Review and photos by Lizzy Davis
Hard rock and metal fans in the Carolinas were caught by surprise late last year when independent festival producer Danny Wimmer Presents announced Carolina Rebellion was to be replaced in 2019. Plenty of questions and speculation arose, but DWP was quick to show it was devoted to creating a new festival that wouldn’t stray from the original vision for Carolina Rebellion. Its dedication was evident when it announced the inaugural lineup for the first ever Epicenter Festival.
To avoid noise curfews, Epicenter moved to a new location, debuting at the Rockingham Festival Grounds in Rockingham, North Carolina, over the weekend of May 10 to 12. Staying in line with—and arguably even outdoing—previous Carolina Rebellion festivals, Epicenter featured massive headliners over the weekend, including Korn, Tool and Foo Fighters.
Even though the festival producers have plenty years of experience behind them, no new festival comes without its challenges. And the first challenge presented itself quickly on the morning of day one. Anxious fans began arriving in Rockingham as early as 10 a.m. only to discover that there was just one entrance for all vehicles to park. The traffic quickly started to back up, and even though some had arrived four or more hours before the first scheduled performances, they still didn’t make it through the gates for the first bands, DED and Arrested Youth.
Thankfully, things improved once inside the festival grounds. There still was a four-stage setup reminiscent of Carolina Rebellion, but the two side stages were positioned directly next to each other. The main stages also were closer together, meaning much less walking had to be done and more bands could be seen throughout the day.
Wilson came out ready to party on one of the two side stages and hit its set running with the rambunctious opening song, “Dump Truck.” Vocalist Chad Nicefield easily grabbed attention in a vibrant, plaid yellow suit and announced, “We’re gonna play something you probably never thought you’d hear today.” The crowd laughed and sang along for a cover of Chumbawumba’s ‘90s hit song “Tubthumping.” The party kept going through Wilson’s latest single, “Summertime Treat,” and ended on “House of Fuckery.”
Australian quintet Hands Like Houses released its latest album, “Anon,” last year and has been touring in support of it. The band hit the stage with hair flips and energy, playing a sample of songs from the record. It also incorporated an entirely new song into the set called “Sick,” which vocalist Trenton Woodley said was new for the crowd and the band.
New-school/hardcore punk rockers Vein came to take over the Octane Stage. The band is fresh off a tour with Every Time I Die and carried a similarly high-energy, abrasive style, both in terms of sound and presence. Vein brought pure chaos, crowd surfing and plenty of heavy moshing during its set.
Columbus-based rockers Beartooth continued the high energy, pulling an aggressive crowd to the Quarry Stage. Unfortunately, clouds had drifted overhead and it started to rain toward the end of the set. The rain persisted through most of Knocked Loose and Dorothy’s sets.
Christian rock band Skillet quickly distracted from the weather by captivating fans with its unique sound and loads of special effects. Most songs were loaded with blasts of sparks, and frontman John Cooper got the crowd’s attention when he fired off two arm cannons of CO2 during “Sick of It.” Additionally, the band had platforms that guitarist Korey Cooper and touring cellist Tate Olsen were raised up on during “Awake and Alive.” Skillet also played a new song, “Legendary,”, which will be the lead single from its next album, “Victorious,” to be released in August.
While electronic act The Crystal Method took over the main stage, the heaviest of metalheads were found at the Octane Stage singing along to classic rock love songs while waiting for Meshuggah to hit the stage. Thanks to complex, mathematical song structures, the Swedish band was labelled by Rolling Stone as one of the 10 most important hard rock and heavy metal bands. Meshuggah easily could have been considered the heaviest technical band on Epicenter’s lineup, and the crowd moshed and headbanged accordingly.
Evanescence is freshly on tour after taking nearly a year-long break, but the band hit the stage as if it had never left it. Opening with “What You Want,” Amy Lee’s voice translated beautifully to the live setting. There was an unexpected special guest during Evanescence’s set when Alice Cooper guitarist Nita Strauss joined the band on stage to perform “Disappear.” Of course, no Evanescence show would be complete without the 2004 Grammy Award-winning song that shot the band to fame, “Bring Me To Life.”
Machine Gun Kelly provided a drastically contrasting twist to the evening, bringing with him a heavily rap-influenced sound. At the end of his opening song, “Bad Mother Fucker,” he joked, “You know it’s gonna be a good show when I come out and forget the first five lines of my very first song!” To make up for it, he jumped off stage and walked through the crowd before climbing up on top of the soundbooth during his second song. The rap-rocker recently starred in the Motley Crue drama “The Dirt” and seemed to pay tribute to that with a short cover of “Shout at the Devil.” Ensuring his set was unforgettable (for better or for worse), MGK brought out a unique stage prop—a large, black, Marilyn Manson-branded dildo. He then take a selfie video of himself running around stage with it before putting it on display on his microphone stand for the remainder of the set.
Meanwhile, people already were at the Quarry Stage waiting for Rob Zombie and chanting “You suck!” at the video boards displaying MGK’s performance on the Main Stage. The Quarry Stage had been decorated was suitably creepy and elaborate demonic angel microphone stands with a massive video board backdrop. Piggy D came out as his alter ego, “The Count,” while John 5 sported a long coat embroidered with his number 5 logo on it. Rob Zombie donned his usual fringe jacket and appeared to be in high spirits as he joked, “I see a lot of smoke billowing over the crowd. Are you roasting marshmallows?!” The band has no shortage of familiar singles and, ensured “Superbeast” and “Living Dead Girl” were in the mix with a few White Zombie songs, a Ramones cover and an Alice Cooper cover before closing with “Dragula.”
After a long day of questionable weather and traffic, the venue finally looked fully packed and everyone was fired up for Korn’s headlining set. The nu-metal legends opened with “Falling Away from Me,” and fans only cheered louder when it was followed up with “Rotting in Vain.” Vocalist Jonathan Davis commanded the crowd, “Put your middle fingers in the air!” for the song “Y’all Want a Single,” which needed no further introduction than that. Though Korn had a dozen staple songs to play, it made sure to mix it up with a few cover snippets, like Metallica’s “One” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” For those who didn’t leave early to try to beat traffic, the first night of Epicenter wrapped up with a five-song encore that ended with “Freak on a Leash.”