Review by Kyle McDonald
This weekend, for the fifth year in a row, Shaun Morgan, Seether put on the Rise Above Fest in Bangor Maine, an annual festival to benefit Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and raise awareness for suicide prevention. However, this year was different from years past. This year, the popular festival was expanded to a two-day event, allowing over 20 bands the opportunity to release mayhem.
In addition, the festival was dedicated to Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, who recently took their own lives, and to the countless memories they shared with everyone who loved them and their music. The tributes came in spades, with nearly every band devoting time out of their set to honor the fallen, while urging each and every person who was feeling lost and hopeless to reach out to friends and family for support. Though this year’s festival was dedicated to such somber and heartbreaking events, the overall feeling was more akin to a celebration of life, with each band coming to the stage and playing their hearts out for the cause.
Highlights from the first day included Killer At Large performing a short but satisfying set. Though a smaller and lesser known band, they filled the massive main stage as well as any of them, showing a lot of spirit and charisma in their performance. Keep an eye on them, I predict great things from them.
My biggest surprise of the whole weekend, came when Crobot took to the stage next. As someone who had never even heard of the band, let alone listened to their music, I was caught completely off guard by the old-fashioned rock n’ roll swagger that hit the stage. Frontman Brandon Yeagley’s stage presence can only be described as electrifying, as he ran around the stage like the Energizer bunny on speed, belting out crazy vocals and getting the entire crowd going. I can’t even begin to express how in awe I am of guitarist Chris Bishop. As a guitarist myself, I was blown away by his fuzz-filled riffs and incredible technique and his own stage presence, which was on par with Yeagley’s. When a guitarist can spin his guitar around his body multiple times in the middle of a song and not miss a note, you can’t help but take notice. Their music oozed vintage rock attitude and grit, and got the entire crowd off their feet dancing and jumping around. Their tribute to Chris Cornell was also very fitting, with Clint Lowery of Sevendust and Seether fame joining them in an incredible rendition of Audioslave’s “Cochise”. Their performance made me a believer, and I’m confident that much of the crowd watching are now fans as well.
Another highlight came from the organizers of the festival themselves, Seether. They are veterans of the stage at this point, and it shows. As always, they sounded tight and focused, delivering raw angst and power with their music. Shaun Morgan was in rare form as well. This weekend was my fourth time seeing them live, and Shaun looked the most relaxed I have ever seen him, smiling and taking shots and goofing around with his techs in between songs. He truly looked like he was enjoying himself. Their older music sounded as good as I’ve ever heard it live, and the performance of their song “Stoke The Fire” from their newest album, Poison The Parish, hit every spectator in the face like a shotgun blast. Overall, this year’s set was the best I’ve ever seen from one of the great veteran acts of the genre.
Finally, we come to Stone Sour. This was my first time seeing Corey Taylor live, so I was looking forward to seeing them more than anyone else on the first day, and they delivered in a way I could never have imagined. Taylor is such a magnetic force on the stage that no one could possibly stay in their seats, even at the end of a long day of music. The energy he displayed and the power in the entire band’s performance made me pity everyone living within a fifty-mile radius trying to go to sleep for the night. Between singing his heart out and running around the stage blasting the crowd with a shoulder-mounted confetti cannon, Taylor looked like he was having the time of his life. The music was aggressive and powerful and even the slower songs, such as “Through Glass” and “Bother”, gained energy with the massive sing-a-longs that occurred. After seeing such an incredible performance, I will not hesitate to buy tickets the next time they perform at a venue near me.
Korn closed the first day’s festivities with a rousing set featuring the kilt-wearing lead singer, Jonathan Davis, whipping the crowd in to a frenzy when he brought out the bagpipes for “Shoots and Ladders”. After an hour long set full of high energy rock and roll, Korn brought the day to an end with the fan favorite, “Freak on a Leash”, which sent everyone home fully satisfied yet exhausted.
The second day brought even more of the energy and music that metal fans have become accustomed. The first band that I want to highlight is Starset. Though a relatively new band, they brought a stage show that was unmatched by anyone else at the festival. Guitarists Ron DeChant and Brock Richards take the stage in jetpacks and space suits, drummer Adam Gilbert performs contained in a holographic box, and vocalist Dustin Bates stands at his central control board. The band looked like they had arrived in the Starship Enterprise to melt faces. With a tight electronic-enhanced sound, they blew everyone away with their combination of showmanship and technical precision.
My two favorite performances of the weekend, however, came from Theory of a Deadman and Halestorm. Introducing themselves with the song “Blame Canada” from the South Park movie, Theory of a Deadman let everyone know that they were going to have fun before they even hit the stage. Taking the crowd through a set of old standbys and newer singles, the band never missed a beat. Frontman Tyler Connolly was flawless, joking with the crowd and performing their songs with incredible gusto. Every song sounded incredible, and each song had the entire crow singing along.
However, the highlight of the entire weekend came from Halestorm. The energy that came from every single person in the band was palpable. Lead singer, Lzzy Hale, came across as the second coming of Joan Jett, with untouchable attitude and ferocious talent. Arejay looked more comfortable behind a drum kit then anyone I’ve ever seen, and played through unbelievable drumlines with unrivaled ease. Even when Lzzy brought out the piano and rolled through a cover of Bette Midler’s “The River” and a soulful rendition of her own song “Dear Daughter”, the energy never abated. The shining moment came when Arejay, after destroying a powerful drum solo, led the crowd along in a sing-a-long of “In the End” by Linkin Park, dedicating it to Chester and Chris. They then set right back into their original music, blowing through the crowd with an aggression unmatched by even the great Corey Taylor. They wrapped up with “I Miss the Misery”, leaving the entire crowd on a massive adrenaline high and going crazy for the entire band.
The final day ended loudly with the final headliner, Shinedown, and lead singer Brent Smith doing his best to bring down the house. In addition to a full set of Shinedown’s sing-along hits, the band also delighted the crowd with a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”, a crowd favorite that brings out the inner rock star in everyone.
In light of tragic events, the proceedings this weekend took on a whole new meaning. Every band was touched by the deaths of Chester and Chris, and they each gave their all to memorialize the lives of these two incredible men, and the lives of everyone who had taken or were thinking about taking their lives. A fitting tribute for two massive rock legends, and an incredible festival in it’s own right, this year’s festival will be hard to top next year but I can’t wait.