Everything You Missed At Louder Than Life 2021: From Machine Gun Kelly’s Punch To Korn’s Oxygen Tank

Sadye Matula

“Send these freaks and that noise they call music elsewhere” read one of the comments on a local news channel’s Facebook post about Louder Than Life. Just one of several people who live within the vicinity of the festival that have taken to social media recently to protest the volume […]

“Send these freaks and that noise they call music elsewhere” read one of the comments on a local news channel’s Facebook post about Louder Than Life. Just one of several people who live within the vicinity of the festival that have taken to social media recently to protest the volume of the festival, the influx of people to the area and ultimately the location of Louder Than Life, which takes place at the Highland Festival Grounds, an otherwise empty tract of land on Phillips Lane across from the Kentucky Exposition Center that was the former location of the Executive Inn Hotel. It’s only real purpose seemed to be to serve as overflow parking for the Kentucky State Fair until 2019, when production company Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) leased the land and brought not only Louder Than Life, but also the Bourbon & Beyond and Hometown Rising festivals here. (All 3 of which are slated to return in 2022). 

Living less than a mile from the festival grounds myself, I’m in a unique position to not only understand my neighbors’ complaints, but DWP’s reasoning as well. It is noisy. You can most definitely hear it inside my house. And the constant thumping of drums along with the vibrations they bring is impossible to ignore. And this is, after all, a residential area. But it is a residential area that is located next to a major airport, two expressways, numerous hotels and retail businesses and one big ass exposition center! The infrastructure is absolutely perfect to support for a major music festival, (or three). 

But I am not one of the people complaining, I am one of the tens of thousands of people cheering. Because not only am I a nearby homeowner, I am also a Loudmouth. Let me explain for those of you unfamiliar: Spearheaded by the frequent social media interactions with the fans, DWP CEO Danny Hayes has singlehandedly created a global community around the LTL festival, and they have lovingly dubbed themselves Loudmouths. It’s about more than just the music now; it’s its own subculture. It’s a diverse group of people of all different races, creeds, and ethnicities from all 50 states and numerous different countries, all with a mutual respect and understanding for one-another from the shared experience that is Louder Than Life. And for four days in September, they all converge right here.

After taking 2020 off due to COVID-19, the festival came roaring back into Louisville this weekend. 

Loudmouths: The Most Vulgar, Nicest People You’ll Ever Meet

Having been before in the past, I knew what to expect as soon as I walked through those gates. But for those that have never been before, I could see how  it could be rather shocking at first. You can pretty much expect to see basically anything and everything. Men and women in various states of undress, many pushing the boundaries of public nudity. Numerous costumed individuals who range from hilarious and cringeworthy to downright frightening. Hair dyed every shade of fluorescent under the sun. Seemingly everyone is heavily tattooed, and they’re all wearing black! Some wearing shirts emblazoned with unreadable band names above shockingly violent imagery. Others wearing shirts on which some of the most vulgar sexual statements you could ever possibly imagine are printed. And these are all some of the nicest people you will ever meet. This is a community that looks out for one another. Seriously, look through any of the numerous Facebook groups dedicated to Louder Than Life and you’ll see post after post of, well, mostly “This band sucks” and “This band rules”. But you don’t have to look hard to find numerous posts of Loudmouths helping each other out. Need a ticket? Someone is there with a spare to give you. Need a ride? 5 people are already on their way. Lose your phone in the pit? Someone is out there looking for you to give it back, possibly with a selfie crotch shot. These are essentially strangers helping strangers, their only connection being the music and the festival. It’s enough to restore your faith in, well maybe not humanity, but at least in the people attending this festival. 

And Louder Than Life draws them all in. From young kids experiencing their first concert to senior citizens reliving a part of their youth and every age in between. These are people from all walks of life; doctors, teachers, nurses, Walmart cashiers, a guy dressed up like Where’s Waldo openly smoking a bong that he’s made out of a plastic water bottle, they’re all here!

To their credit, DWP handles numerous festivals around the US and have years of experience under their belt, so they run a very well-oiled machine. Lines tend to move fast, (with the exception of the merch tent), porta potties are plentiful, food and drink choices are numerous, and bands generally go on and off at their scheduled times, (Guns N’ Roses in 2019 being the exception, but it’s Axl Rose we’re talking about here, you had to expect that).

