The Inaugural Exit 111 Festival headlined by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses’ is a rousing success!

The newest rock/metal/music festival to make a splash on the music festival landscape is the Exit 111 Festival at the Great Stage Park in Manchester, TN.   The location should resonate with many as it’s the site of the third largest music festival in the country, Bonnaroo held annually during the middle of June. Musically, The Exit 111 Festival focused its attention on the rock and metal genres, billed as the “heaviest festival of the year” certainly living up to its advanced billing with 45 separate performances, combining for almost 50 hours of music from some of the biggest names in the rock and metal worlds. 

While the music provides the anchor for the weekend activities The Exit 111 festival went the extra mile adding in plenty of unique entertainment opportunities for festivalgoers.  Under a giant, ominous black circus tent and compound that covered a large area between the Hell and Rise Above stages The Paranormal Cirque promised “A crazy yet fun fusion between circus, theatre, and cabaret in perfect harmony with the evolution of a show that brings you back to when we dream … and when we had nightmares and fantasies.”.  Just to the side of the Rise Above stage was a classic car show with vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles on display including supped-up Camero’s, Trans Am’s and ‘55 Chevy Bel-Air. At the very rear of the main, Heaven, stage were daily performances by the Red Bull Motocross team featuring fantastic aerial jumping displays where you could get up close and personal with the acrobatics and meet the riders after the numerous daily shows.

Being that it is football season as well as the baseball division playoff games being played there was a large sports bar centrally located to all the stages which ended up being a great place to watch some of whatever game was on, get something to eat and drink and relax a little between band performances.  The Paranormal Cirque, the classic car show, and the Red Bull Motocross performances were all included in the price of the festival ticket further enhancing the festival-goers weekend experiences.

Back to the festival’s music performances

Opening day – Friday, October 11th

Part of the fun of these open-air festivals is the on-site camping, whether you are car camping or full “RV camping” the festival campgrounds are always a lively area. With the campgrounds opening on Thursday afternoon and the festival gates not opening mid-day on Friday, the party was well underway by the time the first bands hit the stage.

Much of the banter in and around the festival grounds centred around tonight’s headliner Lynyrd Skynyrd and the mighty Slayer. It’s a funny tradition at metal shows for fans to holler out “Free Bird” in reference to Skynyrd’s legendary song but tonight when “Free Bird” was shouted everyone knew it would be the closing song of their set.  By the time Lynyrd Skynyrd took to the main Heaven stage there was a chill in the air as the outside temps had dropped and the day’s earlier rain had come and gone but no one seemed to care as Skynyrd rolled through a dynamite set which included all of their mega-hits including “What’s Your Name,” “That Smell,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and of course ending with “Free Bird” ending an epic first day of the festival on a definite high note.

Providing primary support on the main Heaven stage was Slayer. In November Slayer will kick off the Final Campaign, the last leg of the band’s final World Tour on November 2nd so tonight is Slayer’s FINAL SHOW EVER in the great state of Tennessee and was one of the focal points for the entire weekend.  To have the longevity that Slayer has experienced over the past 40+ years is noteworthy by itself but to have stayed true to themselves and continue delivering tried and true “Slayer” to a rock-solid fan base is something on a completely different plane. Slayer will leave a void that will be impossible to fill once the final chords of their final song on this final tour have been played.

Throughout the day fans were heard randomly yelling out “F***ing Slayer” which were always met with a loud cheer from anyone within earshot, so you can only imagine the roar of the crowd as Slayer took to the stage awash in their usual deep red lights. Opening with the title track of their latest (the bands 12th) studio album, “Repentless” and covered all the bases for fans with mainstays “Angel Of Death,” “War Ensemble,” “Seasons In The Abyss,” and “Raining Blood” during their time on stage.  Slayer closed out a memorable set with “Angel of Death” – For trivia buffs, it will be their last song ever performed in Tennessee.

