A Sold-out Second Annual Louder Than Life Cements Itself as a Must-see Festival

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– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
Gibson Ranch – Louisville, KY / Saturday, October 3rd and Sunday October 4th, 2015

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Day I

The second annual Louder Than Life festival had a lot to live up to. In the first year it established itself as a perfect reason for people from all over to visit Louisville, Kentucky. Music, food, bourbon… it had it all; and it would sell out this year, more than 50,000 people venturing out to Champions Park, seventy percent of those attendees coming from somewhere outside of the Louisville area.

Despite a more musically diverse lineup (one that seemed hit or miss with people when it was first announced, as it wasn’t exclusively metal and hard rock), a few bands who had played the inaugural year were returning; and fans lined up early to get in in time to indulge in as much of it as they could, the chilly fifty degree weather seeming irrelevant.

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One of those returning bands was Butcher Babies, a favorite at these festivals. One reason it’s so easy to like them is the near constant interaction vocalists Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey do with their fans and other onlookers, each hopping off the stage and getting into the pit, helping fuel the aggressive pace their music sets; enough people even being there at this relatively early time (they went on at 1:20) for them to do their signature “Climb of Death”, several people crowd surfing during the song that went along with.

Trivium had a surprisingly early set time, which also seemed to ensure a great deal of people were out and glued to the Monster Energy Main Stage South. This festival date was part of their current tour in support of their new album, Silence in the Snow, that title track being what they kicked off their quick 30-minute set with. It may have been a short set, though the solid sounding metal music they ripped out made them a highlight of the day.

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The festival layout was somewhat different from last year, mainly in the form of an additional main stage, located over near the Jager Mobile Stage.

The walk to and from each of the two locations wasn’t bad, plenty of nice scenery and various vendor booths to check out along the way.

Starset was one of the earlier bands over on the East Stage, Dustin Bates leading his three instrumentalist band mates (the three of them clad in a sort of futuristic sort of riot/space gear, the visor on the helmets having a blue tint) delivering a charged set. A light bit of rain (the only precipitation that would fall this day) didn’t stop them nor the concertgoers, all of whom enjoyed their music, metal spliced with some electronic elements, singles like “Carnivore” and “My Demons” being the most well-known cuts they played.

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Easy to overlook (since most focused on the main stages over the Jager Stage), Aranda was a show stealer in their own right. The Oklahoma City-based rock group led by brothers Dameon and Gabe Aranda (guitarist and vocalist, respectively) held nothing back, giving even the biggest name talent on this days billing a run for their money, seeming like they had something to prove as they fired up their show with “The Upside of Vanity”.

They dished out some newer songs from their latest record, though the moment that truly earned everyone’s respect and converted them to fans came during their closer, “Whyyawannabringmedown”, Dameon handing off his guitar to Gabe at one point, the guitarist then removing his boot, using the footwear to play the axe. It was something else.

Mark Tremonti and his fellow musicians that comprise Tremonti got some action going during their performance, the guitarist extraordinaire (and killer singer to boot) requesting some movement from the crowd throughout their half hour on stage. For those who wanted to partake in a circle pit the mud caused by the rain from the day before was a non-issue.

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Out of all the bands who played in the afternoon, Tremonti seemed to get the best crowd response, having some of spectators clapping along to the pulse pounding metal songs, ones like “Cauterize” and “Another Heart”.

Atreyu was making an appearance at this year’s LTL, about a year after they officially reunited. It was clear the metalcore band had some loyal fans present, all of whom were glad to see Alex Varkatzas and his band mates back in action.

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They worked in the title track of the new Long Live album, but also made sure to play the classics, like “Lip Gloss and Black”, as well as working in an interesting cover of “You Give Love a Bad Name”. It was nothing like the Bon Jovi version probably everybody knows, though still sounded good as they took a rock classic and made it their own.

As the five-o’clock hour rolled around, it neared time for the headliners, only the three main stages being left in play.

Sevendust was the next to last band on the East Stage, Lajon Witherspoon noting at one point they were unsure of how this day was going to go after their van got stuck in the mud, apparently becoming a couple hour long ordeal. Not a good way for what was the frontman’s forty-third birthday to get started, but being on this stage, seeing the massive gathering of people all interested in watching them, you could tell the morning became a distant memory.

