Hellfest 2019

Why Hellfest

Every year fans around the world drool over the lineups European Summer festivals dish out for their annual events. These typical three or four day retreats have become a well known highlight for global aggressive music fans to reflect over as they make their decision to commit to the events, abandon all hope, or try and attend one of the pathetic U.S. efforts Danny Wimmer is trying to produce in the midwest and southeast that consistently get delayed and cancelled every year due to impending weather events. 

     Although there’s nothing anyone can do to control the weather, the trend of cancellations and evacuations that take place every year is starting to get more and more attention and seemingly becoming routine. Rock On The Range (Columbus) in 2017 lost a chunk of the lineup due to severe weather in the vicinity. It was a little rain and Sunday got slammed with weather but fortunately Metallica still played. Louder Than Life (Louisville) completely got cancelled in 2018 due to flooding. Welcome To Rockville (Jacksonville) got evacuated this year due to “severe weather.” Epicenter Festival (Marston) and Sonic Temple (Columbus - renamed ROTR) in 2019 got hit with the same nonsense. Chicago Open Air this year got scrapped, and the bands ended up doing a mini show at the Metro in downtown Chicago in the middle of the night. While Rock Am Ring in Germany got cancelled in 2016 as it got slammed with lightning strikes, injuring 80 people and then again in 2017 due to terror threats, it’s worth noting that every festival that takes place in the midwest in the U.S. litters their social media with evacuation distractions for the safety of their patrons and then delete it later after the weekend.  

     The bottom line: If you spent $300 on non-refundable tickets, you’d want your bands to play rain or shine, and be confident that the show you’ve been preparing and counting down for is 100% happening. For some reason, that just isn’t happening in the States these days and no one, until now, is seemingly piecing it all together. The likelihood of your festival getting cancelled or evacuated is extremely high, and no one refunds anybody anything and no accommodations are ever considered. It’s all a sham to con fans into purchasing tickets for the next event. Which is why Hellfest, aside of many other reasons explored here, is worthy of your consideration. There’s too much preparation going on here for festival organizers not to want to execute it flawlessly.

(Lemmy shrine at Warzone)

     While safety at the event is key, it’s worth trying to visit a festival with a durable reputation of execution that 1.) bands are excited to make the effort to go to and not cancel at the last minute and 2.) will go on when a flash flood is in the vicinity. 

     Thousands of dollars go into planning these getaways and nothing is more disappointing than getting time off from work, getting tickets printed and in hand, getting hotels and accommodations reserved or buying camping gear, and then every band you want to go see gets cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. 

     If you’re fortunate enough to live near a festival site, good for you, but the rest of us plan meticulously months in advance to get organized to make the getaway special. It is worth noting that Download operates every year despite biblical downpours, and Hellfest provides a beautiful campsite that sees sensational summer time weather to maximize the metalheads vacation. 

     So now, why Hellfest? Why Clisson, France? If you take a brief moment to google the last five years of festival posters and briefly glance at the lineups this event has curated you’ll quickly know why. If you even bother to YouTube a single set from the gig you’ll be drooling at crowds that go past the line of sight and a festival ground that resembles a Universal Studios theme park for metalheads. 

     While tickets for the event go instantly, and the bands are announced a few months after the event sells out, it is worth the lottery of luck is in your favor as the reputation of the festival is very notable and hasn’t disappointed in over a decade. Next year will be the festival’s fifteenth year, and if you’re even thinking about attending this glorious event, mark your calendar now for tickets to go on sale in the first week of October and turn your notifications on for the festivals’ social media account to stay on top of any updates and notices for tickets to go on sale.

Getting Tickets

Welcome to the lottery! As I mentioned before because the event sells out in Q4, you have to stay afloat the festival’s newsletters and notifications regarding all date and time announcements. The event lit up on the radar for me in 2015, and I knew I wanted to go the festival eventually, but that was in 2016. Note that it took four annual events to happen for me to actually manifest the trip. Last year sold out before I even knew tickets went on sale. This year was even crazier. So how did I score tickets?

