We’re not going to beat around the bush – we’ve had a really hard time writing a recap of the 2023 Blue Ridge Rock Festival.
By now, everyone out there in internet land has seen the TikTok’s, the stories, the posts and the photos from various people. We want to be as unbiased as we possibly can, but we are ONLY speaking to our experience at this years festival. To be clear – if we did not personally witness something, we will not speak on it. We do not want to discount anyone’s experience at the festival, and we are well aware that everyone had different challenges depending on their situation, but we will also not help spread rumors and half-truths. We also apparently need to state for the record and for clarity: we received NO financial compensation from Blue Ridge, the media group, or any other entity associated with this festival. We are not being paid for this review, we were not paid to attend, we were not paid to photograph any bands. Our media and photo credentials granted us general access wristbands to the festival, and we purchased camping and early entry camping on our own. Also, this post has no photos. If you’re looking for the media coverage, click here.
Now that that is out of the way:
Tuesday, September 5:
We arrived to early camping check in around 4:30 pm. There was a line of vehicles in front of us, but it was moving at a steady pace and we noticed significantly more staff on the road directing people through multiple checkpoints. Security at the venue was quick and efficient, and from the time we entered the actual “line” to the time we were cleared to enter the racetrack was short – less than 20 minutes. There was a small snafu about directing us to where we were supposed to actually camp (that ended up being a blessing in disguise) but by 6 pm we were fully set up in Mosher Meadows next to some great neighbors, excited to grab credentials the next day, and start the pre-party excitement. Our tent site was actually very close to where we set up in 2022, and it was a strange feeling of “coming home” in a way. We drifted off to sleep to the calls of “Fuckin’ Slayer!” in the distance.
Wednesday, September 6:
Campers started coming in early! The bustle and general excitement was hovering in the air, and I think I had a perma-grin most of the morning watching friends reconnect. (There really is nothing like watching two giant, bearded dudes scoop each other into bear hugs) We popped out our little Coleman stove (this thing is a lifesaver) had a great breakfast with some hot coffee, and then started coordinating to find the credentials office to pick up our bands. We could tell the day was going to be hot and humid, and the goal was to get back to the campsite early enough to prepare for the pre-party show in the afternoon. This, surprisingly, turned out to be our first adventure. One of our media friends had dropped a pin for us earlier and we started out on the trek to find this elusive building. All of the staff we came across were as helpful as the could be, and even if they weren’t exactly sure which way we should be headed they were happy to radio ahead and point us in the right direction. Three miles, a half gallon of water, and several Banana Bags later, and we arrived at the credentials office. Security was kind enough to give us a ride back to our site as the day was just getting progressively warmer, and we spent some time at Camp OMG planning out our pre-party coverage and organizing our weekend.
Wednesday afternoon was HOT, you guys. Like – heat index over 100 kind of hot, and every one of those bands gave us 110% on the stage. I wish I could transport you back to that day, sitting in the sun on a small hill with me, watching the people drift in to the Famous Monsters stage and feeling the excitement of a festival that is about to begin. Everywhere I looked there were smiles, and hugs, and reunions that were too long in the making. The crowds were giving insane energy to the stage, mosh pits were in full force, and lines for all the vendors were short. It felt like a family reunion with the best sound track imaginable.
Thursday, September 7:
Thursday started off as another brutally hot day. The weather report looked beautiful besides the heat index – we had a small chance of showers late in the afternoon – but we were SO excited and ready to officially kick off the Blue Ridge Rock Festival! I mean – look at the lineup! The festival grounds felt more crowded than last year with the new layout, but not impassable by any means. We saw trash being picked up regularly, and the porta-potties in our section were already cleaned when we got up in the morning. There were several UTV’s driving around the camp site, and a visual security presence. The general air was one of excitement, and from what we could observe camping check in seemed to be moving at a steady pace and getting through security into the festival appeared a quick process.
I feel like I have to give this section its own title, and its for a reason. The storm on Thursday (affectionately dubbed the Rocknado) changed a lot of things, and we believe personally it was the turning point for what transpired the rest of the weekend. That storm was wholly devastating, unexpected, and in hindsight more dangerous than we realized.
