Hellfest: Meister’s Eurotrip 2015-June 19, Day One in Hell
I arrived at the hotel in Nantes in the later part of Thursday afternoon and after a gorgeous shower in a proper facility I headed out to explore. I was able to happen across a couple of CD stores selling used products however there was absolutely nothing resembling a bargain to be had anywhere. I observed that there seemed to be absolutely no discernible respect for any sort of driving law or even common courtesy among the motorists. Apparently a scooter basically means that you can drive wherever you like, weaving in and out of traffic and using the sidewalk as you see fit. I was a little shocked that I didn’t see pedestrians getting mowed down at every intersection! A lovely dinner at an open-air cafe with a beverage and some people watching whiled away a couple of hours before returning to the Ibis Hotel for a reasonably early and decent sleep night. It was gonna be a long day tomorrow!
Friday morning I joined the rest of the group organised by Argon Events and boarded the coach bus that would be our mode of transportation for the 40/45 minutes to Hellfest. After a couple of wrong turns through the nothing-resembling-a-pattern-by-any-means maze of streets and alleys in Nantes, we hit the highway and arrived at Hellfest no more than a few minutes later than expected.
Our coach dropped us off on the road outside and it was a short walk to the entrance gates to Hell, just follow the crowd. Cars lined the road with every available open space of land flat enough to facilitate a tent being filled and people were everywhere drinking lots of beer in preparation for the event. With no signage (in either French or any other language) I correctly guessed at what was the press/VIP check-in area. Once through those gates I turned left, attracted by the tents/buildings and people milling about instead of continuing to follow the couple of press folks that had gone through before me (they continued straight, down what appeared to be just another road). I was at what I believe was the Hell City Square and there were people everywhere with buildings (temporary container style buildings it looks like) surrounding the area. There were restaurant/bars, info booth, various sponsors booths and The Extreme Market, which I headed directly for. It was jam packed in here, just like what I would call a flea market of t-shirts, heavy metal themed crafts, jewellery, silk flags, CD’s, records and DVD’s. Once again the CD’s are too expensive, in some cases even more pricey that at home! As I wander around, breezing past a couple of beer serving locales it strikes me that I have seen signs at a booth in the Hell City Square that say Hellfest Cashless, which would explain why beer pricing seemed to be in “credits”. Looking at the lineups at that Hellfest Cashless booth, I became less than impressed, bordering on angry. A visit to the info booth confirmed my fears that “to buy food and drink you need a card. Merchandise you can pay by credit card or cash” as I was told by the young lady there. Absolute bullshit!! As someone who hates lineups and avoids them at all costs (if the line is too long I just do without), to make me have to line up to get this damn card, just to line up again to get a beer is preposterous! I perused the grounds map that I’d acquired and decided that with so many folks out here that if I go further into the park maybe the cashless lines are shorter. Turns out that I was not actually “in” Hellfest yet. The main entrance gates were flooded with people as I lined up and had to wait more than a half an hour crowded like sardines, shuffling along like cattle, buried in the crowd of Hellfesters, every one of which (or so it seemed) was freely smoking next to me. During this the sun beat down on us all, literally abusing my lily white skin (ok, it’s not that bad, I have been out in the sun a lot the past two weeks) making it actually hotter than Hell! Once through that test of my patience that only barely passed (it seems that “lineup” was going to be the theme of Hellfest) things opened up a little and I found a Cashless booth that had only a couple of people in line. Smarter than the average bear, now if I just figure out if there’s a VIP entrance to avoid that business of getting in tomorrow and I’m set! Next order of business…beer! Waving my Hellfest Cashless card, just charged up with 60E ($80-$85CDN) minus the 1E fee, of course, I said in my best bastardized French “May I have a beer, please”. The Kronenbourg came in a small plastic cup that had the Hellfest logos etc emblazoned on the outside, pretty cool…and of course it wasn’t handed out for free. A 1E fee was tacked on to the beer price for the cup. Now satisfied with the beginning of what would be many cold Kronenbourg beers throughout the day I headed for Hellfest merchandise, but the line (cue Hellfest theme of “lineup”) was horrendous, so I’ll return later taking my chances that some items may be sold out. I discovered the press/VIP area, which had some high security to get into, having to scan your festival bracelet through a turnstile for admittance. In the press area, it looks like you can book some cubicles for interviewing which is a fabulous idea. At the VIP bar a few moments later I recognised some friends of a friend (recognised through some photos she sent me of people to look out for) and it was nice to have some folks to hang with for a bit. I discovered that Kronenbourg was also available in pitcher form (another 2E for that take-home souvenir) and this just seemed to be the way to go! Off to my first band of Hellfest with The Quireboys.
