For another year, Download Festival returns to the ancestral home of Rock & Heavy Metal that is Donington Park Race Circuit.
This years much anticipated line-up sees Slipknot, Muse & Kiss all make their Headline bids to be part of Heavy Metal History along with such acts as Black Stone Cherry, Marilyn Manson and Enter Shikari on the two main stages.
One of the best parts of any festival is meeting up with friends and making new ones. As the arena opens in the Great British sunshine with the excitement and exuberance that only Download brings.
Now, the elephant in the room. This year saw Download become the first UK festival to use a Cashless system. It's been all over the news and was before we even left the house. There were glitches. But then again what would you expect with a new system in place trying to process almost 100,000 people for the first time? I know it's not much comfort for those who had issues, punters and vendors alike, but there were always going to be teething problems. If I'm honest, I didn't really use it. I met people who had had problems, I met people who didn't. I don't really know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. That's something that will be debated on Facebook, Twitter and just about every other form of Social Media there is.
Ultimately, it's down to the fans. I've read plenty of forum comments that loved it. Smaller queues, quicker service and a little peace of mind seems to be worth all of the drama suffered on the first few days for many. I'm sure there are detractors, but essentially, I don't want to spend an entire review debating a system, which if you think about it, is probably the way all major festivals and gigs are going to go. As for the facial recognition technology, I didn't see a single intrusive camera, an over-inflated Police presence or any major issues. The privacy debate is for more informed and learned people than I.
Back to bands.
The second stage was opened by what can only be described as a Haka. I couldn't really hear or see what was going on, as I was doing what most people seemed to be doing at that time, catching up with friends and meeting new ones. As the sun's intensity increased and the levels of drinking went up, the arena filled. Perfect mix for a Friday afternoon. As Rival State, Fearless Vampire Killers, and Blues Pills entertained the masses on the second stage, All That Remains, Hellyeah!, and the return of the mighty At The Gates on the main stage heated the already sweltering crowd. Anyone say “Warm-up” Lacuna Coil increased the pace in time for the brilliant Clutch with probably one of the best sets of the weekend followed closely by the always entertaining Five Finger Death Punch who yet again acknowledge the future fans of Heavy Metal by bringing on some young-un's. Of the three, the young girl in the middle seemed to be a little more excited than her fortunate compatriots, windmilling like nobody's business to “Burn Motherfucker Burn”.
The only thing about big festivals is the inability to see all of the bands you want to, due to clashes and well, some bands just being worth sticking around for. I'd like to have made it over to the tent to catch some of the great bands like Sylosis, and Dragonforce who got “gatecrashed” by fellow Japanese metallers Babymetal. However, Thunder were set to take the second stage. I've never seen Thunder in the dry at Donington Park, and right on cue, and as if by magic, the Download summer was officially over. The heavens opened and well, it was gonna be a wet one from here on out. Black Stone Cherry rocked out the second stage to a very wet, but happy crowd. Slipknot time. Despite the rain (Slipknot are another band I've never seen in the dry) the Iowans did what they do best, slayed it. Frontman Corey Taylor suggesting promoter Andy Copping should rename the weekend Downpour, Taylor, Sid, Clown, Mick et al ripped through new tracks and old. A packed, wet Donington Park went back to their tents happy.
Unfortunately, it kept raining... and raining... and raining...
Saturday promised to be a great day answering two major questions I had going in to Download.
- Was Marilyn Manson going to be good? I've seen MM before and was a lot disappointed.
- What is all the fuss about with Muse? Not really a fan, in fact I learned on the way up that I know more Kylie Minogue songs than Muse songs, but apparently they're phenomenal live.
But first, we must see what promises to be a great line-up despite the weather. After a belly full of bacon and a failed attempt to out-wait the weather, we make our way back to the arena in time for Apocalyptica, who never disappoint, Parkway Drive, Rise Against, Testament, Carcass, Body Count featuring Ice-T, and Faith No More. I was utterly gutted to have missed Crobot who according to everyone I met who'd seen them, said were amazing. I'd heard about them beforehand, but got caught up between having a natter and watching a row of amazing performances by the aforementioned bands.
Now, the dilemma, To watch Manson or Muse? I know, I'll watch a bit of Manson, hope he's a bit rubbish then I can excuse myself and go watch the Devon based trio on the Main Stage. However, Manson killed it. Literally. I've seen him before and always left feeling I should've left earlier. Not this time. Marilyn was on form and nailing all of the classics. I never thought I'd say this after previous encounters, but I totally forgot anyone else was playing. Luckily, after fighting my way through the crowds and mud, we managed to catch Muse's encore, which happily I knew some of. Fantastic if not soggy Saturday. Weather could've been better, but as far as bands go, quality afternoon in Leicestershire.
Sunday the sun came out!!!
For a while...
For me, today was all about 2 bands. Evil Scarecrow who I have been fortunate enough to follow for a few years now, and Suicidal Tendencies who I haven't seen in I can't remember how long. The rest was pretty much filler. Or at least that's how I thought the day was going to go. But first... To the tent!!!
If you missed Evil Scarecrow, you missed it, again. Fortunately, I've got a sneaky suspicion that you'll get a chance to see them again. Just a bit more outdoors. If anyone remembers how the third stage was when Steel Panther debuted at Donington Park, this has exactly the same feel about it. A band that's done it all on their own. No overnight sensation, they've been at it for years, but you'll be seeing them again on much bigger stages for many years to come. Blue Peter metal at it's finest.
Once I'd had my fill of Crab (ulon) it was time to see what else Donington Park had in store for me. Oh look, more rain. A slightly less offensive drizzle, but wet nonetheless. Three Days Grace, Godsmack, and Blackberry Smoke all played fantastic sets, setting the stage for a main stage afternoon of classics and goodbyes. Billy Idol followed by Slash got the dance/sing-along in full swing, while L7, In Flames, and Lamb of God brought something for the heavier crowd. Motley Crue said their Download goodbye and pretty much set the place on fire. They brought more pyro than I've seen in a fair few years at Download and they weren't even the headliner.
Kiss always bring fireworks. However, I couldn't help but notice how much smaller the crowd was than on the previous two evenings. While vocalist Paul Stanley proudly proclaimed they had the biggest crowd of the weekend, the wet and weary older crowd seemed to have heard enough and started to make their way up the hill. I think it's one of those things, whereby if you've seen Kiss before (back then) you were probably a little bit disappointed. If you hadn't seen them before, you probably thought they were brilliant. The debate between myself and my next door neighbour still rages on. However, for me, the festival weekend was punctuated by an outstanding performance from Suicidal Tendencies, old school, thrashtastic tunes and a brilliant “we're all in this together and nobody can bring you down” atmosphere surrounded by friends is for me, what the Great British Festival is all about.
Nobody's ever going to please everyone when it comes to putting on a festival the size of Download, however, it's not just about the music. It's about re-acquainting with old festival friends, making new ones and just generally enjoying yourselves. Everyone I met this year seems to have done exactly that. People had a good time, the crowd went home happy. For my money, if you're the promoter – job done. Well done again Download, see you again next year.
As a side note, after the festival had finished, 55 year old ShowSec employee Alan Stephenson was found dead in his tent. Everyone that goes to Download is part of a family, and from our family to Mr. Stephenson's – we mourn your loss.
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