Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2023 – This Could’ve Been Something Special
By: Mickey Renger – September 22, 2023

The annual Blue Ridge Rock Festival in Alton, Virginia at the Virginia International Raceway has come and gone. On paper, this was one of the best announced music festivals of the year, with heavy hitters like, Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, Shinedown, Pantera, Megadeth, Limpbizkit, and many more. However, Mother Nature had different plans for festival attendees and campers alike. This was the festival that everyone had been talking about for months, and should still be coming off that euphoric high, but that has been drowned out by the rumor mills.

The festival kicked off on Wednesday September 6th, with a special campers only pre-party. The nearly 25,000 plus campers that ventured from all over the country, got their campsites and RV sites all set up, and were greeted to music from Tantric, Burden Of The Sky, Nonpoint, 10 Years, and the first live performance in several years from Scott Stapp, the original voice of Creed. The crowd was energized, jumping up and down, and singing the night away. This was just the beginning, and the table was set for the rest of the weekend festivities.

Coming off the pre-party, everyone was amped and ready to go for Day 1. The nearly 50,000+ fans were wearing their favorite band’s shirt or scantily clad clothing (there may have been a men’s Speedo of two), lathered up in sunscreen, and about to bare the 90 plus degree heat with high humidity to see Five Finger Death Punch, Cypress Hill, Evanescence, Three Days Grace, Tech Nine, Rise Against, and about 30 more bands. The day started off with a bang with Michigan based band, Heartsick, firing up the Zyn Stage crowd. Vocalist Alphonso Civile jumped out into the crowd, started a most pit and crowd surfed while singing some of their hit songs. The festival was in full go mode with 4 different stages (Monster Energy, Famous Monsters, Smart Punk Records, and the previously mentioned Zyn), giving fans a multitude of options to view their favorite or the next up and coming band. The day was going great, with fans old and new rocking out to Kingdom Collapse, Kingdom Of Giants, Stitched Up Heart, CKY, Born Of Osiris, Vince Neil, and The Ghost Inside. It wasn’t until Highly Suspect ended their set and the start of Coheed & Cambria’s set, that it all took a turn for the bad. Out of nowhere, the sky just opened up, with 60 plus MPH winds, sideways rain, hail the size of marbles, and a tornado warning, that sent those 50,000+ fans to seek shelter immediately. After anxiously waiting a couple of hours, the all clear was given for fans to return, and for music to resume. Unfortunately, the night was over before it began. Although there was no damage to the stages, the remaining bands that were supposed to play had significant damage to their equipment, which prevented them from playing. The day that started off so great quickly turned into a sad ending with fans not being able to see the headliners.

Going into Day 2 there was a sense of reborn enthusiasm, after giving Day 1 a mulligan. Fans alike were salivating for main stage headliner, Slipknot, as well as Blue Ridge mainstays, Motionless In White, Sleep Token, Lorna Shore, Polyphia, and the return of Of Mice & Men. The day literally started with bible verses and a guitar from up-and-coming country-folk singer, Oliver Anthony. He played several songs, including his chart-topping hit, Rich Men North Of Richmond. After Anthony, fans were entertained with a lot of “kick you in the teeth” bands like, Angelmaker, Upon A Burning Body, Chelsea Grin, The Acacia Strain, After The Burial, Lorna Shore, along with U.S. festival newcomers Electric Callboy, as well as reuniting performances from Woe Is Me and Job For A Cowboy. The day ended with the band the majority of fans came to see, Slipknot. An endless sea of festival goers sang along to the band’s top hits and made them forget the inconveniences of the previous day.

The excitement going into Day 3 was very high, but unfortunately, was quickly washed away, literally. The hopes of seeing Shinedown, The Used, Megadeth, I Prevail, Papa Roach, and many more were dashed by another unexpected storm that started in the morning. Even though the rain had cleared by early afternoon and very little to no rain was expected for the rest of the day, the festival organizers and members of the Virginia International Raceway made the somber decision to cancel Saturday’s performances. They also stated that a decision on Sunday’s schedule would be announced at 5:00 PM that afternoon. As fans patiently waited for that announcement, it came with disappointing news that the rest of the festival was cancelled, as the rain/weather caused too much damage to the grounds.

As the disheartening news of the festival’s cancellation had circulated amongst the attendees, so did the rumor mill. Some fans questioned why the festival was being cancelled when there were no real storms forecasted in the area, which was to continue into Sunday. Others stated that it was because of a worker strike, and so on and so forth. Rumors can sometimes be the furthest from the truth. Fans have the right to be disappointed, mad, upset, etc., and coming from California, I am one of them, but I also know that unexpected weather can wreak havoc on festivals, as seen recently with Welcome To Rockville and Wacken Open Air. This festival was built on the “fan first” mentality, so know that the organizers are probably doing their best to rectify the situation. Although this wasn’t the ideal outcome and knowing this could’ve been something special, it gives us so much more to look forward to next year. See you in 2024 Blue Ridge Rockers!