Inaugural EXIT 111 Festival Brings Slayer, Anthrax, Deftones, Killswitch Engage, Gojira and Others to Tennessee

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Mastodon – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

The inaugural EXIT 111 festival, held this past week in Manchester, Tennessee offered fans of heavy music in the U.S. one final chance to mosh with one another outdoors before the winds of winter move in for a spell.

Hosted on the same stages as a little festival you may have heard of called Bonnaroo, EXIT 111 offered fans some of the same experiences as Bonnaroo, such as the opportunity to experience a bevy of sublime live performances as well as a myriad of unique activities not directly tied to music to partake in.

EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

EXIT 111’s first foray into the music festival universe, however, ultimately came across much differently than its distant cousin Bonnaroo, or for that matter, the event’s much closer relatives such as Aftershock, Epicenter and Louder Than Life.

To properly put EXIT 111’s hits and misses into context it’s probably best to measure both the positives and the negatives most fans likely walked away from the weekend discussing amongst themselves.

Alter Bridge – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

One of the most roseate takeaways from EXIT 111 had to be how easy it was for attendees to park, camp and gain entry to the festival grounds.

Before this fact is dismissed as being insignificant, it would be apt to point out that the extreme difficulty and time consumed by fans attempting to accomplish these basic tasks has ruined more than a few music festival experiences in recent years.

Should anyone need to be reminded of this fact, simply go back and read some of the reviews of this past May’s inaugural Epicenter Festival held in North Carolina.

Gojira – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Countless attendees and critics lambasted Epicenter’s organizers for not being able to provide fans with the ability to simply park their vehicles and gain entry to an event that they had paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to attend.

Anyone that walked onto the festival grounds at EXIT 111 this past week must have felt an immense sense of relief in not having to wait in seemingly never-ending lines to use the restrooms or to simply grab a quick bite to eat.

Killswitch Engage – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

The freedom to traverse the festival’s grounds without restriction additionally granted attendees the gift of being able to more easily move from stage to stage without having to fight through thousands upon thousands of restless bodies in order to do so.

A direct consequence of this condition’s existence was the fact that many fans were likely able to take in a few more artist performances they otherwise may not have been able to enjoy had the festival grounds been more difficult to navigate.

Some of the less positive takeaways from EXIT 111 were mostly tied to what felt like somewhat of a lack of excitement and energy throughout the festival grounds over the course of the entire weekend of music.

Nothing More- EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

The lack of overall electricity in the air at EXIT 111 may have ultimately been a direct result of organizers deciding to host the festival a mere few weeks after the more established Louder Than Life festival took place only one-hundred & seventy miles away in Louisville, Kentucky.

Most fans simply do not have the bank roll to attend multiple weekend long events that between tickets, lodging and other travel expenses put an unhealthy stress on families’ wallets, let alone two similar events occurring within just a couple of weeks of one another.

Power Trip – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

It’s also worth noting that the big “get” or “draw” in terms of the EXIT 111’s headliner was the exact same headliner that had played less than two-hundred miles up the road only two weeks’ previous as well, Guns n’ Roses.

Many fans that choose to make a considerable monetary investment in music festivals such as EXIT 111 do so because they are seeking out an experience that goes beyond just seeing a few of their favorite bands play mostly truncated sets.

Regular festival attendees crave transcendent experiences that provide them the opportunity to relive the event in their minds over and over again as they go about drifting across the landscape known as their daily lives.

Fever 333 – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

Large crowds have never and will never make for a more exciting music festival experience. However, it’s the fervor and histrionics a mass of a like-minded souls are capable of generating that often can have a considerable impact on a festival’s buzz worthiness.

The ardor these tuned up crowds produce often bleeds up to the stages the artists are performing on, which in turn, can directly lead to these same artists delivering the kind of larger than life sets that fans go on to talk about for years to come.

EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

For what it’s worth EXIT 111 simply lacked many, if any, of those kind of superlative moments. Instead the festival’s most resplendent moments were isolated to several excitable performances by a few of the event’s more established acts as well as a select number of bands that are still in the early stages of making a name for themselves in the world of rock music.

Early performances on Friday were highlighted by sets from three acts that are all on the rise. Louisiana’s own Watermox kicked the weekend off with their blend of straight ahead rock and roll fused with elements of thrash on EXIT 111’s Rise Above stage.

Black Label Society – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

It was hard not to take notice of the influence one of Watermox’s mentors, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth fame, has had on the band.

Edgy with more than a few doses of over the top lead guitar work, Watermox left both a healthy impression, as well as quite a few smiling faces, on the early arriving EXIT 111 crowd.

Two acts similar in musical structure and influence followed on the Heaven and Rise Above stages respectively in the forms of The Cadillac Three and Bishop Gunn.

