Photos by: Julius Richardson
Words by: Shadow Editor
Finally after months of anticipation, we got a chance to gear up and pack for 3 days of Rock and Metal in the south!!!. The site Manchester, TN, Great Stage Park sitting on a 700 acre farm, famously known for the Bonnaroo Music Festival which started back in 2002. That festival which has grown now to more diverse genres, has been a staple of music festivals in the United States, but something was still missing. A Rock and Metal festival especially geared towards those genres, that is what Exit 111 bought to the fold and why we we’re ecstatic to cover it’s first run this year.
For us having cover so many festivals here and around the globe; we looked forward to the experience, the camping, the meeting of friends from different parts of the country and the world for that matter. And most importantly with a heavy star lineup, and mixing a great style of metal and rock genres, this was a great setup as the ship for Exit 111 set sail Thursday for the first time in it’s existence.
We headed to the festival camp grounds afternoon to try to get good camp space, we got there with a hour or so wait in line to get into venue after the festival organizers listened to concert goers and asked to open the camp grounds 2 hours earlier then usual. Good idea if you showed up on Thursday, you got a closer spot to the concert venue. Weather wise the night is cool and after setting up our tent, we are ready to begin Day 1 at 4pm. We head to the “Rise Above Stage” to check out Bossier City, LA, Watermox. The band’s credits Dave Mustaine himself for guidance in their early years, as well as Mustaine’s son Justis.
The trio put on a good show, with tons of energy. It’s always a challenge to start things off early on in the day when concert goers are still trying to settle into the environment etc, but the guys I thought did a good job and performed with energy. The song “Headlong” premier the day before their performance and they played this song live as well, not bad at all, good band that has a solid future if they stick with their sound and evolve a little bit. Look forward to hearing more.
You know the band The Sword, well Kyle Schutt of same band, has his own solo band and we got a chance to check out a few of their tunes on day 1, another display of tight musicianship and well deserving of another festival spot next year.
We trek on over to the “Heaven Stage” for the first time today, and we witness Southern Rock’s and Nashville’s own The Cadillac Three. Front man Jaren Johnson plays it cool with the crowd, and with it’s southern roots and local fans base in attendance, they play very well to the audience. Tight songs like “Down To The River”, “Bury Me In My Boots” and “Whiskey” are some of the highlights of the set. If you get a chance to see them live, please do.
One of MGM’s favorite bands to cover is Kentucky’s own Black Stone Cherry, having covered them a few times in Huntsville and in the UK, the guys know how to put on a great live, energetic set no matter the audience size or venue. They bring it each and every night. Today was no different as they turn the “Hell Stage” over to the jive and hard rock southern twang they are known for, and the audience loves it. Even with rain coming down, they steam through their set to show once again why they are one of the best young Hard Rock bands in the business. Favorites cuts “Me and Mary Jane” and “Family Tree” always great to hear live. Great turn our for their set, one of the better ones of Day 1.
One of my personal bucket list bands to see live was going to be the great Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society, what an honor to see their blistering set at the Hell Stage. Zakk in his customary kilt came out to a roaring crowd and from minute one started shredding away to reinvigorate the night. It was getting cooler but this set was hot as hell. The whole set was fire, but the numbers that stood out for me we’re “Suicide Messiah”, “Stillborn” and of course the wonderful tribute to Dimebag and Vinny “In This River”, what a great set one of the best of the whole festival!!!
Up next we head over to Heaven Stage again, as Anthrax was ready to truly blow a lid into the Manchester night and the crowd for that matter. Coming late to the festival lineup as they are here replacing other Thrash legends in Megadeth, due to Dave Mustaine’s recent cancer scare, these guys waste no time getting the pits ready and the bodies start flying in no time. Course “Caught In A Mosh” literally shakes the earth on this cool evening, and the mosh pits go from insane to berserk. What great energy and to think these guys are still kicking ass all these years; a long time since their inception in 1981.
Joey B still kicks ass live, wasting no time and getting to the point, on every song. Scott Ian with his typical aerobatics always brings tons of energy. And your Anthrax classic on the menu today we’re “Madhouse”, “Antisocial” and “Indians” of course executed with aggressive appeal that only the boys from NYC can bring.
I quickly sprint over to the Hell Stage to not miss Killswitch Engage, another band that are survivors of the Metalcore scene. The guys have evolved through the years and have managed to keep a niche fan base and has served them very well. Their latest offering “Atonement” has received very good feedback, including from our outlet and as we spoke before their set with bassist Mike D’Antonio, he was keen to point out they love what they do, they still do it because of undeniable chemistry and as this set would have it, he was right on point. For being such a cool cat to talk to, Mike was an animal on stage. Check out our interview with him later on.
Some of the most intense tunes came via “The Crownless King”, “Beyond The Flames”, “I Am Broken Too”, The Signal Fire” and they end the night with a cover from Metal legend Dio and “Holy Diver” what a set and one worthy of main stage next year if they get invited back.
Slayer has been touring relentlessly throughout the world as they are exiting stage left and calling it a night. This was reason alone to check them out as their last show in TN period. Almost 40 years is a long time for a band to keep doing what they do, and judging by the response from the audience this night, they wouldn’t want the Thrash Metal legends to leave just yet. We kept on hearing constant Slayer chants in our camp through the day , so many fans came from far away to check them out, they would not disappoint.
A 16 song setlist doesn’t do the band justice, even with classic cuts as “War Ensemble”, “Born of Fire”, “Seasons in the Abyss”, Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death”, the fans still wanted more. And as Tom Araya delivered another intense set, he stays behind on stage admiring the fans, the voices, the sounds, the energy they had created and left behind, as he tries to take it all in, you can feel it in his bones as he reminisces of what he will miss when they are done for good at the end of this year. Good job Manchester you brought it for this one.
But the night was not over yet as the main headliner for this Day 1 we’re the Southern Rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynrd. Without a doubt their influence ranges far and wide in the genre and speaking of bands calling it quits, the guys are putting down the instruments after this final tour. Labeled as “The Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour”, many here we’re no doubt there to watch Skynyrd one last time, and the “Skynyrd Nation” was in full attendance. “That Smell”, “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man” play to the crowd just perfectly, and of course the legends end the night with “Free Bird” a song that anyone who calls them self a rock fan should know. Yes the guitar solos did not disappoint.
What a Day 1, so much energy, so much fun, so many experiences and so many friends and different personalities all in one place, we end this tiresome day with some much needed rest as we prepare mentally and physically for one hell of Day 2.