Surviving three days in metal hardcore hell: Furnace Fest 2022 review

Through a sea of beards, backwards caps, battle jackets, piercings, colored hair, and tattoos, Birmingham came together in its own quasi-underbelly-punk-metal-mix Woodstock. This was the first time I have ever encountered a Furnace Fest despite its previous year in the City of Iron. After its inception in 2000, it continued for three years. Bands such as Boy’s Night Out and As I Lay Dying filled the haunted steel mill with vibrations and rumbles of new loud metal being made. Now, after an eighteen year hiatus, Furnace Fest takes the stage and forges new iron. 

    In the year of 2020, like most things, the festival saw a hault to the return of the hardcore mania due to Covid. The following year it came back with a party with Andrew W.K. as the headliner rounding out the weekend. Unfortunately I was personally unable to attend. With this year's promising line up, I couldn't miss the ocean of converse trekking black brick roads.

         As planes flew over the first day, Anti-Flag played Die For Your Government and the sun disappeared from the sky. It was blazing hot and the people skanking in the pit circle kicked around dirt into the near-oxygen the crowd was breathing in. A young teenager flailed while hiding his face in a luchador mask. The first thought through my mind, "This is it. The real proof that the whole cloud of western civilization that once fought the government is now preaching to the masses. All while wearing skinny jeans and Vans"  Justin Sane kicked about on the Wheelhouse stage saying, "disobey authority, fuck authority” as people horded together in companionship Lifting the middle finger in the rebellion of what Anti-Flag used to stand for. Justin continued to preach of peace and ending the war in Ukraine. Saying, “Fuck Russia and it’s conglomerated money hoard.” I am of course paraphrasing, because the weekend became a blur. 

    After a while all the music started blending together and the night sky was taken over by flashing lasers and stage lights. A mix of just about every fucking sound in the pot creating a stew of melodies for a new era of emo youngsters and metalheads. With the fall weather feeling like it was never going to make its way to cooler temperatures, the sweat was pouring from all my pores. In the middle of the complex, nestled under the bridge, like merchant trolls asking for their toll to pass, sat several booths filled with band merchandise. Black logo band t-shirts and vinyl records and surprisingly enough there were several booths carrying cassette tapes. 

          Making my way to the middle stage aptly named PLUG YOUR HOLES, the masses gathered in the concrete loading dock heading downhill to the platform of rock. Stretch Armstrong rang the tin metal encasing with the song Second Chances. Random stage divers flying from the background like squirrels jumping from tree to tree in search of the closest acorn. People bounced rhythmically to the double kick bass drum and sixteenth note riffs. I myself was flying blind to the knowledge of most of the bands playing, it was clear to me that this was going to be a weekend filled with a journey of exploring and people watching. 

    The stage in the far back, Baked Brothers, was silhouetted with the fountain made from old iron sprouting dirty mud water into the atmosphere. The Baked Brothers stage is almost always cast with yellow and blue lights amplified by the mist of the water. Fiddlehead strummed to the sway of white girl shoulders burned by the sunshine. Music festivals see an array of patrons but mostly they seem filled with those escaping the mundanity of everyday life for a few moments of freedom. Marijuana was sparked in the pit around young children and their naive parents. Ears muffled by large princess Leia style cuffs. It’s as if some of the forty year old bearded portly fellows didn’t care about their surroundings. As Fiddlehead finished out their set with Get My Mind Right, I was conscious that was exactly what everyone was doing. A lot of people took their medication this weekend.

        I rounded out my first day with New Found Glory. A personal favorite and my alarm clock to wake me to the realities of pop punk during my stint in high school. Understatement came through the speakers as I headed next to the stage. Entering the pit for the first time during the festival. The wild crowd went into a frenzy of jumping and fist raised in the air while the pop punk filled their eardrums. I was jumping up and down in rhythm with the collective. My sunglasses tapered around my necklace suddenly wrapped in the flowing red hair of the girl in front of me. There was no saving the cheap plastic. She yanked them from her tangled mop and went directly back to jumping and waving. The party had begun. New Found Glory’s sound was a little off as their guitar player was away, battling cancer. Chad was phoned in to say hello to the crowd. It was the most heart wrenching moment as the crowd screamed his name. NFG finished their set with My Friends Over You

    The first night came to an end with Thrice blasting through the Wheelhouse stage speakers. Walking around in the darkness amidst the pizza, mexican, french fries, and food trucks it felt as though this was a great start to a wonderful weekend. I was so exhausted that sleep was sure to be peaceful, or maybe a concussion headache would keep me awake from all the head banging. A giant ice cream cone stand lit the way to car horns and traffic exiting the festival. All smiles, laughter, and worn out bodies hugging in synchronicity all coddled in black attire. 

