Louisville, KY (September 27-29)
What do you get when you combine one hundred twenty thousand plus crazed metal heads, fifty plus of the greatest hard rock and heavy metal bands in the world, and spread them out over a three day weekend? You get Louder Than Life the largest rock festival in America. Yes, with that attendance total this festival really is officially the largest rock festival! For this year the promoter, Danny Wimmer Presents, truly put on one hell of a show.
Traditionally Louder Than Life has been held at Champions Park in Louisville Kentucky. But last year due to the heavy rains from the remnants of a hurricane causing heavy flooding, ultimately for the safety of all the fans, the crews and artists, it was decided to cancel the festival. While this was disappointing to everyone, it was the wise move to make. Flash forward a year later, and a decision needed to be made, keep things the way they are and risk more flooding in a park that is prone to it, or make the bold move to start fresh in a new spot. The brain trust at Danny Wimmer Presents decided to start fresh and see if they could top what they’ve been doing in years past. So, the hunt for a new spot was on. As Louder Than Life has always been held in Louisville, they wanted to stay in the city that has embraced them. After searching for a spot that could handle a big crowd along with the infrastructure to handle an event of this magnitude, they found the Highlands Festival Grounds at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Situated near the airport, several major highways, and a plethora of hotels this spot is ideally suited for a massive crowd to get in easily from just about anywhere. If you were driving or flying, getting in and finding a place to stay was a breeze. From five star hotels within walking distance to cheap motels thirty minutes away there were plenty of choices for lodging for anyone that wasn’t local. On top of that, there was even a ton of camping available along with RV parking on the exposition grounds. The camping situation alone was a sight to see! Anyone who was driving alongside the festival grounds could see the mass of tents and people pumped up to see their favorite bands. So far, the promoters hit a home run just on location and places to put everyone that would be pouring into the city for the show.
As last years festival was rained out, all eyes were on the weather channel building up to Louder Than Life this year. Seemingly every festival this season was hit with at least one day of rain. So, between last year and what has happened so far this year, fans had plenty of jitters. One of the great things about the fall festival season is the cooler weather. Standing out in the hot sun for three days isn’t easy! A weekend of cool rain is something no one would even consider. Thankfully, the metal gods blessed Louder Than Life with sunny, albeit hot weather. Yes, it was hot, as in ninety five degree weather all weekend long. But at least you could bring in a refillable container to keep yourself hydrated. A thoughtful and wise move indeed.
On Friday the morning of the first day of the festival, crowds were steadily driving and walking to the festival grounds. Yes, people walked as quite a few hotels were across the street and in walking distance of the festival grounds. Thankfully there were plenty of shuttle buses to ferry everyone from all over the massive parking lots to near the main entrance. One of the most surprising things was how many people were there for the early part of the first day. With two giant main stages perfectly named Oak and Barrel, remember this is a Bourbon and Whiskey festival too, dominating the vast festival grounds, and a third stage named Loudmouth at the back part of the festival grounds, not to mention huge video screens surrounding the main stages, it didn’t matter where you were, you could see and hear whatever band was playing on either of the main stages.
As hot as the days weather was shaping up to be, the days lineup was even hotter. Things kicked off with All Them Witches taking the Oak Stage, Santa Cruz kicking things off at the Loudmouth stage and Wilson christening the Barrel stage, the festival was off to a roaring start with bigger than expected crowds at each stage. But it wasn’t until New Years Day hit the Oak stage that things got really going. While they are relatively new-comers, they have plenty of experience on big stages as they have been on the festival circuit before. Their six song setlist while understandably short due to that time slot in the lineup, it was still too short for all the fans. After they played their latest hit “Shut Up”, lead singer Ashe Costello implored everyone to start crowd surfing. While people had sporadically been doing that, after her request things kicked into a gear absolutely no one expected. Waves upon waves of people started to surf. It looked like a human conveyor belt. This was one of those defining moments that would put its stamp on this day, there would be a lot of crazy fun to be had by everyone there.
