Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2023 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, VA

Blue Ridge Rock Festival returned to southern Virginia for its sixth year, only to have the four-day event cut short due to extreme weather.

Entering its sixth year, Blue Ridge Rock Festival held the impressive title of being the largest rock and metal festival in North America. With less than a decade in the festival game, BRRF’s lineup continues to grow each year, becoming more and more impressive as time goes on. It is known as the festival created by the fans, as the festival organizers do involve the fans in the decision-making of what bands are asked to play. This close connection with the fans has always been impressive and meaningful. Based on popular vote and demand, the headliners for the weekend were set to be Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, Shinedown, and Pantera.

Five Finger Death Punch were set to headline the first day of the festival. Comedy metal band Psychostick helped start the festival off with their silly antics, a perfect way to get the crowd moving in what was already sweltering heat. Performing crowd favorite “Numbers” (but affectionately referred to as “I Can Only Count to Four”) showed just how eager the crowd was to be there, as they moshed their way through the silly lyrics.

Metal act Vended came out with such force that, once again, the crowd could not be contained, even in the intense heat. Vocalist Griffin Taylor showed that although he has many similarities to his father, Corey Taylor, he also is absolutely capable of holding his own. The crowd was captivated by the intensity of their set and despite the heat feeling heavy on everyone, it was not enough to keep the festival-goers from staying in place.

Despite starting almost 15 minutes late, due to Vince Neil’s set going longer than planned, metalcore band The Ghost Inside absolutely annihilated it on stage for the impressive crowd that continued to grow by the minute. It was around this time that everyone in attendance was hoping for some sort of reprieve from the intense heat that was continuing to grow to an unhealthy index level.

Little did anyone at BRRF know that Highly Suspect would be one of the last bands to perform on that first day. The rock band from Cape Cod further energized the crowd and kept the momentum going for what would have been an eventful first day.

However, shortly after their performance, the skies darkened and rain began to fall. At first, everyone was thrilled at the welcomed break from the sweltering heat, as the rain helped cool off not only the temperature but the bodies of those out in it. Sadly, Mother Nature went a little too hard in the pit and what started as a welcomed pop-up rain event turned into something incredibly dangerous. Complete with hurricane-like weather, festival-goers were met with intense winds, thunder and lightning, and even hail. This continued long enough that the event was put on hold until the weather passed. Signs went up at stages with video boards saying severe weather was approaching and to exit the festival grounds immediately to seek shelter. Although the weather did eventually pass and the nighttime acts were willing to go later into the night, it was disclosed that several bands found significant damage done to their equipment, making it impossible to play. The rest of the Thursday lineup was canceled. 

The second day of BRRF was the only full day to take place. With Slipknot headlining on this day, everyone was hoping the day would be able to reach completion. Luckily, Mother Nature was still resting from the day before and allowed the day to continue without any delays. 

Crown The Empire helped kick the second day off with their energetic performance. Even with an earlier set time, it was truly a sight to see just how many festival-goers packed around the stage during their performance, complete with crowd surfers.  

Deathcore band Chelsea Grin absolutely obliterated their set, riling up the crowd to open up the pit for endless moshing. Even with it being earlier in the day, the heat was already laying it on thick, but that didn’t stop fans. Luckily, security would spray the crowd with water to help cool things off so they could go back to thrashing about.

Metalcore band Catch Your Breath showed the crowd just why several of their songs have gone viral on TikTok recently. Even during the hottest part of the day, the crowd continued to sweat it out while rocking out with some of the band’s most loved songs.

Of Mice & Men took the stage to perform their first show in 1,313 days and fans showed their enthusiasm by moshing their way through the set. There were several songs performed that were live premieres, including newly released singles “Castaway” and “Warpaint.”

As if the firepower from the bands earlier in the day wasn’t enough, Knocked Loose managed to summon an endless stream of crowd surfers and bottomless will to thrash about. They opened and closed their set with brand new songs “Deep in the Willow” and “Everything is Quiet Now.”

Electric Callboy’s performance was not only one of the wildest but also one of the most (if not the most) hyped-up performances. This was their first time performing in the United States in roughly a decade, and the crowd was absolutely riding the Tekkno Train into the rowdy station. 

Sleep Token’s performance was an absolute experience with the crowd absolutely eating up every bit of it. It doesn’t matter that the band is shrouded in mystery, all the crowd cared about was taking part in such an ethereal performance. Those in attendance went absolutely feral for the alternative band. Even those who were merely curious about the act were left understanding just why everyone seems to be in love with the group. Their performance at BRRF also happened to be their largest North American show to date. 

Motionless In White brought even more heat with them as they took the main stage with their impressive use of pyro. Always a crowd favorite, MIW put on one explosive performance. Despite the intense heat from the day wearing on everyone, those in the crowd were able to move past the drained feeling and were revitalized the second MIW took the stage. 

Closing out the second day, and what would end up being the entire festival, was Slipknot. The crowd was absolutely packed; when looking out into the sea of people, there was no empty space in sight. Although on a smaller stage than they were used to, Slipknot absolutely crushed their performance. It also happened to be drummer Jay Weinberg’s birthday, which was highlighted during their set with a special happy birthday serenade from the crowd. The entire set was the best way to close out the only full day of the festival. 

Unfortunately, the events of the weekend were cut drastically short after only a day and a half of actual festival time. On top of the dangerous conditions that took place the first day of the festival, the rest of the weekend called for even more rain, as well as similar weather to that Thursday. Although the sun came out on both Saturday and Sunday, leaving festival-goers wondering why the event could not continue, it was apparent that due to what had already taken place, it would not be advisable to continue. 

The heartbreaking events of the festival are still being felt by all in attendance. Whether a festival-goer, a crew member, or even an artist set to perform, it was apparent that everyone felt the sting of the weekend cut short. At this time, Blue Ridge Rock Festival is set to return in 2024 for another year at the Virginia International Raceway. 

BLUE RIDGE ROCK FESTIVAL
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About Gretchen Smither 11 Articles
Gretchen is a central Virginia based photographer. Her passion for concert photography started by bringing her point and shoot camera to shows and getting as close to the stage as possible for some decent shots; after doing that for several years, she realized she wanted to pursue a more professional route. A concert is one of Gretchen's favorite places to be, so you can usually catch her capturing those moments and then rocking out to the show.