Thursday afternoon is when everything changed. Hollywood and I met back at our campsite to sit and eat an early dinner, hydrate, and go over our “game plan” for the rest of the day and the Club Experience. The Intern was still in the festival grounds, hanging out at one of the VIP tents and texting us photos and updates. Besides the heat, the day had been beautiful – a shockingly blue sky with just a handful of cotton ball clouds. My phone vibrated, and when I looked down all I saw was a text from The Intern that said “rain?” and a minute later “RAIN!!!!” Hollywood and I looked at each other and then up at the sky, and watched the tiniest smoke smudge of a black cloud seemingly come alive and multiply so rapidly that it looked computer generated. When I tell you that we had no warning of what was about to happen, it’s important that you understand that the next sequence of events happened in less than five minutes.
My phone vibrates.
We check the sky and watch the cloud develop.
It begins to drizzle *very* gently and I make a passing joke about being glad that we waterproofed the tent.
Hollywood comes back with “it’s going to have to rain a lot harder than this if you want to see if the tent is waterproofed.”
The sky OPENS up and it starts pouring.
Now, we have been camping a lot, in all kinds of weather. High winds, multi day rain storms, freezing cold, and extreme heat. We feel like we’re prepared for almost anything, and definitely for basic camping needs. Hollywood is a military veteran with extensive survival skills and SERE training. I have advanced training in wilderness survival and first aid. Between the two of us, we’ve spent hundreds of nights off the grid.
We were not prepared for this.
When the rain began we laughed and started picking up the site, making sure the cameras and other electronics were safely in the truck, but we didn’t expect more than a passing afternoon storm. Except the storm didn’t stop as we expected – it intensified. The rain became heavier, and the wind picked up, seemingly blowing from multiple directions at once. Tents started to collapse and canopies were being tossed. I ended up inside our tent, bracing the corner taking the most wind while Hollywood toughed it outside, holding down the canopy and tent both while being pelted with sideways ice cold rain and whipping winds. To be honest – at this point we were both laughing. If you know anything about OMG promotions, you know that our motto is #adventure. It’s even printed on the inside of our wristbands! We figured out years ago with all the traveling that we do that 90% of dealing with something unexpected is how you react to it. Get mad, be disappointed for a minute, and then get over it. Look at it as an adventure and see where you end up! Right then, we were having the BEST adventure ever. The soaking wet tent was wrapped around me and the floor was lifting under my feet. Hollywood was outside keeping a running tally of everything that was blowing away like a scene out of Twister
“Tent! Canopy! Oh no, there goes our tip jar!”
“Another tent! Oh wait, maybe that’s the same tent.”
I promise, at the time it was hilarious! Unable to let go of our canopy for fear it would end up in Oz, watching the destruction became unreal. The storm seemed to be getting worse instead of better, and out of nowhere the entire tent lit up. Lightning. And based on how quickly the thunder made my ears ring, it was close. I wasn’t laughing anymore, and I peeled my way out of the tent door to see Hollywood’s very worried face. We’ve known each other more than 30 years, and after this long I can read his expressions to an eerie degree. All I said was “when you tell me it’s time to go to the truck, we’ll go.” There were several more quick flashes of lightning and the call was made to abandon tent. We both grabbed everything we could, and started throwing items into the truck as the hail started. Luckily The Intern ran into camp right then and was able to dive into the backseat out of the weather.
Unless you were in the campgrounds, I’m not sure you can understand the helpless feeling of sitting in your vehicle soaking wet, watching peoples entire campsites being flattened. There was an intense flash of lighting that we found out later had struck one of the main stages, and the thunder shook our vehicle. Our canopy finally came loose and wrapped itself around the back of the pickup like some kind of face-hugging monster, the bent frame preventing our very nice neighbors from getting into their vehicle when they finally ran back from the venue (sorry, Beav!) I have personally experienced both tornados and hurricanes first hand, and I was scanning the sky expecting to see a funnel cloud at any moment. To make things worse for the campers, the storm hit just before sunset. By the time the weather passed enough for us to feel safe enough to emerge in the rain and check the damage done, the only illumination was from the flashes of lighting in the distance — none of the light towers in our area of Mosher Meadows turned on until nearly 9 pm.
What happened next is the reason that the Blue Ridge Rock Festival is – and always will be – our favorite festival in the US.
The three of us piled out of the pickup truck into the mud. Our neighbor, Beaver, helped Hollywood untangle the crushed canopy legs from the ruins of our tent and the back of the pickup truck while The Intern and I took stock of what had blown away and tried to find as many pieces as we could could to our camp. I unzipped the door to our tent and water poured out in a river – there was at least three inches of standing water ( we have a 9×13 cabin tent, for size reference) everything was soaked, our bed was floating, and it was dark. Beaver looked at our site, looked at us, and said – “what do you guys need to stay?”
