Download 2016 - Donington Park, U.K.

     Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or aren’t interested in the live metal community at all, you’re damn sure to have heard of Download. The annual mecca that seems to have begun in 2003 that emerged from the ashes of the mighty Monsters of Rock takes place in Donington Park, just about two hours north of central London in the United Kingdom. Each year, hundreds of thousands of concert-goers make the trip with luggage and expectations galore and camp out in the wild card weather that will be further covered in this segment. This exclusive will have two parts, with this basic introduction being the first, and the second covering the actual acts that played throughout the weekend. 

Why Download

     With the touring day festival crumbling to pieces in the U.S., I made the effort to attend what would essentially be a unique experience of cultural expression at its finest. Being a passionate fan of music, and aggressive music at that, for the better part of the past twenty-five years, it seemed odd to me that I had never camped out for a festival in true Woodstock fashion. The concept of camping and the summer festival in the U.S. differs drastically from that of the European festivals. Warped tour is practically the only festival that has stayed true, while it only lasts a day, with Ozzfest, Sounds Of The Undergound, and Mayhem all going out the window. This Is Hardcore and New England Metal And Hardcore festival still exist, but they are nothing compared to the magnitude and production that goes into a proper European festival.

     With Coachella and Boonnaroo providing mixed agendas with a line up that would make any metal head struggle to endure, Download seemed like the one true line up for an American fan of extreme music to go. While Hellfest 2016 seemed to be Download on steroids, the experience at Rock In Rio 2015 and the language barrier made planning for such a weekend a little too demanding. All of the instructions and ticket deals on the Hellfest site are in French and their Facebook doesn’t adapt to an international fan at all. Not only is a five night/six day camping trip daunting for anyone to plan, doing it amongst foreigners can be even more demanding. Download seemed like the proper place to pop the camping cherry for a festival that lasts for five days – two of which are a field party, the three days that follow carry the bands on the bill.

(The Village on the first day of entry)

Getting To The Campground 

     It can be said that Donington Park is a bit of a pain to get to. It's not really in a central place like MSG or the O2. The campground is literally out in the countryside of Derby. I booked flights directly to East Midlands Airport, which is beside the campground, but decided to get off in London and take the Thameslink from Gatwick to East Midlands Parkway instead. It cost an additional $200, but that’s what I committed to so I could get to the campground at 4:00PM Wednesday afternoon. I earned a couple of hours on my Download clock and gained a conversation with a respectable English punk who, although seemed to be heading to the festival, claimed he just could not afford the ticket price. He also explained the pricing system for rail tickets and mentioned that hard booked time tickets are often cheaper, but risk being compromised if not adhering to their departure time. Tight connections and delayed flights may risk paying additional fees for ticket adjustments.

(List of fire starters in the campground)

     What I would recommend instead would be a direct flight to and from London, and catching the Big Green Coach that picks up festival goers from Victoria Station for just £70. This is helpful in the last day of the festival when all the fun is over and it's time to have an organized way out. The price covers a round trip experience and a connection with festival goers to establish friendships before dropping anchor at the campground.

(Thameslink Bedford line gets you to East Midlands Parkway in two hours with one transfer)

     For U.S. fans, the currency is something worth noting. The amount of effort that goes into planning something of this magnitude for foreigners is truly remarkable. Not only is all of the equipment to be considered, flights and tickets to the show, the conversion of the pound to the U.S. dollar is almost offensive. 

     As transplants, we don’t have the luxury of traveling with food into an international destination; everything must be purchased in the fairground or at a nearby grocery. Even though the grocery might be cheaper than the festival ground, the 1.40GBP = 1.00USD conversion basically rapes your cash reserve.    

     This is something to be taken seriously as food and water are essentials and not to be compromised while camping, and still being able to splurge on essential festival regalia and the occasional chicken sandwich and booze.

(The Download entry and camping wristband)

     Once in East Midlands Parkway, there are shuttle buses to the festival that drop concert goers inches away from the entrance to the camp site where the ticket is exchanged for a wristband that doesn’t leave your arm until you return to your apartment back home.

(Shuttle buses are about £7 to and from the festival site)

    I would highly recommend Download as a destination festival for U.S. fans searching for a summer music event for the obvious reasons that A.) It’s in your native English tongue, B.) Has proper public transportation comparable to metropolitan areas in the U.S., and C.) Is incredibly organized and is a well oiled, fully functional machine.

