The inaugural Epicenter Festival that was held in Rockingham, North Carolina earlier this month was, to most, a major success. Others will disagree, pointing out flaws in traffic congestion for the first two days and the Day 2 headliners, Tool and Judas Priest, among others being canceled due to severe weather. Which I agree was a little inconvenient, but when you understand anything can happen during a festival, especially a festival’s first year as well as a new venue, you take it as it comes. Although there were a few hiccups throughout the weekend (nothing major that would warrant the degree of dissatisfaction that a lot of individuals have expressed) the majority of the festival-goers got their money’s worth and really enjoyed yet another amazing weekend hosted by the Danny Wimmer Presents crew.
Day 1 held several incredible performances along with shining sun and mostly clear skies – the perfect festival weather. To kick off the weekend, we enjoyed the Hellzapoppin’ Side Show hosted by “The Govna” who treated us to several grotesque acts from a variety of “different” performers. “The Govna” first displayed his fire-swallowing act and later, for our viewing pleasure, shoved a running drill into his nose and back out again. What a nice guy! Soon after, the crowd got to meet Short E. Dangerously, a man (or the torso of a man, rather) who is dubbed “The Human Applause Meter” as he supports himself on his hands and raises himself higher and higher as the crowd gets louder and louder. Next, the world-famous Lizard Man, who you may have seen in Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and Guinness World Records, graced the stage and showed us the meaning of “The Human Corkscrew” where he took a long corkscrew and inserted it into his nose. With a couple twists, the end of the corkscrew emerged from his mouth and there before us was a man with a corkscrew snaked through his skull. Unfortunately this was all of the show we got to see as it was getting time to catch our first band of the day, Black Coffee, at the Pine Stage.
Black Coffee set the tone with their powerful, bluesy vibe along with frontman Ehab Omran’s piercing vocals tearing through the festival grounds. These guys would eventually make my personal list for one of the top bands of the entire festival. Soon after the guys from Black Coffee finished their set, our pals in DED took the Sirius XM Stage and made it their own for the duration of their 30 minute time slot. One look out in the crowd during DED’s set, one would be able to spot the Pope, a pillow fight, and a circle pit as well as other bizarre characters and goings-on, but one would also see the Pope in the middle of a pillow fight IN a circle pit. Yeah, you’re bound to see anything at a festival (or at a DED show for that matter). Although 30 minutes doesn’t sound like much, DED made sure to use their time wisely and pack as much into their set as they could, bringing out tunes like “Hate Me”, “Rope” and “FMFY” before finishing up with “Anti Everything”.
For our third band of the day, Arrested Youth brought their signature chaotic live show as frontman Ian Johnson engaged the crowd both from the stage and from the barricade. Arrested Youth kept the energy pumping and the crowd moving as they powered through their set, including songs like “My Friends Are Robots”, “Black X White”, and “The News”. Across the venue on the Monster Stage, Amigo The Devil brought an acoustic dynamic to the festival that really contrasted (rather well) with the other bands and artists we would hear that day. His impressive blend of storytelling and guitar work really kept the crowd engaged as well as entertained as songs like “Cocaine and Abel”, “If I’m Crazy”, “Hungover in Jonestown”, and “Hell and You” captivated the massive crowd and more than likely turned a few new people on to the Amigo The Devil sound.
To bring thing back up a little, the Quarry Stage is where you would find Hyro The Hero preparing to kick things off with a vengeance. From the first note, the energy had totally shifted back into high gear as the band blasted into “Locked, Loaded, Ready” and followed up with “Never Back Down” and “Live Your Fuckin’ Life”. Hyro The Hero’s blend of alternative, hip hop, metal, and punk brings forth another dynamic to the festival, giving a little something for everyone – and it showed. The crowd jumped, moshed, and sang along throughout the set until the end as Hyro The Hero wrapped up with “Devil in Disguise”, “Get the Fuck Up” and “Bullet”. Our next band to catch, Zeal & Ardor, really stole the show offering up yet another dynamic commonly missed at music festivals – Black Metal…Well, sort of. Zeal & Ardor’s sound consists of elements from Black Metal, Blues, Gospel, and Soul. Frontman Manuel Gagneux has been quoted saying the band’s sound arose from the question: “What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” and it really pours through their music. Perfect examples of this during their set included songs like “Servants”, “Come on Down”, and “Blood in the River” and the chants that accented songs like “Devil is Fine” and “Baphomet” brought on a dark vibe that paired with their sound and made Zeal & Ardor’s impact that much more. Remember my personal list of top bands during the weekend? These guys were at the top.