Both bands bled their southern rock and even country roots sensibilities into their sets, with each also drawing a fair share of their own hard-core fan bases.

Killswitch Engage – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Each band went on to deliver sets that had fans moving and shaking throughout, however, it was the Cadillac Three’s performance that seemed to resonate more with the audience while also coming across as a bit more genuine and less forced than Bishop Gunn’s time on stage.

The remainder of Saturday’s performances were buoyed by some of heavy’s music most endearing acts such as Anthrax, the Zakk Wylde led Black Label Society, Killswitch Engage and the almighty Slayer, making their final ever state of Tennessee performance (allegedly).

Anthrax – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Anthrax played somewhat of a short set that leaned heavily on some of the fan favorites that helped serve to make the New York thrashers household names.

Songs such as “I Am the Law,” “Antisocial” and set closer “Indians” likely had many Exit 111 attendees having lucid heavy metal flashbacks to their childhoods.

Scott Ian and company leaned on their unrivaled stage energy and presence versus any noteworthy stage bells and whistles to carry their time on the Heaven stage.

This was likely a wise choice as it helped fans connect with the band more easily while also leaving the fire and brimstone pyrotechnics to southern California legends, Slayer.

Anthrax – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt delivered the same type of set, in terms of both scope and song selection, that they’ve delivered throughout the vast majority of Slayer’s dates in recent months. Thus there weren’t any significant surprises in terms of Slayer’s actual performance at EXIT 111.

The band sounded as tight as ever and the sheer amplitude and abundance of pyrotechnics Slayer employed more than likely had nearly every fan within ear shot of the Heaven stage captivated from the first notes of “Repentless” to the final chords of “Angel of Death.”

Slayer – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Perhaps the most curious takeaway from Slayer’s set at EXIT 111, a festival primarily rooted in heavy music, was that Lynyrd Skynyrd would actually go on to close out the Heaven stage on Friday night.

This decision came off as a curious one at best by the festival organizers. Although additional “legacy” rock acts such as ZZ Top and Cheap Trick also played EXIT 111, those bands were all relegated to the festival’s secondary stages.

Slayer – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Araya himself seemed to take note of this as at one point during Slayer’s set the frontman made reference to how the band was a bit confused as to what time slot they were to actually supposed to play.

Lynyrd Skynyrd are legends in their own right, even though the band these days can only lay claim to one original member, band founder and bass player Gary Rossington.

The issue with Skynyrd’s headlining night one of festival was that the entire weekend was primarily titled toward fans of heavy music.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

The consequence of Lynyrd Skynyrd headlining the Heaven stage to bring Friday’s music to a close was that they ultimately ended up playing to a thinned out crowd that had a good deal of the energy and excitement sucked out of it due to Slayer and Killswitch Engage playing directly ahead of them.

Thus night one of EXIT 111 ended a bit anti-climatically and with a little less buzz and energy festival organizers and attendees probably expected and or even deserved.

Lamb of God – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

Day two of EXIT 111 offered fans much more to chew in terms of noteworthy live music performances.

The early slate on Saturday saw acts such as New Zealand’s Alien Weaponry, crossover thrash outfit Power Trip, the politically charged Fever 333 as well as the pride of San Antonio, Texas, Nothing More, deliver sets many fans would likely say were worth the price of admission alone.

Alien Weaponry have been showered with praise from critics globally, they’ve toured with industry legends such as Ministry and they’ve already played on the stages of iconic metal festivals such as Wacken Open Air and Download.

Lamb of God – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN – October 13, 2019

Those would all be a career’s worth of achievements for most metal bands, Alien Weaponry, however, are just getting started.

Continuing to tour on their Napalm Records debut, 2018’s , Henry and Lewis de Jong along with bassist Ethan Trembath, literally shook the Heaven stage to its core with a brief but absolutely bone crushing set.

Although the band counts metal royalty such as Metallica and Lamb of God as inspirations, Alien Weaponry’s sonic palette  sways much more closely to the tribal thrash featured heavily on Max Cavalera‘s final record with Brazilian legends Sepultura, Roots.

Any fan of heavy music should expect big things from Alien Weaponry in the near future as they may very well be the next young band to go on to influence the world of heavy music for decades to come.

Ghost – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

Not to be outdone on any level whatsoever, crossover thrash metal heroes Power Trip were the next act to take Saturday’s EXIT 111 performances to another level.

Riley Gale and his Power Trip bandmates absolutely eviscerated the crowd that had gathered for their early afternoon set on the Hell stage.

Despite playing what seemed to be a fairly short amount of time, Power Trip’s sheer force of will, chemistry on stage and rebar strong connection with their fans helped to propel the Dallas, Texas area thrashers to one of the weekend’s most ruckus and for lack of a better term, fun sets of the entire weekend.

