– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by Ronnie Jackson –
Champions Park – Louisville, KY / October 4th – 5th, 2015
Last year, Louder Than Life became the little festival that could. No sooner had the two-day fest ended and the team of companies/people behind it (which includes Danny Wimmer Presents) had announced plans for a second annual LTL were underway.
It was hard to believe that has already been one year ago, time having flown by; and now it was time for another trip to Louisville, Kentucky to see how year two would stack up against year one.
The cold that plagued the first day of the festival was nothing new, patrons having endured that last year, so for most, it wasn’t that big of a deal. At least the rain held off this weekend, though what had come down the day before resulted in a muddy mess over much of the ground the concertgoers had to cover as they trekked from stage to stage.
With an extra Monster Energy Main Stage added this year, the total count was upped to four (including the Jager Mobile Stage), so thecompletely staggered set times from the first year were gone, a couple bands almost always playing opposite one another in the early part of the day.
The job of opening each stage fell to Romantic Rebel, Jelly Roll and Art of Dying, the music starting as early as 11:30 AM. All powered through their sets without a hitch.
A few thousand people had already congregated there in the early afternoon hours, many making sure to catch Butcher Babies.
There’s never a dull moment during one of their performances, Carla Harvey and Heidi Sheppard make sure of that. The frontwomen get as in-your-face as possible, often literally, as they always find a way to interact with the fans and other onlookers. They got everyone’s blood pumping this afternoon, their relentless energy being contagious and refreshing.
There was little downtime between either of the two main stages that sat side by side; and Matt Heafy and company followed almost immediately after Butcher Babies.
It was a bit odd, watching Trivium play so early during a festival. Their stage setting (the semi demonic looking skulls that stood near the back of the stage) is always accentuated by their incredible lighting. Nevertheless, they were exceptionally sharp; Heafy’s timing being spot on throughout their performance.
I had been looking forward to see Starset again, the up-and-comers playing over on the East Stage. Their futuristic stage set and attire contributed to their solid sound, a sound everyone seemed quite taken by. Vocalist Dustin Bates and his band mates even did their best to ignore the light rain that fell on them, starting not too long into their show. It proved to be a non-issue for them.
Beartooth was one band I had been looking quite forward to, especially after having missed other opportunities to see the group fronted by Caleb Shomo. They’re no strangers to the festival circuit, even having playing roving ones that tour the country, their impressive showmanship being on full display as they tore through their quick half hour set. I’ve been a fan for around a year, but after finally seeing them, I understand exactly why they are such a hot commodity at the moment.
As the afternoon rolled in, so, too, did the people. The head count was going up like you wouldn’t believe, everyone wanting to see the biggest names day one had to offer. Tremonti was one of those. They had a sizable crowd, which even led to small mosh pit (per request of Mark Tremonti) as they served up several songs from Cauterize; the lead singer and guitarist putting on a clinic as he kept the stage chatter to a minimum.
It was good to see Atreyu back in action, the guys performing many crowd favorites in the relatively short time they got, including their closer, “Lip Gloss and Black”. They even treated everyone to a vastly different rendition of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”, their cover being a standout of their time on stage.
The highlight of the afternoon was Sevendust, with the release of their new album soaring up the charts it was not hard to see why they has such a loyal fan base. The band is completely genuine in their appreciation of their fans and they make it known as often as possible, frontman Lajon Witherspoon perhaps working harder than anyone in the industry.
From new songs to fan favorite classics, they did a little bit of everything this day, the entire band exuding an energy that would set the bar for those who followed.
Hollywood Undead and Seether also helped round out the afternoon and usher in the evening hours, both being very different bands, but each catered to a wide variety of people. Seether would also end up being a favorite at Louder Than Life, their fans feeling the new songs they did while shouting along to the classics (it was an even spread of each).
Bring Me The Horizon returned to Louder Than Life, being one of a select few groups who can now say they’ve played both years of the festival. They had one of the biggest crowds thus far, people wanting to check out the new sound they recently adopted, which really, wasn’t much different from their earlier stuff.
Old songs dominated their lengthy set, appeasing longtime fans. The entire crowd was feeling it, a multitude of crowd surfers being seen, along with plenty of moshing. So, basically, they brought about everything a festival should have.
