Friday, June 11
With the eight-hour time difference between Phoenix and London kicking in hard, I didn’t mind that getting up at 8 a.m. on Friday was tougher than usual! Four cups of coffee and a hearty British Breakfast later and I was good to go!
Good job I didn’t hit that snooze button a couple more times, as Mr. Demmel’s flight from San Francisco was early, and by 9 a.m. he was at our hotel and raring to go. After he grabbed a quick breakfast, we piled in the van and off we went. By this time it had thankfully stopped raining and a couple of quick “how the hell muddy is it?” calls to our buddies at Marshall amps — who were already at the festival site — revealed that the dreaded “Wellies” (a.k.a. Wellington or rubber boots … as mentioned before) were deemed unnecessary! Not surprisingly, when the subject was broached, Phil’s response was “Screw that, I don’t care how muddy it is, I’m not wearing those!” He did however ask the logical “Why are they called Wellington boots?” question. As Wellies are part of British life, we were a little ashamed to admit that we thought it could well have something to do with the Duke of Wellington, although we weren’t 100 percent positive. So in order to fill my already cluttered brain with yet more worthless trivia, a Google search was prompted. The answer? Our assumption was correct – they were indeed named after the Duke. So, if the question does ever come up, now you know thanks to the Bloodline Blog! Useless trivia sidebar over, back to the plot …
With the car loaded we started the trek north. On paper the journey should take three hours but given that it was a Friday and we were part of an estimated 100,000-strong army converging on Castle Donington, we expected traffic delays and left ourselves a good two-hour window so that we would still get there in plenty of time to pick up our credentials and see the first band on the main stage – our buddies Unearth. But while the first two-thirds of our trek was a breeze, once we hit the M1 it started to go horribly wrong …
As the traffic cones in the above photo indicate, we hit some major road work that split the northbound M1 into two veins. Thankfully, we chose the two-lane option rather than the single lane, as when our speed slowed to an agonizing crawl for a good 10-mile stretch, the single lane had ground to a complete stop. Many frustrated travelers were out of their cars and sitting on the bonnet (that’s the hood, in U.S. English). Ten miles later we passed the reason for our glacial pace — a two-car pileup that had blocked that whole single lane off. Why are drivers addicted to rubbernecking? Especially when the “got to see” thing is merely a two-vehicle fender bender? Whatever the reason, once we’d passed the incident, it was smooth running. Until we got off at the Castle Donington exit and started following the Download signs, that is …
At this point, all roads leading to Download started to quickly narrow – from three lanes to two to one. Can you say “bottleneck”? To make matters worse, the last few miles are made up of winding country lanes, and 100,000 people trying to fit into one lane is not a good ratio! Needless to say, the last 10 miles of our journey were excruciatingly slow. Despite our snail’s pace we managed to make the main backstage entrance – literally a short dirt track — with 20 minutes to spare. Good thing we factored in that extra two hours; we needed ’em!
Let the Madness Begin!
The first day of this three-day hard-rock/metal extravaganza was a relatively short one as even though all five stages were up and running, the first bands didn’t go on until 3 p.m. Also, while there’s usually some pretty serious (and often frustrating) overlapping set times for the headliners on the three biggest stages (yep, the site is so colossal that all five stages can be running at the same time), when AC/DC played, they had the entire audience to themselves.
But first up on the main stage were our East Coast pals Unearth. Despite only having a 30-minute set and the nerve-racking slot of opening what is probably the world’s most prestigious metal festival, Unearth kicked butt with Ken’s and Buz’s seven-string riffage being powered magnificently by their EVH 5150III heads. Here’s what the view was like from the stage:
As relatively “un-insane”as the bill was, we had one problem: the headliners on the second and third stages – Job For a Cowboy (JFAC) and Bullet For My Valentine (BFMV), respectively – both feature Jackson endorsees, Al and Matt. Not only did their set times overlap massively, but the two stages were so far apart that you really needed a helicopter to get between them – especially taking into account the fact that there were 100,000 people between you and the respective stages! While pondering this dilemma I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of AC/DC’s stage by my longtime pals and two of the finest guitar techs in the biz, Adam Day and Geoff Banks. Thanks fellas!
And not only did AC/DC not have anyone playing at the same time as them, they also brought their own stage — complete with lights, sound, train and cannons! — and plonked it right next to the main one. It was enormous! To give you an idea of the sheer size, here are their trucks:
And here’s the walkway ramp and an interesting fact: even though this shot was taken a good four hours before AC/DC went on, fans had already started gathering!
During my tour I got to see the train, the cannons and Angus’s and Malcolm’s amps and guitars. Just like a typical tourist, I couldn’t help myself from snapping a bunch of shots! Two of my favorites are right below. The first is of Angus’s guitar boat, complete with a collection of just a few of the many bras that have been thrown on the stage over the years!
The second is one that I just had to get. Yours truly holding the Gretsch that Malcolm has played forever — nice!
P.S. In case you’re wondering, of course I got a shot with Angus’s main axe too; I’m just not gonna bore you with it.
While still pondering the how-do-I-catch-both-bands dilemma facing me regarding BFMV and JFAC, I watched Killswitch Engage from Adam D’s tech area onstage. It was great to see Howard back where he belongs and the band was in top form. The highlight of their set? A cover of the late great Ronnie James Dio’s “Holy Diver.” The set staple received an incredible reaction from the crowd. You really had to be there to appreciate it. Below is a shot of Adam D flipping 70,000-plus people off and getting away with it as only he can!
Due to the fact that BFMV hit the stage 20 minutes before JFAC, a plan was hatched: Watch the first half of Bullet and then make a mad dash to the other side of the huge site to catch JFAC. The crowd that had gathered for Bullet was impressive but not surprising – their new album, Fever, was Top 5 in pretty much every country with electricity! Plus, they’re a British band headlining a British festival. To say that they owned it would be an understatement. They played magnificently. Frontman and Jackson signature artist Matt Tuck literally had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the get-go, and the audience reaction was fevered! The show they put on was quite spectacular, too – with pyro that was visually stunning, as the below pic illustrates.
Suitably impressed with Matt and company, I made the dash across the vast expanse that is Download and caught the end of JFAC. As per usual, the boys brought it home hard, with their unique blend of death metal and hardcore going down the proverbial storm. I wasn’t able to get close enough to snap shots of Al Glassman shredding his Jackson Soloist due to the intensity of the crowd, but I was quite content to watch from a safe (LOL!) distance and enjoy!
For Those About to Rock
What else can you say about AC/DC? They’re peerless at what they do, which is why they’re one of the biggest rock bands to ever grace this planet. And as they’ve been doing for well over 30 years now, they came out and tore it up at Download, with an estimated 100,000 fans enjoying every riff, cannon shot and duck walk! Below is the set list from the show – read it and weep!
And here’s a view of their stage from way, way back. Can you say “Holy crap?”
More news from the next two days of Download will follow, everyone — stay tuned!
– Nick B.