Upon entry to the Pannonia Fields, we slowly found our way into the Nova Rock press zone, admiring the huge grounds of the festival. We were amongst the first people to gain entry to the main festival arena which was a little surreal considering the thousands of people who would shortly be filling the space. While the weather on the Thursday wasn’t what anyone wanted, it was obvious from the moment we arrived that a little rain wasn’t going to dampen the spirit of everyone attending.
The first band of the day on the Red stage were Starcrawler. I have to say, this was definitely an unusual performance featuring fake blood, a microphone being placed down lead singer Arrow De Wilde’s trousers (and stroked) and some bizarre movements around the stage. People were slowly filtering in throughout the whole set but I didn’t really see anyone showing any real interest, and cheers at the end of songs were somewhat unenthusiastic. The band picked up on this as Wilde remarked “You lot are f*cking boring!”.
By the time Starcrawler had finished, the Red stage was packed with Shinedown fans as the Jacksonville quartet were up next. For those of us who are both Black Stone Cherry and Shinedown fans, we had to make the tricky decision of who we went to see as the bands were on at the same time. I felt for bands that have toured together and have a lot of the same fan base that the timings could have been organised slightly better.
By 14:00 jugs of beer and cocktails were everywhere, and the festival vibe was in full swing despite the wet weather with an array of different outfits, stretching from Pokémon costumes to groups wearing matching clothes. The cheers for Shinedown began before the stage set up had even finished and as soon as their intro music began the crowd went wild. The first song of the set was crowd favourite “Sound of Madness” which quickly had everyone singing and clapping along. Smith then announced that he wanted to take care of something important, this was to get the crowd making friends by shaking hands with the people next to each other saying we were all here for the same reason. He then took the time to shake each of the photographers’ hands down at the front of the stage.
The two songs they played from their latest album Attention Attention went down well, especially “Devil”, their closing number. Before “Enemies”, Smith jumped down from the stage and went to the back of the wave breaker barrier making sure everyone was paying attention before getting everyone to jump in sync. This new energy in the crowd formed the first circle pit at the Red stage. Closing with his traditional phase of “Never goodbye, just till next time”, Smith thanked the crowd for turning up so early.
We moved to the Blue stage for Hollywood Undead after taking a quick break to explore the food courts, where we were pleasantly surprised by the range of choice (even if we didn’t know what half of it was!). The band definitely had a huge fan base at the festival as countless people stayed around despite the rain which has just begun again. Opening with “California Dreaming” there was an impressive amount of in-sync hands banging along during the entire song. The many band members took over the stage and each took their turns on the mic throughout the whole set. There were some impressive fireworks on stage during the fourth song, much to the dismay of our photographer who had just finished taking photos.
A few songs in they brought a fan on stage who could play the guitar. The fan, Kevin, was wearing a Spiderman/Deadpool onesie and halfway through the track a band member pulled it down not realising he didn’t have anything other than boxers underneath! “Bullet”, their signature slow song, must be the happiest song about suicide I have ever heard but the crowd were singing along to every word. There was a definite party atmosphere with the last few songs of the set especially during “Everywhere I Go” with the bouncing barely stopping in the crowd and the energy on stage never faltered.
It was back to the Red stage for Skillet next, a band I have wanted to see for about a decade. By this point in the day the fields were beginning to look like a mud bath but that didn’t stop the smooth running of the festival, with the organisers putting additional wood chippings wherever they could. As soon as the synth intro began, the band walked on stage together, and the cheers and claps commenced. Opening with “Feel Invincible”, the first track off their latest album had all hands in the arena clapping along. John Cooper on vocals and bass guitar took a quick break to ask, “How’s everyone feeling at Nova Rock?” before moving into “Sick Of It”. Before the song began Cooper said that everyone has something they are sick of whether that’s racism, sexism, etc., finishing with the statement “I’m sick of my rock and roll friends committing suicide”, which got a huge reaction from the crowd.
Throughout the entire set, Cooper and Jen Ledger, drummer, were using their phones to take pictures of the crowd, seeming to be loving every moment of being on stage. A few songs later they brought a cello player on stage for a few classics like “Awake and Alive” and “Comatose”. During “Hero”, Ledger left her drum kit and made her way to the front of the stage to sing alongside Cooper. Ending on “Rebirthing”, the crowd’s response hadn’t wavered throughout the whole set and it seemed like everyone, including myself, wanted more.
KraftKlub were the first German band of the festival that we went to see, and we weren’t disappointed. They were the first band of the day to have a banner across the front of the stage prior to their set which promoted the name of their 2017 album Keine Nacht Für Niemand. When the band were due on stage, pink smoke erupted, and the banner fell, with this everyone started to get excited. I only recognised one song, “Chemie Chemie Ya”, from doing research before traveling to Nova Rock but the whole performance was full of energy and the arena went crazy for them.
The impromptu headline act for Thursday, after Die Toten Hosen had to pull out last minute due to health reasons, was Parkway Drive, the metalcore band from Australia. Starting their set with some fireworks which scared the life out of me (and I’m guessing most of the audience), they launched into the first track “Wishing Wells”. Before “Carrion” began, lead singer Winston McCall asked the crowd “You remember this right?” as the song was off their 2007 album Horizons.
Towards the end of the set there were some impressive pyrotechnics, especially during “Crushed”. Although the band are a little heavier than my normal taste in music, they definitely know how to put on a good show and had the crowd headbanging throughout the entire set.
Being a festival virgin, I didn’t know how I would feel about going to a major rock festival in a country where I didn’t speak the language but everyone I spoke to made me feel welcome and tried to interact as best as they could. Most of their English was far better than my German! I had been warned before arrival by Black Stone Cherry drummer Jon Fred that Nova Rock is normally very dusty. However, at the end of the day, it felt like I had been at an English festival with the amount of rain and mud, although the music definitely left me wanting more!
Photos by Jack Barker Photography