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They were up there solely for the fans, acknowledging they’d be nothing without them, as they ripped through older favorites like “Denial” and “Decay”. The band, both as a collective and each individual member, were on fire, and early on in their show Morgan Rose could be seen throwing a drumstick up in the air repeatedly. Vince Hornsby wound up catching one while he was over by the kit, the bass player soon tossing it out for one lucky person to grab.

They truly got the people energized, somewhat making you forget about how cold it was on this cloudy day, as night drew closer.

Many patrons left towards the end of their set, wanting to make the trek back to the other two main stages to ensure they didn’t miss a second of Seether.

In typical Seether fashion, they focused entirely on the music, their 40-minute set being a blistering pace with only a couple breaks allowed, and even one was only when Shaun Morgan experienced some temporary technical issues with his gear.

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Fans were screaming throughout the show, elated to hear “Country Song” and the closer, “Remedy”, which came mixed in with a few new jams as well, their latest single, “Save Today”, showcasing their softer side. Even those newer songs had everyone’s undivided attention, proving just how beloved Seether is, and should be, because they always bring their A game and never leave anyone disappointed.

Following them on the stage beside them was another band that had appeared at LTL last year, Bring Me the Horizon. However, they weren’t the same Bring Me the Horizon they were a year ago.

Fans have been split on their recent change in style, losing the remaining threads that held them to being a metalcore band, which is a shame, as their new music is every bit as amazing as their old stuff, just sans as much screaming.

It felt like they wanted to prove something to everyone watching, Oliver Sykes constantly pumping up the crowd, asking for some movement or to see “blood and broken bones”, doing everything he could to get a mosh pit going and keep it alive throughout their time on stage.

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New songs were mostly rare this night, though the visuals that popped up on the video board like thing (it was more bars that lined the back part of the stage) of a smiley face during the opener, “Happy Song”, wasn’t a symbol that would first come to mind when you think of BMTH.

For the most part, it was old favorites that made up their set, and those who gave them a chance, walked away no longer having any reservations about Bring Me the Horizon, their superior showmanship still being very much intact.

When Chevelle hit the stage a quarter till eight, it was next to impossible to get a spot with a good view of the stage. Weather be damned, Mother Nature was not going to prevent the fans from enjoying the three remaining acts.

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The trio was hard to see, the lighting them making them appear more as silhouettes than anything, though the music sounded just as it should. Newer material seemed to be a large part of their set list, but, of course, a few classics were worked in, “The Clincher” being an early favorite; “The Red” coming about three-quarters of the way through their set, pleasantly surprising the audience who sang along to every word.

Sully Erna, Shannon Larkin, Robbie Merrill and Tony Rombola were next on the North Stage, the collective force known as Godsmack destroying the stage for the hour they had it. Their heavy touring over the past year in support of 1000hp has made them into one of the best live bands currently out there. Not to say they haven’t always been good, it just feels like they’ve reached a new level now.

When the stage lights lit up, illuminating much of the crowd, it was impressive to see just how many people had gathered here this night. It was just a sea of music fans, many singing along to the older stuff, like “Cryin’ like a Bitch”, as well as the newer songs, “Generation Day” and “Something Different” being just some of the highlights. Another was their show staple, “Batalla de los Tambores”, Erna manning another drum kit as he and Larkin did their duel percussion solo.

It would be hard to top them, though if anyone was capable of it, it would be the legendary Rob Zombie.

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Zombie was high kicking left and right, getting some air as he jumped off of and then hopped back onto the platforms they had set up on stage. It made sure everyone had a clear view of him, the same going for John 5 and Piggy D, the guitarist and bassist having their own platforms on their respective sides.

As out of place as it may seem for an act the likes of Rob Zombie to do, their cover of “We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad is a fun way to start off the show, sending a very obvious, plainly stated message. For those who might not have been so into that, “Superbeast” secured their interest, afterwards Zombie declaring he was ready to party. So was everyone else, each (band and fans) being the entertainment for the other.

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“Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” was another song that everyone was completely into; while the final two songs, White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65” and “Dragula” (which was done as an encore), wrapped up this first day nicely.

Those who had been out here since the start had gotten nearly twelve hours of music by some great up-and-comers as well as some top tier talent you’d have to pay good money to see individually, so having them all grouped in one setting was like a dream come true. Best of all, there was still another day of this to go.

