Exit 111 Music Festival

The inaugural festival draws rock and metal fans from
across the US for an unforgettable weekend of incredible music

Story & photography: Kail Rose

Held in Manchester, Tennessee on a chilly weekend from October 11-13, Exit 111 was everything a music festival could and should be. Featuring a decidedly edgy lineup of rock and metal, it brought together a colorful variety of rock and metal fans –a decidedly under-served genre in the festival world– for a three-day blowout of epic proportions. Drawing huge crowds with classic rock headliners Guns N Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Def Leppard, the festival also seamlessly incorporated acts from a variety of Rock sub-genres;  contemporary, alternative, heavy rock, metal, progressive rock and even thrash. Exit 111 brought cult classic favorites, peppered the weekend with the biggest stars in today’s rock world and introduced some ‘newbies’ of the highest caliber. It was a lineup to die for and a mixed that worked well – damn well. 

“It’s like someone took the rock lineup out of my wildest dreams and made it happen. Unbelievable.” – Britt H., Oklahoma City

The festival drew a remarkably mixed crowd; fans of all genres, all ages and demographics piled in to Great Stage park on Thursday and Friday to kick off the inaugural event. Over the weekend, I spoke with people who had journeyed from all over to attend: Florida, New York State, the midwest, south, Texas, and even a few from Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona. One of the hallmarks of a successful festival concept is one that not only sells tickets, but entices people from a great distance.

Truth be told, Exit 111 made it easy to attend, gave attendees great value for their money and unique offerings. With a convenient venue that allowed everything from rustic motorcycle camping, group camping, RV spots and even upscale glamping. There were a great number of reasonable hotel options in close proximity, making the festival surprisingly easy to attend. Our group, arriving from separate states, had either road-tripped or flown in to Nashville (just an hour north) and selected a nearby hotel. While we love to camp and will probably try out the camping experience next year, we were glad to have a warm hotel and hot shower with the arrival of a nasty cold front the same weekend. The region offers everything from $50-a-night motels to upper upscale hotel and suite options. We selected a Hilton Garden Inn in Murfreesboro and were exceptionally pleased with the accommodations. 

By utilizing the existing infrastructure of Great Stage Park in Manchester, TN (just an hour south of Nashville), the festival provided attendees with an immaculate, purpose-built festival facility. This is the same location used by Bonnaroo year after year. The decision to use Great Stage park was an excellent one – it only added to the experience, simplified arrival, setup and attendance, and allowing a large event with big crowds to go off without a hitch. Logistically, Exit 111 felt smooth, simple and entirely feasible. Parking was plentiful, the grounds were spacious and immaculate, we could find bleachers, shade, a large central beer hall, plenty of reasonable restroom facilities and a number of pleasant perks. And the festival grounds were not too large. Unlike some of the big-box festivals, it wasn’t a workout to get from stage to stage.


“Wow, they really kept everybody happy. I mean Lynyrd to Slayer in a single day? That’s just Day One!” – Rob, Kansas City.

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​In addition to a well-chosen facility, Exit 111 managed to incorporate generous food and beverage offerings into the festival. From the central Beer Hall (-slash- sports bar, which was open all day and drew a significant crowd with comfortable places to sit and watch the game) to the copious food, drink and snack vendors. This certainly seemed a priority and unlike many festivals, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety, availability and lack of long lines for a snack, dinner or just a mid-set Jack & Coke top-up. I did not have to wait more than five minutes to grab a beer or order food at any point during the festival. And the quality of food itself was superb; from grass-fed organic burgers, to a Ben & Jerry’s “adult” ice cream float, or pulled pork loaded nachos. It was almost criminal that the two were directly adjacent to each other – I certainly found myself grabbing one of each on more than one occasion. None of us left hungry. 

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Aside from the music, which was sheer brilliance from day one, the festival also incorporated a small car show, a freestyle motocross experience, pop-up shows and the disturbingly fascinating Paranormal Cirque and their sideshow performers, who terrified and delighted crowds. The cirque hosted twice-daily big-top circus performances and almost hourly freakshow tricks, contortions and things I couldn’t watch. The lady piercing her neck with a 12-inch needle was a little too much… though the fascinated crowds surrounding her said otherwise. 


“How the f*&! are they going to top this one next year?!” – Brad & Jan, Boca Raton

​It goes without saying, though: the crowning glory of Exit 111 was the lineup. As if some lucky talent-buyer had jumped inside our brains, or perhaps stolen our beloved Spotify ‘songs that are on repeat’ lists (the latter being far more probable) and curated a lineup of the highest caliber; a little nostalgia, a lot of legendary, and some new and definitely-worth-knowing. They somehow nabbed the best, the brightest and definitely the favorites and assembled them on one weekend, on three impeccable stages with minimal overlap, great sound, friendly crowds and an unmatched energy. 

Headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Guns n Roses need no introduction, and drew absolutely massive crowds for three once-in-a-lifetime sets. But early in the day, we were surprised and delighted to discover a set of lesser-known bands who blew our minds to pieces and shattered all expectations; Watermox, Bishop Gunn, Them Evils, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, Dirty Honey and Graveyard (seriously, add them all to your Spotify right now). Saturday’s lineup incorporated more personal favorites than I thought I’d ever see in a single year, never mind just one day. Ghost, Nothing More, Fever 333 and Gojira were so stunning, so impeccably perfect and yet distinctly unique, that I am at a loss to describe just how happy I was. By Saturday evening, I could have gone home happy. But we returned for Day Three to catch Alter Bridge, Skillet, Lamb of God, (the one and only) Deftones, Coheed & Cambria and to finally, amazingly, wrap an already incredible weekend with Guns n Roses.

​Killer. Beyond killer. More than a few commented that they couldn’t fathom how Exit 111 could follow with a bigger, better lineup in 2020. 

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And finally, my favorite part of the weekend (a common theme among rock and metal festivals) was the superior, friendly, slightly ridiculous, entirely accepting and simply wonderful crowd. If you want a great bunch of people to celebrate great music alongside, look no further than the tatted-up, wild-looking dudes who may or may not have just ridden in on a Harley. They’ll be the ones welcoming you to their space; if you’re shorter than them, to stand in front of you. If you feel like crowd surfing, they’ll lift you up. In the mosh pit, and you fall over? A stranger will be there to help you up and brush off the dirt. Want a recommendation for a good place to grab a bite? They’ll let you try theirs and share the secret spot where the lines are short and the chef gives you extra. Rock and metal crowds are absolutely the best. While I absolutely love the contradiction of a new friend who also looks like the dude your mom would cross the street to avoid, I also sincerely appreciate a good crowd when I see one. 


Exit 111 was basically one big party of kindred spirits: great people collecting and connecting over a common love of all things rock. Regardless of whether ZZ Top and Cheap Trick were your favorite, or if you preferred to lose your mind at Whitechapel and Of Mice and Men, this was a weekend not to miss. We found ourselves in a pinch-me moment, over and over – how had Exit 111 managed to curate such a flawless lineup, present it in a perfect venue and maintain a streamlined, seamless attendee experience? Will we be recommending Exit 111 for years to come? You bet. Will we be buying our 2020 tickets the second they go on sale? Abso-f’ing-lutely. 

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Wilderado & Mt. Joy ​Play a sold-out show at Scoot Inn, Austin TX

On a chilly Thursday evening, Scoot Inn played host to an indie rock pairing of epic proportions. Selling out the intimate outdoor venue, Wilderado and Mt. Joy brought their unique, upbeat indie flavors to an adoring crowd for an all-too-short evening of great live music.

Wilderado kickstarts the night with a laid-back set, beer-in-hand. Infamously once called ‘Bird Dog,’ the indie folk band hails from Tulsa, OK and has released three EPs (four if you count the acoustic version of 2018’s Favors). They are the epitome of what Austin loves best; solid music, a mellow indie vibe, and quirky unassuming personality. Their merch says it all, really. I take a quick spin past a table offering mildly distressed pastel tees, leather-encased lighters, beer koozies, earth-tone hats and vinyl encased in muted psychedelic patterns. This is indie folk rock at it’s best. 

The set opens with metered, groovy energy. Wilderado’s brand of folk rock boasts nothing over the top. Their performance is deliciously subdued, uplifted by pretty vocals – soaring at times, others in perfect raspy harmony. It’s pleasant indie rock that pairs perfectly with your craft beer. This isn’t a band that needs to be big. It’s groovy, fun, stoically upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable. 

It’s a short set -just 45 minutes- allowing the many 30-somethings with painstakingly groomed mustaches, trucker hats and faux vintage leather everything some time to purchase another Deep Eddy & soda for the petite blonde in baggy boyfriend jeans, a messy ponytail, deceptively pricey boots and an over-sized sweater. I wonder if she’s overheating (it’s really not that cold) as I eavesdrop on a trendy Hipster nouveau trio slamming the venue for being sold out of their favorite White Claw flavor. Several man buns bumble past in a skunky haze that is most certainly not cigarette smoke. A lanky girl clad in a tie-dye dress and pirate-esque dreads sways next to the Mission Dogs food cart, giggling; “hehe! It smells like hotdogs!” Austin certainly boasts a unique crowd. It’s a guilty pleasure to sit and people-watch in between sets.

