In its seventh year, the annual Carolina Rebellion felt nostalgic – not just because the headliners were Korn, Soundgarden and Def Leppard, but because the lineup for the three-day hard-rock and metal festival was somewhat nostalgic in and of itself.
Volbeat, whose eclecticism again made it a stand out, and three-time headliner Avenged Sevenfold closed out the weekend on the Carolina Stage just as they did in that order on that same stage in 2014. If you wanted to experience déjà vu Sunday night, you could stand in the same area you heard the latter play “Bat Country” three years ago.
What was different this year was the temperature. Joe Elliott called Saturday’s headlining set one of the coldest shows Def Leppard had played in 40 years together. Vendors selling hooded sweatshirts and knit beanies benefited from the chill. Even Korn’s bassist Fieldy wore the same oversized Def Leppard hoodie on stage that many fans had purchased at the merch booth.
Thankfully intermittent rain wasn’t enough to throw off the schedule Friday, which marked the return of Soundgarden, whose 2013 appearance was canceled due to torrential rain. It closed out the show Friday following one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets from Rebellion first-timer and Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s A Perfect Circle.
But Friday’s most talked-about pairing occurred much earlier, when Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds joined Eagles of Death Metal on stage. The guest spot wasn’t a one-time thing, though. It’s happened several times on Mastodon’s current tour, which EODM is opening.
Baby bands like Detroit’s Citizen Zero, Arizona’s Ded and England’s Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes (the new project from the former frontman of intense UK punk band Gallows) made their debut, but side stage performers like Sum 41, Coheed and Cambria, and Taking Back Sunday have all been around for 15 to 20 years.
The punk-, prog- and emo-leaning acts made their respective Rebellion debuts. Taking Back Sunday, whose Adam Lazzara and John Nolan live in NoDa, were at the mercy of heavy winds. The vocals had trouble competing with drums and bass. Coheed & Cambria didn’t have the same problem there later, though. Its sound was among the clearest and crispest of the festival, as was its psychedelic video and light show.
Several bands, including Sum 41, paid tribute to other acts. It dipped into Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Korn segued from Cameo’s ’80s funk hit “Word Up!” to its own “Coming Undone.” Papa Roach covered its late ’90s rock-radio peers Blur with the crowd-lifting “Song 2.” Volbeat even dropped a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of No Doubt into its set, which mined everything from ska and thrash to doom and Motown for inspiration, often within one song.
Still made up of four out of the five faces so familiar from MTV in the ’80s, both Tesla and Def Leppard stirred nostalgia. The former spiked its hard-rock set with a one-two punch of “Signs” and “Love Song,” while the latter’s was chock full of what fans expected.
Aside from similar festivals like Rocklahoma and Welcome to Rockville, Carolina Rebellion is its own animal. While watching WWE wrestler Chris Jericho and his band Fozzy Sunday, I noted how predominantly white the crowd is compared to WWE’s live shows, which are some of the most diverse crowds around.
But unlike the more eclectic Coachella and festivals like it, there’s not a lot of pretentiousness at Carolina Rebellion. The people baring skin aren’t model thin or muscle men and the fashionistas here are the guys with makeup streaming down their faces, or the group dressed like Power Rangers.
There’s a sense that these are largely working-class folks, who forget about the rigors and routine of work for a weekend spent crowd-surfing (sometimes to a ballad like “Love Bites,” go figure), throwing horns and pumping fists.