But that wouldn’t be the only great performance and moment to be had. Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals had their turn too. Yes, a band fronted by THAT Phillip H. Anselmo, the former lead singer of the legendary band Pantera. While they have plenty of material of their own to perform, today they chose to play only Pantera songs. Needless to say, the crowd was going nuts. To see and hear classic songs like “Mouth For War”, “Becoming”, and “I’m Broken” performed by the original singer was something that could only be dreamed of by everyone jammed at the stage. If fans thought that this couldn’t be topped, they were in for a surprise. When performing “Walk”, two members of GWAR would come out on stage and lend a hand playing this classic song. With the first day not even halfway over things were already epic!
Great moments of the day weren’t limited to the stages. Besides music Louder Than Life is also billed as a bourbon and whiskey festival too. On Friday, in the Kroger Big Bourbon Bar tent lucky fans got to see Shawn Crahan a.k.a. Clown of Slipknot unmasked, as he was proudly talking about Slipknot’s No. 9 Whiskey. In the music experience tent, there were plenty of quality guitars for everyone to try, as well as a table setup with various members of some of the bands there giving out autographs and selfies with lucky fans. There were no surprises as they had a video display showing who and when they would be there, which made it easy for fans to know when to show up for their personal favorites. For Football fans they even had a tent with TV’s setup so you wouldn’t miss either college or pro games. If you were looking for something more casual, there were plenty of places to play cornhole with your friends.
As the sun was starting to go down, it was time for the major acts to take the stage. Chevelle having announced that long time bassist Dean Bernardini would be leaving the band after their current tour was over, this was a set that really packed the fans in. Their eleven song setlist was packed with nothing but hit after hit. From “Hats Off To The Bull” to “I Get It” and of course “Send the Pain Below”, they were clearly on top of their game. But it was Staind that really wowed the crowd. Having not played together for five years, promoter Danny Wimmer did an amazing job of coaxing them back together and onto the Oak stage. With full on pyro going and of course Aaron Lewis’s voice and the rest of the band sounding like they never stopped playing together, this alone was worth coming to the festival. When that distinctive bass line for their hit song “Mudshovel” rang out into the crowd, this was clearly the performance of the day. If there was one band that could possibly have a shot at successfully following up Staind, it was Slipknot. With a new album out, you would think that they would give fans a healthy dose of it, as well as keeping a simple stage show as this was a festival after all, and there would be limited time for anything fancy. If you guessed that would be the case, you’d be wrong. As their distinctive curtain was sucked up into the rafters of the stage, they had their full on touring stage setup and they played a massive seventeen song performance chock full of every fan favorite imaginable. What a way to end the first day of the festival!
Saturday started out much the same way Friday did except that there seemed to even more people there early on. Clearly people wanted to make sure they were able to get to the stage early to get a great spot to see their favorite band. Kicking things off was Amigo the Devil. Playing the Barrel stage solo, he put together a great performance that got a lot of love from the fans. Dirty Honey also put together an entertaining show that was all too short. This unsigned band also happens to be the first band to have the top song on the mainstream rock chart yet not be signed to a record label. Playing a set that harkens back to the early days of Aerosmith and bands of that era, clearly, they have the swagger and chops needed to carry the rock flag into the future. When lead singer Marc Labelle hopped off the stage and leaned into the crowd while singing, people flocked towards him and loved the moment. Suicidal Tendencies had one of the most exciting shows of the early part of the day. Ageless lead singer Mike Muir was at his manic best. There is precious few that possess the same level of energy that he does, and there is no one at the age of fifty seven that can do what he does. This was a performance that really woke up the crowd and got the mosh pits going. Meanwhile back on the Loudmouth stage, Louisville natives Knocked Loose absolutely packed the crowd in. there were so many people back at that stage that you couldn’t get through the crowd to get to some of the vendors. Of course, crowd surfing and moshing were going on at this wildly popular performance.