     Like any respectable festival, Hellfest gives you plenty of notice on when tickets go on sale. To generate hype, festival organizers dished out a series of codes on their social media accounts, leaving diehards to scratch their heads trying to interpret the hints to ensure they don’t get burned and not get tickets. It didn’t take long for the masses to interpret the information to reveal the date and times of the pre-sale. 

     On the day of the sale, I set an alarm for 3:00 EST to wake up to start making my attempts to buy three sets. Why 3:00? Last year sold out in three days, and plenty of comments online go back in forth in frustration regarding what ticket scheme they think is fair to ensure everyone gets proper representation. Since I already put in the time off work and had a few friends depending on me to get everything sorted, I figured I wouldn’t take the chance. 

     Note that the festival communicates as if you are currently living in France. Whatever time they announce you have to figure out what it means to you. I am happy I did because if I had waited, there would have been no tickets left. This year, the event sold out in less than an hour. Sure there are resales that take place for tickets on the secondary market, but if you’re traveling from outside the Eastern theater for this, you want to have legitimate tickets in hand before booking flights and buying gear upwards of $2000-$3000.

     Don’t expect tickets to last more than an hour. Note the date and time of the sale. Buy them, and if you can’t go or think there’s a sprinkle of doubt in your ability to pull this off, there’s an insurance add on that rings up at €9.99 to be able to put them back up on the site by a certain deadline. Better to have the tickets in hand and have the peace of mind.

 Getting to the site

Clisson isn’t exactly Nantes, and Nantes isn’t even close to Paris, so throw those city center photo-op aspirations on this trip out the window. Our agenda was set to build two days of relief, one on each end of the event. We flew into Nantes via Norwegian air and got a sweet deal with a brief layover in London. With tickets costing €400 per person for the four day festival, every penny counts once you start to consider your accommodations, and whether you’re camping with ranger gear or reserved Easy Camp, each one is going to run you a little dosh.

     The following morning after staying the night in a nice apartment we found on about ten minutes from the airport, we got a cab to Nantes Train station and tickets to Clisson were €6 a piece. 

     Once at Clisson, it’s about a mile walk to the campground. I recommend the hike. Otherwise, you don’t really get to understand where the festival site is actually located and shuttles breeze right past it. Both Clisson and Nantes appear to be magical cities. Very village oriented and boutique, and also should you need something that isn’t available in the festival grounds, it’s important to know what stores are along the way should last minute provisions present themselves.

(At the train station in Nantes)

(Once in Clisson)

The Festival Ground

Not enough good things can be said about the way Hellfest is organized and curated. Upon entry, those who have ever visited Universal Studios in Orlando, FL will instantly have flashbacks of going through countless installations, resembling kiosks of the underworld, all fully functioning and slathered with graphic art, auto-motion, and flames. Every little detail is observed, from the mock subway rail that graces the entry, to the marketplace, to the shops themselves, Hellfest is truly one of a kind in this regard.

(shop in Extreme Market)

     There are plenty of vendors in the Extreme Market. It seemed to resemble the vendors that pollute my social feeds that range from miles and miles of t-shirt salesmen to collectible posters to alternative jewelry and beyond. It’s worth a walk through and probably the best place to get new clothes should weather be noncompliant or you need something fresh for the last day. This is probably the only time you’ll need paper money during the entire weekend.

     There’s food everywhere, smashed between the vendors, and once inside the actual venue, there’s more variety that includes curry, thai, pizza, and assorted cuisine. The venue is another world altogether, with each part of the fairground living up to its own identity. The Warzone for instance, delivers different food alternatives, and is a short walk through a built in forest, that’s also packed with more artistic installations. As the night sets, flames engulf the entire facility and light up the festival in a one of a kind fashion, as if you’re truly in hell. It’s really just a magical experience that goes beyond the quality of the lineup. While that’s certainly the primary objective of attending a music festival, Hellfest offered a lot more than just a big stage and a day out in the grass. It was practically a spiritual experience.

     Note that the restaurants stopped serving somewhere between 1:00-2:00 so it’s definitely worth grabbing a bite before the headliners take you past 2:30. There’s absolutely zero consideration for the human requirement of sleep at this festival, as the bands begin as early as 10:30 and the Main Stage 2 headliner performing AFTER some of the biggest names in rock. On this occasion, Architects performed after Kiss delivered almost two and a half hours of content at 2:15 immediately after “Rock And Roll All Nite.”