For anyone who has watched Beartooth live before, you know exactly how crazy it can get. When these guys take the stage, the crowds lose their mind and belt out in roars every word to every song. Epicenter was definitely no exception. As the guitars for the opening riff of “Bad Listener” cut through the venue, front man Caleb Shomo quickly corralled the crowd to sing along when the first lines of the song hit. The circle pit opened up and the crowd roared along, “You say my vision’s not a vision at all/There’s no degree in rock n roll/Say it’s a waste of time/Say I’ll never get a real shot/I’ll be bangin’ my head ‘til my brain rots” and when the riff hit, no one in that crowd was standing still. It was a mosh-filled, sweaty free-for-all and Beartooth knew they were in control. For the remainder of Beartooth’s time onstage, this was the standard. Everyone was moving and singing along as the band served up “Beaten in Lips”, “Aggressive”, “The Lines”, and “You Never Know” before ending with “Hated” and “In Between.”
A short break to grab a cup of the festival favorite, Island Noodles, gave some much needed hunger relief on the way to the Sirius XM Stage where Knocked Loose was gearing up to take on the anxious crowd. The Kentucky boys came out in full force, opening with “By the Grave” and “All My Friends” as the crowd shot their devil horns in the air and cheered along each time front man Bryan Garris questioned “North Carolina, how the fuck are you doing?!”. “Dead Ringer”, “Oblivion’s Peak”, and “Counting Worms” soon followed and the crowd started to come unhinged, gaining more and more movement in the pit until the guys ended the set with “The Gospel”. Knocked Loose definitely brought their A game and brought a taste of the hardcore scene to the Epicenter lineup, which was unknowingly much needed.
Upon completion of Knocked Loose’s time onstage, Black Pistol Fire quickly gained the attention of the hungry-for-more crowd. The duo brought the energy and showmanship of an entire band, but these guys proved all they need is a guitar and a drum kit to do the job. And do their job they did. Getting to see Black Pistol Fire play was one of the highlights of my entire time at the festival. To see them play songs like “Speak of the Devil” live is something I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard their bluesy, eclectic sound. Toward the end of the set, the crowd was treated to a face-melting solo from frontman Kevin McKeown that began onstage and slowly moved down onto the barricade on which McKeown was standing and then, without hesitation, McKeown jumps into the crowd, mid-solo, and continues to crowd surf while still ripping out a shredding lead. Now if that isn’t showmanship, I’m not sure what is.
As the sun was still high overhead, a massive crowd gathered at the Sirius XM Stage in anticipation for Swedish metal heads, Meshuggah. Now, I have to admit, I’ve only ever heard a couple songs in passing from this band, but this performance has made me a lifelong fan. From the first hits of the opening riff of the first song, “Born in Dissonance”, to the final roars of the crowd at the end of the last song, “Demiurge”, Meshuggah orchestrated total anarchy with their flawless execution of not only a show, but an absolute display of mastery. Although the first couple songs had a slight issue with the volume of the vocals being significantly lower than the rest of the band, it was soon corrected and the onslaught continued without hesitation as the band blasted through songs like “Future Breed Machine”, “Rational Gaze”, and “Bleed”. Meshuggah would also be a very close 2nd on my list for top bands of the weekend, for those keeping track. ?
Now, as I have previously mentioned, the Epicenter lineup was extremely dynamic and yet another display of the degree of which this is true, was when Evanescence graced the Quarry Stage after a band like Meshuggah just rattled everyone’s core. This isn’t to take anything away from Evanescence, though. Amy Lee’s superb vocal ability stringed along everyone within earshot and lured them to the Quarry Stage, dishing out hits such as “Going Under”, “Lithium”, and “Call Me When You’re Sober” before powering out “Disappear”, during which the band was joined onstage by Alice Cooper guitarist Nita Strauss who belted out a blistering solo, showcasing her amazing ability. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Evanescence show without “Bring Me To Life”, which would be the band’s last song before saying their goodbyes to the more-than-pleased fans in attendance. At the end of Machine Gun Kelly’s set on the Monster Stage, a rather large majority of the crowd migrated over to meld with the already gigantic crowd in front of the Quarry Stage, while others stayed put to secure their spot in the crowd for Korn. Over at the Quarry Stage, however, the lights darkened, the crowd roared in excitement, and the master of horror and the macabre himself, Rob Zombie, greeted the pulsating crowd with “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown”. This would only be the first of many smash hits that we would hear that night, as it was hit after hit throughout the night. Zombie followed up with “Superbeast” before a brief chat about how maybe some of us wish a UFO would come down and take us away because the current world we live in is so boring and repetitive. The perfect intro for “Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO”. A brief “intermission” ensued and Zombie had a little bit of banter with the crowd, yelling “If you wanna fuckin’ party say: ‘I wanna fuckin’ party’!” to which the crowd responded, sadly being subpar to Zombie’s expectations. He jokingly addressed the attempt, “If that’s how you fuckers party, I have nothing to do with it…..One more time, if you wanna fuckin’ party say ‘I wanna fuckin’ party’!” The crowd then heeded his instructions and roared back, “I WANNA FUCKIN’ PARTY!” prompting Zombie to respond, “Oh shit, I went to a festival and a rock concert broke out!”
Rob Zombie shouted, “This one here is for the ladies…Living. Dead. Girl.” as the intro for the fan favorite began, the lights darkened and when the riff hit, the crowd sang along to every word, jumping, screaming, and dancing to the music. The band treated us to even more hits including “More Human Than Human”, “In the Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High”, “Never Gonna Stop”, “House of 1000 Corpses” “Thunderkiss ‘65” and a mind-bending, awe-inspiring guitar solo from the legendary John 5 somewhere in between before breaking out the Ramones cover “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Zombie also unleashed another cover, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and finished his time at Epicenter with the fan favorite “Dragula”. With deafening cheers, claps, screams, and whistles, The NC crowd said their goodbyes to Rob Zombie and the rest of the band and ventured over to the Monster Stage where Korn was ready to close out the night.
Once the lights darkened for the final time on Day 1, the familiar rumble and main intro riff of “Falling Away From Me” hit and the festival grounds rattled with cheers and excitement as the band powered into the song with everything they had. Frontman Jonathan Davis had the crowd singing along with every word as the rest of the guys onstage rocked out and supported the energy that was flowing toward the crowd. Korn went on the assault with several heavy-hitters to follow up including “Here to Stay”, “Rotting in Vain”, “Y’all Want a Single”, “Make Me Bad” and “Shoots and Ladders” – which included a portion of the all-too-familiar “One” by Metallica. Once the boys finished up my personal favorite Korn song to hear live, “Coming Undone”, Jonathan Davis uttered a simple, “We’ll see you next time” and the band walked off the stage. The lights darkened and stayed dark, signifying the band would soon return to give us some more. After a few moments of darkness, the iconic Korn logo appeared on the huge video screen that hung behind the band, energizing the crowd even more than before. As expected, Korn emerged from the shadows and took their place on the stage once more, offering up “4U”, “Twist”, “Blind”, “Get Up”, and the ultimate Korn song, “Freak on a Leash”, that needed no introduction when the first notes rang through the venue. This would be the last song of the night, ending on an extremely high note and the perfect cap for Epicenter’s first day.