Chicago Open Air Festival

Chicago Open Air

This is the very first year of Chicago Open Air Festival. After a successful three-day run at Toyota Park, it looks like it will be continuing annually! The festival lineup in itself had a lot of exciting bands to see. Chicago has not had a festival like this and for it to become an annual three-day festival shows that rock and metal most certainly aren’t dead. In fact, this festival could very well be bigger next year with an addition of a third stage and a larger lineup.

The first day honestly was poised to be the lineup that fans most wanted to see. With Rammstein being the initial artist announcement to get people excited about this festival, you knew the city of Chicago had something special being brought to Toyota Park. The way the grounds were set up,  it was very easy to maneuver in between the main stage and side stage rather quickly.  This helped in being able to see as many acts as possible without missing much if any of each set. The bands were scheduled helped in giving a great flow of bands old and new throughout each day.

Day 1 Bands on the Rise:

Kicking off the second stage, Jose Mangin of Sirius XM came out to hype up the early crowd. With wild enthusiasm he brought out the first band of the weekend Through Fire. Being one of the newest bands to play the festival, they started the weekend off with a solid set that showcased just what the festival is all about. Pure energy coupled with raw power. Their set was pretty short, but they still gave festival goers in attendance a memorable experience that will keep them on people’s minds.

One of the best sets of the entire weekend happened to be from the second band of the entire weekend. Butcher Babies handed fans a verbal and instrumental ass whooping throughout their set. Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepard have such ferocious vocals that are woven perfectly with the brutal and hard hitting instrumentals. The band’s on stage antics captured the entire crowd’s attention and gave way to one of the more intense pits to be in over the weekend. When their newest hit “Monster’s Ball” was played, you got a true sense of just how great this band is.

Trivium kicked off the weekend on the main stage and at this point, fans were beginning to pour into the festival. From talking to fans around the grounds, Trivium was pretty popular, but many had never seen them perform live. Matt Heafy and company gave the crowd a solid show. These guys are impeccable at what they do. Their set was filled with an even mix of heavy vocals and guitars. To truly see what these guys have to offer, I feel that they are meant to be seen in a headlining capacity on a stand alone tour.

By this point the festival was pretty busy with long lines forming for meet and greets and autograph sessions with numerous bands in attendance. Heading back to the side stage, Drowning Pool was up next.  Fans were excited to see this set because it was announced they were bringing 82 year old John Hetlinger, from America’s Got Talent, to perform their hit song “Bodies.” Leading up to that, the set lacked flow and consistency. Overall it felt like their set was a chore to put on. When they closed out with “Bodies” the feel of their set completely changed.  It was the one saving grace to their set and the fans who stuck around were treated to a solid finish.

The damper of day 1 was the mid-day downpour that hampered a couple of the band’s sets. Periphery was one of the bands. Not being well known, I wanted to check out their set.  I only caught the first few songs of their set before the sky opened up resulting in many fans finding cover. Periphery had a solid set going before I abandoned the stage and missed out on the remaining set.  I will definitely be giving these guys another go around the next time they make it to Chicago.

After the rain let up, I ventured back to out to see Hatebreed. As always, they bring 100% of themselves to the stage.  This set packed such a punch with solid songs like “Looking Down the Barrel of Today,” “Seven Enemies,” and “In Ashes They Shall Reap.” Jamey Jasta is one of those vocalists who sounds just as good live as he does on each album. They are a band that true metal heads will always stand behind.

Heading into the heart of the lineup of the first day, fans were given an intense, gritty, and melodic set from Of Mice & Men. These guys put on an absolutely flawless set and gave fans a preview of their upcoming album with the song “Pain.” Austin Carlile’s vocals are killer live and it’s apparent that the band’s production and songwriting skills have evolved since their initial EP and album. I must say after catching them live I am now a fan. These guys definitely delivered some of the best breakdowns of the weekend. I almost feel like they would’ve been better fit for the second stage for a more intimate performance, though.