On a day where there were several memorable moments and performances a few stood out;

Again, on the Heaven stage, performing before Slayer were thrash metal masters Anthrax. Fronted by Joey Belladonna along with the iconic Scott Ian and Jon Donais on guitar, the always demonstrative Frank Bello on bass and drummer Charlie Benante Anthrax laid down the law with a fun and hard-rocking set that included everything a fan could ask for.

A bit earlier in the day over on the Hell stage, Edmonton, Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry put together a wildly entertaining show that was all too short. As a late afternoon rainstorm rolled over the festival grounds Bishop Gunn an Americana rock and roll country band from Natchez, Mississippi showed why they were selected as part an opener for the Rolling Stones with a killer set of Rock, soul and blues in front of a very appreciative crowd.

Also performing on Friday were Seether, Killswitch Engage, Black Label Society, The Cadillac Three, 10 Years,  Kyle Shutt (of The Sword) and Watermox.

Day 2 – Saturday, October 12th

A cool yet sunny fall type day greeted festival-goers for the second and longest day of the weekend. Temperatures were expected to drop almost 25 degrees over the course of the day, down to the low 40’s by the time Def Leppard’s scheduled appearance.  Overhearing discussions before the performances of the day, it was clear that Slayer and Anthrax were fan favorites from Friday and there was a lot of excitement around upcoming sets from Fever 333, Ghost and ZZ Top later in the day.

Seemingly everyone at the festival convened around the main Heaven stage as the day’s headliner, Def Leppard was set to take the stage just a little before midnight. With outside temps hovering right around 40 degrees, Joe Elliot and the guys were the perfect solution to the cold with a fiery, yet predictable set that had the crowd singing many of the familiar tunes.   Opening with “Rocket,” “Animal,” and “Excitable” from their giant 1987 album Hysteria, Def Leppard had the whole venue heated up in a hurry! Over the next hour plus many of Def Leppard’s mega-hits came pouring from the stage including “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” and “Armageddon It” before ending their main set with “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. It was almost 1 o’clock in the morning and seemingly no one had left the main stage area as Def Leppard came out for their 2-song encore of “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph” leaving everyone with a memorable ending to what was an epic day of rock!

Providing primary main stage support to Def Leppard were Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls of Ghost. In front of a backdrop resembling cathedral stained glass windows and a stage set up reminiscent of a marble alter Ghost begins their “ritual” in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd. (Rumor had it that Ash Costello of New Years Day, who performed earlier in the day, was at the stage barrier, dressed in a nun’s outfit taking in tonight’s ritual).  A Ghost ritual is a dramatic theatrical event that mocks the church with music and lyrics that, while maybe are satanic in nature accentuate the overall experience and provide an extreme concert experience for all involved.

On the completely opposite side of the rock spectrum was ZZ Top over on the Rise Above stage.  ZZ Top is celebrating an incredible 50 years as a rock band and tonight’s set wasn’t to be missed. Fans had gathered around the stage more than 6 hours before their scheduled start time, moving closer and closer to the stage every chance they could. ZZ Tops Exit 111 Festival performance was a throwback to a simpler time, where rock music ruled the radio and music was riff-heavy and had some character. Their set started with “Got Me Under Pressure” along with a Sam & Dave Cover of “I Thank You,” fan favorites “Pearl Necklace,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and Legs” before wrapping up mega-hits “La Grange” and “Tush” leaving fans with everything they wanted and then some!     

While outstanding performance was the norm throughout the day a couple of bands stood out just a little more starting with Johnny Hawkins and Nothing More. Climbing what had to be a 20’ pole affixed to his Scorpion tail contraption, so he could sound the air raid siren mounted at the top let everyone immediately know what was coming next, an explosive, percussion-based set that was nothing but good! Speaking of high energy, Fever 333 raised the bar to an almost unachievable level. Fever 333’s songs include a heaping dose of social and political consciousness that hit you right in the heart and the band is a study in frenetic energy that grabs you by the throat and just won’t let go.

