The premier rock festival, Download, returned to Donington Park for its 20th year, branded as Download20 for obvious reasons. This year’s festival boasted a lineup that catered for all types of musical tastes within the rock genre. As well as having veteran headliners Metallica and Slipknot grace the hallowed turf once again, there were also first-time headliners, Bring Me the Horizon to try and inject some freshness into the headlining slots.
After reading about the traffic chaos on Wednesday and Thursday, we were expecting the worst upon arrival on Friday, but thankfully there was very little traffic on the roads, the only issue was that all the car parks were full despite having paid for a parking pass in advance.
Upon arriving at the allocated car park, the security person just looked at me and stated, “you will be lucky to park here”, at which point I realised that was as much assistance as I was going to get. So, a swift turnaround from the car park and a sweltering drive into the middle of nowhere to park up in a piece of wasteland that hopefully was linked to Download, but with no signs to clearly inform drivers, it was potluck if my car would still be there upon my return.
So, with the unpleasant surprise of parking further away, it also meant that the bonus prize of having to walk a lot further to get to the arena in the glaring, uncomfortable heat was all mine. Catching sight of a walkway that clearly stated “guest and press” I thought my marathon walk would be over soon, but how wrong could I have been? Security stepped in my way and stated, “you can’t go that way”, at this point I gave a puzzled look and asked “Do I need my eyesight checking? Because that sign clearly states ‘guests and press’. The kind security person explained to me that the sign does say that, but they have been told not to let guests or press through that way. At this point I almost turned around to head back home as I could not fathom such twisted logic. But the thought of seeing such an incredible line up of bands made me stay for the torturous hell that is the walk to the arena.
Whilst plodding towards the main arena entrance, one kind security person saw that I was pouring in sweat and struggling with the heat, and they kindly stated, “you should have brought some water”. No kidding sherlock. As they took a nice big gulp of their bottle of water.
Whilst queuing to get into the main arena, it was impressive to see that the security facilitating the searches were trying to be friendly whilst doing the pat downs thoroughly.
Once in the arena, we were greeted with a gigantic wheel fair ride, at £11 per ride, and having to share with strangers at peak times, there is no doubt it would be a great view from the top, however the thought of sharing with random strangers put me off.
The sheer size of the arena this year was breathtakingly majestic, in the distance the main stage, then to the right the Dogtooth stage and on the lefthand side the Opus stage (second open air stage), and in the far distance the Avalanche stage.
The amazing thing about Download is that they have such an incredible line up, so if you are fed up with the established bands always being at Download, there are plenty of other bands that you can go and listen to. The decision was made to trundle over to the Dogtooth stage and catch some bands who I haven’t ever had the chance to catch live.
Brutus drew a large crowd for their set of post hardcore music, they appear to have quite a following and the crowd clearly knew the words to “What have we done” and “War”. Brutus provided fans with a short but punchy set of six songs.
Due to the heat, it would have been wise to have stayed in the cool shaded Dogtooth stage tent, but the thought of missing Within Temptation was not an option. So, into the burning sunshine for a little walk to the Opus stage to catch Within Temptation, who didn’t disappoint, from the first notes of the set opener “Our Solemn Hour” it was a masterclass in how to deliver a live performance, they even had time to squeeze in a tribute to people fighting in the Ukraine war during “Raise your Banner” by waving a Ukrainian flag throughout the song. As expected, vocalist Sharon den Adel still has such a powerful voice that she can keep fans mesmerised by her incredible range of vocals. They closed their set with ‘Mother Earth’ with a measured dose of pyrotechnics (just what we needed on one of the hottest days of the year, more heat).
The Opus stage was then set for the appearance of Evanescence, and this was a bad decision to have Evanescence on the second stage, the size of the crowd was overwhelming to the point of nearly being crushed, not to criticise the organisers of Download too much, but Evanescence should have been on the main stage judging by how tightly squeezed-in the audience were. The setlist consisted of a good mixture of new and old songs. Unfortunately, Evanescence has that issue that no matter how good their newer material from “The Bitter Truth” is, the real crowd pleasers were their big hits from their debut album “Fallen” such as ‘My Immortal’, ‘Bring me to Life’ and ‘Going Under’ which thankfully were included in the set. A truly wonderful powerhouse of melodic rock music.
Over on the Apex stage, it was time for Bring Me the Horizon’s inaugural main stage headline slot. Thankfully they did not disappoint. Starting with a Resident Evil type of intro and ploughing straight into “amEN!” with the obligatory pyrotechnic flames, they had clearly come with all guns blazing to earn their rightful place as headliners. “Teardrops” slowed the pace down a little bit, but the pace picked up once again with “The House of Wolves”. From here on in it was a high-octane performance, and BMTH proved to any doubters that they deserved their spot as main stage headliners. They even threw in a surprise with Amy Lee (Evanescence) joining them on stage for “One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be in Your Chest as You March Towards Your Death” and “Nihilist Blues”.
Other highlights of the four-day extravaganza, included witnessing Metallica draw one of the biggest crowds ever at Download. I hope someone somewhere managed to take a shot of the entire crowd, as it could quite possibly be a piece of Download history never to be repeated. Metallica lived upto their promise of two headline sets with no repeats.
As you would expect from such veterans as Metallica, it was a highly polished performance, and they still know how to press all the right buttons to make everyone in the audience feel part of the show. Fans were treated to a well-balanced setlist of songs from their new album 72 seasons as well as their older hits. But even 30 years after their release, stadium anthems such as “Enter Sandman” and “One” are always going to be crowd pleasers, and the inclusion of “The Unforgiven” and “Wherever I May Roam” was the proverbial icing on the cake.
The prices of food and drinks in the arena did feel extortionate - a normal-sized cup of Pepsi was £4, items such as a chicken wrap were £10.50, and items such as giant Yorkshire puddings with meat were around £10. But I guess having that many legendary bands on one event requires a lot of money and common sense would tell you that ticket sales alone probably don’t cover the cost of all those bands appearing. Hence the mark-up on the food. Even if you were lucky enough to remortgage your house to buy food, you still had to endure queues that were phenomenally long.
There were also anecdotal reports on social media that some vendors had deliberately over charged people on the contactless card machine. On more than one occasion when purchasing food and drink the vendor would quite often not show the amount so it was pure trust that they had keyed in the right amount.
Download always boasts a line-up that is to die for. And it would be difficult for any other festival to compete (especially in the UK). Despite the car parking issues - and to be fair, if I had nearly 90,000 cars coming to my area, there would be issues. Despite this and the cost of food and queues, there is something about Download that is special, almost magical, a rite of passage if you will. Maybe it’s a mixture of being in the same place as the old Monsters of Rock and knowing some of that DNA is embedded in Download. Or it could be as simple as being surrounded by like-minded friendly people that make it so addictive, as well as the incredible live music. Who knows?
There is certainly an atmosphere that is unattainable at other festivals. Let’s hope Download lives on for at least another twenty years, long live Download! I’m already counting down the days to 14th June 2024…
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Let's hope Download lives on for at least another twenty years, long live Download!