Mastodon- EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

The three-piece musical whirlwind known as Fever 333 were next up on the Heaven stage on Saturday and much like Alien Weaponry before them, the band had the crowd spinning out of control from the moment they hit the headlining stage.

Whether you personally buy into the political undertones of Fever 333 as a band is likely a matter of personal choice as well as what motivates you to take action outside the confines of the walls of music festival.

No matter how you feel about the aforementioned condition Fever 333’s exotic mashup of punk rock and hip hop combined with the threesome’s commanding stage presence always make for an interesting live environment and their set at EXIT 111 did absolutely nothing to discount this notion.

Def Leppard – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Bouncing from stage end to stage end both lead singer Jason Aalon Butler and guitarist/bassist Stephen Harrison had the EXIT 111 crowd in the palms of their hands throughout their entire time on stage.

Saturday afternoon’s warm up sets came to a close with a feel good set from San Antonio, Texas rockers Nothing More on EXIT 111’s Heaven stage.

Although Nothing More’s music doesn’t necessarily offer fans anything that can be considered a curveball, the band always manages to do a few things that most other rock outfits simply cannot.

EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

First and foremost Nothing More continues to write and record catchy rock anthems that resonate with fans everywhere while also always delivering live performances that make audiences feel as though as they are part of something bigger.

Lead singer Jonny Hawkins, who nearly fell at least twenty feet from atop the giant siren he was attempting to helm at the beginning of Nothing More’s set, was a whirling dervish of energy and attitude throughout the band’s time on the Heaven stage.

Nothing More also endeared themselves more to the EXIT 111 crowd as well or more so than any other band that played over the weekend, a fact that probably wouldn’t surprise a single one of the band’s long time supporters.

Slayer- EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

Saturday night belonged to several of the weekend’s more high profile and prominent acts in the form of Gojira, Mastodon, Ghost and Def Leppard respectively.

French metal outfit Gojira took the EXIT 111 crowd on an auditory and visually mind bending musical journey through some of the bands more well known songs Saturday night.

Anyone that knows Gojira’s music and their live shows should be familiar with the ferocity the band attacks any stage with, their technical prowess as musicians as well as the myriad of multi-media stage bells and whistles they employ that make the their live production one of the most unique concerts any fan of heavy music could ever hope to bare witness to.

Alter Bridge – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

EXIT 111 attendees who weren’t Gojira fans prior to their set couldn’t have possibly walked away from their time on the headlining stage without at the very least being impressed, if not inspired, by the band’s performance.

Shortly after Gojira finished up Saturday night Atlanta, Georgia area sludge and experimental metal heroes Mastodon went onto hypnotize the masses over at the Hell stage.

Much like Gojira before them Mastodon brought along a visual presentation with them that featured some of the most intense and quite frankly, frightening, visuals any heavy music oriented band is deploying these days.

Mastodon – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

Mastodon’s recorded music is so layered and complex that by nature it lends itself to the type of trippy visuals and live show experience many fans at EXIT 111 most assuredly got lost in.

Next up on main stage on Saturday night were one of the most controversial acts in all of heavy music today, Sweden’s very own Ghost.

Led by Tobias Forge and his band of Nameless Ghouls, Ghost continues to prove that metal has and will continue to have a place in the world of music for eons to come.

Ghost – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Despite all the crazy things written about the band, at the end of the day Ghost really aren’t anything more than a sublimely talented group of musicians lead by a gifted song writer, producer and performer in Forge who possesses more talent in charisma than just about any other human or ghoul on planet earth today.

Although Ghost’s set at EXIT 111 lacked some of the earth shattering explosions and pyrotechnics their typical headlining shows are notorious for, their time on stage was nothing short of bewitching.

Ghost – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Believe it or not the primary factor that helped elevate Ghost’s set at EXIT 111 was of all things, the fans. This point is of particular interest as high levels of fan intensity were something that was missing for almost all of the festival’s inaugural weekend.

The energy the audience brought to the table and as importantly, how Ghost responded to it in kind, helped take what could have been a fairly by the numbers festival set to a much a higher plane of existence.

Night two of EXIT 111 featured a closing set by Joe Elliot and his band of brothers in Def Leppard. Again a misstep may have been made by festival organizers by not having a more modern era band such as Ghost headline night two.

Def Leppard – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Much like the previous night before where Lynyrd Skynyrd ended up playing to a much more toned down and thinned out crowd following Slayer’s set, the same condition popped up on again Saturday night.

