Orlando, FL – It’s a tall order to summarize the performances of 23 bands across two days, but the architect of the inaugural HeartSupport Fest perfectly captured the concept.
August Burns Red’s frontman and founder of HeartSupport, Jake Luhrs, told the crowd during ABR’s set:
“Sometimes we’re goofy, sometimes we’re awkward, sometimes we’re messy and sometimes we’re broken, but we have each other. … Look at the people beside you. This is your home. These are your people.You are not alone.”
That, more than the music, is what makes the metal scene so special. I heard it in the bond between two friends who drove hours from Indiana to see their favorite bands perform. I watched the boiling fury of a mosh pit instantly freeze so strangers could pick each other up from the ground. I saw it in a sea of metal horns waving in unison under a creamsicle orange Florida sunset sky. I saw it on the amazed faces of little kids riding shoulders to catch a glimpse of performers.
Of course, the music is pretty amazing, too. HeartSupport Fest began with 12 bands on Saturday split between two stages at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. This being Orlando, the weather was pretty much perfect for February with low 60s giving way to a warm afternoon. Thousands of festival goers stood in line for merch, threw up their metal horns and sipped their beer under beautiful clear blue skies.
The first couple of bands were aligned so that one set began as soon as the other ended on the opposite stage just a short walk away. Later in the afternoon the breaks between sets stretched to 15-30 minutes, which offered a welcome chance to sit and take a breather.
Here were the standouts from the early afternoon:
I knew a handful of Currents songs before The Way it Ends debuted in 2020, but that album specifically was a pandemic mainstay. Songs like “Monsters” and “Let Me Leave” and “Kill the Ache” were the soundtrack of my quarantine. (For all of the ways 2020 was terrible, it was a fantastic year for music.)
I’ve been waiting three years since then to catch them on tour and even a 20-minute taste did not disappoint. (If you’re reading this, Currents, an Orlando headliner is overdue.) The high point for me were the blistering guitar solos, which align them a little closer to straight metal than the djent they’re usually lumped into. And, let’s be honest, it’s pretty refreshing to see long hair on metal bands again.
- Into Despair
- The Death We Seek
- A Flag to Wave
He Is Legend
The first and only time I saw He Is Legend was 2019 when they opened for While She Sleeps. Most bands on the tour leaned toward the hard rock and metal genre, but I often find them on stoner rock playlists (which suits me just fine).
Long and lanky vocalist Schuylar Croom paced the stage like a long-haired scarecrow, belting out some of their top hits including “White Bat” and “The Seduction.”
Bleed from Within
Bleed from Within was not on my must-see list, but they were absolutely amazing. I don’t know how they’ve dodged my Spotify playlists to date, but their potent blend of powerhouse metalcore, soaring choruses and breakdowns is exactly what I love. (Looking at you Wage War.)
Without a long history to draw from, my introduction to Bleed from Within was their live performance and that was plenty sufficient to make me a fan. Vocalist Scott Kennedy led the charge with a high-energy performance that left the crowd begging for more.
UnderOath are just as much scene royalty as August Burns Red, with their music serving as a gateway to harder music for countless teens in the aughts. A couple hundred of them (now a little bit older but no less metal) were around on Saturday, faithfully singing word-for-word 17-year-old songs like “There Could Be Nothing” and newer tracks like “On My Teeth.”
I’m a newer fan who eased into them with recent albums like Erase Me and Voyeurist, and occasionally dipping into the back catalog with classics like “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White.” “Hallelujah” absolutely delivered live. What surprised me seeing them for the first time live was the size of the band and the variety of instruments. Keyboards, a drum pad, pre-recorded samples and an extra pair of floor tom drums all combined to make an incomparable sonic landscape.
August Burns Red
This was the highlight of Saturday for me as a huge ABR fan. This was my first time seeing them since the pandemic and the release of Guardians in 2020. (I told you. 2020 had some redeeming qualities.)
Forty-five minutes is an impossible boundary for a band currently on their 20th anniversary tour, but they packed their setlist with as much TNT as possible. For as much as I play ABR in my car and headphones, there’s just no comparison to the power of hearing the roar of Jake Luhrs live. Playlist staples like “White Washed” and “Mariana’s Trench” never sounded better. This was also my first time hearing “Bloodletter” live and it was everything I was hoping for.
This was also a chance to debut a new track from the forthcoming Death Below (out March 24.) Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage did not appear for his guest appearance on “Ancestry” but that would have just been icing on an already tasty cake. (Was that a weird metal analogy?)
