Orlando Fl.(February 18th+19th)
Every year come February; thoughts turn towards the upcoming festival season. As much of the United States is either in a deep freeze or shoveling snow it makes perfect sense that thoughts turn towards warm weather and good music. This year though, the status quo has been challenged and changed. Hitting Orlando’s Central Florida Fairgrounds was a new two day hard rock extravaganza called HeartSupport Fest.
Besides the early in the calendar kickoff, there is much more that separates HeartSupport Fest from all the other events. At the center of every other gathering is the music. Fans come far and wide to catch their favorite bands. But this event, there is more to it. After touring for many years as the frontman to August Burns Red, Jake Luhrs had heard countless stories of adversity, abuse, addiction, and forgiveness. He decided to do whatever he could to help others when he founded HeartSupport. It is a non-profit organization that provides mental health resources and support to people in the music community. With the success of HeartSupport, Luhrs decided to take things up a notch and put together a music festival featuring many of his peers. As he said ”Our goal with HeartSupport fest is to create a high-energy festival experience and bring the mental health conversation to the forefront of the festival community”.
Over the course of the next two days, twenty three bands descended upon the fairgrounds. With an outdoors Amphitheatre in place and tons of room to set up a second stage, this was an ideal spot for the festival to be held. Of course it didn’t hurt that the time frame for the festival coincided with what is normally some of the best weather that Florida has to offer. This time of year provides sunny, dry, and warm temperatures instead of the hot, sticky, and storm filled weather that Florida sees much of the rest of the time.
With the motivation to put together a festival for his worthy cause in place, and an ideal location, it was time for Luhrs to hit up his friends in other bands to come to Florida and share in his vision. When he put out the call, the response was incredible. Naturally Luhrs band August Burns Red would be on stage performing. He also enlisted metal stalwarts like Memphis May Fire, Underoath, and The Devil Wears Prada. Of course there were also relative newcomers like Currents, Bloodlines, Silent Planet, and Prison. But it was the heavy hitters that really got everyone’s attention. Closing out their respective nights would be Parkway Drive and Rise Against.
The first day of the festival got off to a bit of a chilly start. While most Floridians found the mid sixty degree weather starting the day a bit chilly, all those that traveled to the festival found the temperature and sun to be great respite from winters unruly bite. As the festival grounds rapidly filled up, merch was quickly snatched up and fans made a beeline to the coveted spots at the rail. While it’s not unusual for the early bands to have a small crowd, this would not be the case. Between the desire to support the cause that HeartSupport represents, and the fans insatiable appetite for live music this was the perfect way to kick off the festival.
As with all festivals there are usually multiple stages and HeartSupport made things easy on everyone’s walking shoes with two stages. The main stage was named the BetterHelp stage, and the second stage was the Hot Topic Foundation stage. These choices fit perfectly with the theme that Jake Luhrs envisioned for the festival. Hot Topic Foundation’s goal is to change lives by increasing access to mental health programs and music education. BetterHelp’s goal is to make therapy accessible, affordable, and convenient so anyone who struggles can get help anytime anywhere.
Finally at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday the festival began at the Hot Topic Foundation stage. Bloodlines out of South Texas had the honor of getting the party started. The Christian hardcore/metalcore played a tight twenty minute set. While most first bands at a festival play to a small crowd as most people are just getting to the festival, or they show up for the bigger bands, this wasn’t the case today as the band had a solid enthusiastic crowd. This really made for a great start to the festival as everyone really seemed to enjoy Bloodlines, and the band definitely loved the energy from the crowd. When their set finished up almost immediately at the Hot Topic Foundation stage Currents came on. Having toured with the likes of Parkway Drive and Memphis May Fire, this metalcore band is rising in popularity with their latest single “Remember Me” getting airtime on SiriusXM.
As the early bands all had the same short time slot, things quickly shifted back to the other stage. Up next all the way from Glasgow Scotland was Bleed From Within. These guys absolutely slayed it. Their power was on full display and the crowd really loved it. Head banging and singing along at the rail was everywhere and just behind them circle pits erupted. Clearly, this band picked up loads of new fans after their intense performance. Next up at the BetterHelp stage was He Is Legend out of North Carolina. This would be the last of the bands playing a short twenty minute set. While they have elements of metalcore to them, they also combine the sludginess of grunge, groove metal and even some southern rock. Singer Schuyler Croom was the picture of intensity as he was frequently facing the side of the stage giving everything he had into each song. During their set Croom let the audience know that he had gotten sick the previous night but was still excited to be performing at the festival. While he may not have been feeling well, you couldn’t tell as he and the band sounded great.
Asd the first day went on bands such as The Word Alive, Comeback Kid, The Devil Wears Prada, and Memphis May Fire took their turns wowing the crowd. Whether it was Memphis May Fire belting out fan favorites such as “Misery” or “Make Believe”, or Andrew Neufield, the lead singer of Comeback Kid diving off the stage to hang at the rail with fans, the action as well as the music was non-stop. The final band to close out the Hot Topic Foundation stage was Underoath. With a full hour to work their magic they pulled out all the stops and the energy they brought to the stage was palpable. They clearly brought the biggest crowd to that stage, and it was a sea of crowd surfers throughout their set.
The day was down to the final three bands of the night, and they would all be at the BetterHelp stage. The first of the three was August Burns Red. For those that aren’t aware, the band is fronted by Jake Luhrs, who is also responsible for bringing the festival to life as well as the founder of HeartSupport. As with every performance that August Burns Red gives, they brought it hard. Luhrs is about as intense a front man as there is. With the smoke machines working overtime it just added to the intensity of the performance especially when Luhrs was on the center stage riser in a power stance giving his all into his mic. The penultimate band of the night was Dance Gavin Dance. This was one of the most eclectic bands of the night. They combine genres such as jazz, emo, progressive rock and post hardcore. They also use two singers Jon Mess and Tilian Pearson to handle clean and unclean vocals. They made the most of their stage time fitting in fan favorites such as “We Own The Night”, “Uneasy Hearts Weigh The Most” and “Synergy”.
