Inaugural Exit 111 sets Manchester Tennessee On Its Metal Head with Guns N Roses~Def Leppard~Lynyrd Skynyrd
THE EXIT 111 Festival launched October 11, 2019 at the Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee. Producers C3 Presents and AC Entertainment are to be commended for the successful launch of this festival.
Held in the same location as Bonnaroo, the campgrounds, parking areas and traffic patterns are well established and operated smoothly. The festival was set up with three stages: Heaven (the main stage), Hell and Rise Again (secondary stages), with 12 bands playing on opening day and 15 bands on day two and three. The festival opened at 3:00 to large numbers of fans already on hand at the campgrounds and nearby areas. All staff was ready for the fans and entry was smooth and quick after the usual security searches.
A large merchandise area was immediately available upon entry and very long lines formed almost immediately. Unusual for a music festival, near the merchandise area was a motocross area with a Red Bull Bag jump where motocross riders performed incredible aerial feats. Bleachers were set up across from the Heaven stage for VIP viewing. Plenty of food and drink areas were near at hand in the center of the festival area, including a very large Sports Bar where sports fanscould stop and catch up on any games that interest them throughout the weekend. Another unusual addition was the Paranormal Cirque, a blend of circus performance and freak show. It obviously was known to the fans, as wait lines for tickets immediately formed and were snaking around the ticket area for hours. Performers also circulated through the festival interacting with fans throughout the day/night. The Paranormal Cirque was great fun with acrobatics, a comedic mime working with members from the audience, a circle hoop performance, an aerial performed on very long flowing scarves and a magician.
Of course, the main draw for Exit 111 Festival is the music. And what a lineup! The only disappointment in the music line is that the Hell Stage and the Rise Again Stage have performances at the same time, meaning most fans had to make a choice as to which band to see as attempting to watch both stages for half a performance was a challenge given the distance between the two and the crowds. However, having to choose between two good bands is a pretty good problem to face.
The Cadillac Three opened the Heaven main stage to a fairly large crowd and performed their southern rock songs to a very happy, lively fan base. Black Stone Cherry brought their energy, vocals by Chris Robertson and high kicks by Ben Wells to the Hell Stage in front of a very large throng who loved every minute. Speaking of energy, Anthrax never seems to slow down on stage even after nearly 40 years of performances. The crowd immediately started singing along and showing their love to the band. I saw massive numbers of Slayer shirts in the crowds moving through the festival grounds, and when they took to the Heaven stage at 8:30, the crowd was amazing. After 30+ years, Slayer has announced the end of their touring, so this was a final opportunity for many fans to see them in person. They opened their set with Relentless and the fans went crazy. Fantastic music, incredible guitar riffs, fabulous vocals with blazing pyro made their set one for the books.
The final performance of the night was on the Heaven stage by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Formed in the 60s in Jacksonville, Florida, I have had the privilege to see them multiple times over the years and have never been disappointed. Even though the only remaining member of the original group is Gary Rossington, the band still delivers all their hits as originally performed – and there are so many hits from this iconic southern rock group. Playing for 90 minutes, it was one hit after the other, ending with the iconic Freebird.
Day two of the festival was set up to be just as epic as day one. The day was stacked with band like Them Evils, Alien Weaponry, Graveyard, Fever 333, Power Trip, Nothing More, Whitechapel and the big dogs Gojira, Ghost, Mastodon along with the headliner Def Leppard!!…all these band would be great to see on their own, let alone all of them in one day. The new kids on the block Them Evil, Alien Weaponry and Gaveyard hit the stages to warm up the chilly crowd, being that is dropped down 20+ degrees from the day before they had to bring the HEAT..AND that is what they did!!!.. Wowing their fans and making new ones along the way. Alien Weaponry turn up some major heat with starting the show with their native tongue chant called “Haka” that got the crowd pumped up and ready to throw down with some heavy freaking tunes like “PC Bro” and ending with Rū ana te whenua that had the crowd whipping and head banging! Fever 333 and Nothing More were a huge draw at the main stage, with people hugging the rails and going back as far as the eyes can see… and it was a sea of head banger that were ready to get crazy, just like Jason, Stephen and Aric of The Fever 333, and Ben. Mark. Johnny and Daniel always bring the energy to the stage like no one else can,if your blood isn’t raging like it wants to pop out of your veins after seeing these guys you are already dead. These guys are the future of music, they now how to hype a crowd up! Gojira and Ghost hit the stage later in the date to a huge crowds ready for some french and swedish metal music, and that is what they got!! The frenchmen got that Exit 111 crowd going with “Oroborus” and ended their epic set with “The Gift Of Guilt“, while Ghost had us all going to church with “Ashes” and pounding down the “Square Hammer” that ended the band set in smashing success. Mastodon brings the noise to Hell stage in cold night air but they soon heated up the night with their hard hitting music that pounded the chest and rattled your teeth. But….We all know who we were waiting for all day…Def Leppard!!! Yes, The “Pour Some Sugar On Me” band that had hit after hit back in the 90’s blasted on the stage with “Rocket” and proceeded to go through monster hit after monster hit all the way to “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph” that ended the night of to one night of rock and metal you will never forget!
From Ashes to New, performing on the Rise Above Stage, had a very unique opening: the Circle of Life from The Lion King movie played before the band took the stage. As fans looked at each other wondering what the hell, a voice spoke regarding the band’s commitment to environmental issues with a statement that Mr. Turtle should not need to worry about plastic around his neck, and that if he finds you are responsible he will tear off your balls and feed them to a pack of hyenas. This definitely got the crowd alive and ready for their hard hitting rock. Thrice opened their set with the melodic Hurricane to a very large crowd and then hit hard for the rest of their set. Dirty Honey is a new band for with a very 70s blues/rock vibe as in their opening Scars, which had some impressive guitar riffs. Alter Bridge woke up the subdued Sunday afternoon fans (too much partying?? ) with the usual fab vocals from Myles Kennedy, stellar guitar riffs from Mark Tremonti, great bass from Brian Marshall and amazing drums from Scott Phillips. Opening with Wouldn’t You Rather from their new album Walk the Sky, they pulled from all their previous albums to give every fan what they came to hear. Lamb of God needed a much bigger area to handle their massive fan base. The circle pit started the moment the band took the stage to perform Omerta and the crowd surfing was immediately off and running. Among the surfers was a Mutant Ninja Turtle, a nun, and Santa Claus. Always an experience to watch the crowd when LoG performs. And speaking of performing, how is Randy Blythe’s head still attached to his body with all the head rotations he does? Deftones brought their unique style of alternative/metal/rock to the Heaven stage playing a little of each genre and leaving the crowd sweating, happy and screaming for more. Guns N Roses took the stage (30 minutes late – no surprise there, right) opening with It’s So Easy, playing hit after hit after hit. Ending their set Night Train, the fans refused to leave and GNR returned for a three song encore, finally ending the night and the festival with Paradise City. There is no denying that GNR is tops with the fans and still sounding as awesome as ever.
All in all, Exit 111 was a complete success. All the necessary parts for a great music experience were there and executed beautifully. Almost all the bands took the stages on time, with the exception of one, the music was phenomenal, the food and drink were good and plentiful, the location was outstanding and I also must comment on how incredibly clean the festival was – a happy change from many festivals. Here’s hoping that next year will bring an even bigger crowd and more amazing music. Thanks C3 Presents and AC Entertainment.