With less than a year to create, organize and promote, the Epicenter Festival in Rockingham, North Carolina kicked off on May 10th with many of the glitches that one might imagine that an inaugural festival to incur. However, even with traffic backups, horrific weather and negative criticism, Danny Wimmer Presents managed to pull off an incredible festival, demonstrating exactly why they are the #1 festival promoter in the world.
When Danny Wimmer Present announced their split with partner AEG, there was a feeling of dread and dismay as to what would become of the festival that had grown to be one of the most popular annual events in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. In the fall of 2018, Danny Wimmer Presents announced the inception of a new festival to replace the Carolina Rebellion, The Epicenter Festival. It came with a different name and would be in a different location but for all intents and purposes, the same beloved festival.
Of course, it was only natural for Carolina Rebellion alumni to want to make comparisons between the new festival and their time-honored old one. While Carolina Rebellion was indeed run like a well-oiled machine, this was mainly due to the show being run in the same venue and year after year since 2013. Coming into this new venue, with a festival (regardless of the name change) that had grown so popular that it easily drew 100,000 people, was bound to create logistical problems. Taking a festival this huge and moving it was nothing short of a herculean feat. When Carolina Rebellion was held at this same venue in 2012, the only year it was held in Rockingham prior to this year, the crowd was a 1/3 of the size and the festival only one day.
The Epicenter Festival introduced a new concept to festival going in the United States, closely related to the European festivals, allowing festival-goers to camp within the festival grounds. With the new venue came the ability to house the patrons within the grounds and have no curfew for ending the festival. The creation of the Rockingham Village within the ground gave festival goers after hours food, bars, shops, and entertainment long after the musicians had quit playing for the night.
Thursday, May 9 saw the first arrivals to the Epicenter Festival. The campers were permitted to arrive on Thursday, set-up camp and get their pregame on at the Rockingham Village where they could take in a circus performance or watch local bands in the festival’s Thursday Night Pre-Show Party, before the Epicenter Festival’s official kicked off the following day.
The much-anticipated opening day, noon on Friday, May 10, began with minimal crowds. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that the real thick of the crowd arrived. With the massive influx of festival goers pouring into the venue at one time, there was quite a line of cars having to wait for long periods of time to park. While a frustrating issue at the time, DWP worked diligently to correct the parking issue for the following days.
With 4 stages set-up across the massive venue, concert goers were never short of performances to watch. Bands such as DED, Beartooth, Wilson, Black Coffee, Dorothy, Hyro the Hero, and Hands Like House filled out the early afternoon. When guests weren’t catching a performance, they were able to wander around through venue and get their fill of virtually any sort of food that could be imagined. The food vendors were nothing if not creative, with over the top festival food creations taking something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich, adding a handful of ingredients, turning it to an amazing culinary experience.
The FYE Fan Experience, always bustling with activity, as fans rushed to buy CD and albums to have signed by the artist themselves. Bands like DED, Slothrust, Knocked Loose, Wilson, and Beartooth spent time talking with their fans as they signed their various purchases. These meet and greet experiences, at the FYE tent as well as the Music Experience, which also held meet and greets, are one of the many special touches the DWP adds to their various festivals to make the festival goers experience that much more magical.
As the evening set in the crowd intensified waiting for the headliners of the night, who of course did not disappoint. Evanescence, Skillet, and Meshuggah all put on incredible performances. The Crystal Method, who was added to the lineup only recently as a replacement for the Prodigy, due to the untimely death of lead singer, Keith Flint, was an unexpected success with the crowd. The electronic dance vibe was a serendipitous surprise, and a little something different to mix up the very heavy rock lineup.
If the placement of Machine Gun Kelly in the final headliner lineup had been questioned by many in the beginning, the man himself quieted the nay-sayers with his stellar performance. The night closed out with Rob Zombie followed by Korn, who can both always be counted on top-notch performances. Incidentally, this was the very same venue that Brian “Head” Welch rejoined Korn after his 7-year absence from the band, at the 2012 Carolina Rebellion.
Starting under sunny skies, festival goers arrived to watch incredible performances put on by Badflower, Tetrarch, Wage War, Sylar, and Motionless in White. This Festival was the last stop on Motionless in White’s world tour, and the band tore up the stage with flaming pyrotechnics, demonstrating exactly why they have made the leap to rock stardom so quickly in the last year.
The day was cut short just into Black Label Society’s performance as the venue was evacuated at approximately 5:30 pm due to severe weather approaching. The announcement was met with groans and exclamations of disbelief. Angry voices could be heard shouting obscenities meant for those running the festival. Although the sky had considerably darkened, it was not apparent to the festival goers that an enormous storm was imminent, thus prompting the mass evacuation.
DWP did an amazing job of giving enough advance warning to clear the venue and get every patron to shelter in time to avoid the most serious parts of the storm that rolled into the Rockingham area. The storm caused considerable damage inside the venue, knocking down stages, destroying one of the video screens, as well as collapsing several vendor tents.
Due to the severity of the storm, the extent of the damage inside the venue, and with the approach of further storms, the festival was closed on the order of the County of Richmond. Of course, it was DWP that took the real heat from a very angry and disappointed crowd. Saturday was by far the highest attended day with many festival goers having only purchased a Saturday only ticket in which to see Tool, who’s performance was obviously not going to happen.
The tension in the air that night was palpable and it wouldn’t have taken much to get the angry mob riled up, as was made obvious by the anxious law enforcement officers who were visibly on edge.
DWP, however, took the criticism in stride, as the safety of the concert goers, artist and staff was their highest priority. They were incredibly diligent keeping patrons appraised of the situation via their Epicenter app.
With the weather on everyone’s mind and the possibility of a second closing due to inclement weather, the day started very quietly. Many people decided to pack it in and head home, rather than face the possibility of a second evacuation. The Rockingham Village did not open as early due to the need to clean up the damage from the night before. With an eye on the sky, the day started out slowly with some of the vendors just giving items away, in fear that they wouldn’t make it through the day. Their trepidation was for nothing as Sunday became by far the best day of the festival.
After a brief rain shower, the day turned sunny and pleasantly warm and the crowd that remained got to enjoy some of the best rock of the entire weekend. While She Sleeps had a huge continuous flow of crowd surfers, possibility holding the record for most crowd surfers during a single song for the entire festival.
Tom Morello, former frontman of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, pull at least 30 members of the audience on stage, near the end of his set, to sing “Killing in the Name of” his most popular Rage Against the Machine song. Clearly the song the audience was hoping to hear, as the crowd went nuts, arms punching the air, when the first cords of the song were played.
FEVER 333, who can always be counted on for over the top antics that make them stand out from every other performer, climbed a tower near the stage and performed from the top of the tower by the stage, perched over the crowd.
Although +Live+ was late, and they could only play 3 songs of their set, they were definitely a crowd favorite. As were Bring Me The Horizon, who had their audience singing and dancing. The superstars of the night, however, were by far the Foo Fighters, who lit up the crowd with a 2-hour set. Dave Grohl kept up a constant dialog of wit and humor with the audience and winning the band a new following of instant fans. Which in many ways more than made up for the missing artists the night before.
As the curtain fell on day 3 of the festival, it was clear that Epicenter was a force to be reckoned with that no amount of wind, weather and negativity could pull down. This festival is here to stay.