Concert goers slowly emerged from their tents and motorhomes for the final day of the Exit 111 Festival after near-freezing temperatures engulfed the Great Stage Park in Manchester the night before. The coffee truck in the campgrounds was the most popular place to hang out int the morning, but by the time the music got underway just after noon, the area warmed to a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon.
California neo-punk band Plague Vendor played an early afternoon set on the Hell stage as a curious crowd began to gather. Festivalgoers, many unfamiliar with the band's music gathered in small groups across the vast field to give the band a listen. But lead singer Brandon Blaine was having none of that passive listening. The singer stopped the music and addressed the crowd aggressively, asking them to come up close and get involved. Many in the crowd sheepishly acquiesced and packed tightly in front of the stage. Then as the band, including guitarist Jay Rogers, bassist Michael Perez, and drummer Luke Perine launched into an aggressive beat, Perez ripped off his shirt and dove into the audience, crowd surfing for nearly the entire song as he sang the punchy lyrics. It was a testament to the power of this young band to take control of the opening set and making the most of it. The group was followed on the main Heaven stage by another southern California band, Thrice. The post-hardcore rockers represented a different generation then Plague Vendor, having formed back before the new millennium. But the bands played with similar intensity much to the delight of the early crowd.
Yet another Southern California band took over the Hell stage next. Dirty Honey, an American rock band from Los Angeles that is currently made up of singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone. The band cites Led Zeppelin as one of their biggest influences and perform in a very classic rock style. Labelle has a compelling stage presence, not unlike that of Jay Buchanan, the lead singer of Long Beach-based blues rockers the Rival Sons. The band played a hard-rocking 45-minute set that included songs “Scars," “Heartbreaker," “When I’m Gone," and their recent single “Rolling 7s”.
By the time the Orlando based Alter Bridge played the main Heaven stage in the mid-afternoon, a large crowd had gathered that would only grow more massive for the remainder of the festival. Alter Bridge formed in 2004 with a lineup that included lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy, lead guitarist and backing vocalist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall, and drummer Scott Phillips. Marshall and Phillips put the group together after their former group Creed, disbanded. The band played fiercely much to the delight of the crowd. Kennedy has been touring relentlessly with several bands over the last few years, including the Conspirators featuring Slash. Many in the crowd may have been hoping that Slash would drop in for a jam during the hour-long set, seeing that Guns n Roses would be closing out the stage later that night. But the band did just fine without him. The group is currently on tour supporting the release of their sixth studio album, “Walk The Sky,” which was just released on October 18, 2019. The band played new music from the album, including “Wouldn’t You Rather” and “Pay No Mind.” The band also played some of their past hits, including “Isolation,” “Rise Today,” “Blackbird," and “Metalingus.”
Over on the Rise Against stage veteran Christian heavy metal band Skillet, from Memphis played an astounding set, which included lead singer and bassist John Cooper spraying the crowd with a dry ice fog cannon. Female drummer Jen Ledger played raging rhythms while singing wildly. Lead guitarist Korey Cooper played heavy riffs while prancing about the stage with her guitar. The band tore through their catalog of ten albums, opening with the well-known “Feel Invincible.” The set also included “Whispers in the Dark,” that had fans in the crowd shouting the chorus. Two songs from the concept album Rise followed, “Back From the Dead” and “Awake and Alive.”
Most of the crowd back in front of the main Heaven stage seemed to be in place for the duration of the night as the Northern California veterans of Chicano heavy metal the Deftones took the stage. Once known for their ear-shattering volume, the band member are masters of creating a mosh pit and crowd surfing frenzy. Screamo lead singer Chino Moreno and his band drew heavily from the past with a setlist including “Rocket Skates,” Knife Party” and “Diamond Eyes.” The group closed the set with a headbanging “Headup.”
Just after dark industrial metal pioneers, Ministry brought a whole new vibe to the festival. The band is the brainchild of charismatic lead singer Al Jourgensen and has come a long way since he started the group as an 80’s synth band. The group no longer plays the campy 80’s hit “Everyday Is Halloween,” preferring to lay down hardcore metal riffs. The band drew heavily from the 1988 masterpiece album “The Land of Rape and Honey,” opening with “The Missing.” While Jourgensen and the band flailed about on a darkened strobe-lit stage, video clips of riots were projected on the large screen backdrop along with photos of Hitler morphing into President Trump. The group played two more songs from the 1988 classic album, “Deity," and “Stigmata." The band threw in an intense cover of the Black Sabbath song “Supernaut.” The crowd went wild when the band launched into two well-known tunes “Just One Fix” and the following track “N.W.O.” Ministry continued to send the crowd into a crowd-surfing frenzy with another well-known tune “Thieves” before ending their set with “So What.”
As temperatures began to drop just after dark many in the massive crowd huddled about the main Heaven stage wondering whether headliners Guns N' Roses would play the full three hour set as advertised. Almost on cue, the band arrived 30 minutes late for their set time, a relatively average delay for the feisty group on the latest leg of their “Not in this Lifetime tour.” But fans of the band didn’t have to worry because the band not only made up for their tardiness with an extended set but added an extra fifteen minutes coming in with an astounding three hour and fifteen-minute performance in the cold night air. The band has been on their comeback tour for over four years and according to Forbes magazine, had already made $560 million by last year, grossing an average of $3.7 million a concert. For that kind of money, expectations for a live show seem nearly impossible to fulfill. But the band closed the Exit 111 tour like they had just begun a fresh new tour. Slash may arguably be the best living rock guitarist and managed to lead his bandmates on an extended jam of almost every song on the extensive setlist. At first glance, it seemed that lead singer Axl Rose might have been lip-synching with the giant video screens appearing a bit out of synch. But for the lucky fans squeezing close to the stage to see the singer up close, it was apparent that Rose was indeed singing every note with his trademark wailing voice for the entire extended set.
The 25 song setlist, which included three encores, lasted late into the night. Rose seemed in unusually good spirits frequently bantering with the crowd. "You buncha frostbitten (f—-s),” Rose exclaimed midway through the show. The band reached deep into their catalog to play their biggest hits like “Sweet Child O’ Mine," “Welcome to the Jungle," “It’s So Easy," “Mr. Brownstone," “Rocket Queen," and “November Rain.” They also played a fantastic array of cover tunes many of which they have recorded including, “Slither” by Velvet Revolver, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan, “Attitude,” by the Misfits, “The Seeker” by The Who and an explosive take on “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney’s Wings. The three-song encore ended with a fireworks show that warmed the chilly crowd during the closing crowd-pleaser “Paradise City.” It was an impressive finish to hopefully what will be the first of many Exit 111 festivals.