The final band of the first day was clearly a band that was on everyone’s must see list. Coming all the way from Australia was Parkway Drive. Due to a host of reasons including the pandemic it had been quite a few years since they have been back to this country for a tour. Indeed this crowd was pumped up for their set. They kicked off their show with their latest single “Glitch”. There was no questioning it, they sounded fantastic. Hits like “Vice Grip” and “The Void” had the crowd fired up. In one of the most daring things of the day, the band said they had autographed setlists for the crowd surfers. Once that was announced, waves of people rode over the top of their fellow concert goers to grab their prize. Without question, Parkway Drive put on the best performance of the day and were more than worthy of the last spot of a stacked day.
With the first day of the festival in the bag, there were no doubts that this day was a wildly successful one. With no problems to be found, great performances by all the bands, and excellent weather what more could anyone ask for? Oh ya, one more day and that everyone was definitely going to get.
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It’s now Sunday, the second day of HeartSupport Festival and people are streaming back into Central Florida Fairgrounds for round two of face melting action. As for the weather, just like the music things heated up and it got a bit toasty out. So seeking shade and staying hydrated was now on peoples check list. If everyone thought they could ease their way into things, that would be a negative ghost rider. The line up for this day started with an unmerciful buzz saw of bands. Leading the charge was Prison, then Silent Plant, and Harms Way. While each band had their own style, they all shared one thing in common, intensity. Which they all had in spades. When Jake Luhrs put this festival together, he sure knew what he was doing with his selection of bands.
One of the coolest band to play on the BetterHealth stage was ’68. With just two members in the band, they feature Josh Scogin on guitar and vocals and Nikko Yamada on drums. Their sound is a mix of punk rock and noise rock. There’s no question that this duo is highly entertaining. They face each other as they play almost as if they are trying to bring out the best of each other, and it works exceptionally well. Besides singing, Scogins has a wry wit about him and is not afraid to crack a few jokes and make the audience laugh too. When they launched into the Beastie Boys hit song “Intergalactic”, it was one of those doubletake moments that you weren’t sure you were hearing right at first. After letting it sink in, you realize that they are doing a damned good job with it, and it sounded incredibly cool. In keeping with the different genres theme that seems to be the schedule, pop punk band Four Years Strong, emo/post hardcore band Hawthorne Heights, and SIlverstein followed things up respectively.
Senses fail was another band that put on a highlight show. Over their half an hour set they gave everyone a heaping of songs off their first album Let It Enfold You including the two singles it spawned “Buried A Lie” and “Rum Is For Drinking Not Burning”. But the real fun part of their set was the wild medley of songs they saved for the end. When they broke out into the System Of A Down classic ‘Chop Suey” the crowd went nuts. They then transitioned into the Disturbed song “Down With The Sickness”, followed up by Limp Bizkits “Break Stuff” and finally Rage Against The Machines “Bulls On Parade”.
But it was Spiritbox that that completely blew the crowd away as the last band at the Hot Topic Foundation stage. Since exploding onto the scene on the strength of their first big hit song “Holy Roller”, this has become an act that everyone has been dying to see. When their time slot finally arrived, everyone had crowded to the stage. They kicked off their set with one of their hits “Circle With Me. Everything that you know and love about the band was on full display. To hear lead singer Courtney LaPlante sing in beautiful ethereal voice and then like a switch being flipped go into a deep demonic growl is total ear candy. As talented a vocalist as she is, her band mates are her musical equals. Guitarist Mike Stringer along with bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer Zev Rose all form a highly potent unit.
Up next was a band that was on everyone’s radar, The Ghost Inside. Since their well-publicized bus accident and the pandemic, the opportunities to catch them live has been few and far between. For many, this was the act they had traveled all the way to Florida for. Over the course of their hour on stage, they laid it all out there. The intensity that they put into their performance was second to none. Singer Jonathan Vigil belted out the lyrics powerfully, and of course the rest of the band was at the same level. In keeping with the theme of the festival, Vigil spoke about the accident and in its aftermath he struggled with depression and urged the crowd to take advantage of resources like HeartSupport.
The final band of the night and festival was Rise Against. Under a sea of red lights the band made their way on stage and launched into “Re-Education(Through Labor)”. Their melodic hard rocking sound on this number covers up the bite of the punk rock heart of the lyrics. They also went back into their catalog aways for “Like The Angel” giving their fans a taste of their melodic punk side. Tim Mcllrath’s vocals were on point and the rest of the band were equal to the task. In one of the cooler moments Mcllrath grabbed an acoustic guitar and performed “Swing Life Away”. With the crowd singing along during the choruses it was one of those magical moments that make live music so memorable. They ended the night with a three song encore capped off by “Savior”.
To say that HeartSupport Fest was a success would be an understatement. Jake Luhrs should be commended for the job he did putting this together. Every band put on non-stop killer performances. While this is oh so important to a festival, the message that HeartSupport and Luhrs wanted to deliver was equally important and delivered exceptionally well. As Luhrs has said “There is power in music and power in community. We’re grateful for the opportunity to bring to the wonderful city of Orlando, Florida our favorite artists, and you, our friends and fellow fans”. After two days, everyone person there was equally grateful for this festival and hoping that next year everyone will be back for year two.
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