Now, I’m not really into The Quireboys though I have tried on several occasions, most recently at Sweden Rock Festival two weeks earlier, I just don’t “get it”. The crowd in front of Main Stage 1 was not super thick and we easily wandered to within a decent vantage point. Chatting with my new found friends and meeting a couple more, while slugging back Kronenbourg from my 2E plastic pitcher fairly quickly lest the temperature rise to an unacceptable level, I finally “got it”. Well at least a lot closer to anyway. The Quireboys provided a great backdrop of good time rock and roll as we chatted and drank in the hot sun, my head bobbing and toe tapping. It was like a weird epiphany. Spike was charismatic leading his band through songs that I recognised like “Mona Lisa Smiled”, “Hey You”, “Whippin’ Boy”, “Too Much Of A Good Thing”, and of course “7 O’Clock”.
I parted ways with my new friends and ventured over The Valley stage for Truckfighters (one of the bands I’d identified as wanting to check out). This stage was inside a tent, as were The Altar and The Temple, and while the band sounded pretty good the tent was quite packed with spectators. I paused for a little bit, but it’s really kinda shitty to be so far back here and basically not see anything (there was a large TV screen hanging at the entrance to the tent however) and not wanting to push my way in, I moved on. Over to check out We Are Harlot on Main Stage 2 (located right next to Main Stage 1), but I became waylaid by food. A “Potatoes Burger” to be exact, which is a burger patty with what’s remarkably similar to two McDonald’s hash brown patties as the bun! A new addiction and not too expensive either, the Hellfest Cashless card may get a workout on these things!
Well fueled by Kronenbourg and Potatoes Burger it was time for one of the most anticipated events for The Meister here at my first Hellfest with Armored Saint! They began with the title track to the recently issued album Win Hands Down quickly followed by “March Of The Saint” from the 1984 album of the same name. It was already everything I’d expected seeing this band live for my first time and I thought that they were sounding really good although the bass seemed a little high in the mix. Armored Saint continued the assault and I saw that the crowd was really into it as well, fists high in the air and voices screaming along with vocalist John Bush. Armored Saint‘s latest offering, Win Hands Down is a solid album and one that’s sure to make an appearance somewhere in my top 10 albums of 2015 list and most likely in the higher region of that list as well.
Dammit! The pitcher is empty, better refill! Mission successful and it’s over to Main Stage 2 for Godsmack, a band I’d probably never see live otherwise. Godsmack started out with “1000hp” from their 2014 1000hp album after a recorded AC/DC “For Those About To Rock, We Salute You” intro. From there they went to “Cryin’ Like A Bitch”, which basically just served to remind me that there’s really only two songs from Godsmack that I like, “Whatever” and “Keep Away”. I should mention that this is not a reflection on their sound this day as everything was great that way, I just don’t prefer their music overall. “Awake” was next, OK so maybe there’s three songs that I like. I attempted to capture it on video, so we’ll see how that turned out, keep an eye on the Decibel Geek YouTube channel. “Something Different” failed to maintain my attention and I began to work my way to the back. I sang “Keep Away” along with Godsmack during my retreat and that’s really all I needed from them so I moved on.
Orchid on The Valley stage was running concurrently to Godsmack and since I’d discovered Orchid thanks to an old Decibel Geek review (The Mouths Of Madness album review) I headed over that way. It was not as packed on this same stage that had earlier housed Truckfighters. Unfortunately, I only had time for two songs before the end of their set, the last of which I recognised as “He Who Walks Alone”.