It seemed many of the fans that had gathered in droves to witness Ghost perform on the main Heaven stage earlier Saturday evening had chose to either head over to see ZZ Top close out the Rise Above stage or a fairly large contingent of them simply left the festival grounds before Def Leppard ever performed.

Def Leppard – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

In no shape or form should this be considered a knock on Def Leppard’s performance at EXIT 111. Despite the obvious use of backing vocal tracks (which most fans don’t seem to notice anyway) the band delivered a playful and transfixing set that featured most of the hits that made the boys from England a global phenomenon back in the 1980’s.

EXIT 111’s final day of music on Sunday turned out to primarily be a mixed bag. However, early afternoon sets by rising stars such as Nashville’s Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown as well as Los Angeles’ Dirty Honey were probably two of the most noteworthy performances from the entire weekend of music.

Gojira – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Despite both bands playing to somewhat sparse crowds Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown and Dirty Honey both gave ample hope to those lucky enough to witness their respective sets that the future of old school rock and roll rooted in the blues may not be as dead as some would like to believe.

Randy Blythe and Lamb of God likely dropped the heaviest set of the entire weekend late Sunday afternoon despite the fact the band had been relegated to the much smaller Hell stage to perform.

This came across as probably another misstep by festival organizers as Lamb of God’s performance and the destructive energy the crowd wielded throughout the band’s set would have likely been a better fit for the main Heaven stage.

Lamb of God- EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 13, 2019

The two final noteworthy performances of the weekend belonged to California’s Deftones and the one and only Guns n’ Roses.

Any long time Deftones fans in attendance at EXIT 111 must have been thrilled with the Sacramento, California rocker’s set as Chino Moreno and pals leaned heavily on the past with charged up versions of fan favorites that included “Rocket Skates,” Knife Party,” “Diamond Eyes” as well as a soul crushing and heart thumping take on set closer “Headup.”

Deftones – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Axl Rose, Slash and the legendary Guns n’ Roses were the final band to take to the EXIT 111’s stages on the festival’s inaugural weekend.

Although the band sounded superb while performing a twenty-five song, nearly three-hour set list, the performance came off as kind of flat and lacking the kind of energy and excitement a three-day festival headlining set should bleed.

Again this condition’s existence seemed to have far more to do with the fact that the crowd at EXIT 111 had drastically cleared out over the course of Sunday afternoon more so than anything else.

Thus by the time Guns n’ Roses hit the Heaven stage to close the weekend of music out, the band ended up playing to a much smaller and definitely more wore out headlining stage crowd than they likely anticipated.

Killswitch Engage – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

EXIT 111’s inaugural effort would have to be considered successful on more than a few levels, however, the disappointing fact was that these triumphs were primarily tied to things not directly associated with the event’s musical performances.

Many fans who attended EXIT 111 this year likely felt more safe and less annoyed than any other music festival they’ve ever paid their hard dollars to gain entry to.

Ample credit should be giving to the organizers and the event’s countless volunteers for making EXIT 111’s overall conditions ones that other music festivals should attempt to replicate in the future.

However, EXIT 111 festival organizers and promoters should also likely take into consideration moving the event date next year so that it does not bump up against Louder Than Life so closely.

Slayer – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

Although only a handful of the same acts played both events you simply couldn’t ignore the lack of buzz and excitement across the festival grounds throughout the entire course of the weekend.

The somewhat tepid environment was likely tied to the fact that Louder Than Life had just occurred two weeks ago on a site that was less than two-hundred miles from the EXIT 111 stages.

Again fans can go and see any band in any venue near the home towns and walk away with the typical concert experience.

Die hard festival goers, however, plunk down good money to experience events that leave them so mentally and physically exhausted that they end up talking about and reliving those experiences for years to come.

Anthrax- EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 11, 2019

For the most part EXIT 111 simply wasn’t able to live up to these aforementioned expectations.

Instead EXIT 111’s inaugural run ultimately came across more as a series of truncated one-off performances with not nearly enough of those performances likely to leave many long lasting impressions.

To be fair EXIT 111 is in its infancy and like all children, festivals such as EXIT 111 will experience their fair share of growing pains.

Here’s to hoping organizers make a few subtle changes next year that help ensure EXIT 111 is one of the most talked about music festivals in the Untied States for years to come.

Gojira – EXIT 111 – Manchester, TN (USA) – October 12, 2019

All Writing & Photography: Robert Forte

Instagram: 40_photography https://www.instagram.com/40_photography/

Written by Robert Forte

In addition to my outlet writing & photography contributions I serve as a gear photographer for Banker Custom Guitars, Collings Guitars & Elixir strings. I've provided tour photography for bands such as Anthrax, Royal Thunder & the Marcus King Band. My photography has appeared on major label record releases and it's also been used by high profile bands for tour merchandise & promotion.

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