Day 2 of the first annual Exit 111 Festival in Manchester Tennessee turned bright and sunny after a chilly drizzly morning. By the time the music began just before 1 pm, warm sunshine had begun to bathe the venue, offering a comfortable backdrop to the longest day of the three-day event. The sports bar had been open since 9 am and was filled with passionate alcohol-infused fans cheering on their various teams. The paranormal circus was such a massive hit that all the tickets for all remaining performances had been given away.
Graveyard from Gothenberg Sweden brought an international metal flair to the festival early in the afternoon on the Hell stage. Their heavy metal blues-drenched set included singles from their latest album Peace (“Please Don’t”) and popular tunes from their catalog, including “Birds of Paradise” and “Uncomfortably Numb.” Lead singer and guitarist Joakim Nilsson evoked memories of classic Blues rock singers from the '60s, while the band played a full metal jacket background. California rockers Fever 333 brought a much different sound to the main Heaven stage in the early afternoon. The young trio has garnered a considerable following in just two short years of live performances. The trio consists of former Letlive vocalist Jason Aalon Butler, former The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison, and Night Verses drummer Aric Improta. The band relies on recorded bass tracks. While Harrison and Improta played maniacally, lead singer Butler leaped about like a possessed madman. The group is the undisputed heir to Rage Against The Machine in both style and substance. Butlers' lyrics are geared towards social equality and activism of the underclass. The singer bantered with the audience almost politely on Saturday, offering up a dedication to the armed forces with a slight reference to all the people of color serving. The message was similar to one that Lynyrd Skyknrd had offered up in tribute to service persons the night before. But it was a toned-down Butler who has been known to rant fearlessly but social inequality in America in more urban settings. Whether the crowd at Exit 111 was absorbing the message or not, fans of the band went wild, crowd surfing and moshing en masse. Much of the time, Butler looked like a pro baseball player sliding into home play as he skidded across the front stage runway repeatedly. The band managed to cram a dozen original songs into an intense hour-long set that lead the crowd screaming for more.
On the third Rise Above stage, another California band was bringing a different genre of rock to the audience. The Los Angeles band formed in 2003 featured singer-guitarists Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley, drummer Sean Friday, and Bassist Chris Null. Dead Sara sweltered in the direct afternoon sun as technical issues delayed the start of the set. But once the group broke into their short set, the sun-bleached band and the crowding front of them came alive. The post-punk band exuded explosive energy, playing a ten-song set ending with a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s 'Sleep Now in the Fire.” The band returned for an encore of their most famous hit, “Weatherman.” Just across the field, Shaun Morgan and Corey Lowery from Seether were playing the first of several impromptu acoustic sets, delighting surprised fans.
Back on the main Heaven stage, Austin hard rockers Nothing More began a triumphant set just after 5 pm. After touring relentlessly over the last two decades, the band has recently come into the forefront of the heavy metal festival circuit. Their recent success is fueled mainly by the antics of former drummer turned animated lead singer Jonny Hawkins. Much like Fever 333’s lead singer. Hawkins leaped about the stage as a man possessed. His antics included licking a camera man's lens much to the delight of surrounding photographers and climbing his various contraptions created by the band. These include "The Scorpion Tail,” a mechanical structure built out of scrap metal and salvaged auto parts, weighing over 400 pounds and measuring 14 feet tall, looking much like its namesake. Hawkins rides the structure like a giant horse, while also using it to create digital electronic effects and percussions. The band tore through a 12 song setlist, including a cover of a Skrillex tune “First of the Year (Equinox). Other songs in the set included tracks from their new album “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” including “Let’s Go To War” and “Don’t Stop.” Nothing More is in the middle of a nearly non-stop national tour that may bring them their greatest success yet.
As the sun began to set and a chill began to form in the air, Blackberry Smoke took the Rise Above stage in front of a large crowd gathering for the final sets of classic rock, all scheduled on the same stage. Although the Altlanta group has been together for almost 20 years, they are one of the youngest bands to be the heirs apparent to the Southern Rock legacy. Channeling the genre from band like The Allman Brothers to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the group has made a name for themselves on the festival circuit and is also highly respected in jam band circles. One of Greg Allman’s last recordings was as a guest artist on the bands 2016 “Like an Arrow” album. An older crowd assembled in front of the stage for the performance and spread out across the vast green field in chairs and on blankets. There are no weak links in this five-piece group of veteran rockers. The lineup consists of Charlie Starr (lead vocals, guitar), Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), and Brandon Still (keyboards). An energetic Starr led the band in a pure rock onslaught with a well-received southern tinge. Keyboardist Still took the spotlight when the band played a Led Zeppelin cover woven into the middle of the band’s own song, “Sleeping Dogs”. The band played songs from their six studio albums, including “Six Ways to Sunday,” “Rock and Roll Again,” and “One Horse Town.” They also played a guitar drenched cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
Back on the main Heaven stage, as evening fell and concert-goers fueled by whiskey shots and gourmet food pushed towards the front packing tightly together, Gojira took over. The French heavy metal band brought another European flair to the festival and wowed the crowd with ear-shattering music, growling vocals, and pyrotechnics. Lead vocalist and guitarist Vocalist Joe Duplantier growled in his distinctive vocal style. The band played so loudly it felt as though the people in the front were having their internal organs eviscerated by sound waves. The band played in a maze of lights, fog, and explosive pyrotechnics. The singer's brother played drums maniacally. Lead guitarist Christian Andreu, and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie rounded out the fearsome foursome. The band has been together since 1996 but has recently garnered new popularity in the US after relentless touring. The group took advantage of the early darkness to create a multimedia extravaganza during their 11-song set.
