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Over the weekend, Download Festival launched into its 15th year at the spiritual home of rock, Donington Park. Having launched in 2003 with a bill headlined by heavy metal veterans Iron Maiden and the Chris Cornell fronted Audioslave, the festival has grown into the alternative behemoth it is now. Over the decade and a half, Download Festival has welcomed the biggest names in rock, metal and punk, with headliners ranging from My Chemical Romance to The Offspring, and from AC/DC (complete with their own stage) to Metallica.
The festival has hosted its fair share of iconic moments including the revolving drum line-up during Metallica’s 2004 set due to Lars Ulrich’s absence, and KoRn’s Jonathan Davis being unexpectedly hospitalised and replaced by a plethora of his friends in 2006.
Celebrating its festival legacy, the 15th year continues to recognise the broad musical spectrum housed in the alternative bracket. From second stage (Zippo Encore) headline sets by You Me At Six and Rise Against, to some of the world’s most celebrated rising stars, Download Festival once again proves itself as a vital platform in the ever influential world of rock.
Basked in glorious sunshine for the majority of the weekend, here’s what we took away from the 15th year of the monstrous Download Festival.
Three plus hours of Guns N’ Roses isn’t even enough
Arguably the biggest pull of the weekend, Axl Rose arrived (on time!) joined by original members Slash and Duff McKagan. It marks the first time the trio have played together on the Download Festival stage; the last time the band took to the Main Stage Axl was joined by a handful of other friends. All have made their own respective appearances in some guise, but for classic rock fans it is a moment worth waiting for. Billed for over three hours Guns N’ Roses power through a setlist that effortlessly showcases their unbounded influence. At over 28 songs long, the setlist drives through their full catalogue, as well as more than a few choice covers from the likes of Pink Floyd and Misfits. It’s their decision to dive into Velvet Revolver’s (the side project by Slash and Duff started during Guns N’ Roses’ more turbulent times) that signifies their true togetherness. As the sun sets the band slow things down with the likes of November Rain and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door for that perfect festival moment. It could have easily gone on much longer.
Avenged Sevenfold are absolutely huge
Before Guns N’ Roses take to the Main Stage on Saturday, Avenged Sevenfold live up to their top level billing. It’s not the first time the band have headlined Download Festival, having held the honour in 2014 too, but it’s certainly the best. Opening with their recent album title track, The Stage, their setlist also harks back to their early days. The unsettling A Little Piece Of Heaven dominates their encore before they close with early fan favourite Unholy Confessions. They even throw in a Pink Floyd cover, one that is repeated by Guns N’ Roses the following night. It may be a coincidence, but it’s certainly not surprising that both bands draw influence from the same place. Avenged Sevenfold are a GnR in training, and that’s by no means a bad thing.
Punk and hardcore rules
The Main Stage might play host to some of the biggest names in metal and classic rock, but on the smaller stages fans can find a veritable smorgasbord of punk and hardcore’s best. Be it Bad Religion, The Bronx and Cancer Bats dominating the top tier of the Avalanche Stage on the Friday, or Milk Teeth, Rolo Tomassi or The Fever 333 across the remaining days. Above all else Download Festival welcomes the new crop of British alternative stars, from Marmozets taking to the Main Stage with a laudable grit to the likes of WSTR, Black Foxxes, Loathe and Gold Key on the smaller stages.
Going back to the old school
Somewhere between the international legacy of the headliners and the excitement of the new class lies the long established cult heroes, some of which find themselves on the Download Festival bill. Not least Hell Is For Heroes who unquestionably secure a brand new fan base with their frantic delivery of intricate melodies on the Zippo Encore Stage. Songs such as Five Kids Go and I Can Climb Mountains sound as urgent now as they did upon the release of the seminal The Neon Handshake. Alexisonfire also make their welcome return to Donington Park, proving that their punchy blend of fury and soaring melody still delivers. Playing to a huge crowd, voices are raised for the likes of This Could Be Anywhere In The World and set closer Accidents. It’s testament to Download Festival’s continued celebration of the old and new, sitting side by side and injected with a new lease of life.
There’s far more than music
It’s no surprise that Download Festival is offering more than music. Bringing some of the brightest names in wrestling to Donington Park in the form of WWE NXT, the unassuming tent packs some of the biggest and best entertainment of the weekend. Welcoming the first rounds of the UK Championship, as well as challenges to some of the NXT title holders, it’s downright fast, frantic and fun. Even the most cynical are easily converted to the strength, agility and entertainment on display.
The fun atmosphere spreads across the entire site, including the Village and the various campsites. Few more than the outright frevolity at the Rocktails bar, blasting out a mixture of alternative classics and pop bangers. One thing is for sure, Download fans aren’t too shy to pull out the Macarena when encouraged.
Tickets for Download Festival 2019 are available now. Be one of the first to confirm you place by heading to Ticketmaster.co.uk.