The inaugural Sonic Temple Festival took place in Columbus, Ohio from May 17-19 and lived up to every bit of the hype! Last fall when Danny Wimmer announced the new festival name, fans were understandably confused and perhaps even a bit concerned. He made a point of publicly coming forward to reassure fans that the experience they grew to know and love every year at Rock on the Range would be very much present. This was the weekend that all of those promises were kept.
As we do every year, my group left home early Thursday morning to make the trip out to Columbus, getting us there by mid-afternoon so we could enjoy some of the city before the festival began. We took three first-timers with us this year as well, so we were especially excited to show off what a great city Columbus is, and why we choose to spend a weekend here year after year.
After a night on the town, including dinner at BrewDog brewery in Franklinton and a late-night stop to 16-bit arcade and Dirty Franks in Capital Square, we headed back to our Airbnb for some rest before the real show kicked off on Friday!
We got up Friday morning and left the house for the venue by about 9:30am, where we arrived and found our parking spot for the day. Shortly after, I made my way inside and set up camp for a weekend of running from stage to stage to catch as many bands as possible. (On average, I walk about 8.5 miles per day during this festival).
The show kicked off on the Echo Stage with The Jacks, who claim “We’re not a rock band, we’re a rock n’ roll band.” They put on an impressive show and where a heck of a great start to the weekend! For probably the only time all weekend, I stayed at the same stage for the next act. Shvpes took the stage, with a decisively different performance, consisting of a fast-paced rap-rock performance that was, at times, reminiscent of Linkin Park. I hadn’t heard of them before the festival, but I’m really glad I stuck around to catch their set! Expect to hear more from them!
The Monster Main Stage kicked off with Badflower, who brought an alternative vibe to the stage. At first, I really wasn’t sure how much I’d be into this set, but it turns out I’ve been checking them out ever since. Following this, I headed back over to the Echo Stage for Wage War. These guys created a huge buzz all weekend, with a wildly energetic performance, they surely won over a lot of new fans!
While the day has been full of new surprises so far, it was finally time to hit some bands that I’ve been looking forward to for months! Over at the Monster Main Stage, Avatar took things up a notch when they brought their “Avatar Country” stage show to the masses, complete with a crowned “King,” guitarist Jonas Jarlsby. Vocalist Johannes Eckerström took the stage with his theatrical makeup and the circus was on! Avatar may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but it’s easily acquired. Every time I’ve seen them, the show is simply over the top and tons of fun. They performed a variety of new songs as well as some hits including “Hail the Apocalypse.”
After Avatar, I ran back to the Echo Stage for Zeal & Ardor, a truly unique metal experience, known for songs including “Devil is Fine” and “Come on Down.” I had to make quick tracks back to the Monster Main Stage, however, for the upcoming Beartooth performance. The buzz around these guys has been huge for the last year or so, and I was thrilled to finally be able to catch them live! As expected, they put on a thrilling performance including “Bad Listener” and “Aggressive.”
Back to the Echo Stage, I was able to catch Bad Wolves, who have also been blowing up over the last year, ever since they released their cover of The Cranberries “Zombie.” Of course, that hit was included in the set, but they performed a solid set leading up to it, including “No Masters.”
One of my most anticipated sets of the entire weekend was up next! Parkway Drive were performing on the Monster Main Stage. They performed at Rock on the Range several years ago, but with the release of their latest album, “Reverence,” I’ve been jamming this band for a while and couldn’t wait to see them. Despite extremely high expectations, they delivered big time, jamming every moment of their set with huge tracks including “Vice Grip,” “The Void” and “Bottom Feeder.” I would have loved to see their European tour setup, complete with tons of pyro and the rotating drum riser, but I suppose leaving something for next time is never a bad thing either.
Next up was the moment I’ve been debating for weeks leading up to the festival. It was time to choose between seeing Black Label Society or Tom Morello. As a huge fan of Zakk Wylde, it pained me to miss their set, but I’ve seen every project of his a few times (including Zakk Sabbath and of course, Ozzy Osbourne). I hadn’t seen Tom Morello perform live since Rage Against the Machine at Woodstock ’99, so my choice was clear. As it turns out, those who attended Morello’s set were in for an extra special surprise, as Serj Tankian joined him on stage for a truly unique cover of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone.” That alone would have made the set worth it, but coupled with that Rage Against the Machine medley, it was pure bliss!
From here on out, it was all Main Stage action for the rest of the evening. The headlining activities kick off with Halestorm, who are touring in support of their latest album, “Vicious.” Their set began with a drum solo from Arejay Hale, including the use of his famous “big sticks.” They played a tight set of hits including “Freak Like Me,” “Love Bites (So Do I)” and “I Miss the Misery.”
Next up was the penultimate moment of the evening, as Ghost performed their first set on the Main Stage here in Columbus. Touring in support of 2018’s “Prequel,” Ghost have really found their balance of theatrical and hard rock. Their set spanned most of their catalog, but was heavy on their past two albums including a string of killer tracks including “Miasma,” “Dance Macabre” and “Square Hammer.” Ghost is still somewhat of a divisive act musically, but there’s no question their star will continue to rise and new fans are made with every performance. I always enjoy hearing what people think after seeing them for the first time. Were the theatrics too much? Or did they entertain you in just the right way you didn’t realize you’ve been missing all this time?
Closing out the first night was a rare performance from System of a Down. It was evident this band alone had sold a lot of tickets to the festival, as fans packed the stands to see them perform. It’s been close to 14 year since their last studio album, so the show was full of hits. They packed their set with 27 songs, including all of their biggest such as “B.Y.O.B,” “Chop Suey!” and “Toxicity.” The show was filled with wild visuals on the big screen and a non-stop performance, with the small exception of a brief pause after the third song when the sound system had to be re-booted. As it turns out, the system did in fact go down mid-set. That didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the show though, as the band simply joked it off and moved on.
Not a bad first day! Having been at this for several years now, I knew this was just the start of an incredible weekend, but that was going to be a tough day to top! After packing up, we made our way back to the AirBNB and got ready to do it all again the next day!
System of a Down: