Walking up to the festival was nothing short of magic. A mulch trail through the mountains, surrounded by lanterns and forest, set the tone. Every step towards the festival grounds only enhanced the anticipation. The path opened to a giant clearing with an impressively large stage in the middle. The view behind the stage was incredible, opening up to the rolling hills of middle Tennessee. This day was dedicated to music and harmony with each other and nature.
Like most audience members, one of the first things I did was check out the cave that would house half of the bands. A short walk around the back of the stage took a path that seemed to disappear into a hill. Walking under the rock formations and through giant doors opened into the cavern. I don't know who discovered this cave and thought, "Let's make it a music venue," but I want to shake their hand.
Every band who played in the cave took a second to point out how unique and cool it was to play there. The sound system was incredible, which was a surprise given the solid rock walls. The lights were also impressive, with an entire rig drilled straight into the walls. The whole atmosphere revolved around the natural beauty of the setting; even the stage was made out of rock.
One of the first acts of the day, a fan favorite, was an acoustic set by Hawthorne Heights. A 30-minute set of some of Hawthorne Heights' greatest hits brought together the audience, delivering a solid emotional punch. This was also many attendees' first experience in the infamous cave, making it even more magical.
It was an incredible way to set the tone for the day, showing music's emotional and unifying powers, a theme that was strongly enforced as the day continued.
Directly after their set, I headed outside to catch Idle Threat, the young rock band from Nashville. These guys have been crushing the local rock scene with just one full-length album. Seeing them share the stage with legends throughout the day was great.
House Parties was next up, taking the stage in the cave. The band from Dallas, Texas, has seen great success in a short amount of time, with their only EP being released in 2021. Lead singer Chaney Elaine had an unusually high energy right from the first note and continued through their entire set. Giving fans time to sing along, their show was amazing.
Following House Parties was Winona Fighter, another Nashville native. As an unsigned band, they were sure to point out how thankful they were to be here, thanking the audience and festival organizers. One of the highlights of their set was a cover of "Self Esteem" by The Offspring. Lead singer Coco brought an insane level of energy to the song, which instantly became a crowd favorite.
Still in the cave, Emery took the stage. Their energy and pure talent set them apart as they began playing. With their first album released in 2004 (almost 20 years old), Emery had no shortage of hits to play. Just by the audience's reaction, it was clear this band has had an enormous impact in their 20-year career.
At this point, the cave was already proving to be a massive hit with the crowd. Now, it served as much more as a break from the heat, having become a gathering place. "I'm not claustrophobic at all," one band member joked, followed quickly by a statement about how cool and unique the place was.
At the outdoor stage, Thursday began playing as the sun started descending. With an impressive 24-year career, these guys have perfected the art of performance. By this time, most of the crowd outside was seated and nodding to the music. A crowd that spread out can be hard to reach, but frontman Geoff Rickly had an incredible stage presence and no problem reaching a crowd that far away.
Returning to the cave, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was preparing to start. The cave quickly filled up as people flocked to see the pop-punk/emo legends. With over 20 years of experience, these guys know how to work a crowd and have perfected their game.
The audience was entranced throughout their set, singing along and headbanging to the beat. One incredibly emotional hit, "Your Guardian Angel," resonated with the crowd. There were more than a couple of crying eyes as the cave buzzed with the sound of the crowd singing along. The last song, their biggest hit, "Face Down," was the perfect send-off from their performance.
Heading back outside, still buzzing from that performance, the crowd raced to catch Hawthorne Heights, the festival organizers. This was the biggest crowd so far on the outdoor stage. Long-time fans of the band were screaming along, creating an atmosphere of pure joy.
State Champs took the stage back in the cave with an, unfortunately, overlapping set time. Their catchy hooks and melodies spread the energy quickly over the crowd. The industry giants were a perfect addition to the setlist, bringing one of the day's highest energy sets. One of the biggest names in pop-punk, State Champs is always a pleasure to see live. The crowd screamed along to the hit songs that shaped a generation, showing their love and appreciation for the band.
Outside, Mayday Parade took to the stage. With the sun completely set at this point, festivalgoers got their first look at the full production. Light shined over the crowd, drawing them into the performance. This band was a hit with the crowd, as many people flocked over from the cave to come and watch. Mayday Parade has had a considerable impact on the pop-punk/rock scene and was for sure one of the fan favorites of the day.
Frontman Derek Sanders was sure to take advantage of the massive stage. Wearing no footwear, he stayed active, dancing and jumping along with the music.
Headlining the cave, the legendary rock band Bayside finally took to the stage. A long-time personal favorite of mine, I was stoked to see them live for the first time in a cave, of all places. Frontman Anthony Raneris's vocals and the band's catchy melodies and impressive harmonies drew in the crowd.
The band's first album was released in 2004, and they've been putting out hits ever since. With an impressive 11-song setlist, the band treated the crowd to new and old hits. At this point in the day, everyone was in a great mood. With so many impressive artists, the passion from the crowd kept building and building as time went on. Bayside further enhanced the rush of endorphins from the crowd as they jumped, danced, and sang along.
- The Walking Wounded
- The Wrong Way
- Sick, Sick, Sick
- How To Ruin Everything
- Already Gone
- They're Not Horses, They're Unicorns
- Blame It On Bad Luck
- Go To Hell
- Devotion and Desire
Finally, it was headliner time. Back at the outdoor stage, Underoath came out swinging. Then immediately stopped swinging to give some vital directions to the seated crowd. "Get rid of these chairs; no one sits at an Underoath show," said lead singer Spencer Chamberlain. With a pause in the music, the band waited patiently while the crowd cleared the front rows of chairs and piled in. Chamberlain also made it a point to invite everyone into the "reserved seating" area, saying that the rule was over and wanting everyone to come together. It was fantastic to watch as people came together. This coming together spoke to the festival's foundation: "is for lovers."
Underoath has also had an impressively long career that refuses to slow down. That seemed to be a theme for the day, connecting older and newer fans. With the open pits, fans were going wild to the heaviest act of the day. The crowd gave every bit of energy left, making this one of my favorite performances ever. I've seen Underoath several times, and the energy on stage blows me away every time. The band is so into the music and their craft it instantly draws in everyone in attendance.
With very little front light shining on the band's faces, there was a darker and more mysterious atmosphere. This matched perfectly with their music and created quite the show.
By the end of the day, everyone was leaving with a smile on their face. It was the perfect experience for music lovers. Leaving the festival, the endorphins were at an all-time high. I have never loved music more, and being able to dedicate a whole day to appreciating live music was terrific. It was made even better being surrounded by thousands of people who felt the same way.