DAY II

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The second day of Louder Than Life was a 180° from the day before. Warm, the temperature being in the mid-seventies while the sun was out. Oh yeah, there was sun, the warm rays shining down all day long. It felt like the ideal fall weather, especially when you’re going to be outside all day long.

Being from Texas, it was cool to see some talent from the state represented on this final day of the festival, Whiskey Myers being one band who brought some country/Southern rock to the table.

Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown was another band on the bill. Okay, the band may reside in Nashville, though Bryant was raised in Honey Grove, Texas; and at only twenty-four-years-old, he already has a near decade of touring experience under his belt.

That experience was noticeable during their time on stage, as they dished out some bluesy sounding rock songs, the likes of which would make Stevie Ray Vaughn proud. Bryant’s chops on the guitar are partly inspired by the late icon as well, his precision and absolute control over the instrument constantly present.

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Easily one of the best bands to see this day was Nothing More. I say that more from having had the experience of seeing them here at LTL last year, a crowd of a couple hundred watching, almost all unaware of them beforehand, though by the time they finished they had people singing their praises.

One year later, they returned to the same exact stage, now commanding an audience of several hundred, all eager to see what the group had planned.

On their current headline tour, they’ve been playing their self-titled album (mostly) in its entirety, though time constraints would obviously keep them from that this day. Instead, they reverted back to their typical set list from past festivals, coming out swinging with “Christ Copyright”; Jonny Hawkins climbing atop his auxiliary drum kit at one point, the frontman soon leaping off it.

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As usual, it was the three man bass solo that earned them some of the loudest cheers. Bassist Daniel Oliver, guitarist Mark Vollelunga and Hawkins all crowding around the rhythm instrument, attached to the secondary drum kit, as the three played it; while fan favorites like “This is the Time (Ballast)” and “Salem” were reserved for the end. Speaking of the fans, several people were crowd surfing throughout their set, including a woman in a wheelchair, which was arguably the coolest crowd moment of this festival.

There’s no band like them, one that makes their shows so high-energy, compelling everyone watching to get into it, while the subject matter of their songs helps entice listeners as well. It was good seeing them back here at Louder Than Life, especially to see just how much their fan base has grown over the last twelve months.

Another band everybody loved this day was 10 Years.

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Like so many other acts, they, too, had a new album they were supporting, From Birth to Burial having been out about six months now; songs from it mixed in with the ones so many people seemed to know (“Wasteland”). It wasn’t the songs, but rather one of the stunts that Jesse Hasek pulled early on in the set that had people raving though.

The singer left the stage, but he didn’t stop at the barricade like other musicians did during this festival. Instead, he kept on going, the audience putting their hands up to make a walkway for him as he stepped out into the crowd, everyone making sure he was balanced and never fell. It was extraordinary.

Hinder treated the ever growing crowd to their powerful rock numbers, mostly focusing on the stuff everybody wanted to hear, like “Lips of an Angel” and “Get Stoned”, the crowd being very much into what Marshal Dutton and his band mates were cranking out.

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For anyone wanting some classic metal/rock, Skid Row was here to fill that need.

For many, this was probably the first time they had seen the band with Tony Harnell providing the vocals, the singer having taking over just earlier in the year. He put his own spin on the songs, nobody minding the fact that they sounded somewhat different from the versions they’ve come to know over the decades.

That’s not to say he didn’t pull them off well; “Snake” Sabo and the rest of the band being completely in their element as they raced through “Slave to the Grind”, “18 and Life” and “I Remember You”, just to name a few.

For the older patrons who out there, the ones who had seen Skid Row back in the day, they were a favorite of LT. Really, they should have been a favorite of everybody’s, as they did a fantastic job up there.

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Collective Soul felt like the odd man out in some ways. They didn’t fit the hard rock/metal niche nearly every other band on this lineup did, nor even the Southern rock genre. Still, with more than twenty years in the business, they have some songs to their credit that everyone knows in some regard, the audience enjoying every minute of their time on stage, especially when they got to “Shine”.

As far as the most energizing bands of the day went, Black Stone Cherry was right near the top of the list.