The Devil Wears Prada put on one of the more energetic sets of the weekend. Some of the members call Logan Square home pointed out by Mike Hranica.  These guys consistently wow crowds with their gritty shows. This set felt like it consisted of tracks off the Zombie EP, but they treated fans to the debut of “Daughter.”

Day 1 Headliners:

For many who were in attendance on Friday, Ministry was a band that a lot of people made sure to see. The band has been completely retooled with only the lead singer, Al Jourgensen, remaining. The set was extremely politically charged and fans followed suit. Al dedicated the song “Punch in the Face” to Donald Trump, which fans loved.  From their Ministry filled their set with solid selections in “Perma War,” “Lies Lies Lies,” “N.W.O.,” “Thieves,” and “Stigmata.” Al may have lost a step in regards to his onstage energy, but his passion still resonated throughout the set.

I can say that seeing metal titans, Meshuggah, was a very big treat since they do not tour much here in the states and this was their very first show here this year. Hailing from Sweden, you get to see what extreme metal is all about. Jens Kidman gave such a brutal and vicious set to the crowd and the response was equally ferocious. “The Hurt that Finds You First” gave way to the largest circle pit of the day at that stage. The clear highlights of the show were “Bleed,” “New Millennium Cyanide Christ,” and “Dancers to a Discordant System.” If you are hoping to check these guys out, hopefully they will be back in Chicago again soon with the announcement of a US tour.

Leading into who everyone was there to see, Chevelle had a lot on their plate to fire up this crowd. They may have not been the most intense band to see when it came to stage presence, but they sure as hell put on a solid show. Hailing from Chicago also didn’t hurt. With their catalog, it was hard to guess as to what we might be hearing next. In the end this trio did not disappoint by giving fans hits like “The Clincher,” “Forfeit,” “I Get It,” “Hats Off To The Bull,” “The Red,” and “Send The Pain Below.”

I almost feel like this part of the review should have a spoiler warning. Going into Rammstein’s performance not knowing what to expect was what made it so amazing. I was speechless at several points during the performance. The entire set was just an artgasm. Everything from the band’s stiff and robotic movements to the pyrotechnics that hit you from several angles felt perfect. I have always been a fan of Rammstein’s music, but this performance took everything to a new level. I recommend that even those that dislike heavy music go and see these guys play live. Even after seeing hundreds of bands live, nothing so far can even compare to what I saw Friday night at Open Air.

Till Lindemann set an incredibly eerie tone with his vocals and kept the whole crowd engaged despite not even acknowledging that they were there until the latter part of the set. Rammstein’s headlining set was one for the ages that I almost wish it was scheduled for Sunday night to close out the festival. The two remaining days just didn’t feel as insane because of it. The guitars were heavy and crisp; each kick drum note hit you straight in the chest. I have made it a goal to see their live set again because it was just that good. It’s such a shame they perform in the US so rarely.

Highlights of the day- Butcher Babies and Rammstein

Overall Atmosphere:

The patrons of the festival were great and gave off a positive vibe. My only complaint was people throwing cans of beer in the air that were almost full and hitting unsuspecting fans in the process. With water that is fine, but I’m sure most agree that they don’t need beer all over their clothing. The people in the pits picked each other up when they fell, I saw a lot of smiles, and it looked like almost everyone was having a stellar time.

Review by Brett Bergen and Sebastian Ziernicki

Photos from Day 1:

Day 2 Bands on the Rise:

Day one already felt like it was hard to beat.  The second day ended up having a lot of surprises that kept this festival going strong.

City of the Weak kicked off the second day and their set was extremely underwhelming. They were the weakest of the performing acts that played over the three days. It was good to see another band fronted by a woman. Unfortunately their style did not jive too well with the rest of the lineup. Lead singer Stef w/ an F had the most to give to the crowd, but she still could not get the crowd pumped and primed to truly enjoy their set. Granted they are on of the newest bands to be a part of the lineup, they can most certainly grow in future shows and do have potential for future success.

Shortly after, Silver Snakes took the stage with a heartfelt welcome by the MC Jose Mangin. These guys hail from Los Angeles and gave the crowd a proper heavy set to kick off the second day to Chicago Open Air. This quartet is quickly on the rise and is captivating crowds at every stop on their tour with COA being no different.  Alex Estrada helms the band by bringing melodically powerful vocals to each and every song. I really love that this band is mixing ambient synths with heavy rock. Their set flowed perfectly and their passion for performing was palpable. They recently released their third album and will be playing bigger venues with bigger acts very soon.  Keep your eyes out for these guys.

Saint Asonia kicked off the day on the main stage. I had heard this band’s name in passing before but never got a chance to check them out. To my surprise, this band is fronted by Adam Gontier, who formerly sang with Three Days Grace. His voice sounds great and I particularly loved their performance of “King of Nothing.” The entire band, which consisted of members from Staind, Finger Eleven, and Eye Empire, was having a great time during this early main stage set. They even performed “I Hate Everything About You,” which is a TDG track. These guys are the perfect definition  of a super group and plan on touring and putting out more records in the coming years.

Beartooth gave COA one of the best sets early in the day to a packed crowd on the second stage. This band takes the cake for my favorite performance on Saturday. Caleb Shomo’s stage presence was great and he knew how to get the crowd fired up. The set consisted of songs off of their latest record Aggressive. With songs like “The Lines,” “Dead,” “In Between,” and “Body Bag,” the crowd was one of the most intense to be in the middle of the entire weekend with a stage spanning circle pit that laid waste to everyone in it.

The biggest surprise for the festival came in the form of Nothing More and there uniquely amazing set. I never heard of this band previously, but they blew me away. The songs I did hear were high energy with an interesting vocal range. Near the end of their set, the band had set up a guitar on this contraption where it was held up in the air. Lead singer Johnny Hawkins, lead guitarist Mark Vollelunga, and bassist Daniel Oliver began to play it using drumsticks. I was in awe. Something you have to witness to fully understand. The entire set was pure perfection from beginning to end. The songs that truly stood out though were “Mr. MTV,” “Ripping Me Apart,” “This Is The Time (Ballast),” and “Salem (Burn The Witch).”  I hope to catch a full set from them one day.

Day 2 Headliners:

COA was blessed with yet another amazing metal band from Europe in the form of GOJIRA. These guys are relentless on stage and closed out the second stage. Joe Duplantier and Co. unleashed heavy riffs and pounding drum beats for the entire set. These guys hail from Bayonne, France and had a bit to say about the recent attack that took place in Nice. Their feelings over the tragic events poured heavily into their music. What fans received was one of the most intense sets of the weekend.

Heading back to the main stage, fans were packing in for the remainder of the night and Breaking Benjamin took the stage next.  These guys fit the mold of an extremely heavy rock band rather than metal. With that being said, they fired this crowd up with an entertaining set of original material and a covers mashup.  Recently the band has been retooled around Benjamin Burnley. You would never notice the change from hearing this current group play live. Benjamin was very vocal with the crowd throughout their set, which added to the fans excitement.

We were treated to hits like “Sooner or Later,” “Blow Me Away,” “Breathe,” “I Will Not Bow,” and “Diary of Jan.”. The one point of their set that was the true highlight, was when they played portions of “The Imperial March,” “Schism,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Walk.” This mashup alone gave everyone in the venue a good look at what this band is truly about, the sheer love of playing music for fans new and old.

Up next brought us KoRn. I honestly had reservations about these guys due to the fact that they recently tried new material on their recent albums. The result was a poor reception from metal fans. Catching them live though makes you realize that KoRn is still one of the most entertaining metal acts. Johnathan Davis has not missed a step from their early days. With a heavy dose of their older material, this crowd was the wildest it had been all day. They also debuted their brand new song “Rotting In Vain” that had an old KoRn feel with its heavy and gritty guitar riffs. Munky, Fieldy, and Head were energetic and all over the stage as you might imagine. Their live show is the reason why they blew up so fast in the beginning of their career and they do have an opportunity to make it back.