Chevelle was the first of the three big headliners of the night. Their lighting made the musicians appear as silhouettes, though not being able to clearly see any of the members didn’t affect the fans, who still boisterously sung along with “The Red” and other hits.
By this time, after many hours of rocking out, the patrons were sure to be sufficiently warmed up so they could be as energetic as possibly for the rest of the night. At least Godsmack hoped that was the case, especially since they were filming for an upcoming DVD.
Sully Erna made that point very clear, that this crowd needed to be one of the loudest they had ever seen, and after the better part of two decades spent as a major touring act, you know they’ve seen their fair share. From newer songs like “Generation Day” to old favorites, “I Stand Alone” wrapping up their set, the audience gave it their all, getting in to everything, satisfying Erna and crew, who had again proven they are one of the best live bands out there.
The honor of closing down day of Louder Than Life (and essentially being the biggest name on the bill) fell to Rob Zombie.
Zombie, John 5, Piggy D and Ginger Fish owned that stage in a way no one had this day, the frontman leaping around more spryly than someone half his age. A few covers (Grand Funk Railroad included alongside a couple White Zombie tracks) were worked in with the favorites, “Superbeast” and the lone encore, “Dragula”, easily getting the loudest responses.
As usual, they did not disappoint and by this time they were done, everyone was either wet, muddy, drunk or all three. That meant it was time to go get some shut eye, as there was only a little more than twelve hours to go before day two started.
The second day was a good twenty-five degrees warmer than the day before, a welcome change of pace for everyone, who relished being able to shed their jackets at other winter attire they had brought with them. Now, it felt like a perfect fall day, just as it should.
The scheduling got off a bit this day, at least on some stages, though Whiskey Myers and Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown were some early favorites. The hour later start time Goodbye June got also allowed them to have a bigger crowd, many taken by their spectacular sounds.
It was Nothing More who kicked this day into high gear.
The four-piece rock outfit from Texas was another band making their second appearance at Louder Than Life, this time with Ben Anderson behind the drum kit, a role he had taken on just a few weeks prior to this. Seeing them return to LTL was something. A year ago, almost everyone who did watch them had no idea who they were. Now, they had a vast sea of people in front of their stage, all ready to see what Johny Hawkins, Daniel Oliver, Mark Vollelunga and Anderson had in store.
They powered through what many would say are their best songs, from “Christ Copyright”, to “This is the Time”, their always impressive bass solo also worked in in the early part of the set. It’s wasn’t difficult so see why Nothing More is making a name for themselves rather quickly. With an abundance of talent and a handful of radio friendly tracks, the band does plenty to separate themselves from the competition.
10 Years followed, the Knoxville, Tennessee-based band having been touring consistently throughout the year in support of their latest release, From Birth To Burial. Jesse Hasek donned a cowboy hat for this occasion, but quickly discarded it as he made his way to the rail to spend some quality time with fans, spending the majority of “Fix Me” shaking hands and providing the crowd with an up close and personal experience.
Collective Soul seemed a bit out of place on the Louder Than Life lineup, at least in my opinion. You haven’t seen or heard much about them in quite some time, and while they did drop a new album a couple days prior to this show, it had been six years since they last put out some music.
Ed Roland was surprisingly upbeat and energetic; the band as a whole looking like one that has been on the road for years. It can actually be easy to forget how many hits the band has had. It wasn’t until hearing songs like “Heavy”, “Gel” and “Shine” that you were reminded just what an impact these guys have had. They may not have fit with the largely metal/hard rock lineup, but they still left the crowd satisfied.
All of a sudden, it was four in the afternoon, this day passing all too quickly. That time meant Black Stone Cherry would soon grace the Monster Stage South. They are probably one of the most energetic groups of musicians out there and always seem to be having loads of fun.
Ben Wells is lightning in a bottle, his energy being felt throughout their time on stage. Chris Robertson’s raspy southern vocals bring a distinctly unique sound that makes their songs that much better, especially on tracks like “Holding On…To Letting Go” and crowd favorite, “Me and Mary Jane”. Who can forget John Fred Young on drums? I dare compare his energy to the likes of Chachi Riot. Bottom line, a Black Stone Cherry show is a non-stop one. And if you get a chance, you have to experience them live.