One of the big surprises was the inclusion of Ice Cube on the bill. Some were questioning why a rap star would be at a rock concert. As one of the people that brought danger and an edge to his music, that has always been one of the hallmarks of rock music, that danger and edge. So that alone warrants his worthy inclusion into the lineup. If there was any thought that his performance wouldn’t be welcomed, you would be dead wrong. Everywhere you looked people were dancing and grooving to the show. Whether it was in the crowd or the VIP areas, people were digging it. At one point Ice Cube even commented as to how crazy the crowd was with all the crowd surfing going on. It was obvious that from his view he was loving all the craziness that was going on. The final performance of the night belonged to one of the biggest bands ever, Guns N’ Roses. If you didn’t get there early to stake a spot anywhere near the stage, you were going to be watching them on a video screen. The entire festival grounds were packed with people that would be happy just to say that they were there that night. This would be no festival friendly show that would be long on hits and short on time. They would give the fans a massive twenty eight song three hour show. Kicking things off with “It’s So Easy” then jumping into “Mr. Brownstone” everyone thought that it was going to be a night of just songs from Welcome To The Jungle, of course there was going to be heaping’s of that monster hit album played, but there were plenty of covers that surprised everyone like “Slither” from Velvet Revolver, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, and “The Seeker” by The Who. They finished their epic three and a half hour performance with their monster hit “Paradise City”. With the second day in the books, this festival is two for two in great days for music.
After two epic days of non-stop fantastic performances there was one last day for the fans to soak up. With all the heat, craziness, and awesome performances festival fatigue was setting in on everyone. But when DED started their turn on stage it lit a fire under the crowd. Their show was a triple shot of espresso that got things going in a big way. What was probably one of the biggest mosh pits started during their set.
For those that didn’t venture to the Loudmouth stage, they missed one hell of a show by Deadland Ritual. For those that don’t know who they are, it’s a super group that has Steve Stevens, Billy Idol’s long time guitarist, Drummer Matt Sorum formerly of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and The Cult, singer Franky Perez from Apocalypitca, and Geezer Butler bassist from Black Sabbath. When you have a rock Icon like Geezer Butler in your band, you know that you’ll be hearing Black Sabbath in the set. They kicked things off with a wicked version of “Symptom Of The Universe”. Other Sabbath songs they played were “Neon Knights”, “Sweet Leaf”, a really cool version of “N.I.B” with Geezer dialing up the wah wah pedal on his bass work which was definitely a goose bump moment! When they played “War Pigs” everyone was singing along with the band. They also played songs from the other guys previous bands like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” and Velvet Revolver’s “Slither” as well as original songs like “Dimas”, “Down in Flames”, and “Fade and Disappear”. One of the most action packed performances of the day belonged to Rob Zombie. When it comes to theatrics, he had it in spades. With his trademark fringe outfits and his dreadlocks flying, he was in constant motion. Of course, his long time guitarist Johnny Five was there too shredding up the stage. His show is a mashup of a circus side show, horror movies, and a gymnastics competition. His performances are always a feast for the eyes. Closing out this three day extravaganza of music was Disturbed. Playing their scorching brand of anthemic hard rock filled with fist pumping choruses, the crowd held the horns up high and proud when they played “Ten Thousand Fists” and “The Game”. Closing out not only the night, but the festival they played “Down With The Sickness”. Indeed, everyone that night, as well as over the course of all three days were down with sickness.
As the crowd trailed out of the festival grounds, tired, sweat soaked, sunburnt, and ultimately thrilled by everything they experienced, one thing stood out, Louder Than Life 2019 was a rousing success. Moving a festival to a new location, as well as having a year off can create lots of uncertainty. But the staff at Danny Wimmer Presents, all the festival workers, and of course the bands pulled off a top notch experience for everyone that managed to get a ticket. Enough can’t be said about how smooth everything went off, which speaks volumes about how well prepared everyone was. The only question is, how could the promoters top this for next year. The only to find out is to make sure you get a ticket when they go on sale.
Louder Than Life: