The second weekend in May was truly one to remember for Metalheads on the east coast. Thousands gathered in the small city of Rockingham, North Carolina to attend the first-ever Epicenter Festival. Though the weekend was a rainy and muddy one, it was one that everyone in attendance would surely never forget.
The festival kicked off Friday afternoon on the Rockingham Dragway, with DED opening with a lively and exciting performance on the Sirius Stage. Luckily it was just before the first small shower of rain would hit. With their undead like appearance and true to the roots metal feel, DED gave fans at the Pine stage a set that would truly set the mood for the rest of the day. It was filled with high energy and exciting acts on stage.
After an incredible opening, a few short moments later a personal favorite band took The Pine Stage. This was possibly my favorite set out of the smaller Friday acts. The band was none other than Australia’s own, Hands Like Houses. This set was full of incredible energy and crowd connection and had a certain atmosphere to it. It felt as if it was more like being in a music video than at an actual show. During the final few moments of their set, Frontman, Trenton Woodley jumped off the stage and into the sea of fans. He was singing and crowd surfing to the song as the rain started to come down harder. The moment felt as if it wasn’t quite real because it was so perfect, making for a set that would be unlike any other to take the Pine Stage that Friday.
Across the festival grounds over on the Monster Stage, another exciting set was about to happen; one that would make fans feel as if they had stepped back in time to an old school rock ‘n roll show. Dorothy was next on the list of incredible artists taking the stage for the first day of Epicenter. The moment their set started, it felt as if you’d truly stepped back to an old rock show. From frontwoman Dorothy Martin’s eye-catching clothing that felt reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, to the strong and soulful vocals, the band gave fans a bit of a different vibe for a moment. One that was calm yet still as high energy and exciting as the harder, faster bands on the lineup.
Following up Dorothy’s retro performance, across at the Quarry Stage, a band I had personally been anticipating getting to see was fixing to take the stage. Skillet was one of the final acts before the headliners of the first day of Epicenter. Immediately I noticed the large crowd that had gathered at the stage; the massive sea of people all excited to watch the next set. With their undeniably strong stage presence and close crowd connection, Skillet delivered a set filled with an upbeat vibe and exciting pyro and theatrics. This here was the first set I had personally witnessed that day that had that headliner like qualities (such as the pyro) and I can honestly say, I was not disappointed.
As Friday had finally began to come to a close, we were down to the final three sets of the night. Three I had been excitedly waiting to see all day. Taking the stage as the sun began to set was Evanescence. I went into this set not quite sure what to expect, but what I ended up being a part of was truly something incredible. As the chilling and haunting vocals of frontwoman, Amy Lee, echoed across the crowd, the sky lit up in bright shades of orange and red while the sun set directly behind the stage. This was the perfect scene for the ending of the first day of Epicenter. With their energetic stage persona and of course, Amy’s theatrical and beautiful costume, fans were able to hear some of the band’s best songs live. Though their entire set was one to remember, it was the final song played that was truly unforgettable. Closing the set out as the sky went dark with their song “Bring Me To Life” made a moment that once again, had a feeling of time standing still. Hearing the fans sing along to every word of the song made it perfect.
Up next for the night was the one artist I had been excitedly waiting to see all day, Rob Zombie. He was fixing to take the stage and it was clear that everyone was just as excited as I was to see the iconic metal artist. There was a massive crowd that had flooded to the stage he would soon be gracing, and it felt as if the entire venue had gone over to this one spot just to watch the incredible performer do what he does best. After a few minutes of impatiently and excitedly waiting for the set to start, the lights went down and the words “Rob Zombie” started to flash on the screens. As the intro to “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” echoed across the now dark festival grounds, the lights went up in a bright red haze and there he stood. He was in his sparkle-like silver attire covered in tassels flying everywhere. He glittered on stage as he made his entrance, with his matching cowboy hat hiding his face for the most part. This was the best set of the night, and possibly of the entire festival. As each song progressed the energy built more and more, the crowd becoming more submerged in what it’s like to be at a Rob Zombie concert. With a set filled with songs like “Superbeast” and “Living Dead Girl”, along with a spectacular light show, fans were treated to the best Zombie had to offer. When the set began to come to a close, there was one song left for the Rob Zombie set, and he saves the best for last. “Dragula” was the final song of the incredible set, and it did not disappoint! Giving it his all one last time, the fans seemed to be completely in sync with this final song and took the opportunity to mosh and crowd surf as much as humanly possible in the final three minutes or so of the set. Honestly, it felt like the set flew by with how incredible it was, and truly made me want to experience it all over again for the third time!
Finally, after a long and slightly wet first day, the final set of the night was beginning to start on the Quarry stage. Korn was set to close out the evening! With the massive Rob Zombie crowd all seeming to move to the other stage, fans excitedly awaited for the last amazing set to close out the first night perfectly. Opening the set with “Falling Away From Me”, Korn set the bar high for a close outset, one that was filled with the strongest energy and crowd connection I had seen all night. With their chilled on stage presence, and their ability to connect with their fans with ease, it was practically impossible to not enjoy this set! Filled with multiple fan favourite songs like “Rotting In Vain” and “Coming Undone”, this set was one that took you back in time to the prime time of 90s metal. And man, was it an amazing thing to experience! As they quickly moved through their set that was filled with spectacular performances, moshing, an insane amount of crowd surfing, even a wall of death or two, it created a hell of an encounter. We were down to the final song for Korn, which was one I’m sure everyone was excited to hear and see performed live. Closing out the first night of the inaugural Epicenter festival, “Freak On A Leash” echoed across the venue. It was hard-hitting performance and had an insane light show to go along with it. Although everyone was surely exhausted from the long day, fans gave it their absolute attention as the classic, and somewhat defining song of the rock genre, played across the crowd.
Though day one had been one filled with clouds and rain, it ended on an incredible note with all of the lively and talented artists who took each stage out there.
Spring forward to Sunday, and it’s time for the final day of the inaugural Epicenter Festival in Rockingham. As the dark rain clouds lingered above the venue, many of us were concerned the show would not begin, but to our surprise and delight, it did!
Kicking off the day over on the Sirius stage was a band I was very excited to finally see live, While She Sleeps was the first band on my list for the day, and wow! Truthfully, there couldn’t have been a more badass opening set! Kicking off the cloudy day with their high energy style, one that reminded me very much of those Warped Tour sets I’ve been missing this whole summer, it was truly a different kind of performance from the other bands that had played the days before. One thing that did stick out to me about their set however, was the insane amount of crowd surfers that went the entire set! I was honestly quite shocked at the amount, but enjoyed watching so many fans, some of which were also my friends, jam out as hard as they could to this one band’s set!
Immediately following up While She Sleeps on the Pine stage was yet another personal favorite and a band I had been waiting to see again since last November. Boston Manor took the stage soon after, carrying on that same exciting and high energy performance from the sister stage but in a very different way. Though Boston Manor was a softer, more pop punk band on the lineup, they still gave fans an energetic and exciting performance! The one song in particular that made their set so special was their performance of “Bad Machine”. With it’s dark beat and deep lyrics, the song had an emotion and energy to it that made time fall away making fans soak in every word and every sound.
Progressing through the day, it was time to head over to the Monster Stage to shoot another artist who wasn’t exactly heavy, but was one I had been excitedly waiting to see all weekend. YungBlud, an incredibly talented rapper who mixes the feeling of both rap and pop punk in his music was finally bringing his amazing energy and crowd connection to EpiCenter! It seemed like everyone was excited to see what it was like to be in the crowd for one of his sets. Whether you knew who YungBlud was or not, it seemed as if many came to watch the set out of curiosity, and I can’t imagine anyone who did so was disappointed! With his unique look (which consisted of a women’s silk nightgown and a fishnet top underneath) and fun, upbeat stage presence, YungBlud brought yet another Warped Tour like energy to the show and I absolutely loved it nonetheless.
Heading back over to the Pine Stage one final time, there was one last pop punk band that would be taking the stage for the last day of Epicenter. Movements was next on my list and I was extremely excited to see them again. Sticking with those true pop punk genre roots, Movements gave the crowd a slower pace set yet it was still just as lively as the others who had played before them. I listened and watched as a band I had been lucky enough to see and photograph once before take the stage and do something that I found beautiful; bring their crowd and fans together. As I listened and watched, I noticed in the mix of all the crowd surfers and fans singing along two young ladies up in the air. Their arms were draped across one another as they sang happily along to the words of the song “Daylily”. It was this small moment in their set that made me understand their connection with their fans, and their ability to make everyone listening to their music smile.
As the day had started to come to a close and we began to roll into the final few hours of Epicenter, it was time to catch a bit of a heavier act. Killswitch Engage was my next stop and this was one of the most unexpected impressive sets I saw that entire weekend. They opened the set up on a very strong note with one of my favorite songs, and one that is definitely a bonus to pro wrestling fans, with “This Fire”. This was a high energy and heavy set filled with moshing and crowd surfing. Throughout their entire performance, every member of the band had a massive smile on their face, obviously excited to be on stage and to be playing. As I watched their set progress I couldn’t help but see and feel their connection to their fans growing stronger and stronger with each song being played. This was undoubtedly the best and strongest crowd connection I had seen the entire weekend.
Immediately following the Killswitch Engage set, the band I had been waiting to see all weekend and the biggest reason I wanted to come to Epicenter, was about to dominate the stage as one of the final headliner sets of the first ever Epicenter festival. As the sun began to set, the UK’s own, Bring Me The Horizon, was taking the stage. A massive crowd had rushed around The Quarry Stage to catch the band. Their theatrics differentiated then from any other artist who had played the entire weekend. They had incredibly talented dancers, the occasional fire popping up on the stage, and every member in eye catching outfits. Frontman Oliver Sykes was dressed in a red suit with “Mantra” themed patches, as well as a creepy, robot like contact in one eye. They played a mix of songs off their new album, as well as many off their previous ones, giving fans a chance to hear a mix of everything they loved from the band. As the sun continued to set it lit up the sky around us in beautiful tones of pink and blue. During the performance of their song “Drown”, everything seemed to freeze and I just wanted to stop and soak in every detail of what was happening around you. Oliver’s voice was echoing across the crowd as fans crowd surfed in massive waves while the sky turned a dark shade of blue with bright pink and purple tinges in it. The crowd sang along in sync to the beautiful lyrics. Some were even holding lighters and flashlights in the air as others cried at the beautiful moment. Though this was in fact a rock show, it was this small moment that took my personal spot as the best set of Epicenter.
As the sun had finally fully gone down, there was a bit of a lighter, and softer set happening across the grounds. 311 was now gracing the stage, bringing a completely different genre to Epicenter. They were drawing a large crowd of their own as the fans let go with the happy, up beat reggae band. Their bright energy and easy going sound made it was easy for the crowd to let loose in a totally different way than they had for any of the heavier artists out that weekend. I loved the mix up of genres that the festival had with this headlining spot. As 311 brought a very lively and laid back set to the end of the weekend, things on the Monster Stage came to a close one final time. This signaled it was now only moments until the most anticipated set of the weekend. Closing out the Festival with a massive 2 hour long set was none other than the great Foo Fighters!
Though the crowds had been massive for the majority of headliners all weekend, the crowd for Foo Fighters decimated all the others. It truly felt as if everyone had came to watch this massive set take place. As the crowd impatiently waited in the darkness in front of the Quarry Stage one last time, they started to chant “Foo Fighters” back and forth, showing just how excited they truly were to see such incredibly talented musicians take the stage. After at least ten minutes of the crowd chanting, the lights went up on the stage and the long, exciting set was finally starting. Opening the set with “All My Life”, the crowd instantly erupted in some of the loudest cheers I had heard the entire weekend expressing just how excited everyone was for the massive two hour set! This performance seemed insane and maybe it was due to the massive crowd that gathered to see the last band play, or the insane amount of crowd surfers, or how genuinely happy and excited all the members of the band looked up on stage. Their was no doubt every member truly enjoyed being on stage and performing for their fans. With a huge 22 song set, fans got to enjoy the incredible band even longer than they would have at any other show or festival. Though most artists and fans would say a two hour set was a bit of overkill, there was absolutely no doubt from anyone in attendance that Foo Fighters pulled it off fantastically! The set was filled with songs like “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”, “My Hero”, “Walk”, and “Best Of You”, The band kept that same exciting and fast pace energy rolling the entire set, showing that they truly could rock the night away with ease. Though this set lasted the longest out of any of the others that happened that weekend, it seemed like it went by the fastest. Closing out the long music filled weekend, Foo Fighters and the crowd gave it their all one last time to the most perfect ending song they could have played,“Everlong”. Fans sang in sync as the crowd surfers came in waves, showing just how exciting an ending song could be, regardless of how tired you may be.
Even though it was a bit of a rainy and unpredictable weekend, Epicenter truly gave fans an incredible festival experience filled with exciting music, some surprises here and there, and some pretty unforgettable moments. I honestly cannot wait to see what future versions of this exciting festival hold!
Machine Gun Kelly