Closing out the second night Disturbed had big shoes to fill after the show that Rammstein put on the night before. The route they took was one that worked perfectly. They started off the set with a video montage showing the crowd just how much their fanbase is family. It was well produced and fired the crowd up. They opened up with “10, 000 Fists” and the rest of their set included a lot of their older songs. Disturbed used a healthy amount of pyrotechnics throughout, but still not on the level of what fans witnessed the night before. David Draiman through their entire show reinforced to the crowd that when we all stand together, we are a force to be reckoned with.

The set was well mapped out and fans were lucky to hear songs like “Stupify” and “Down With The Sickness.” They also brought out covers of “The Sound of Silence” and “Land of Confusion.” The true highlight of their set though was when they brought a young boy out on stage who is battling Leukemia. The boy got a stadium wide cheer for his strength and courage throughout his battle and David let everyone know that we can all be “Indestructible!”

Overall atmosphere:

Day two was definitely much more packed, but it still was very easy to maneuver the grounds. The lineups were solid throughout yet again and the crowds energy had not dissipated from the previous day. One thing that had caught my eye was the fact that the grounds crew was diligent in keeping the festival spotless.  This is the first music festival I have been to where you didn’t see trash lying around everywhere. It’s not what you would expect when thinking of a metal festival. And the crowd was still very friendly and kind to each other throughout the day.

Highlights of the Day: Nothing More and Breaking Benjamin

Review by Brett Bergen and Sebastian Ziernicki

Photos from Day 2:

Day 3 Bands on the Rise:

The final day of the Chicago Open Air Festival was a solid conclusion. Yet another day full of strong performances as well as new bands gaining a ton of new fans.

Gemini Syndrome kicked off day three on the second stage. I listened to a few tracks by these guys before the festival as I knew that I would be interviewing them. They have really good energy and I think they were the perfect opener for the third day. One of the songs they closed out with is called “Anonymous” and I’m a huge fan of this song. The music video for it was shot in a 360 degree format, which is not used by many bands yet. It’s definitely worth taking a look at when you get a chance.  The band will be coming out with a new album in August, so keep an eye out for it!

Upon a Burning Body took the stage shortly after. Hailing from Texas, this group gave fans a furiously powerful set. They had some really heavy breakdowns and this helped get the pits churning. During the song “Texas Blood Money,” the band brought out Jose Mangin to lend his vocals. That ended up being a success with lead singer Danny Leal and Jose battling it out during the song. I had heard this band’s cover of “Turn Down for What” when the Punk Goes Pop compilation that featured it came out. It was a fitting closer to their set by encouraging all of the ladies in the crowd to participate. Doing so by getting on guys shoulders and dancing to their heart’s content.

After a short break I went to catch We Came As Romans. This metalcore group hails from Troy Michigan and had a decent sized crowd ready to get wild. Unfortunately their performance wasn’t too energetic. Much of the time there were lulls in between songs. That may have been due to technical difficulties, which might have thrown them off a bit. The set in itself had solid selections and there was opportunity for it being great. The key standout songs were “Fade Away,” “12:30,” and “Hope.”

Kicking off the final day on the main stage was an unlikely group for many. Jim Breuer and The Loud & Rowdy took the stage bringing an old school metal and rock n roll feel to their set. You might remember Jim Breuer from the movie Half Baked. He’s a comedian and his band’s music follows the same formula. Their songs are essentially about dad issues with a humorous twist and AC/DC style riffs in the background. The songs are legitimately funny and instrumentally the band was extremely talented. You could tell that Jim was having a great time up there. The band is slated to release an album in the near future and I urge anyone looking to see a fun yet solid old school show to check them out!

All That Remains was up next on the main stage. The band’s energy and intensity was something that caught me by surprise. The stage setup in itself was very generic and their look was more of a hard rock band. To hear them was a completely different story. Philip Labonte has a vocal range that brings some very melodic vocals that immediately transition into a deep roar. The set began with a bang with the song “This Probably Won’t End Well”. One of the largest circle pits at the mainstage took place during there set and it was one of the wildest of the entire weekend. The songs that the crowd responded most to were “The Last Time,” “What If I was Nothing,” and “Two Weeks.”

