Story by Spencer Fleming
All photos by Bryce Hall
Close to 30,000 fans descended upon Indianola, IA (just a few minutes outside of Des Moines), on Saturday (9/25) for one of the biggest shows of the year. This year's Knotfest Music Festival featured the Iowa legends Slipknot, along with Megadeth, Lamb of God, Gojira, Trivium, Tech N9ne, and a host of newer up-and-coming acts.
While every band on the bill played with passion and excitement, the majority of people I spoke to were unhappy with the execution of the event and lack of safety measures. I know trying to please 30,000 people is impossible, but even before the first drop D guitar note or screaming vocal was heard, the lines were out of control.
When my GPS showed I was about a mile from the venue, the stage, the giant screens, and a roller coaster came into view. I creeped along the gravel road (luckily I was getting dropped off) and inched closer to the sweet sounds of crunching guitars. Finally, as I climbed the last hill a sea of people in black shirts started to come into view. The line snaked around from the bus drop-off area down the very road we were on, but it didn't look that bad.
As I started to walk towards the box office, I realized the line by the bus was just the tip of the iceberg. I looked over the rolling hills to see the longest concert line I've ever encountered. There had to have been 10,000 people deep. I have no idea how long it took to get everyone in but I'm sure it was quite a wait. As I was getting dropped off people were already desperate for water and asked if we had any. I can only assume they had been standing in the sun for a while at that point.
After picking up credentials I made my way to the front of the stage. Even just getting dropped off ate up a lot of time so I unfortunately missed the first couple bands. I was able to catch about half of Turnstile's set. Turnstile's new album Glow On just dropped and it's been getting rave reviews. With all the good press and the comparisons to 311, Rage Against the Machine, and Incubus I was super psyched because all those bands are in my lane. These guys definitely had a lot of energy and the crowd was hyped! They did sound a bit like 311 with hard driving riffs and lots of melodies. That's not to say they didn't play some hardcore songs though. Turnstile can turn it up when they want to but also get back to the caveman riffs and strait up scream-sing quickfire vocals. For me it was a great set to catch and a fun way to start the day.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYCE HALL
After Turnstile's set I planted myself in the front to get ready for my favorite band on the bill, Fever 333. Before Fever played, Knocked Loose was going on over at stage 1. I watched from the giant screens so I could keep my spot on the stage 2 rail. Plus, I had seen Knocked Loose twice before, once with Hatebreed, and once on a headline set. The time I saw them with Hatebreed was way cool. Side story...
So Hatebreed was coming to town with Crowbar, The Acacia Strain, and Twitching Tongues, and they were going to play at Sokol Auditorium in south Omaha. Well Sokol has a big room upstairs and a smaller room downstairs. It just so happened on the same night as the Hatebreed show Terror and Knocked Loose were playing the small room downstairs. How crazy is that? So instead of battling it out for tickets, both promoters came together and made a mini hardcore festival on a Thursday night. They dubbed it the Heartland Throwdown and it was wild! They opened up the stairwell which is normally blocked to keep the shows separate and nine bands played between the two stages. I got to talk to Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, Bryan Garris from Knocked loose, and Kirk Windstein from Crowbar. What an incredible night.
Anyways, Knocked Loose started a small riot at Knotfest. Several times lead singer Bryan Garris said "Let's get a circle pit going!" and the crowd happily obliged. Dust started flying everywhere as hundreds of people swarmed towards the front creating a circular wave of energy.
I'm sure someone who's really into hardcore could tell you more about the differences in Knocked Loose's songs, but after seeing them three times now I feel like they all sound a bit similar. There's like some dun, nun, nun, nun guitar riffs and then typically half way through the song, the craziest low-end bass riff hits you in the face. Then, Bryan screams something like "don't you ever judge me!" (totally just riffing here, I don't know that he actually says that), and things break down to a real slow caveman beat. I'm not trying to say it's bad. If you told me Knocked Loose was playing Omaha next week and you had an extra ticket I would totally go. I just feel like it bleeds together sometimes. But if you're a big fan of hardcore Knocked Loose is totally for you. They're great at what they do. I've never seen a show where they didn't have the crowd rocking hard and doing a circle pit.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYCE HALL
After Knocked Loose it was time for one of the best bands on the scene right now (just my opinion) Fever 333! If you've ever read our columns you know I'm a massive Fever fan and this was my fifth time seeing them. You can check out previous Fever shows from Lincoln, Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City. We also go to interview them HERE.
Unlike the previous times I had seen them, there was no black curtain or projector. Usually lead singer Jason stands in front of a black curtain with a bag over his head as footage of riots and protests play behind him. There's a big bang and the curtain will drop as the band starts to rip into the opening song.
This time around, they came out and Jason said "What's up Knotfest?" and they broke into their first song "Bite Back" from their latest release Wrong Generation. Fever 333 wrote Wrong Generation in direct response to the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests. The result was a heavy, angry, thrash-filled record that hits you in the face and doesn't let up. It's only about 18 minutes long but it makes a point and let's you know that Fever 333 aren't here to mess around.
Their live set is much of the same. Within the first minute Jason was throwing waters around and sliding across the stage. I told the girl next to me drummer, Aric Improta, will have his shirt off in the first five minutes. Within the first song he's not only shirtless, but he's jumping off his drum chair, whipping his hair, and wailing away. Meanwhile guitarist Stephen or "St333vis" is shredding across the stage swinging his guitar and doing jump kicks.
