Exit 111 2019 Review: Rockin’ Down On The Farm
The Manchester, TN October 11-13
This past weekend Great Stage Park, home to Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, played home to a new music festival, Exit 111. This festival may share the grounds of one of the biggest festivals in the US, but that is where most of the similarities come to a halt. The festival, curated for heavy metal and rock and roll enthusiasts, drew a much different crowd and therefore had a very different atmosphere than its big brother.
So what’s the different?
While the festival does share the grounds of the festival, the two are on nowhere near the same scale. This is something one would expect with an inaugural year, with the burgeoning festival playing it safe and making the grounds much smaller than its site mate. Famed landmarks from The Farm such as the mushroom fountain, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Barn, and The Watchtower were outside the venue area and un-utilized. The Christmas Barn appeared to be chock full of many icons from the larger festival, and The Watchtower’s disco ball finish was removed. What does all of this mean, though? Well, for anyone who has visited Great Stage Park during the first weekend in June, you will know that this means that about a third of the potential area of the main venue has been lopped off. If you were curious about what the giant white ball was or why there was a neon-painted fountain just outside the fence, we highly suggest coming back during its full utilization in June.
Beyond just the physical differences of the festival, the crowd is also very different. Not to be misconstrued, we saw plenty of t-shirts, bandanas, bags, and other memorabilia from the summer festival, but many attendees were clearly cut from different cloth all together. Tie dyes were replaced by vests or “battle jackets” adorned with patches, studs, and any number of other decorations that made each of them their own art piece. These fans were a different type of rowdy, with the drug of choice being aggression and alcohol instead of high fives and serotonin. We have never seen this much crowdsurfing. Fans’ ages ranged but definitely ran more in the early 30s to mid-40s for an average. Overall the crowd seemed to get along, and while we are sure there was more than one alcohol-fueled brawl, our overall impression is that fans were having a great time, with smiling and head-banging abandon.
Raw metal amenities
We will admit, compared to most of the festivals we attend,which usually have an “and arts” component to them, Exit 111 was a little bare-bones for our taste. The festival was mostly just an amalgamation of camping, parking, bars, food vendors, and stages. The only souvenir items available were official merch and a couple of things from sponsors like Jack Daniel’s, and once the music stopped there was nothing to do but go back to camp and sleep or drink. We did enjoy the emphasis on mental health through Shaun Morgan (Seether) and the organization SAVE, but would have loved to see it mentioned even more! There was, however, one holdout of arts and culture outside of these that we just absolutely adored.
That holdout was the fantastic Paranormal Cirque. Housed in a large black and red circus tent, this roving band of self-proclaimed illusionists, acrobats, performers, and side show attractions terrify and tantalize. We won’t say much about their show, because we don’t want to spoil the fun, but rest assured if it is coming to a town near you, be sure you get out to see it.
BANG. YOUR. HEAD.
So, the music: what was the music situation? A mix of Southern rock meets heavy metal came together to make this festival’s inaugural year something special. To kick off this laundry list of milestones, famed Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd played what will allegedly be their last show EVER to close out Friday night, bringing to a close a career that spans multiple generations. Next, Slayer, one of the heaviest bands in metal, played what they report will be the last show they ever play in Tennessee, as they are also in the process of a farewell tour. Rounding out these milestones are the boys with the beards; ZZ Top kicked off their 50th anniversary tour at the festival on Sunday.
These big names alone could bring out droves of fans, and each one absolutely CRUSHED their respective stages, but there were so many other big names in rock present at this festival. One of our top discoveries for the weekend were the boys in Fever 333. This band is the definition of manic, with both the guitarist and singer in an almost constant state of motion. Combine that with a political agenda being pushed through their heavy music, and this writer was instantly sold. Next, as our writer admitted in his “Top 5 Can’t Miss Shows” article, Black Label Society absolutely blew the roof off of the place. Coming out to a cover of Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell, the viking biker beast that is Zakk Wylde assaulted the crowd with more guitar riffs than they knew what to do with. The show definitely left us feeling violated… but in the good way. Other standout acts include Lamb of God, Thrice, Ghost, Anthrax, Watermox, and Dirty Honey. We could gush for days over how heavy Lamb of God is, the amazing stage production of Ghost, Dirty Honey’s Willy Wonka-meets-Southern rock aesthetic and any number of other amazing acts we saw throughout the weekend, but we won’t. Just trust us, the musical lineup was STACKED, and you can’t go wrong with checking out any of the bands as long as you are into those veins of music.
Speaking of quality acts, we were quite impressed by the sound quality the festival brought. Metal can often be overwhelming, with the mids and bass quickly becoming muddied and also drowning out the high vocals, but we didn’t experience that very much. With a good pair of tuned earplugs in, music quality was pretty excellent, and even the most gravelly of screams remained intelligible. We can’t comment on quality sans earplugs, because our writer values his hearing,(and you should too; seriously, get some good earplugs and thank us later), but it was definitely above average and often exceeded the quality we get at larger festivals. If you want to see more photos of artists from the weekend, be sure to check out all of our photo recaps.
Should I take the next Exit?
After this first year we are really hoping to see this festival back next year. We loved the smaller size utilized at the park and the lower attendance. These things often made the festival feel more intimate as well as less exhausting to trek from show to show all day long. Security was relaxed and helpful both entering the venue and maintaining order inside the grounds, the crowd mostly played nice, an amazing lineup, and it took place in one of our favorite locations in the world. Is there room for improvement? Certainly. We would love to see the addition of some vendors selling clothing and other little trinkets (I for one would have loved a place selling vests with some customization options), maybe add a bit of art such as graffiti, and some campground fun mixed in, but overall the festival did an excellent job of curating its first year. The number one things we can’t stress enough is to not go expecting this to be Bonnaroo. The days of this location being solely about a single festival are coming to an end, and with that comes a multitude of opportunities, but it can also leave sour notes in the mouth of a fan expecting that and not getting it. Exit 111 is definitely a beast unto itself and deserves to be able to fly on its own without being anchored down by its famous cousin’s name and vicinity. Make the journey, take the exit, and bang your head.