If anything can be said, you need to be in pretty good shape to walk between these stages. It was a good five minute walk between them, though no one seemed to mind much. Still, you should always plan on staying hydrated while doing all that moving around. That said, the next stop was Monster Stage East to watch 3 Doors Down’s.
They were one of several favorites this day, the audience loving the rapport Brad Arnold built with them, the frontman referring to everyone as “friends” more than anything. “Duck and Run” was their first hard hitting song of the day, many favorites and even a new song making up their set this day, “Kryptonite”, of course, being one of those classics.
It’s remarkable what a crowd they still draw all these years after their biggest single was put out. Their fans are loyal ones, and they have every reason to keep coming back. The band still delivers a helluva live show, their new songs rivaling the old.
It was very evident that Breaking Benjamin was one band people were very eager to see this day. Since reforming, they’ve definitely been making a comeback, their hard work seeming to be paying off. This wasn’t the first time I had seen them this year, though this was the biggest crowd I had seen them command.
The spectators enjoyed new songs, like “Angels Fall”, though it was the older stuff that got the biggest reaction, nearly everyone singing along to “The Diary of Jane”.
Speaking of big crowds, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators drew an extraordinary one. The guitar god and singer extraordinaire (along with their band mates) ripped through some originals as well as covers (“Paradise City” among others from Slash’s Guns N’ Roses days) while they had the stage.
No one was supposed to be playing opposite of Slash and company, at least not originally.
One reason the scheduling had gotten off on a couple stages early on was because vehicle trouble had prevented We Are Harlot from making it there in time to play in the noon hour. They had finally arrived, though their performance had been moved to the Jager Mobile Stage.
As they say, better late than never. That certainly seemed to sum up how Danny Worsnop, Jeff George, Brian Weaver and Bruno Agra all felt, the group looking glad to finally be there; and despite competing against a legend, they still drew quite the crowd. They raced through their eight songs, including a cover of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down”, the onlookers loving the fast pace they kept; Worsnop dragging his mic, stand and all, just about everywhere he went, even turning circles while clutching it.
By the time they finished, it was only about a quarter after seven, the sun still visible, but quickly setting. A plethora of people surrounded the East stage, all giddy to see the first of two living legends that would close this thing down: Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Surveying the crowd, it was evident just what an impact that band has had. From people who have been seeing them for probably much of the bands career to a much younger demographic who, in all likelihood, were introduced to the band by their parents. It was a wide array of spectators, all of whom would be seen and heard singing along with Johnny Van Zant on all of their hits. That included “Saturday Night Special”, “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama” to name a few.
This (or any Skynyrd show) is also the only place where it’s completely acceptable to request “Free Bird”. Of course, when the large ensemble left without delivering that one, shouting for it was exactly what happened, as they eventually returned to wrap up their time.
Their time had gone over by a few minutes, meaning Shinedown held out for a bit, at least as long as they could.
It looked like an endless sea of music lovers in front of the North Stage, many shouting, “SHINEDOWN!” in hopes that would bring the group out, only growing louder and louder.
“Free Bird” still heard off in the distance, Shinedown eventually took the stage (having to keep things as close to the schedule as they could), Barry Kerch, Zach Myers, Eric Bass, and Brent Smith storming the stage, quickly leading the crowd in the first of many sing-alongs they would do, “Asking For It”.
They were gung ho about this, making it that much easier for the audience to truly get into this show, and they felt every second of it. As their time up there wound down, they paid tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd by covering “Simple Man”, which was well received, afterwards giving everybody one more “for old times’ sake” as Smith said, ending with “Sound of Madness”.
There was one last band of the day, and what a better way to close out a festival than ZZ Top. Their thirteen-song set consisted of some of their best songs. “Got Me Under Pressure”, “Gimmie All Your Lovin’”, “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Legs” were but a few of those. Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard and Dusty Hill cut all the fancy stage show gimmickry and delivered a straight up rock show everyone could respect and admire.
This year’s 50,000 plus attendance easily eclipsed last year’s record. Yeah, it was the thing to do in Louisville on this first weekend of October, and well worth traveling to, as many people did.
All those people also ensured there was a lot of food and whiskey consumed this weekend, Louder Than Life really having it all. I don’t know what else to say about LTL other than I can’t wait to come back next year.