Over on the Hell stage hometown deathcore masters, Whitechapel (from just down the road in Knoxville, TN) gave the swarming, energy-filled crowd all they could ask for, along the way providing a fertile environment for tons of crowd surfers.  Dallas Texas-based thrash metallers Power Trip brought one of the hardest to fans new and old.  It was great to see the crowd continuously grow as Power Trip rolled through their set, as festival-goers wanted to be part of the fun. In the early afternoon, Alien Weaponry, all the way from Waipu, New Zealand started the day off on the main Heaven stage with a hard and lively set.  Bounding on stage shirtless, unfazed by the noticeable morning chill still in the air Alien Weaponry wasted no time heating things up, no doubt earning many new fans along the way.

Also performing on Saturday were Mastodon, Gojira, Cheap Trick, Blackberry Smoke, Sleeping with Sirens, Graveyard, New Years Day, Dead Sara, Them Evils & Astronoid

Day 3 – Sunday, October 13th

A bright, sunny morning greeted fans entering the festival grounds for the third and final day of the festival.  Flashing on the message boards on either side of the main stage was  “The Exit 111 festival is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, pace yourselves, there is still much to come”. After two days of over the top performances, you could definitely feel the lull in the crowd but that would be short-lived as Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown opened the day on the main stage with a rousing set.  Deep drum beats and Tyler Bryant’s soaring guitar riffs were exactly what the doctor ordered as the day got started in great fashion.  Over on the Hell Stage, Plague Vendor poured out energy from the word ‘go’ during their all too short set. At one point during the set the now shirtless lead singer, Brandon Blaine, was up at the barrier urging fans on before he did some crowd surfing of his own which was great to see and appreciated by fans lucky to be witness to it.

Back to back to back sets by Alter Bridge, Lamb of God and Deftones was clearly one of the day’s highlights. The largest crowd of the day stormed the Hell stage as Lamb of God took their turn on stage.  Randy Blythe and the guys didn’t need to urge the ready and willing crowd for energy, blasting into a set that was sheer power and almost instantaneously initiating a roaring mosh pit and waves of crowd surfers. Alter Bridge who are scheduled to release their latest album Walk The Sky on Friday the 18th, treated fans to a number of songs from the album along with fan favorites during an hour-long set on the main Heaven stage.         

It seemed like everyone at the festival was huddled around the main Heaven stage, anxiously awaiting Axl, Slash and Guns N’ Roses to take the stage.  Being fashionably late (25 minutes) was soon forgotten as GNR wasted no time getting down to business, launching immediately into “It’s So Easy,” “Mr. Brownstone” “Chinese Democracy” that the crowd thoroughly enjoyed. While Axl might be a little older his signature voice was strong and along with Slash’s fiery guitar rolled over the appreciative crowd as hit after hit gushed from the stage including a Wings cover of “Live and Let Die” along with the required fireworks, “Rocket Queen,” “You Could Be Mine,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “November Rain” and “Nightrain”

 Guns N’ Roses closed out the evening and the Exit 111 festival with a 3-song encore set beginning with “Don’t Cry, followed by a cover of The Who’s “The Seeker” and finally “Paradise City” accompanied by fireworks booming overhead, proving to be a fitting close to an outstanding Exit 111 Festival!

Also performing on Sunday were Coheed and Cambria, Ministry, Skillet, Of Mice & Men, Thrice, From Ashes to New, Dirty Honey, Tetrarch and O’Brother

Promises made and promised delivered!  The Exit 111 festival promised to be the heaviest festival of the year and delivered on all fronts. The inaugural festival lineup was one of the best of the year, featuring a little something for everyone’s musical tastes. The grounds, amenities and vast food and beverage selections were more than ample to satisfy everyone.  Now that the Exit 111 Festival has firmly planted its flag as a top annual festival, it will be fun to see how it grows (which it surely will) and how they top this year’s offering (which they surely will) – You are not going to want to miss the 2020 Exit 111 Festival!

Exit 111 Festival
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Lynyrd Skynyrd
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Def Leppard
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Guns N’ Roses
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Event Date: 11,12,13-OCT-2019