​Mt. Joy are up next; the colorful, joyously upbeat indie-meets-psych-rock quintet always brings a great show and tonight is no exception. Hailing from Los Angeles, they debuted single Astrovan in 2016 and gently exploded into the contemporary music scene. They haven’t looked back, hitting major festivals such as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza in the last two years. It’s a deserved victory. Their set features a tidal wave of upbeat hits interspersed with newer material. Notably of their upcoming album release, of which single Rearrange Us was released the day prior. Spoiler: it’s groovy, melancholic and excellent. With neighborhood restrictions on the venue, it’s an all-to-early finish, but we leave pleasantly uplifted. The front row is clearly exhausted from exuberant fangirling, while the rest of us silently wish we could do it all over again. There’s a reason Mt Joy is selling out in cities across the US. With a sound that could fill an arena, it’s a treat to catch them in an intimate local Austin venue.

Through The Roots’ Arrival Tour ​Is the Fun Time That You Need

Photography & article by Geoff Clowes

Through The Roots have never been worried about bringing their Cali-reggae vibes to places far from their San Diego home. With tour stops up and down the east coast the band is setting fire to cities not known for beaches and fish tacos. It’s in venues like the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale that the band, while out of their Southern California element that they are at their best. The small, dark club dates are a stark contrast to the open air beachfront venues of home but perfect venues to bring their positive message vibes to the otherwise uninitiated. Like the Arrival album, the shows are a beautifully unchoreographed night of dancing and grooving to reggae inspired surf music in which one song melts gloriously into another with only a minimal amount of banter. It’s here, showing off to the rest of the country that Through The Roots really shines.

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The show follows Through The Roots on a journey, gathering influences from reggae to ska to surf infused beach music, sometimes all at the same time. Influences can also be found scattered throughout from high profile names the band has toured with including Iration, Rebelution, Tribal Seeds, and The Green.

The show started late after fellow Southern California reggae rockers Pacific Dub and local beach party band Fireside Prophets put on extended sets. Despite the later than expected start there was no grumbling as a relaxed vibe took over the cave-like Culture Room. The setlist was culled primarily from the bands newest release, Arrival, probably for good reason as this crowd may not have been as familiar with the 2013’s Take You There as a hometown crowd might have been. Which is a shame, as Take You There is a stunning album. Tracks from both albums were played with an energetic and  chill vibe with no filler or fluff. There was only positive, hard-hitting lyrics and epic playing from all the members. Keyboard arrangements were crisp and tight and not overly dramatic while the guitar and vocals took center stage. The highlight of the evening was Come Home, from Arrival, a song of loneliness on the road and longing to, well, come home.

In one sense, this show was perfectly matched to the crowd, cool, chill music played for a cool, chill audience. In another it felt like two strangely linked, completely different entities that had somehow managed to find a simpatico for this night. Let’s all raise a glass and a fish taco to that fact..

  

Geoff Clowes is a South Florida-based live music photographer. He’s shot hundreds of bands over the years in three countries in venues giant and intimate; “but it’s always the local shows in the small venues that I look forward to shooting the most.”

“Music photography allows me to indulge my passion for music, photography, and travel at the same time. I am truly blessed to be able to photograph the bands whose posters once adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom while also getting a pit view of the newest up and coming acts. None of this would be possible without the support of editors that believe in my art and an understanding family.”

Geoff brings with him a wealth of experience and a poignant black-and-white style that strikingly captures the passionate spirit of the artists he’s shooting. Follow him on social media and his website, Sage and Spirit Photography.

Austin City Limits 2019

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Spoiler: not much Bad, very little Ugly, so much overwhelming Good)

Story & photography: Kail Rose

It feels like we were just recently sitting on the lawn at Zilker for Paul McCartney: Austin City Limits 2018, but alas, here we are a full year later and ACL Festival 2019 is in the bag. With 8 stages and over 125 performances repeated on two consecutive weekends, it lived up to the mantra: “Music; lots of it.” As musicians and music lovers of all descriptions descended upon our city, Austin once again became the shining beacon of Live Music, presenting fans with another great festival -Texas style- to make all other festivals jealous. Bringing folks from far and wide, the audience was a nice mix of local music lovers and out-of-towners, united in their love of live music.

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This year’s headliners included the inimitable Guns n’ Roses, The Cure and  Mumford & Sons, along with Childish Gambino, Cardi B, Billie Eilish, Tame Impala and Robyn. But the festivals “not-quite-Headliner” artists drew just as many; with record crowds showing for Lizzo, overwhelming energy in the 21 Savages crowd, and adoring fans piling in for, well, just about every act. It was truly an eclectic lineup – as only Austin can pull off. Local artists Gary Clark Jr and Kady Rain gave notable performances; the latter wowing crowds on Weekend Two with her defiantly upbeat, colorful performance, an uplifting message and all the energy and flair we have come to expect of the rising Austin superstar. K. Flay blew us away with an eclectic, upbeat mix of hits on the VRBO stage, followed by equally excellent sets by Metric and Misterwives. Rosalia and Natalia Lafourcade infused a spicy spanish sound to the Honda Stage, while Judah and the Lion rocked our socks off on the T-mobile stage. And Childish Gambino’s supposedly last-ever show under his respective monniker left us yearning for more. How’s that for cruel?