The Campsite

The only festival I can relate this experience to is Download 2016, which was practically destroyed by the floodgates that unleashed on the festival grounds of Donnington Park for four straight days.  I’ll continue on as if you’ve camped before and know what you need to make yourself sleep well in any condition outdoors for four nights. There’s plenty of material out there about what items to bring and not to bring, but I believe that less is more: Tent, sleeping bag, mat. Anything else is preference to the individual. Note that Hellfest is not Download and offers all the camping equipment for sale on the site. You most definitely will want to have brought your own supplies or you will be sleeping on grass.

     Clisson was alternatively the complete opposite of Download in every aspect of the campsite and delivered five dry days, packed with beautiful weather from sun up to sundown, no rain, and clear blue skies. It is worth mentioning that while the festival itself is curated more effectively, Hellfest seems to focus on the party aspect of the experience. 

     Two tents respective titled Fury Tent and Party Tent never seemed to silence their club-like efforts, just a few hundred yards away from campersville, serving beers and blasting tunes past any set time as we returned back to our tents for the day’s rest. Bass tones rumbled in the vicinity, and I don’t recall when they ever let up.  It’s worth noting that to sleep a wink on the Hellfest campground you would need to be severely exhausted and about to collapse, because between the viking demolition derby that took place every night, to the neighbors that seemed to be awake when we’d return to the campsite and were still awake the following morning, no one seemed to be interested in getting any sleep at all. By the time Monday morning birds started to chirp, it was most certainly time to bail.

The Lineup

It goes without saying that this is truly the ultimate highlight. Alongside Knotfest which was announced a few weeks after Hellfest completely sold out, the weekend packed the biggest names in the genre with Slipknot, Sabaton, Kiss, and Tool playing the top spots. Other notable heavyweights included Slayer, Power Trip, Carcass, and countless other underground standouts, that made this a one of a kind concert.  There’s nothing quite like the roster the festival seems to put together year after year. Even though the headliners may be a little automated across the Download, Rock am Ring, and Graspop rosters, not one of them featured Daughters, Revocation, Archspire and other notable megas of the UG. Full roster of the bands we saw are at the bottom of the article, but be informed that this is truly a unique collection of the best of the best that smashes alternative mega stars with what you’d likely see at This Is Hardcore or a legacy New England Metal and Hardcore roster.




(Employed To Serve)

(Rob Zombie)



Getting out was easy. A quick walk back the same way we came in got us to the train station early in the morning. The group made an effort to depart prior to 8:00 when the festival gate was closed, so we had to wait to get our items out of our locker. The pro tip is to empty out your belongings the night before so that the next morning you can just run away from the campsite. Unlike Download that kept campers out in the rain for hours as they lined up for a cab, Hellfest seemed to have enough trains to take everyone back to Nantes in an efficient manner. 

(Time to go)

Final Thoughts

It’s worth noting that aside from Manowar’s cancellation and Rival Sons not making the effort, all the other bands on the roster turned up and delivered top notch performances. I know weather sounds like a bit of a waste to mention, but when you’re outdoors for five days it truly makes all the difference.

     The days are long, and so are the sets. You need a lot of energy to get your money’s worth here. The bands continue past 2:00 and there are multiple bands playing at every moment of the festival. If you wanted to see Kiss and Architects, well that meant you were up closer to 4:00 by the time you actually returned to your tent after both sets. That might sound ideal now, but when it’s the middle of the night and you’ve been in the sun all day, it’s going to be tough to convince your group to hang with you to watch the next band. At some point, the human condition just will not allow you to take the lead here.

     While the lines for merch are insane and take hours to navigate, the quality is top notch and the pricing is very fair to make it worth the wait. The custom cups and other assorted items that are specific to the event make Hellfest truly a world class experience. On top of a lineup that brings the best of the entire metal spectrum to one cohesive whole, within a manufactured world packed with art installations, graphic design, and more pyro going off the entire time within the site itself then you’ve probably ever seen in one place, Hellfest is worth all of the effort needed to get to it, and brings to life the experience you’re fantasizing about as you set out to begin making plans for your next summer festival.

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