How LTL Did On COVID Safety

New to the festival this year is the wellness checkpoint where you must show proof of your full vaccination against, or recent negative test for, COVID-19 before you were allowed to enter. And to their credit, they actually were checking closely. You had to show an ID as well as your proof. But proof could come in the form of a picture of your vaccination card on your phone. A pic that could have very easily been doctored, (I’m not sure about what would suffice as proof of a negative test). You were then given a sparkly red wristband that would let you pass by the wellness checkpoint for the rest of the festival without having to show proof again. Easy and simple.

But once inside there were no mask enforcements and it was VERY apparent. You could count on one hand the number of people wearing masks on any given day. Of course this was outdoors and everyone has already shown proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test, but social distancing at a festival is not an option. Thousands upon thousands of maskless people standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the three stages as if COVID never existed. And I get it, we’re all ready to return to normalcy. No one wants to wear a mask, especially all day in the sun while crowded together with thousands of other people. 

But, bear in mind, that regardless of the wellness check, common sense will tell you that multiple people in that crowd probably had COVID. And now they may have directly infected scores of the other festival goers, who will in turn infect scores of other people. It was with this in mind that, other than for Cypress Hill’s set, (I couldn’t resist), I stayed the fuck in the back of the crowd and as socially distanced as possible from other Loudmouths. Hopefully in the future I’ll see you all in the pit again.

The Lay Of The Land At Louder Than Life

The layout of the festival this year didn’t change enough from 2019 for me to really notice any differences. You entered through the gates on the side near the front. The two main stages are up front next to each other. The one to your left is called, (at least for this year) the Space Zebra Stage, the one to your right is the Loudmouth Stage. The schedule is set so that once one band finishes on one stage, the next band will start playing on the opposite stage a few minutes afterwards. 

Flanking both stages are a pair of large rectangular monitors where a live feed of the band currently on stage is being shown.

If you are facing away from the main stages, then you are staring into the middle ground: an abyss of alcohol tents and food vendors that are surrounded by people grabbing any little spot of shade they can find in this barren wasteland known as the Highland Festival Grounds, nary a tree to be found. 

Towards the back corner on your right you’ll find the Disruptor Stage. This is the smaller stage: the kids table of the festival. This one runs on its own schedule, independent of the two main stages, with bands doing generally half-hour sets, with a half-hour of downtime between bands for breakdown and set up for each. These sets overlap the main stage, so at almost any given time you have your choice of two bands to watch. The exception being that the Disruptor Stage schedule usually ends before the last two main stage headliners play. Although the Disruptor Stage is only a short distance away from the main stages, sound overlap isn’t an issue. So if you really want to see Band B on the Disruptor Stage, you don’t have to worry about Band A on the main stage drowning them out, or vice versa. As I said earlier, DWP really has their shit together.

Pours of Metallica’s Blackened whiskey.

Something For Every Drinker 

Bourbon and whiskey had a strong presence at the festival this year, with Jack Daniel’s having not one, but two different tents slinging drinks. You’d have thought given the nature of this festival that they would have been selling a Lemmy, which is a Jack & Coke with bitters and named after Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, as this was his favorite drink, (or perhaps it was a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and a bag of Coke, as someone in one of the LTL Facebook groups pointed out), but no, just your basic Jack & Coke. Jim Beam also sponsored two tents here as well, including the festival favorite Heavy Tiki Bar that was serving up iced bourbon cocktails. Metallica also had a large showing at the festival. Not just on stage, but with their Blackened brand whiskey and its spacious tent. Bulleit Bourbon offered up an arcade complete with some great retro video games. Larceny Bourbon was on hand with their signature wheated bourbon. Maker’s Mark had a small, easily overlookable booth tucked in next to the Budweiser Beer Garden. But the most impressive bourbon list was to be found at the Kroger Big Bourbon Bar, which boasted an impressive list of fine Kentucky bourbon, including (but not limited to) Angel’s Envy, Buffalo Trace, Cooper’s Craft, Elijah Craig, Four Roses, Jeptha Creed, Kentucky Peerless, Old Forester, Wilderness Trail, and Woodford Reserve.