The one glaring omission (in my opinion) was a lack of “Defender,” which was an instant favorite when I first heard it.
- Fault Line
- Invisible Enemy
- White Washed
- Mariana’s Trench
Dance Gavin Dance
I don’t like Dance Gavin Dance. At least, I didn’t think I did. It was one of those bands that I listened to maybe once and I was just in a weird mood or something and it never gelled. And even live I was intrigued, but not necessarily won over. But then I started listening to them while editing their photos and it just clicked. Can’t explain it. But I’m not complaining. (My family might complain when I put on “Prisoner” for hundredth time.)
The back-and-forth pull of clean vocals from Tilian Pearson and screams from Jon Mess weave a unique sound. It’s carried by a tight sound that quickly alternates from hardcore to something akin to reggae to just plain pop. The closest analogue I can think of is something like At The Drive-In.
Every band had their unique visuals to accompany their sets and Dance Gavin Dance had one of the coolest on-screen displays with a casino/fruit motif. This matches 2022’s Jackpot Juicer album art.
Saturday’s lineup was special to me because the first show I ever shot was Parkway Drive with August Burns Red opening. To get back in the photo pit and watch these two bands in the same night again was a reminder of just how much I love concert photography. (Which I needed after all day on my feet and a long night of editing photos ahead.)
Parkway Drive have traced their evolution as a band similarly to Bring Me the Horizon, beginning something like close cousins to death metal to today’s bouncy but fierce anthemic music. Their seventh full-length album Darker Still debuted at the end of 2022 with standout tracks like “Glitch.”
But their setlist was still amply padded with longtime favorites like “Vice Grip” and “Prey.” The build up and breakdown on “Dedicated” was the highlight for me.
- The Void
- Soul Bleach
- Vice Grip
- Imperial Heretic
- The Greatest Fear
- Darker Still
- Bottom Feeder
- Wild Eyes
The combined lineup for HeartSupport Fest represented a fascinating mix of up-and-coming bands; small bands with a diehard fan base built over 10+ years; big bands with radio singles; and bands with huge scene footprints but small impact in the mainstream Billboard Music crowd.
Saturday had a little bit of everything.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Silent Planet, either as a tour opener or a headliner. But I’m going to plug them every single time. Their short but sweet set was one of the first times over the weekend I was singing along with my camera pressed to my face.
When I saw them last fall bassist Thomas Freckleton was absent on paternity leave (congrats Thomas!). The fill-in bassist did an admirable job, but Thomas’ ability to hit those high notes on songs like “Orphan” and especially the chorus of “Trilogy” was sorely missed. Also, at some point frontman Garrett Russell adopted some truly nasty toilet bowl gutturals. (That’s a good thing.)
- Panic Room
- Escape Pod (new song)
So maybe I’m the last person to discover this, but the vocalist for ‘68 also played in The Chariot and Norma Jean (and under Norman Jean’s original name Luti-Kriss). I made that connection about Josh Scogin after witnessing their set and suddenly everything made a lot more sense.
Scogin carries the torch for The Chariot’s legacy as a wild and entertaining show, between wisecracks, frantic dancing and at one point throwing his guitar high into the air (twice). The other half of the duo is drummer Nikko Yamada, matching Scogin’s dark suit and his energy. Comparisons to Black Keys are inevitable, but their music is more straightforward hard rock than the blues. Also, they were the only band (that I’m aware of) to spend their short set time on a cover, with a somewhat ironic but catchy version of Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.”
Definitely worth catching if they come through town.
I was in my mid-20s with three kids and a full-time career during the peak emo years in the mid-aughts. So the albums and bands that formed a sonic background for some people’s high school years passed right by me. Bottom line: Hawthorne Heights just isn’t for me.
I bring them up though because the crowd just absolutely loved them, and that’s something I can certainly respect. Lead vocalist JT Woodruff cut right to the chase: “We’re not here to play deep cuts.” I might not have recognized the songs, but I did recognize the roar of a crowd who only needs the first three notes to know exactly what’s next on tap.
Silverstein was the first band on Sunday to get a full 45 minutes and they took advantage of every second. The Canadian rockers count among several of the billed bands with a deep, deep catalog dating back decades and they did a fantastic job balancing old and new.