    The next day slated the worst line-up of bands. Arriving late, it seemed like a relaxing environment. Walking up it was obvious that people were still suffering from exhaustion from the previous day. So much music in so little time. So many circle pits and sweaty men baking in the sun. It was hotter than the previous day with the heat index above 90.  In the entrance near the ice cream nestled several porta-potties basking and wafting blue shit water throughout the nostrils. Ah, music festivals, a place where everyone can come together in harmony and shit in a bucket directly next to a swirly of creamy goodness that people are eating to starve away the day's heat. 

           The first band that caught my attention was Life In Your Way. Playing all the way in the back of the complex. Many people slept amongst the grassy knoll and some imbibed the Furnace Fest special brew made by Trim Tab. Birmingham could hear the madness all across the town. From miles away the steel mill was still churning uproarious metal. There is no describing or understanding of that feeling one gets when the lights swirl and the disorientation begins. Just as your attention goes to the melodic double kick bass drum and your ears start to ring and you forget whom the fuck you are even listening to, you take a sweaty boot to the top of your noggin from the crowd surfers above. 

     A young blonde haired child climbed aboard an inflatable duck raft and was carried to the front of the stage. As the raft floated towards the stage, everyone in the crowd seemed attentive to the youngster smiling in bliss. Walking back around to the back of the Plug Your Holes stage, it was clear to me that this was a day for relaxing. I picked a spot on the grassy knoll next to more porta-potties. I couldn’t even tell who was playing. Nor did it matter. I watched people for a little while and soaked in the atmosphere. A man walked by digging the dirt and clinched underwear from the ass crack of his torn at the knee skinny jeans. Only posers get hemorrhoids at music festivals. In the middle stage, Bleeding Through started humming loudly and my ears had enough of the abuse. The tinnitus was getting worse, so plug my holes is exactly what I did. 

     Time began to escape me and I was getting lost through the crowd. Feeling invisible all while wearing the brightest shirt at the festival. Walking around by the Sound Master tent, some blonde stranger grabbed my arm and ran her hand all the way down my forearm, grabbing my hand. I didn’t even have time to stop and say hello before she was back off into the mass of hordes. Surely her edible kicked in at the right time we crossed paths. 

       On the Wheelhouse stage, a bald middle aged man headed a band called Elliot. Aptly named after the frontman. He looked exhausted, but the music was some old style facet of melodies from the nineties. The crowd swayed and waved their arms while the stage lights passed through the cloudiness of bodies. Raised arms covered with armbands showing the logo of the festival. A beer can was tossed in the air spilling the wheat soda all over random bystanders. Beach balls smacked around, flowing freely through the open sky. The sun began to dip the sky again and day two had been a mixture of slow jams and rested feet. 

    Back to the Plug your Holes stage. Demon Hunter let out a scowling yelling scratch scream. The circle pit looked as if it could shake the entire concrete floor of the old warehouse. Breaking down any buildings around it. People running and bumping into each other flailing about to the harsh screams of Ryan Clark. Once he stopped, he began talking about losing too many friends to suicide and that it was time we all spoke up about our ailments. The people seated upon the concrete walls above the yellow railings shed tears and cheered loudly clapping their hands. While a lot of drugs had been taken and alcohol had been poured, while a lot of shit food graced the dead grass of the grounds; it seemed we all had one thing in common. Finding a way to escape our own madness in communion of great music. Clark continued to talk about battling depression and bantered directly into the next tune, Hell Doesn’t Need Me. The pit swirled with new emotions. Many onlookers hung to the back behind the sound booth and admired those brave enough to fight the battle in the mosh-pit. 

    Slowing down the melody, The Spill Canvas played on the back stage. The Spill Canvas sounded unlike any other band in the festival. Melodic and somber. Many people swayed in unison to the grooves of the water filtered effect guitar riffs while the flickering of stage lamps burned straight though the fountain mist. Shoulders were touching while people got to know one another in a connection without even sharing words. Standing amongst the crowd, I realized that every band that played this day had seemed more tame than the previous. Rounding out their set, the band played the song Self Conclusion. A strange viewpoint, given the earlier statements form previous bands about depression and suicide. Pedro the Lion followed on the same stage. Finding a comfy spot around the way in the lawn, I looked on listening to the poetic tones filling the air. Everyone seems so tired already. Even after only two days of nonstop rock and roll. Why not take in a jam band nap. The sleep paralysis I felt during Pedro the Lion’s set must have come from the lack of excitement in the evening. 

         I woke up in a haze while staring down the fountain and the Lion’s road crew packing down the setup. Walking around towards the exit, Sunny Day Real Estate rang loudly through the main stage. All I cared for was making it back to the giant ice cream cone exit sign and out the encampment to actually find a bed. It wasn't a day to miss given the three day pass was 300 dollars. 