Bourbon/whiskey not your thing? LTL has you covered with tents sponsored by and featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, and Milagro Tequila. Also hard to miss was the Caduceus Wine Garden, which showcased Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, both owned by none other than Maynard James Keenan of Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer. For the beer drinker, you had your choice between Budweiser and…a couple other AB InBev owned beers. There was a “Craft Beer Bar” advertised as being there on the LTL website, fuck if I could find it. Apparently craft beer meant only Goose Island IPA, as that’s the only “craft” offering I could find, (in quotations as Goose Island is owned by AB InBev).

Turnstile was one of the bands that rocked.

Budding Bands: Most Impressed, Some Didn’t

There were a lot of bands in this year’s lineup that I was unfamiliar with, so I spent a good deal of time checking out these bands. And I was dumbfounded by the number of bands that sound like they were not only heavily influenced by, but could have passed for Slipknot and/or Linkin Park, (neither of which were on the bill). Seeing as how I like both of those bands, you’d think this sound would be tailor-made for me. And you’d be wrong. But I’ll skip the “back in my day” speech about music because hair metal was popular back in my day, and there is no argument I can give that could defend that shit.

But dig a little deeper past all the anger, angst, and macho bravado that make up a few too many of the bands on this bill and you’ll find some real hidden gems. Ones that break the mold of Louder Than Life being a metal festival. Bands and artists like Ayron Jones, who falls somewhere between Lenny Kravitz and Gary Clark, Jr. with a healthy dose of grunge influence. Turnstile, who blur the lines between hardcore and alternative rock. Genre-defying two-piece band The Messenger Birds, whose sound is a mix of The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age with an underlying Radiohead influence. The pure metalcore riffs and hardcore rap vocals of Unity-TX. Alt-rockers Dead Sara, who bring to mind a poppier Veruca Salt. South of Eden, who manage to combine 70s laid back rock groove, 80s rock hooks, and 90s alt-rock stomp. The shoegaze meets early 2000s alternative rock of Teenage Wrist. The Cult meets early Soundgarden sound of Joyous Wolf. And Mongolian rockers The Hu, whose mix of the traditional music of their homeland with modern rock create a sound that is uniquely all their own.

Female-driven acts like Butcher Babies, Diamante, Spiritbox, Bones UK, Siiickbrain, Dana Dentata, and the aforementioned Dead Sara all showed up on the bill as well. Most of which were suspiciously booked to play Saturday early-to-mid afternoon on the smaller Disruptor stage.

Korn

Music Highlights

Highlights for me were Cypress Hill on Thursday night, whom I have been a fan of for 30 years now and have never had the opportunity to catch live. Much like Ice Cube did in 2019, Cypress Hill proved that old-school rap/hip hop definitely deserves a place on the bill at Louder Than Life by delivering an hour-long set of their hits and a few deeper cuts to a very responsive crowd. As soon as they hit the stage, the cloud of marijuana smoke that rose from and hung over the crowd for their entire set rivaled anything I’ve ever seen in any Cheech & Chong movie. Two songs into their set and I’d already been offered more free weed than any other concert I’ve ever been to in my life, (all of which I reluctantly declined because COVID is still a thing). Prior to their set, I didn’t even think it was even possible to get a contact buzz while being outdoors.

Louisville’s own, (well Oldham County, but close enough that we can claim them), hardcore/screamo/death metal powerhouse Knocked Loose, who were unfortunately (for me anyway) booked to headline the smaller Disruptor stage during the same time as Cypress Hill’s set. But I was able to make it over to the stage to catch the last couple of songs. The band certainly hasn’t lost any steps, pulling off what I’d say was the most aggressive set of the entire festival, (at least what I saw of it). I’m not sure what more they have to do to prove they deserve to move from the kids table to the parents table. This is a main stage band at this point, let them prove it!