“Infinite” kicked off with its soaring chorus and a tight performance that lasted the entire set. Silverstein straddles the line between pop punk and post-hardcore, which makes for incredibly catchy and danceable music that can still inspire a push pit. One of my favorite parts about HeartSupport Fest was the introductions to songs and music I didn’t know. I have multiple screenshots on my phone from songs I had to search for based on snatches of lyrics. “Ultraviolet” is one example of a song now in heavy rotation thanks to a live introduction.
- It’s Over
- Smile in Your Sleep
- Smashed into Pieces
- Bad Habits
- Die Alone
- My Heroine
- The Afterglow
I try not to read too much into the merch artists wear on stage. Maybe it’s an endorsement. Maybe it’s just what was clean. But vocalist Courtney LaPlante’s Loathe shirt and guitarist Mike Stringer’s faded Iowa Slipknot shirt seemed a perfect analogy for what makes Spiritbox so amazing.
The juxtaposition between ethereal shoegaze and LaPlante’s grizzly growl create a mesmerizing sound that I’ve been hooked on for years. To see it live for the first time was a highlight of the weekend. LaPlante bounds around the stage, headbangs, then pauses long enough to deliver syrupy sweet lines. “Hurt You” and “Yellowjacket” were awesome, but it was “Holy Roller” that stole the show for me.
The band heads out on tour in a few weeks, so definitely grab some tickets.
- Circle With Me
- Hurt You
- Blessed Be
- Holy Roller
The Ghost Inside
Look. Reviews are by definition subjective. And I try not to play favorites. But The Ghost Inside was by far the best set all weekend.
I first started listening to them in 2015 and couldn’t get enough. Musically, it’s catchy beatdown with big choruses. Lyrically, it’s uplifting and positive and inspiring. I couldn’t wait to catch them on tour. Then in 2015 a terrible accident left the driver of the band’s tour bus and driver of an oncoming truck dead. The entire band was critically injured and drummer Andrew Tkaczyk lost his right leg below the knee. Their entire individual future was in question; they weren’t even thinking about the band at that juncture.
It took years to heal and, eventually, return to the practice room. Tkaczyk found a way to customize his kit to continue playing drums. The Ghost Inside emerged broken but unbeaten from a dark chapter.
Frontman Jonathan Vigil was candid about that experience during their set. He shared that he never really struggled with depression until that accident derailed his life and purpose. There were days he struggled to even get out of bed. Echoing a message told multiple times on stage over the weekend, Vigil urged fans to take advantage of mental health resources like HeartSupport.
That was a message they embraced way before their accident, but it took on a special significance after 2015. Hearing these lines screamed at 140 decibels imbues them with extraordinary power and moshing to them only increases the catharsis:
“Keep those you trust right by your side. Only the strong will survive.” – The Great Unknown
“With my back against the wall, I stack brick by brick by brick by brick. I will rise above them all, like this, like this, like this, like this.” – Move Me
“Life’s swinging hard, but I’m swinging harder.” – Mercy
Of course, nothing compares to set closer Aftermath’s powerful breakdown lead-in: “I don’t have it in me to sing of defeat. Triumph over tragedy.”
- Engine 45
- The Outcast
- Pressure Point
- Greater Distance
- Between the Lines (with Jake Luhrs)
- Out of Control
- Dark Horse
- The Great Unknown
- Move Me
- Faith or Forgiveness
Rise Against reminds me in some ways of Linkin Park. (Stick with me here.) Their music is so catchy and melodic that sometimes you overlook the lyrics. And then one day you really stop to listen and you’re like, “Wow, that’s really deep.”
That depth shines through especially in live performances, when you can see how personal the songs are to the band. Songs like “Help is on the Way” are bitter diatribes against government incompetence and “Make It Stop (September’s Children)” serve as an indictment against homophobia. It’s a continuation of a longstanding tradition of activism in punk rock, paired with traditional 200 bpm riffs.
The crowd could have gone home satisfied as the feedback faded from “Prayer of the Refugee” but the band returned for a three-song setlist capped by chart-topper “Savior.”
- Re-Education (Through Labor)
- The Violence
- House on Fire
- Ready to Fall
- Chamber the Cartridge
- Like the Angel
- Help is on the Way
- Give It All
- Nowhere Generation
- Swing Life Away (Acoustic)
- Prayer of the Refugee
- Make It Stop (September’s Children)
- Paper Wings
Overall, I would rate HeartSupport Fest a major success, at least from an attendee perspective. There were only a handful of delays between sets, the bathrooms were ample and the vendors kept us fueled all day. It’s definitely worth a trip if it’s in your figurative back yard and plenty others thought it was worth driving even farther.
Festival Dates: February 18-19, 2023