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They’re a four-man party, Chris Robertson, Ben Wells, Jon Lawhon and John Fred Young holding nothing back during their anthem like rock numbers, everything being so precise yet incredibly raw at the same time. The fact that these guys hail from Edmonton, Kentucky seemed to add to the intensity, like they didn’t want to do anything that might let their home state down. They didn’t, chocking the show full of as much life as they could muster, never relenting for a second.

3 Doors Down appeared to be another band the audience had been eagerly awaiting. The restrained “Here Without You” brought with it a false sense of security for the listeners, who enjoyed the emotional, piano-laden tale, though it was songs like “It’s Not My Time” that realized their full potential.

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Brad Arnold was almost always racing around the stage, to the point it was hard to even keep up with him; Chris Henderson wailing on his axe on other numbers, like the new one, “Do it in the Dark”.

Now that they’re back in action, Benjamin Burnley and his band mates in Breaking Benjamin have been going full throttle, touring pretty constantly. It’s clear rock fans are happy about that, people turning out in droves, making sure they were right in front of the stage for the forty-minutes the band had it, “Angels Fall” and “Failure” going well with their classics; a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” even being worked in before they eventually finished with “The Diary of Jane”.

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Following their set, the attendees took in the hour long set the guitar god Slash had planned, Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators backing him up.

A few Guns N’ Roses songs found their way into the set, even “Slither” from Velvet Revolver being heard amongst the other originals. Still, it was “Paradise City” that had the audience roaring. That’s one song that’s timeless.

While on the subject of timeless music: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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They were one band people seemed indifferent to when commenting on social media after the lineup reveal, though in seeing the impressive gathering of people around the stage they were playing, it appeared everyone was glad they were on the bill.

Nearly everything they did was a classic, songs that have affected generations well after their initial release, which was evident due to even the teens that were seen singing along to “Saturday Night Special” and “Simple Man”.

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Guitarist Gary Rossington may be the only original member of the group left, but at this point, they’ve all been doing it long enough it would be difficult for even their fans from the early days to remember some of the other lineups.

Johnny Van Zant occasional addressed the crowd, at one point mentioning they (Lynyrd Skynyrd) supported this fine country as well as the troops that serve to protect it, something that earned thunderous applause. They would go over their allotted set time (no one cared, they were the last band on that stage), “Sweet Home Alabama” setting things up for the encore, which, to no surprise, was “Free Bird”.

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Due to them pushing the time limits, Shinedown eventually had to go ahead and start over on the other side of the festival grounds. Each band had different target audiences, so most everyone who wanted to see the Jacksonville, Florida-based band was already waiting for them.

They tore it up, mixing explosive rock numbers, like the opener, “Asking for it”, with a friendly atmosphere, Brent Smith asking everyone at one point to shake the hands of everybody around them, get to know them at least in some fashion so no one here were strangers.

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The frontman and the rest of the group were all about forming a bond, the genuine caring they put forth being nice to see as they tackled favorites like “Second Chance”. Their cover of “Simple Man” was even performed making it twice in just about an hour that people had heard that one live; while they brought it all to a close with “Sound of Madness”.

The best band of Louder Than Life 2015? Possibly. They did command the crowd like no other this day, which is saying something.

It had been awhile since some Texas boys had stepped on one of these stages, but the job of closing the fest down fell to one legendary group: ZZ Top.

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The trio laid down one gritty song after another, focusing mainly on the hits, the stuff everyone wanted to hear and, from the looks of it, the songs Billy F. Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard enjoyed playing the most.

You often saw them smiling at one another as they busted out “Got Me Under Pressure” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”. “Cheap Sunglasses”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” came as a lethal string of songs near the tail end of their set, during which they proved to be another seasoned band who has written songs that will always stand the tests of time.

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By the time it was over, the second annual Louder Than Life had surpassed last year’s. It was bigger and better, that turnout of more than fifty thousand people proving that.

Danny Wimmer Presents (and everyone else that had a hand in making this festival happen) orchestrated and pulled off yet another amazing festival. Sure, that’s to be expected with all the experience they’ve had in putting together such events, but still, starting up new festivals can always be a gamble.

In the case of Louder Than Life, it has paid off. In one year’s time they increased attendance numbers (and last years were pretty good) and even grew the festival, the extra stage not being too much, every band commanding a solid crowd, even with the conflicting set times that forced people to choose who they preferred to see.

It’s a festival you have to check out, and I’m sure many are already making plans to return for the 2016 installment.

 




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