I stepped back into the muddy, flooded lane in front of our truck and looked around, and everywhere I saw the same thing. People were helping people. Strangers, mostly, were helping other strangers. Beaver set up a light tower so that the few tents left around us could see until the big towers came on. He and Hollywood went to work putting our site back together and taking stock of what had been broken or lost. Men were dragging broken canopy frames into a pile to keep the paths clear. People set up blackstones and cooked meals for those of us who had our food flooded or lost. We had a group of campers walk by with flashlights that were EMT’s in their daily life with first aid kits, making sure everyone was ok. Entire campsites were rebuilt with broken pieces and help from neighbors. Someone, somewhere, put music on. People were laughing and joking, and “fuckin’ Slayer!”ing. The Intern was helping both our back and side neighbor pick up. Amazingly, not only did one of them not lose anything – his tent was even still completely dry! When the big light towers finally came on, people cheered. Yes, we saw people drive out and leave that night, but the majority of campers in our section stayed. There was a real feeling of community – of FAMILY – that is hard to explain. The three of us crammed into the truck to sleep on Thursday night, wet and uncomfortable, using the sun shade to block the light that was now blasting directly into the front window. When we went to sleep, though, we had a meal in us and a plan for the next day.
Friday, September 8th
Friday started off again being brutally hot, but this time we welcomed it. We were up painfully early, spreading out everything we owned to dry. We managed to bend the poles enough to get the tent upright and the rain shield off, and you could almost watch the water evaporate from the inside. We always carry a collapsible drying rack with us for wet clothes, and it could not have come in more useful than this last trip. We placed it outside in the full sun (easy to do since our canopy decided to hit the big junk yard in the sky) and kept rotating clothing until most of what we had was passably wearable. Hollywood cooked a huge breakfast since we had lost all our ice, and we emptied the cooler of eggs, spam, and sausages. If you’d like an idea of what the campsites looked like on Friday morning, we have video on most of our social media. Friday was a huge day for both of us for photos, so we tried to get into the gates as early as possible, and sitting in the full sun with no breeze wasn’t pleasant.
Things were noticeably more haphazard walking into the venue Friday. We did have some very full port a potties, and passed places that they had apparently blown over in the storm the night before. Obvious trash was blown everywhere and hadn’t been collected from the piles that people had attempted to make, and it seemed there were significantly less staff on the grounds and at the entry points. Every person I saw that was working, however, was working HARD and they tried their best to help us whenever we asked for something. Please keep in mind that the extreme rain the night before created a ton of mud, and thousands of people walking the same muddy paths for hours just made those conditions worse. I’m not sure that the access roads to the campground were even accessible by vehicles larger than an ATV on Friday morning, so some of the disarray is justified. While there were some piles of trash that we acknowledged inside the venue, we did also see sanitation out attempting to keep up and deal with the situation.
The venue itself was still incredibly full of people, and as the day went on the crowds only increased. The crowds had amazing energy, it seemed like every stage we stopped at had a band who was up there leaving it all out on the stage, crowd surfing was everywhere, and even the smaller bands had great pits! We did not use the venue provided water refill stations, so we can not speak to how many there were or where they were located. We did, however, see bottled water being distributed to the crowd on several occasions from pallets. The lines for food (at least the ones we were in) moved as expected. The one gripe we do have about this year is the food prices – while not as shocking as some of the vendors last year, two slices of pizza and one can of soda was $32!
We have some specific band performance reviews here, but Friday was a good day. The sound was amazing, the crowd was giving all their energy to the bands on stage, the weather was still hot, but cooler than it had been, and when we got back to Camp OMG at the end of the day our stuff was dry enough that we were able to sleep in our tent on our air mattress instead of in the truck. We were confident that as long as we didn’t get any more severe weather that we would be able to limp our way through the rest of the weekend as long as we could resupply from the general store.
Saturday, September 9th
I can’t even bring myself to post the lineup for what was supposed to be Saturday.
Saturday began with my phone exploding with multiple notifications from friends that there was severe weather approaching with 30-40 mph wind, heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and that they would be opening the gates late. We honestly panicked, knowing that we couldn’t survive another storm and it would be the end of our trip. The storm never came. We had some light, drizzly weather for about an hour before we received word that the Saturday lineup had been cancelled and that we would know about Sunday by 5 pm. In true #adventure fashion, Mosher Meadows came together and created a massive slip and slide! For nearly six hours we had a steady stream of people at Camp OMG – all ages, all sizes, costumes, EMS. Pit Crew came up for a while, neighbors passed out bottles of water and snacks, we had speakers and music, and we made our own fun!