     This was it. The day I was waiting for. Two bands that I truly wanted to see. When I arrived Four Years Strong was playing on the main stage. Bodies were being tossed around already in the hotness of the day sun in the circle pit. Most everyone was under the realization that this was the end of the weekend so it was time to go hard in the mosh and break the limbs that were already flailing. I stuck around for Lagwagon and soaked in the atmosphere once more. It's already been a dauntingly exhausting weekend and my ear drums were clogged with rock n' roll overdrive through the speakers. Making Friends was their second to last song and it's exactly what everyone seemed to be doing. Closeness and intamacy through a hardcore drive.

        In Flames played following the pop punk sound. A Swedish melodic heavy guitar sound. I am almost certain there were members of the crowd surfers that covered themselves in their own urine and still climbed aboard the crowd. It was one of the craziest experiences I've ever had in a mosh pit. An aisle was made down the center of the crowd in order to throw bodies into the air. The band spoke of their time touring Europe and life in Sweden. Agreeing with most at the festival in the expression of a degrading war on the Ukrainian people. In Flames was one of the reasons I came to this festival and they did not disappoint. Suddenly behind me a shirtless tattoo bearded man covered in salty sweat flailed to be caught by everyone below, fell to the dirt and rolled around. The smoke rose from the stage. Everything seemed flashy with a bit of eighties hair metal flair. To be perfectly honest, my nipples were harder than diamonds. Giant balloons in the shape of an atom helix were being tossed around through the crowd. The band stopped playing and Anders Friden said, "what the fuck are those things? COVID producers" and popped one going directly back into the song. Their set felt like an eternity but went by in a flash of fury. 

       The last band that piqued my curiosity was a personal favorite throughout the year. Mom Jeans. I had been obsessing over the song Scott Pilgrim Vs. My GPA. A redundancy playing on my YouTube music as sort of a sideways anthem. Waiting around in the crowd for the band to start, I came across the most annoying patron of the entire event. She seemed like she had snorted enough adderall to bounce back and forth between every crowd member. Randomly she would point at people's chest and say, "what's on your shirt?" Then run her fingers up their nose. A gag older than her. At one point she looked at me and said, "move pussy, only I can love Mom Jeans, I've seen them six times." The moment was best ignored. 

Once the band started I saw her making out with a green haired bearded gorilla in horn rimmed glasses. Luckily she had found someone to help tame her wildness. Mom Jean's echoed melodies as the bass player hyped the crowd. But the shining light just happened to be the security guard at the front of the stage. He was in a world.of his own and having the time of his life. Bouncing around and hyping the crowd with a smile showing every tooth in his mouth. This guy, albeit underpaid, was probably the happiest person to be at the festival. He brought waters to crowd members and tossed them on himself while he bounced to the rock. He hugged crowd members and showed love via a dab with his fist. This guy was truly loving his job. Looking around the finger sniffer lady had found a new victim to patronize while she was kissing someone new. Mom Jean's started in the song Pickle Bart and the bass player lowered his arm signaling the crowd to lower their bodies in order to jump at the right moment. I have never personally seen a bassist get a crowd to follow along to his antics, but it worked. While everyone sprang like tensioned springs, an angry baseball jersey wearing youth got angry with a man who stepped on his foot. With fits of anger stemming, the group of security focused on diffusion. Things calmed as the band continued. 

      Phone camera lights were lit and swaying while the anthem started to play. Every voice was in unison and out of tune singing "It's hard for me to tell where the hell I went wrong." I could feel the passion from the crowd. I wanted to close my eyes and meditate because it was so humbling. When Eric Butler reached for the trombone, I knew the party was certainly coming to an end. Repeating the lyrics, "I sleep well alone now" as the song decrescendos and vibrant guitar riffs sync with the horn blast. The entire audience was screaming "I sleep well alone now." Before the tear could roll down my eye, there stood the annoying Adderall woman in front of me. Her sauntered eyes, looking directly into mine. I fell in love, but only for a moment as she grabbed some stranger's hand. Mom Jeans wrapped down and people screamed at the stage for autographs and guitar picks. Eric refused to sign a Polaroid some stranger had brought, which lost all my respect for the band but not the music. Sam Keiss reached out and tagged everything he could. A true patriot to the fans. The security guard hugged everyone willing to share his love.

       The Plug Your Holes stage was vacant of sound and the lights were dim. Walking though the environment one last time, through the bridge trolls vendors, passing the food stands; Mastodon was raging loudly. The weekend was over and most people just stood and observed soaking in the last moments of the festival. I recollected the reasoning as to why I normally do not see bands this way. So much music in so little time. It brings about chaos in the mind and an exhausting atmosphere only being brought to life by the energy of the music and the atmosphere of others' vibe. I loved the time spent during Furnace Fest. I'm saddened it was coming to an end. Looking at all the other people leaving the festival in their newly acquired festival shirts and covered in the dirt and soot of the iron factory, the halls were filled once more with new haunts and memories.