Billy Idol was the next hit, getting a little waylaid along the way by merch stands and so forth I arrived a bit late for the start of his set. I was seriously struggling with Billy Idol being on the bill here at Hellfest. I mean this festival is considered “Extreme Metal”, neither of those words I would apply to Billy Idol! Well, that quickly changed in this first time for me seeing Billy Idol live. Based on him alone, I can now believe him here at this event and the packed crowd appear to agree! These French are crazy, they’re crowd surfing to Billy Idol, never would have expected that! In any case he sounded great and I really enjoyed hearing cuts like “Flesh For Fantasy”, “Rebel Yell”, “Blue Highway”, “L.A. Woman” and of course “Mony Mony”.
Next was the second big attraction out of three for me with Motorhead. Somehow I have previously succeeded in missing every opportunity to see them live! Finally, my chance was here, but it was not so comfortable to get too close to the stage. I find Hellfest, in general, to be very small and therefore quite crowded, making it difficult to secure decent vantage points at reasonable distances away from the stages. Motorhead was sounding great, but I was a little annoyed at being so far back and still shoulder to shoulder. From what I could see Lemmy was looking pretty rough, but I guess that’s normal and I give him full credit for still going. Full respect for rocking ’till he’s gone, the God lives on! I watched most of the Motorhead set but finally began to worm my way to the back of the massive crowd as they ripped into the seminal classic “Ace Of Spades”. I was finally glad to have seen Motorhead and Lemmy, but for some reason I was left feeling like I’d missed something, maybe sometimes you just shouldn’t see your heroes?
I wandered over to The Warzone stage area, which is set apart a little from the rest of Hellfest. I discovered some excellent food here at one of the stands, some chicken stirfry kinda thing. Hard to really remember, I have been through three pitchers of Kronenbourg already today! Unfortunately, they only take cash here at this stand! What?? The info girl had told me that there was no cash in Hell and that I needed the card for food and drink purchases. Not very well informed or explained rooting in a deep seeded annoyance along with the hot sun and the crowds that was beginning to manifest itself in general anger. If I get left behind with a ton of unspendable money on my Cashless card I’m gonna freak on someone! Seeing the Hellfest merch line quite short on my way back over to get ready for Alice Cooper, it was time to purchase my festival shirt, a bargain at only 20E!
Always a fantastic performer and entertaining show with an incredible band behind him, Alice Cooper is a true pleasure to watch live that I can never get enough of. Last year I saw him four times alone! The recorded intro of “The Underture” got things going as per usual, but then it was into “Department Of Youth” which was different from last year’s sets. Unfortunately, I was again a little further back than my preference and it was detracting from my experience, what a total difference to seeing him at Sweden Rock Festival last year! From there we got “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” and “Billion Dollar Babies” featuring a rapier sword loaded with Alice Cooper money. “Lost In America” was a bit of a surprise for me to hear, but a great one too! Next were “Hey Stoopid”, “Dirty Diamonds”, featuring necklaces tossed into the crowd and “Welcome To My Nightmare” which if I’m not mistaken didn’t feature the usual snake around Cooper‘s neck. “Go To Hell” took us to another new addition of “Wicked Young Man” before “Feed My Frankenstein”. “Ballad Of Dwight Fry”, “Killer” and “I Love The Dead” were all next as we saw The Coop dressed in a straight jacket and have his head guillotined off during the usual skits. I was finding it so hard to concentrate on anything with all these super hot tattooed metal chicks floating around the crowd, so even though Alice Cooper hadn’t finished his set I began to drift away during a major jonesing for another damn potatoes burger!
With nothing particularly on my schedule now until Judas Priest in about an hour it was back to the VIP area for internet services and, of course, a pitcher reload. Finding a decent spot to sit in the outside air in the VIP area, having a good internet connection and a full pitcher of Kronenbourg were all major factors in my decision to “listen” to Judas Priest from right here. Let’s face it I have just seen them twice in the last two weeks (Judas Priest in Hamburg, Germany), but they are great live so maybe I’ll wander out in a bit. I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting near me, finding his English to be excellent. No wonder, he’s actually from the States and plays in a band called Mos Generator. Mos Generator are not playing here at Hellfest, but they are starting a tour with Elder, who are actually on my list of bands to check out tomorrow, after Hellfest. We chatted about various things, drank beer and listened to the mighty Judas Priest deliver yet another awesome set.