Download Festival: Friday
The campsite is cold as I wake. The first band is not on until 1pm, so I have a bit of time to socialise, acclimatise with my surroundings, etc. The arena doesn't open for a while though, and the queue to get in is huge, so I find a bar in the guest area and wait there with a beverage and a breakfast sandwich. (There are so many brilliant food options, including vegan options).
Once the initial rush is over, I am in the arena and a familiar sensation washes over me. It feels like coming home again. I take a deep breath and look at my list of bands to see for the weekend (and it's pretty extensive).
The first band on my list is Last in Line. If you didn't know, Last in Line is essentially the original Dio line up, without the man himself. I'm not much of a Dio fan, so this is just an interesting bit of trivia for me. However, they are wonderful to watch, clearly enjoying themselves and have a growing crowd that are getting more into them as the set goes on. By the time they reach their last song, there is a sea of fists pumping. It is hard to believe that a band with this pedigree is only opening the Main Stage.
Next is Skid Row on the Zippo Encore stage. With all the mud, it makes it harder to get to any stage on the site. So I arrive about halfway through Skid Row's set celebrating their long career. I will admit it, I got a little bit confused and went to the Avalanche stage first. Skid Row tear through the classics, with a smile on their collective face as well as plastered on the faces of all in attendance, before finishing on "Youth Gone Wild". Almost flawless in the execution, Skid Row are definitely worth checking out again. I don't know why I was, but I was definitely surprised at the age range of the crowd; from those who probably saw Skid Row decades ago, to those who probably grew up with their parents playing Skid Row and the like.
It's non-stop today, rushing from one stage to another. To the Avalanche stage for up and comers, Icon For Hire. The set starts at 2:50. The band arrives at 3:20, play 3 songs and leave. What we do hear is quite fun, if a little sharp. There's barely time to break a sweat before the PA brings us back to a-ha, Journey, etc. The crowd around me are disappointed, obviously, but the show must go on.
Staying at the Avalanche stage, Man With A Mission, a group of human-wolf hybrids genetically engineered to save the world (think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but wolves with less martial arts and way more riffs) from Japan. You think I'm joking, don't you?! I'm not joking, and these guys are no joke. Riffs, singalongs and a fantastic stage presence, you'd be mad not to see these guys save the world, one show at a time.
It's "muthaf**kin' zebrahead, bitch" next. Enough said. Zebrahead are ALWAYS unmissable. Always. It was "John the security guard's 25th birthday" and he allegedly wanted crowsurfers for his birthday. Zebrahead obliged, inciting a sea of crowdsurfers from every point of the tent. Chaos. Whitesnake are playing over on the Main Stage and I toy with leaving to go see them about halfway through the set, before deciding that it's not going to happen. Am I glad I stayed though? Yes. 100% yes. Zebrahead are back on tour later this year as well. Don't miss out.
Next is a band I have a lot of time for and was never going to miss. (This is where I do my ring announcer voice) Hailing from San Francisco, California, fighting out of the Avalanche tent, making their Download Festival debuttttt.... The. Interrupters!!! You'd have thought they were seasoned pros, regulars at Download. They took this in their stride and made a strong case for playing on a stage that is much, much bigger. There were reports of people even queueing outside the tent to get in (Only reports, I was partying down the middle, so I couldn't verify this). Next time they come to Donington, they most definitely should be higher on the bill, or on a bigger stage. They could be the breakout band of the entire weekend. Easily.
Reel Big Fish follow The Interrupters, so I nip to the bar and get a beer or two before they start, so I can get fully involved. Reel Big Fish seem to get better each time I see them, and I can honestly say they are such a fun band to watch, even if you're not a fan of Ska. They play the "classics" and a couple off the latest album "Life Sucks, So Let's Dance" including the song "Life sucks... so let's dance", which is introduced in typical RBF fashion. Everybody in the tent is moving from start to finish, with the atmosphere never slipping even once. I can't really explain more than that. They have to be seen to be believed.
I have never seen Me First and the Gimme Gimmes before today. It is a TRAGEDY. Adorned in red velvet shirts akin of a lounge band, with the tongue in cheek "this is a cover" preceding pretty much every song, they tear through covers of Cher, Blondie, Johnny Cash and even Elton John at one point. Fat Mike is missing in action tonight, but this band feels complete as is, absolutely incredible, tongue in cheek singalong fun. Having these headline the Avalanche stage is a stroke of genius.
There are Oprah references, and they keep the gimmick of being a lounge band throughout. There is crowd interaction and even though this crowd is massive, it still feels incredibly intimate. I can't wait to see these guys again down the road.
I start to traipse over to the other side of the arena, tent bound when Def Leppard start up. Not a lot of time passes before a sea of gyrating hips and removal of clothes (not actually removing clothes, the weather doesn't know if it wants to be dry or get even more wet) starts up, with "Pour Some Sugar On Me" ringing out across the festival. Today marks 10 years to the day since Def Leppard first headlined Download, and they're very emotional about this fact.
The sound is tight and polished, there isn't a rough edge in sight. It's almost too perfect. After 70 minutes, they exit the stage, leaving a great number of people asking "is that it?" before coming back out and continuing to entertain the masses with their back catalogue. Not even the sudden onslaught of torrential rain could dampen the spirits of the vast sea of people.
The bar is set pretty high here. Slipknot, you're going to have to bring it tomorrow.
(all photos are property of Download Festival)