Chaos At the Blue Ridge Rock Festival

by | Sep 13, 2021 | MUSIC

Things were apparently a real mess at the 2021 edition of the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, held this past weekend at Danville’s Blue Ridge Amphitheater. But despite the difficulties many reported, lots of great bands played, and quite a few attendees reported having a good time. So was it really as bad as so many said? We took a closer look.

Did you see the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix? Sure you did — we all did. Remember the part where one guy said that if it hadn’t rained the morning before the festival started, he was afraid Billy McFarland might have gotten away with the whole thing? That it would have gone just well enough for the mistakes and malfeasance of the promoters to get swept under the rug once some people managed to have a good time anyway?

It didn’t rain on the 2021 edition of Blue Ridge Rock Festival. The four-day music festival took place this past weekend at the Blue Ridge Amphitheater in rural Pittsylvania County, about 15 miles north of Danville. It was their first festival event held at this location (previous years’ events were held in Appomatox County), and the first since COVID became a thing. And depending on who you ask, it might have gone tremendously well. After all, it sold out of its 40,000 tickets in less than a week. Headliners like Black Label Society, Rob Zombie, Lamb Of God, Body Count, and others made the music fans who were able to see them very happy. Indeed, as far as the actual programming, Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2021 appears to have gone off without a hitch.

But if you were on social media at all over this past weekend, you’re sure to have noticed that it also spawned a lot of discontent. While some were willing to write off the difficulties as growing pains and accentuate the positives about their experience, quite a few people were left tired, frustrated, and feeling completely ripped off by the experience they had at Blue Ridge Rock Festival.

Indeed, by midday on Friday, day two of the four-day festival, a Facebook group called Screwed By Blue Ridge Rock Festival had been created, and became very active almost immediately. Complaints expressed in the group included hours-long waits for parking, sometimes resulting in being turned away entirely; the parking that was available often being a several-mile walk from the facility, with no provisions made for handicapped people; shuttle buses being unavailable or costing more than was advertised in advance; and of course, massive traffic jams stretching all the way from the venue onto state routes several miles away. Many gave up and turned away; many more found anywhere they could to stow their cars and just walked in.

Of course, you could argue that this isn’t too different from what happened at the original Woodstock, 52 years ago. Unlike the Fyre Festival documentary, the three-hour film documenting Woodstock does a great job of romanticizing a festival — such a great job that, between it and a song written by Joni Mitchell (who wasn’t there) and made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, it created a reputation for a beautiful weekend of love, peace, and hippie transcendence that still survives, 52 years later.

Blue Ridge Rock Festival attendees hike back to their stranded cars. (Photo via TheFestiveOwl/Twitter)

No one talks about the massive problems that plagued the original Woodstock — the completely overwhelmed bathroom facilities; the closures of multiple New York state highways due to impenetrable traffic jams created by fans abandoning their cars and walking the rest of the way; the gate-crashers who so completely overwhelmed the staff that they gave up even attempting to check for the many advance tickets they’d sold, and just let everybody in for free. Sure enough, even at Woodstock, a lot of people didn’t get what they paid for.

So was what Blue Ridge Rock Festival did all that bad, in the grand scheme of things? Certainly not compared to Fyre Festival, which could easily have gotten hundreds of people killed. But in a time when decently managed festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza have become much more common than the disasters of the hippie era, it’s not something people are as willing to expect.

The comments on social media reflected this. On twitter, one attendee declared (in all caps), “THIS IS THE WORST EVENT EVER PUT TOGETHER. CHAOTIC SITUATION LAST NIGHT WITH PEOPLE HAVING TO WALK TO THEIR CARS THROWN OUT LIKE CATTLE AT MIDNIGHT ON A HIGHWAY IN RURAL VIRGINIA. SCARY. EVEN THE HANDICAPPED TREKKED UP A HIGHWAY FOR MILES.” Another posted, “I had 4-day ADA passes for Blue Ridge Rock Fest and had pre-purchased 4-day parking but was turned away on Day One because they couldn’t accommodate handicap parking or access. I’m out $800 for this past weekend.” On Facebook, one person posted, “We turned around while we were still 2.7 miles away from the parking lot after being in line for 3 hours.”

Traffic jams were also extensively documented on social media, with the most impressive being a nine-minute YouTube video (above) featuring drone footage showing the miles of stopped cars waiting to get into the festival on Thursday afternoon. Some said that things got easier as the weekend went on, but others advanced the theory that this happened because fewer and fewer ticket-holders actually tried to return each day. The many posts from people who gave up after day one or two certainly offer anecdotal evidence to support this theory.

Things weren’t any easier for media, as RVA Magazine’s president, John Reinhold, found out when he attempted to get media access for Blue Ridge Rock Festival. I’ll let John tell you his story:

“RVA Mag has worked with and been to many festivals over the years: Lockn, Floyd Fest, Camp Barefoot, and others. Generally, they make sure our photographers and writers can get in, have passes, and get easy access to parking. From the beginning, though, it was hard to get in touch with Blue Ridge Rock Festival. We had to fill out forms to be accepted, and they told us not to follow up, that they’d hit us back if we were accepted. So we waited. Two days before the event, we get information back and were accepted to send someone. However, before we left we noticed that it said media did not get camping or parking. We asked how we could sort that out, since parking and camping was already sold out. We also asked about access to equipment storage, access to power in order to charge batteries, and other media-related needs we’d have in order to offer good coverage. We didn’t get any answers; I was told on the phone that we were responsible for parking and where to stay — that media had to plan things out themselves. So we opted out, as we were concerned about the possibility of being left without anywhere to stay. We’d also heard that 40,000 people were going, and were not sure how that area could handle such a large amount of people in a safe way. It really was disappointing, because there were so many great bands on the roster. Honestly, it did look amazing. But without knowing what we could expect, it didn’t feel like we could count on delivering the kind of coverage we’d hoped to deliver.”

At least Lamb Of God had a good time. (Photo via Lamb Of God/Twitter)

The legacy of Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2021 won’t be decided today, or this week. As with a lot of other nine-day wonders, most of the people who didn’t go and spent their weekend keeping up on social media updates from the site will forget about it within a few weeks. What will really decide things is the long-term fallout. Pittsylvania County is seeking feedback from local residents and those who attended, asking questions about public safety, traffic patterns, parking, security, noise, and light (you can fill out that survey at pittsylvaniacountyva.gov/festivalfeedback). Will the results they get influence their decision about having the festival back to Blue Ridge Amphitheater next year? Will the experiences many reported on social media affect Blue Ridge Rock Festival’s ability to book top-level bands or sell through tickets in the future? Will people who requested refunds get their money back? These are the questions that will ultimately decide how Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2021 is regarded in the coming years.

Right now, all we at RVA Magazine can tell you is that we’re glad we sat this one out.

Top Photo via Beartooth/Twitter

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




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