Most everyone who watched the Blackberry Smoke set on the Rise Above stage held their ground for the next set by classic rockers Cheap Trick. By the time the animated band took the stage, the crowd had surged filling the whole surrounding field. Cheap Trick exploded on stage, opening with their hit song “Hello There.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers produced chart-topping hits through two decades in the 1970s and '80s, selling over 20 million records. The band, which has played more than 5000 shows, is known for its animated live performances and rock star onstage antics. The current tour features three of the four original members including, singer-guitarist Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, and bassist Tom Petersson. Charismatic lead singer Zander pranced about the stage in a sailing captain's hat, nailing the vocals and making contact with much of the audience in the front of the venue. The band mixed up the setlist, with several older deep cuts and a couple of newer songs added to the hit-laden mix. While Zander pranced about, guitar extraordinaire Nielsen played searing guitar riffs on multiple guitars while beaming wildly. The eccentric musician is on the top of many all-time best rock guitarists lists and plays an array of custom guitars, including the box-shaped Rockford Hamer and his signature multi necked guitar. The band jammed a couple of their well-known tunes showing their musical prowess, going far beyond the confines of the pop hits basic structures. The chemistry between Zander and Nielsen was undeniable, especially when they played some of the band’s biggest hits like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Dream Police.” Bassist Petersson got a chance to take the lead singing a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and playing a heart-thumping bass jam. By the time the group ended their set with hit songs “Surrender” and “Goodnight Now,” most everyone at the Rise Against stage was on their feet singing and dancing along to the well-known tunes.
One of the most anticipated bands of the second day of the festival appeared next on the main Heaven stage. The vast field swelled with spectators many laying out on blankets eager to see one of the most theatrical new Heavy Metal bands, Ghost. The Swedish band, which won the 2016 Grammy award for “Best Metal Performance” is the brainchild of lead singer Tobias Forge. The maniacal performer takes on the persona of masked demonic characters for each of his tours. His current persona is “Cardinal Copia.” The hard-rocking band is made up of what are called 'Nameless Ghouls’ who also wear demonic masks. Forge has mentioned in interviews that he was a big fan of the spectacular multimedia productions of Pink Floyd and uses them as an inspiration for his mind-bending stage production. The stage was set to emulate a giant cathedral, complete with an altar and a well-utilized runway, the same one that Fever 333’s and Nothing More’s singers utilized so well. Forge, and his bandmates took turns using it as well to dive deep into the audience with their maniacal metal stage presence. The band played some of their most well-known songs, including Grammy-winning “Cirice," "Rats," “Mummy Dust,” and closed the show with “Square Hammer.” Forge’s controversial, Satanic lyrics are anything but obscure on songs like “Marry on a Cross.” The show was terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time.
The classic rock crowd over at the Rise Against stage just kept growing as drooping temperatures had the large crowd huddling in blankets and jackets to stay warm. By the time ZZ Top took the stage for their closing set, the crowd had stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. The Texas blues-rock icons are in the middle of their 50th-anniversary tour, and for many older rock music fans, this was obviously the highlight of the day for them. The sound boomed all across the festival grounds attracting an even more massive crowd. Unfortunately, lead singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons struggled with vocals throughout the set sounding like he might be under the weather or just exhausted from the current tour. But fans of the band didn’t seem to care as the trio played the familiar riffs flawlessly and bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard filled in on vocals when necessary. The iconic trio more than made up with their stoic stage presence with precision musicianship on the band's biggest hits. The band opened with their signature Blues-rock masterpiece “Got Me Under Pressure.” Guitarist Billy Gibbons, Bassist Dusty Hill & Drummer Frank Beard mixed up their setlist to include their top hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin” interspersed with their bluesier tunes like “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Hit songs like “Pearl Necklace,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” and “My Head’s In Mississippi” had the crowd on their feet for most of the show. The set ended with crowd-pleasing hits, including “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” the latter complete with furry spinning guitars.
The Hell stage closed out with a heavy metal set by Atlanta Georgia rockers, Mastadon. The band which formed just before the new millennium has honed their skills with relentless touring, including being staples on the festival circuit. Each member of the group took a turn as lead vocalist with drummer Brann Drailor and guitarist Brent Hines doing the heavy lifting. The playlist included songs from all seven albums. The foursome played an hour-long 15 song set including “The Motherload," “Megalodon," “Crystal Kingdom," and ending with “Blood and Thunder.”
Temperatures began to drop racially by the time headliners Def Leppard to the main stage. Over the 90-minute set, the cold crept in until the thermometer started to fall into the '30s. Whiskey, smoke, beer, and blankets became the most precious commodities. The English rockers have sold over 100 million records since they formed in 1977 and were one of the first hair bands to break big on MTV back in the early 80’s. Since 1992 the bands line up has featured lead vocalist Joe Elliott, lead guitarist Phil Collen, bassist Rick Savage, guitarist Vivian Campbell, and legendary one-armed drummer Rick Allen. The band played their biggest sing-along hits that are still played in dance clubs today including, “Animal," “Too Late For Love," “Hysteria," and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” The show featured a massive multimedia extravaganza, including an homage to Las Vegas, where the band is about to take up residence with a nightly show on the strip. Vintage footage also honored the group's early days, including former guitarist Steve Clark who passed away in 1991. The band ended their set with two of their biggest hits, “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.” It was a testament to the band's allure that so many in the crowd braved freezing temperatures until the end of the set.