I have always wanted to go to England and when I saw the line up for this years Download Festival I knew my time had finally come. Held at Donington Park known worldwide as the spiritual home of rock, Download is an annual three-day festival with over 100 bands and 80,000 people in attendance. Most of the diverse mob spends the entire weekend camping, creating a chaotic village of misfits under the hot sun with record temperatures which would soar above 95 degrees, totally unusual weather for England at any time of year.
Download Day One
We left our Derby hotel early in the morning and joined the mess of traffic trailing its way out to Donington Park. Once we finally arrived we found Will Call, grabbed our credentials and made our way to the media area where we were given laminates, maps and a program. It was amazing how organized everything was, and as we wandered around we entered a gigantic warehouse set up like a lounge, with low couches and easy chairs everywhere. The huge room had a laid back ambience with dark lighting and air thick with sweet smelling incense; we had wandered into the VIP lounge, a place we would end up calling home during much of our stay at the festival. The first day of Download started with Soulfly as Brazilian maniac Max Cavalera filled the air with his trademark screams and the bands tribal yet undeniably metal sound launching the crowd into a frenzy of bodies smashing up against the barricade. After only three brutal songs we were quickly shuttled over to the Snickers Stage where we had the pleasure of hearing the magnificent genre-blending tunes of the mighty Los Angeles phenomenon Fishbone. We watched for a few minutes and then were off on our grueling schedule as we rushed back to the main arena to catch the Deftones, who were just taking the stage amidst a haze of fog and lights to play an unrelenting set of their greatest rock hits. There was a long intermission and the crowd soon grew restless. With the heat of the day mostly gone, a hush of anticipation fell over the crowd as Tool appeared and launched into one of the best sets I had ever heard them play, turning the crowd into a motley collection of bodies surfing across the mass in the fading light. While our working day was finally over, our evening had just begun. After dark Download becomes a whole different world and we made our away across the field to the amusement park area which featured a fullscale extreme ride carnival already in full swing. The rides were surrounded by just about every vendor you could think of hawking their Hot Topic styled wares. Hired by the festivals promoter and scattered throughout the crowd was an odd assortment of freaks with everything from huge robots, Giger aliens, and insectoid monsters to an army of storm troopers and filthy cave people. These freakish performers would harass the crowd creating a spectacle everywhere they went. I loved the eerie Sonic Forest where you could stroll through aluminum columns to activate melodies and strobe lights to create your own music. With our curiosity finally satisfied we made our way back to the hotel and fell into our beds exhausted just as it started to get light outside.
Download Day Two
Day two began bright and early and we soon found ourselves moving from one stage to the next shooting pictures and sweltering in the heat. Our day opened with Henry Rollins and his unique delivery of spoken word followed by a little Wicked Wisdom as Jada Pinkett Smith launched herself energetically across the stage with husband Will Smith watching from the wings. Our morning also included 10 Years, Devil Driver and Opeth before we headed back to the main stage to catch Bloodsimple, Stone Sour and Alice in Chains who nearly brought the sky down with their amazing performance. William Duvall climbed into the crowd and merged with humanity as he belted out our favorite grunge rock tunes. They were followed by great performances from Avenged Sevenfold and Trivium who’s heavy music drew a frantic energy from the crowd. Finally, as the day cooled off we waited expectantly for Korn to begin. After a lengthy wait the band came out and announced that Jonathan Davis was in the hospital and would be unable to perform. Before a riot broke out Jesse Hasek of 10 Years grabbed the microphone for “It’s On!” and what followed became legend as members of Avenged Sevenfold, Devil Driver, Skindred, Stone Sour and Trivium stepped up to the plate to help their friends get through the night. Their brief set was well accepted by the crowd and as the band left the stage the wait began for the main act of the night… Metallica! I was sixteen years old the last time I saw this band and I never thought that I would ever end up where I was that day, standing close enough to touch my heroes. After the last album I didn’t know what to expect from these metal giants but they more than delivered, driving out a set which was incredible from the first note to the last. To commemorate the albums 20th anniversary the band played Master of Puppets from start to finish to the sheer delight of the audience. After the final notes rung out we headed back to the VIP area, a sunburned, blistered, battered and bruised but content group. After a much needed cold beverage in the tent we walked weary and tired to our beer can of a car, drove back to the hotel and again at almost daylight we passed out, having survived our second night at Download.
Download Day Three
By the next morning we were still utterly exhausted. Accidentally sleeping in, we missed most of the opening bands. As it turned out we would need the sleep to fortify us for the crazy day ahead. We start out the afternoon right with a heavy dose of God Forbid and Hatebreed, followed by an old school thrashing from DragonForce. Finally the shining moment of the entire festival arrived as our hometown boys 36 Crazyfists took the stage. It was an incredible experience and my heart was pounding to see them in front of a packed crowd of 80,000 with the entire pit screaming every lyric at the top of their lungs. It was a surreal moment and as I climbed the hill above the crowd I literally shed a few tears of pride as I watched their rockstar moment. It was, after all, the reason that I came, and it was worth everything, every penny and every mile to see them grace this stage, to see their smiles as they look out onto the sea of people and hear their music mirrored back at them.
The rest of the long day would include performances from Lacuna Coil, Cradle of Filth and a blistering set from Bullet for My Valentine. Eventually the moment arrived as the final act of the night was ready to hit the stage. This was a nostalgic experience for me, to see Guns N’ Roses, whose music formed the soundtrack of my junior high years. After all that has happened to the band, I expected to hate it, in fact I joked about it all weekend. In the end I was totally mistaken since they positively killed it, playing for nearly three hours to the biggest crowd of the entire festival, nailing every single song and taking me back to my youth. Hearing all the old songs from the past was a powerful drug for me, leaving me feeling high when it was over, and ready to relax and have a little downtime. After three days straight, it was the end of the road. This weekend would prove to be. the most intense journalism duties I have ever taken on and while it was completely worth it, I was more then glad the work was finished.
Ready to go out and experience the distinctive atmosphere of Download after dark again, we wandered through the village and watched as people set hundreds of fires everywhere. Fires were burning all over the hill and around each one was a unique and diverse gathering of people from all over the world. We met the most amazing people in the little world we lived in for those three days, it was an incredible experience and while not the vacation I expected, it ended up being one of the most memorable weekends of my life. As we boarded our plane in Gatwick, we talked about our experiences and all the things we planned to do when we finally hit American soil. Starbucks, fast food and clean bathrooms were at the top of our lists. We upgraded to first class for our flight back to Portland and drank as many free Bloody Mary’s as we could manage, which somehow seemed like a fitting end to our grand adventure across the pond. Download, we’ll be back to conquer you again next year!
Special thanks to Diane Hart, Emmaleigh
West and Jeff Hill who helped make this trop possible