     As the shuttle drops off festival goers at the entrance, it’s party vibe instantly with tons of people already getting ready to spend the week going wild. It doesn’t take more than a moment for it to all sink and know you’re totally there. Tons of wheelbarrows carrying In products surround you, rushing to the village, food trucks litter the gate and the surrounding pathway to the campground, and the camaraderie on the shuttle sets the tone for a proper weekend away.

(Moments before the wristband retrieval upon entrance to the campsite)

The Village

     Download prides itself in being the premier festival in the business. With that title obviously come high expectations, but what’s provided in the campground (or Village as it’s referred to which will now take over the word campground) is basically anything a critical festival goer would expect. Endless merch booths, countless food options from ostrich and duck burgers to twenty-four hour breakfast bars and pizza joints, and wild card rides and bars sprinkled throughout every step of the way, essentially making a wall around the campground.

(Wild food vendors make an effort to attract the masses)

     The first day sees a huge entrance of campers enter the campsite, with dollies and carts galore carrying in their essentials (mostly galloons of booze and sleeping bags). It’s wild that there isn’t any music until Friday, and by Wednesday night everyone is already dropping anchor for the big event. I’d later come to find that many never even make it into the Arena and essentially go for the camaraderie of the campground. 

     The first two nights feature comedians on a side stage that closes when the Arena opens Friday, and there are late night raves and bars that stay open until the early hours of the morning that can keep just about anyone interested in seeing people at night engaged and not thinking about the fact that they’re in a field in the middle of nowhere with no music going on for two whole days.

(Blue camp on Day one)

     The campground is split into several color-coded campgrounds that are based on a first come first serve basis. I stayed in Blue camp which was the first one when entering the Village. While some might argue that it’s a bit noisy and connected to all of the commotion, I found the crowd to be accepting, fun, and reserved. 

     When going to a five-day metal festival it’s not exactly going to be a weekend at the Ritz Carlton and you should know this going in. But the English are incredibly well behaved, and I found myself in a hospitable neighborhood of tents that welcomed me with open arms and enabled the experience to be complemented by good hangs and proper late night chats.

(The vibes at the campsite begin instantly upon arrival)

The Wednesday & The Thursday

The biggest question heading into the experience was how we would survive the first two days that weren’t musically oriented. My concerns were the vibe, and the obvious concerns of the absence of twenty first century conveniences: internet, AC, or TV. All of that went instantly out the window as soon as we found our spot in Blue camp. Neighbors and festival goers instantly came to us and offered us endless amenities and party favors and I can honestly say that even if you show up to Download with nothing else, but a pair of boots and a wallet, everything else, camping gear included, will come to you in time.

(The Village on Day four)

     We spent the days in the Hair Of The Dog, a bar that served half a dozen types of English craft beers (including Iron Maiden’s Trooper at 4.8% ABV), riding carnival rides, and engaging with camping neighbors, which were honestly some of the most gracious people of any metal community. If anything is to be remembered is just how welcoming and friendly these people were. The consideration each camper had for their neighbors and their ability to avoid the equipment while passing by tents and at times inebriated was certainly worth noting.

(Gear for sale at one of countless vendors)

The Weather

As much as I’d like to say the entire festival it was a walk in the park and that everything was A-OK the entire time we were there, the honest truth is that it wasn’t. What was easy in means of transit, communication, and entertainment, was almost impossible with the consequence of the weather variable. Download was often referred to as "Downpour Festival" and "Drownload," and nothing could be more accurate than describing our time at the festival. Friday saw monstrous puddles fall from the sky, while Saturday had a light mist that sustained throughout Deftones and the entire two hour Sabbath headline, with Sunday just being the icing on the cake, never letting up from sunrise until Iron Maiden took the stage to close the week at 8:50PM.

(Hopeful festival goers indulged in the sun on Thursday before the monsoon hit for three days)

     Wednesday and Thursday welcomed summer days full of sunshine and clear skies that let us run in the grass with ales in our hands, jumping from tent to tent to meet new people and chat about music and engage in healthy camaraderie and educated, well articulated English blather. But by the time the festival began gloom lingered up ahead, with some of the darkest clouds I have ever seen. Initially a little skeptical about the warnings provided, I headed to the Arena Friday morning with shorts and sneakers, but by the time Baby Metal took the stage at 2:00PM, rain drops the size of iPhones came falling from the sky instantly flooding the campground.

