’t yet, check out the story behind their rebrand in Kaiya Vandemark’s article.  

P.O.D. hails from our hometown of San Diego and had a couple of celebrations during this show! Celebrating their 20th Anniversary of Satellite (their highest-selling album) and also celebrating another trip around the sun for lead guitarist Marcos Curiel, Blue Ridge fans sang “Happy Birthday” and Marcos was so generous to share his entire cake with the fans in the front rows… not sure if they ate it or wore it, because they had to catch it. 

Another band getting a lot of hype was Spiritbox.

I was told NOT to miss them. They are going to be big! Okay, okay, I hear that quite often actually, but let’s see. Courtney LaPlante is drop dead gorgeous and the blue hair suits her. She has this grace of movement to go with her angelic voice. Then, she digs deep and powerhouses these amazing growls and screams. I think people are right — Spiritbox is unique and moving up!

Testament’s setlist was made for us old-school fans, with “Souls Of Black”, “Disciples Of The Watch” and “Over The Wall”. They did play “Children Of The Next Level” off their newest album Titans of Creation that was released at the beginning of the pandemic, back in April 2020. I’ve been a longtime fan since 1991 and this is my personal favorite album, next to Practice What You Preach. Then, of course, they closed out their set with “Into The Pit”. 

Walking from stage to stage to capture and experience as many bands as possible, the vibe was just pure gratitude to be together. Concert shirts, battle vests, costumes… it felt good to be home again. Even in long lines for food or merch, I didn’t hear people complaining; people were chatting it up with the person in line next to them. We met sisters Wendy and Kim, who are locals, living within a few miles away. They said the locals were happy to have this festival here. It’s only a few trying to mess it up for everyone. 

Lzzy Halestorm came out smoking hot in her little black dress and leather jacket, asking, “Ladies, is anyone else a ‘Freak Like Me?” I love that she pushes us to feel a little “Uncomfortable”, but also empowers us to be who we are as women and not be afraid to scream it loud! Breaking Benjamin kicked off their set with “Red Cold River”, which starts off sort of slow and then gets mad heavy! It was the perfect way to get people pumped! They are one of those bands I didn’t think I knew many songs, but then I found myself singing every song! They closed out Day One by playing the song we all know and love, “The Diary Of Jane”.

Although many bands did cancel at the last minute, we still were still running from stage to stage to catch as many bands as possible.

Jonathan Slye was pretty quick to fill spots with other amazing bands. It’s still a pandemic and shit happens. Whether it was COVID-related, a trailer falling off the hitch on a highway (that actually happened to Nonpoint) or visa issues… things just happen. We are metalheads: we roll with punches, pick each other up out of the pit and KEEP GOING!

I’m going to tell you BRRF has THE cleanest porta-potties I’ve ever seen at any festival EVER. They were on top of that shit! So, it was NOT a shit show! All festival-goers know this is HUGE deal! So, with everything that happened… we don’t care. The clean potties made up for it all!

We had a blast walking the longass trek on a dark country road after the show. Listening to the sounds of the countryside and tripping over random bras in the street after 12 hours of sun, dust and having the time of our lives, we looked like metal zombies in a movie. We chanted, sang the songs we heard all day and laughed about all the craziness that happened. We’re kept it all positive and were excited for what Day Two would bring!

Photography by Heather Vandemark

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Rachael Hodges
1 month ago

Perfect review of Day 1. I can not wait to see your pics from the other days. It was so nice meeting you and getting to rock out to Slaves/Rain City with Kaiya! The bands were simply amazing.