Unfortunately there was only time for a few songs, I think six?, but Jason still made sure to run through the crowd with his crazy long microphone and climb on something. This time the obstacle of choice was the merch tent towards the back of the field. From where I was it looked way too far for the mic cord, but yep, he got it up there and screamed the last lines of "Hunting Season". "No, you can't keep us, no, you can't keep us under your thumb!!!" Jason and Fever 333 never fail to impress when it comes to their show energy. Would a longer set have been better? Yes. Would it have been better in a smaller venue? Probably. Did I still have an awesome time during their set? Absolutely. If you get a chance to catch a headline Fever 333 set, do it!!!
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYCE HALL
Next up after Fever 333 was one of the Midwest's hottest rappers Tech N9ne! You have to say it with a lot of bravado and the machine gun sound "TECH N9NE! pop-pop-pop!"
This was my second time seeing Tech N9ne and it was just as much fun. Tech came out to his signature "KC MO!!" chant. He's very proud to be from KC and the Midwest. Tech ripped through his signature underground tunes like "Einstein", "Am I Psycho?", "Worldwide Choppers", and "Dysfunctional" before thanking everyone for coming out on his day off. He encouraged the crowd to check out his tour where he does a two hour show. When I saw him a while back at the Bourbon Theatre he did play for quite a while covering all the hits. I was bummed he didn't play "Hood Go Crazy" but with such a limited set I get it. Tech said "I'm on tour right now. I just came from Wichita. This is supposed to be my day off, but what better way to spend a day off then hanging with all you beautiful people? I want to keep playing but they're kicking me off the stage! Come and see me on tour!" I have no doubt he'll pick up a few new fans from his Knotfest set.
After Tech N9ne, heavy hitters Trivium were up on stage 2. I had seen Trivium once before as the third band on the bill opening for Coheed & Cambria and Slipknot. Back then they were playing as people were still streaming in the doors. This time the crowd was packed in up front and ready to rock! I saw several Trivium shirts as I walked the grounds, so they've definitely been growing their fanbase the last few years.
Just like the last time I saw Trivium they kept things heavy with shredding guitars and soaring screams mixed with just the right amount of melodies to not scare off the typical metal fan. The crowd had a great response to their set and lead singer, Matt Heafy, told everyone "You have no idea how happy we are to still be able to make music for a living." Speaking of making music, Trivium just released an album, What The Dead Men Say in April of last year and they already have a new release on the horizon! In The Court Of The Dragon will drop on October 8. You can find more about that HERE.
As the sun started to go down it was time for the crazy French brothers in Gojira!! These dudes bring the heaviest of the heavy every time they play. We had the chance to catch them with Slipknot two summers ago and it was just as nuts this time around. Coming off their new release Fortitude, Gojira was ready to deliver the heavy goods and they did it in a big way. I'm sure there was a lot of pent up energy after making such an awesome record and not being able to play it in front of an audience for so long.
Lead singer Joe Duplantier said how much he loved the people of Des Moines. "We want to play all over the world, but somehow we keep ending up in Iowa with Slipknot. We played with them at the biggest show the Iowa State Fair had ever seen! You were there? (Points to someone in the crowd). We'll have to come back here and play a headline show for you guys sometime".
I don't know about Iowa but we'll be in Minneapolis on May 28 next year to see Gojira open for the mighty Deftones!!! Can't wait for that one. It's been pushed back twice now, so fingers crossed it goes through. I'm sure it's going to be a killer show.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYCE HALL
Shortly after Gojira, over on stage 2, a giant black curtain hung from the trestles. All of a sudden a large bang popped and Lamb of God was on! Randy Blythe and the boys had the crowd whipped into a frenzy from the start. Randy whipped his trademark dreads as Mark Morton wailed on the guitar. The band worked their way through "Memento Mori" and "Ruin" before tearing the place apart on "Walk With Me In Hell".
Randy told the crowd "I didn't think we'd be able to do this stuff anymore, but here we are with all of you beautiful people" (that's the cleaned up version), but you get the idea. Lamb of God shredded through about seven more songs before closing with their most well known banger "Redneck".
This was my second time seeing Lamb of God. Coincidently the first time was Knotfest 2012 with Deftones, Serj Tankian, and The Urge. Now, that was a banger line-up. Everyone was like "What is The Urge doing here?" but Slipknot personally invited them because when they were coming up they played shows together at the Ranch Bowl in Omaha. I got turned on to Slipknot really early on in their career but even I wasn't around for the Ranch Bowl days. That would've been awesome. Anyways, Lamb of God killed it, nuff said.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYCE HALL
Unfortunately, this is where our story ends. Even with the sun going down as Lamb of God played, the weather was still pretty warm. I had already run out of water about thirty minutes back and with nowhere to re-fill, and the lines hours long I had to get out of there. I talked to several people at breakfast this morning (9/26) who attended and they said the lines never got better and there were people needing serious medical attention everywhere you looked. It's a really tough thing to accept a pass in exchange for a write-up and not get the whole story but health and safety comes first.
Just so everyone is aware, none of the bands had a hand in the preparation of the event or lack thereof. Every act I was able to catch sounded awesome and despite the horrible guest service aspect the fans were served up some killer tunes. Hopefully the organizers can learn from this event and do better next time. My thoughts are with everyone still recovering from the event and I pray that everyone made it home safe or is getting the medical attention they need.
If you like what you've read, please share. Or better yet, follow us on Facebook and Instagram @storiesfromthecrowd. Thanks!