(The Arena where headliners would take the stage)

     It’s to be noted that much of the Village was destroyed by Friday night. What was once a grassy field, was now a cake of mud that rose about a foot high. Gazebos, and tents went flying in midair, collapsing on top of themselves due to the weight of the water from endless hours of rain. Many spent their money buying new gear at the vendors that set up their booths early Wednesday afternoon and rebuilt their camps, but their foundations were now soaked and built on soiled ground. 

(The wreckage of the Arena for three days of nonstop rain)

     This might be the biggest difficulty in getting through the week. Five days of wet weather amongst metal fans is certainly not for everybody. If you don’t prepare with proper gear, it’s tough to know how one will survive. We were blessed with a tent from a professional that hiked Everest and lent us his gear. Our tent stood strong until the end, dry as a whistle, and enabled us to get some sleep in the early hours of the morning. We took precautions and wrapped our tent guts in thirteen gallon trash bags to ensure that be if the tent did collapse our sleeping bags and mats would be dry when we returned.

(Destroyed tent sites after Friday's crime scene weather blow out)

     But for everyone and everything else, it’s nothing a rain jacket and a poncho can’t fix, alongside a pair of proper rainboots. If there’s one thing I’d recommend not to forget is to pack countless pairs of socks. Even if you bring twelve, might as well make it twenty-four. Wet feet are not something you’d like to experience in a festival that stands strong, especially if thirty to forty inches of rain are coming at you for seventy-two hours. Again, vendors sell evertything you’d need so even if you completely dismiss this warning and piss on my advice, there will be plenty of vendors selling boots and leg long socks for you to crawl to when you’re ready and have had enough of losing your entire foot in a puddle of mud.

(These and a half dozen ponchos are Download must-haves)

 The Lineup

     This year was a blockbuster bill with Rammstein, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden rounding off the three days. Amongst the stars were heavyweights Korn, Deftones, and Jane’s Addiction that could honestly have carried the festival themselves. Although Hellfest seems more impressive and has a better sales presentation with their bill (Converge playing at midnight after Rammstein? What?!), Download’s four stage design let’s the headliners linger on as if they were playing an arena, and the rest of the band’s receive respectable durations to dish out proper sets. 

(Download 2016 final published Line Up poster at time of the festival)

     Looking at the clash finder for Hellfest it seems like you’d need a solid pair of sneakers to jump from tent to tent to keep up with, and to be honest, by Day three of Download, Meshuggah could have been playing the main stage and if I was standing in the Maverick tent, I would have needed all the energy in the world to mobilize.

(Clash finder app was truly helpful - Warped tour could learn a thing or two from this concept)

     Rock In Rio only had eight bands per day. This made each band get a proper headline slot and pack all of the production they could into their set. Although getting as many bands as possible into one day seems great on a flyer, in reality there’s just no way you can be two places at once and there’s nothing worse than having two of your favorite bands playing at the same time and having to sacrifice one for the other. While most clashes this year were avoided because of cancellations, there were still a few moments of disappointment where being in two places at once just wasn't possible.

     This year had a few mishaps with the obvious main bummer being Motörhead, who saw the death of Lemmy Kilmister in late 2015. The main stage was named in Lemmy’s honor and their slot remained opened, which although admirable, let me go and watch Amity Affliction rape the Zippo stage, which would technically be considered the second main stage of the event. Ghost and Architects both cancelled as well, claiming illness as a reason, and Down obviously too embarrassed to have Anselmo out in public, pulled off the bill somewhere in the spring. 

(Left for dead Download merch)

     Although this might seem like a giant slap in the face, here is a list of what I was able to witness during the three days and the sets will be broken down in the next segment of the Download coverage.

Friday: Motörhead (RIP), All Time Low/Rammstein clash

Alien Ant Farm

Baby Metal

Killswitch Engage

The Amity Affliction




Saturday: Architects cancelled, Down cancelled, Neck Deep/Deftones clash 



Wage War


Bury Tomorrow

Escape The Fate 



Black Sabbath

Sunday: Ghost cancelled, Periphery/Frank Carter clash


Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Breaking Benjamin


Don Bronco

Billy Talent 

Jane’s addiction 

Iron Maiden

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