For a band that has a solid fan base, Bullet For My Valentine was one of the sets that didn’t impress me much. The selection of songs were solid, but the energy from the band itself felt pretty tame. Nothing stood out from the set, even with Matthew Tuck interacting with the crowd quite a bit. The songs were spread pretty even through their discography. The songs that had the most potential were “You Want a Battle (Here’s a War),” “Tears Don’t Fall,” and “Waking The Demon.”

Day 3 Headliners:

When I was in Japan, this band was all over the place. Baby Metal was the one band that fans at the festival were most intrigued to see in person. They delivered for sure and had the largest crowd of the weekend at the side stage. Even fans in the crowd that were reluctant to give this group a chance showed up. I think the fusion of Kawaii Japanese culture and metal is oddly perfect. Their songs have a lot of energy and one request for a circle pit from Su-metal had the crowd willingly comply.

I myself felt the urge to join the circle pit for a bit and then worked up the courage to crowd surf during “Karate.” It was an absolute blast even with their time slot being only a half hour long.  I couldn’t even imagine what the show would be like given a headlining slot. I highly recommend everyone check out this band and see them live if their style catches your ear.

For an artist that has one of the craziest reputations with live shows, Marilyn Manson is a must see. The crowd quickly moved back to the main stage to catch his set. What he brought though was the most underwhelming show of the weekend. At times it was frustratingly slow and gave out an “I don’t give a shit” attitude during much of his set. That poured over to the fact that he went well over his time on stage, which would cause anger later in the evening. The slow transitions in between songs would normally result in major set and costume changes at previous shows, but there was barely any of that this go round. Manson’s set couldn’t be saved even with playing songs like “Disposable Teens,” “mOBSCENE,” “Antichrist Superstar,” and “The Beautiful People.” Fans were just not impressed.

Five Finger Death Punch brought a heavily melodic musical assault to the crowd leading into the final band of the fest. This was the one band of the weekend that looked to have the largest amount of fans in attendance. These guys bring a heavy amount of support for our armed forces throughout their shows. One of the more patriotic bands I have seen live in recent years. The most rousing performance of their set was when they performed “Jekyll and Hyde.” They also played a flawless cover of “Bad Company.”

These guys seem really humble and all about sharing their music. A little girl that was singing all of the lyrics was brought on stage by the end of the set to help sing “The Bleeding.” After the set finished, Ivan Moody picked the girl up and gave her the biggest hug. The rest of the group gave her guitar picks and drum sticks, which brought the biggest smile to her face. It’s cool seeing these tough metal guys being so compassionate.

After one of the most wild and intense festivals I’ve been to, there was just one more band up. Slipknot put on the darkest and grittiest set of the weekend. With an impressively big nine member band taking the stage, Slipknot gives crowds a lot to take in. The additional percussion elements added that great tribal element to the songs and the guitar riffs were putting the crowd in a violent frenzy. They also had a massive video screen showing many dark images and videos to add to the effect of each song.

The set was spread out with a great mix of old classics songs like “Wait and Bleed” all the way to new tracks like “The Devil in I” off of the newest album. After all these years they still have that crazy energy they’ve always had. Even with Corey Taylor in a neck brace, that didn’t stop him from firing the crowd up. Taylor is also without a doubt one of the best frontmen in metal today. The set capped off a memorable weekend that will most certainly usher in many more Open Air Festivals in Chicago’s future.

Highlights of the day: Baby Metal and Slipknot.

Overall Atmosphere:

After three intense days this festival left a positive mark on everyone there.  Even the final day didn’t see a slow down in fans’ energy at either stage. This was one of the better run festivals that I have been to in recent years. Other Chicago festivals should use them as a blue print to run a much cleaner festival first and foremost. The only disappointment came in the form of a last minute cancellation by one of the bands. Asking Alexandria had to bail from the festival last minute due to one of the members not being able to make the trip. This caused the festival to scramble and realign the lineup, which they accomplished perfectly. Again the crowd was overall very polite and respectful to each other. There was just one incident that I witnessed where a fan got out of hand.

Review by Brett Bergen and Sebastian Ziernicki

Photos from Day 3:

Brett Bergen

Brett Bergen

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