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Xfest Report from Huntington, WV

This year’s X-fest was held at Harris Riverfront Park on Sept 17th. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Ohio River. As with the year before, there were two stages, one for the headlining acts and one for the “Loud and Local” acts. This year’s big pull and headliner was Seether.

I arrived at the show late by about an hour or so, missing some of the opening acts on both stages. As with last years show I was given the run around regarding my photo-pass which should have been waiting for me at the front gate. Though this year it didn’t take an hour to figure out I was on this list, which was miss placed at the will call window and I only back tracked once.

I did expect the delay, having experienced it the year before, so this time I was much more patient. Finally I was given a wrist band which read “seether photo pass” in the seether scribble font, I didn’t receive a ticket but was told the wrist band gave me all access and reentry if necessary. I’ve come to understand how coveted these magical items can be. I was one of very few to have cameras at the show and my black wrist band told everyone why and they accepted it, envied it no doubt. Now my head was swelled I prepared myself to work. Unlike the last year’s gig I had no interview to fuck up, no press meetings, no backstage pass. My assignment was simple, show up, take pictures, rock the fuck out.

The 2005 X-Fest line up was already a tour on its own, which was Seether, Crossfade, Cold, Dark New Day and Smile Empty Soul. The promoters just added the second stage, Loud and Local, with bands Hydrogen, The Black Knots, Eye Alone, Suffer and Threefold Theory. The second stage happen to be a barge floating on the Ohio, it was docked of course, directly into the terraced amphitheatre seating of Harris Riverfront Park. The main stage was set in the same general area as last year, though the set up was different with the addition of lights and a different, different meaning louder, sound system. As I awaited getting my photo pass behind stage I could hear Dark New Day doing sound check and a band playing on the second stage in the distance. When I walked through the gates into the park I could hear the announcer introduce the band. Perfect timing.

I watch Dark New Day play a song; I wasn’t really familiar with their sound or music so I didn’t have any reference. I remember during their second song, I was there to take pictures. I pull out the camera I borrowed from a coworker, I’m really not good with those things, their so small and my hands are so big and clumpy on the tiny buttons, but I had no choice and the camera was really good despite it’s made for pigmy’s size. So I clicked it on and set it to full digital zoom, I was about 150 feet from the stage.

The music was good; the crowd was loving Dark New Day. The weird parallel was it was a bright weekend afternoon, people already warmed up by the before bands, crowd surfing, people yelling, throwing their hands into the air, along with a sort of social swaying. Even people by the amphitheatre and on the sidewalk were enjoying the music, you could see it their heads bobbing, see it in their step. Dark New Day had a guitarist from Seether join them on stage during the song Brother, which the crowd really enjoyed, a kind of foreshadowing for later in the show it seemed. The band ended their set by signing one of their guitars and putting it up for sale to fund relief from hurricane Katrina.

As they go into load out mode on stage, you can hear sound check on the second stage and the crowd starts one of its many shifts to the barge stage. On the way I stop, get a bottle of water, at one of the concessions and take a seat on a park bench by the amphitheatre. I’m sweating Jager from ten shots the night before, hanging out with some birthday party college hotties doing keg stands. Sometimes you can really over due college town life. I started to take inventory of the bands to play for the day; it seemed I had missed Three Fold Theory, Suffer and Smile Empty Soul. I still had a long day of rocking out to do, it was warm and cold breeze came off the grey Ohio.

The people at this show were ready to party, you could feel it, they really wanted this day. Huntington was having its annual Chilifest in Pullman Square about a half block from Xfest, which I think really pulled people in, since most of them were already planning on being downtown. Plus it was beautiful, did I mention that. Eye Alone was taking second stage as I was taking some pictures of the barge and the boats on the river. They played a set of pretty standard rock’n’roll, though adding there special flavor to the recipe. I pulled out my notepad and starting writing.

The Xfest this year seemed to bring in a wider range of people, there were the typical black t-shirt and chains crowd, there was also a lot of college students, high school kids, parents and even strollers. There was more diversity in the types of people, all of them seemed to genuinely be enjoying the music and the social activity, the constant smell of burning pot everywhere probably didn’t hurt either. With my social second hand high I spent most of the day walking around the park; back in forth from second to stage with the rest of the crowd.

I part took of some of the vendors there and there were quit a few. Hillbilly Hot Dogs, who had just recently opened shop in Huntington and Little Caesars pizza, along with what I call “carni-food”. These were the stands on wheels selling cotton candy, lemonade, corn-dogs, candy bars, etc. And I can’t forget, a little hair of the dog, the Icehouse and Miller Lit stands spaced almost evenly through out the park, sometimes it’s just not rock’n with out beer.

So walking around I was listening to most of the acts in the background, though the main stage was so loud I’m sure the folks at the Chilifest downtown could hear every single word. Crossfade and Cold both played good sets, the audience really seemed to like both of them, the hardcore rockers of the day, nearly two hundred, never stopped throwing their hands up for either one of them, never stopped moshing or crowd surfing, and surely didn’t stop sweating, least not till they were blasted by a hose from the stage.

The last two acts on the second stage were the Black Knots and Hydrogen. The Black Knots played a for of punkish melodic rock, pretty straight forward, though most of the shifted audience went to get something to eat during their act, I think in anticipation of the up coming headliners. It didn’t matter much to me; I watched them play through on the barge stage, taking pictures of the gorgeous sundown over the river. People were spread out everywhere by now, they had taken over the slope overlooking the river, people talking, laying down, sitting, cuddling. All were watching the sunset as I was, involuntarily inhaling the cloud of second hand weed smoke all around us and tracking the boats with our eyes. Hydrogen came on with lights turned on. The band was also shooting footage for a live video, so there were video cameras set up on the seats of the amphitheatre and guys with cameras shouldered on the stage. The female singer had huge… lungs, and was belting out songs. The audience really seemed to like their style, to me it sounded like a blend of metal and southern rock with some good melody mixed in the riffs.

By the time Seether came on stage it was fully dark. The audience was so excitable by this time; they cheered and jumped as Seether was introduced. The band entered stage through the fog of smoke machines and concert lighting. This is the act the crowd had been waiting for all day for, through beer, pizza and pot smoke, through heat, crowded sidewalks and sweating bodies. Seether ended the show with a cover of the Deftones “Change in the House of Flies,” which was completely awesome and the hundreds of yelling people agreed with me whole heartedly. The band put on a hell of a show, they played for about an hour and half not including the encore, which was totally kickass. The first song of the encore had the drummer of Crossfade and the singer of Dark New Day join them for a very special rendition of Alice in Chains’ “Man in a Box”. The very last song of the night was a Seether lead singer solo of the single “Broken”.

This is pretty much how I felt by the end of the night, broken - my body, my wallet and my ears. I was by no means disappointed though, the show had been more than I assumed in would be, the people of Huntington and its surrounding areas really seemed to like this line up, really loved to have Seether in their town, and really enjoyed having this event again on the riverfront. I hope the promoters of these Xfests keep the good bands coming in and I’m sure the city does too.

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