Thursday night headliners Korn pulled off arguably the best set of the entire festival despite both vocalist Jonathan Davis and guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer having very recently battled COVID-19, (Davis contracting the disease in August 2021, Shaffer shortly thereafter. Both only taking a handful of days off before returning to the stage). While 51-year old guitarist Shaffer appears to be recovering nicely, the 50-year old vocalist Jonathan Davis is still struggling with lingering COVID-19 symptoms. Although Davis spent the majority of the set on his feet; his slow, subdued movements visually showcased the toll the disease is currently taking on him and his previously highly energetic live performance. At times finding it necessary to sit and take hits from an oxygen tank next to his custom-made throne situated beneath the drum riser, which was created and incorporated into their live shows recently for this very reason. Vocally though, you’d never known Davis is still fighting the disease as he belted out his lyrics with as much passion and intensity as he did over 25 years ago when the band first began. Early into their set Davis addressed the situation, stating “Me and Munk caught it, and we got over it. We ain’t 100{9de171ac33798fde3a622e76ef171e611288570f03f7c8486a1f69f819b8175a}, but we are going to give a motherfuckin’ 100{9de171ac33798fde3a622e76ef171e611288570f03f7c8486a1f69f819b8175a}.”  I don’t think anyone there Thursday night would argue that they didn’t do just that.

Jane’s Addiction’s set on Friday night was also great, playing all those songs I’d forgotten that I loved while Perry Farrell drank his bottle of wine and frequently mentioned wanting to do a show in “The Cave,” (assuming he was talking about the Louisville Mega Cavern). During the final song, “Ted, Just Admit It…,” two scantily clad women swung from the rafters suspended by hooks pierced through the actual skin on their backs! Nothing’s Shocking indeed.

Rapper-turned-rocker Machine Gun Kelly drew the biggest controversy of the festival, first by even being included on the bill, and then from his very recent public feud with Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor. Depending on which Loudmouth you ask, his set Saturday night either completely sucked and he was booed by the entire crowd, or he had the greatest set of the entire festival and only a handful of people booed him. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in this argument. I didn’t watch his set, so I can’t say either way. However, more controversy is set to erupt as video has surfaced of MGK performing between the stage and the barricade during his LTL set when an unknown man aggressively shoves him. As security is dragging the man away, MGK throws a punch, apparently hitting the man in the face. You can be sure that lawsuits and stories blowing this completely out of proportion will follow.

Metallica played The Black Album in reverse order.

The Headliners Earn Their Title 

Metal God and frequent cat shirt wearer Rob Halford (follow him on Instagram) and Judas Priest took to the stage Sunday night as the Loudmouth stage headliner, celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band. Backed by the only original member Ian Hill on bass, longtime drummer Scott Travis, and the dual guitar attack of fake K.K. Downing (Richie Faulkner) and your high school wood shop teacher (Andy Sneap), the Priest ripped through an hour-long set of absolute Metal classics…and “Turbo Lover,” reminding me why, after 40 years, I still love this band. 

At 70 years old, Rob Halford doesn’t fail to impress live. While his swagger may be slower and more labored, he had no problem whatsoever hitting those high notes. Did I mention he’s 70 years old?! And he still sounds perfect on these songs. The highlight of the set came when Metallica’s Kirk Hammett joined the band onstage to perform the Fleetwood Mac cover of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown).” Cell phones aplenty were to be seen during that one.

And, of course, Metallica played. Twice. Two separate, completely different sets, proving that even after 40 years, Metallica is still…Metallica. 

Starting their career off by releasing five of the most revered metal albums of all time, followed by some other records, they became the biggest selling metal band of all time for a reason. I don’t care who you are or how much you like or don’t like Metallica, when “The Ecstasy of Gold” intro plays, you get goose bumps. It’s a Pavlovian response. And they did not disappoint. Friday night ripping through a two-hour set of classics and a few newer tunes as well, all the while omitting any tracks from the self-titled (i.e. The Black Album) record. So it came as no surprise on Sunday when, after the third song of the set, they launched into playing the entire Black Album live. What was a surprise is they played it in reverse order, starting with the last track “The Struggle Within” and ending with album opener and fan favorite “Enter Sandman”. They came back out  for an encore of “Blackened” and “Creeping Death,” which let’s face it, there is no better way to end a festival named Louder Than Life.

Guns N’ Roses in 2019 and Metallica in 2021. How will DWP top this for Louder Than Life 2022? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to seeing you all there again for it.

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