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Austin’s own Kady Rain on the VRBO stage, Weekend Two. Photo courtesy of Charles Reagan Hackleman for ACL Fest 2019.
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Friday kicked off Weekend One with a bang. Guns n’ Roses delivered two full hours of heart-hammering rock n’ roll, splattered with nostalgia and many a Slash solo intermission. Thom Yorke kept us all scratching our heads with a choppy, nonchalant performance. It was weird and a little dismissive, but hey, it’s Thom Yorke and he can do whatever he damn well wants up there. The undeniable legacy of The Raconteurs, RL Grime and Tame Impala more than made up for it. 

Saturday saw incredible sets aplenty. The aforementioned local power and prowess of Gary Clark Jr preceded fantastic sets by floral-frocked songstress Lauren Daigle, crow-surfing by Hippie Sabotage, Canadian Rock royalty Metric, and unexpectedly brilliant moments with Billie Eilish – if you caught her interview on the hidden Bonus Tracks stage, you’d be just as head-over-heels as we now are. Superstars The Cure headlined the evening adjacent to Childish Gambino and it was a very tough decision on which act to catch first.​

Before we knew it, we’d reached Sunday and the star power was strong. Banks, Rosalia, Fisher, Griz, Rebellution, Third Eye Blind and Kacey Musgraves played flawless sets. Lil Uzi Vert did a (slightly-too-predictable) no-show, disappointing fans. Lizzo’s shockingly overwhelming crowd sardined themselves into what little space was available at the Miller Lite stage and revelled in her uplifting message. While many expressed frustration at the crowd, Lizzo is the one artist so deserving of such reception; from her immaculate performance to undeniable talent and inclusive message. I still get goosebumps reminiscing on this particular set. Late in the day, headliners Mumford & Sons brought the members of Austin High School band for a charming local cameo, while Cardi B brought us a slightly-delayed and definitely-too-short set that was actually a whole lot of fun.

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​We headed home that night for a few short days of rest before Team dRiFFt returned for Weekend Two to do it all over again. This time, we were armed with allergy meds and bandanas to combat the dustbowl and breathing hazard of Zilker grounds trampled by hundreds of thousands (if you’re attending in 2020, plan on bringing both – you’ll be glad you did), and warm sweaters and cozy onesies as the temperatures dropped steeply. Friday, like last week, was simply stellar. Disappointingly, Megan Thee Stallion was late and missed her set, angering fans. The cold was abrupt, but a very pleasant change from the overwhelming heat of Weekend One. Robyn replaced Cardi B and while it wasn’t Cardi, it was still a party with the Sweedish pop star. The undeniable highlight of Weekend Two was Lars Ulrich’s oddly satisfying surprise cameo with Mumford & Sons during The Wolf.

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True to form, ACL delivered another stellar lineup and great music spanning a wide variety of genres. While the Seventeen-year-old festival has evolved over the years, 2019’s action-packed weekends are proof positive of the timelessness of Jone’s and Attal’s founding vision in 2002; great music, good friends, amazing food, art, culture and an excellent soundtrack framing late-summer festival photo opps. Girls in flowery festival attire with monstrously looming stages behind them, gangs of groupies waiting hours in a crushing crowd to live out their dream of a front-row view for the headliner. Chance meetings with incredible folk who’ve traveled long distances for the opportunity to live out one weekend in Zilker park for the renowned festival. The group of guys who’ve probably (definitely) had one too many at the beer hall, but are now effervescently fangirling over Slash. Great company – so long as you give them a wide berth. And it’s you and a best friend relaxing, soaking up the scene in the sun on the lawn of a tried-and-true Austin tradition. Thanks, ACL 2019 – it’s been a blast. See you next year!

News: M3F Festival Lineup announced!

Must-see or Meh? Vote below!!

⭐⭐⭐

Meh (1) – – – – > Must-See (5)

This is a candy-delicious lineup with so much variety. None of the headliners will disappoint – Bon Iver has been a major bucket list for just about everyone in the dRiFFt offices, but we can’t say we’re disappointed about pretty much anyone on this list. Lots of up-and-comers and we’re not sad for that. Plus… this whole festival is a non-profit, and if I’ve you’ve heard of a more worthy festival to support, please fill us in. This one is a definite Must-See for 2020.

Our pick for most-underrated artist on the lineup?

Thumpasaurus. If you’ve ever wanted to jam out to Level = 100, PLUS have the band make you pancakes while jamming out, here’s your chance.

Let us know your thoughts – is this a must-see or a meh? Vote above!