Blood Brothers – Download Festival Diary 2022

You know those comedy movies where the main character with the luck of Donald Duck looks at the camera and says “what could possibly go wrong?” and then mirrors shatter, pianos fall from windows and locusts start showing up in great numbers? Yeah, quite useless to say how lucky the world got during the past few years and how far Download 2022 seemed to be. Yet, let’s believe all tragedies have a happy ending at last while I try really hard to realise it’s been a month since it all finally happened.

So this time, along with my boyfriend and myself, our party was joined by a couple of friends who had never been to Download, but given the meticulous organizer I am, there was nothing to fear: we armed ourselves with Mario and Luigi hats ready to face the whole adventure.

JUNE 8TH – TWO DAYS BEFORE THE FESTIVAL

Lessons learned from past Download editions come in handy when it’s time to choose the arrival date, shopping and clothing. For the first, it was really Ryanair who chose on our behalf as it seems no airline except them is flying from any airport in Italy to East Midlands. Cheap flight and tricky hidden bag policy? Well, you get what you pay for. The flight from Rome was delayed and let me tell you, there’s nothing scarier than an announcement that begins with “We’re sorry to announce” followed by your flight number. Boarding took forever, take-off took even longer so as we roamed all the possible runways of Fiumicino I thought the plane was taking us to Ciampino where we could have boarded an actual flight. Yes, you can sense my deep and true love for Ryanair, but that was nothing compared to landing which was a big loud thud on the ground, so bad I fear we found some oilfield there (residents might want to check that out, it could solve a financial problem or two).

Delayed flight equal poor transfer guy who waited forever for us, furtherly slowed down by passport control. If you thought Brexit was a good idea, think again, this time with your neurons switched on.

We finally made it to the lovely Pentahotel in Derby, a very good shelter for whoever’s not the best of friends with camping.

JUNE 9TH – THE DAY BEFORE THE FESTIVAL

Truth must be told: nobody trusted weather forecast, literally nobody. So we did what every wise human being would have done: we bought wellies to match our raincoats. Easy peasy, suck that Brit weather!

In the afternoon we took a bus to Nottingham, which I had never been to, and I must say that really is a cute little town with a ton of history to tell. We stopped for a pint at the beautiful Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem which claims to be the oldest pub in England and which I found particularly cosy with rooms set up in real caves, just wow. Also, I found it pretty hard to resist the Jubilee display in the main square and sort of stole the show with my own coronation (Lilibet is a big girl, thought she wouldn’t mind).

Back from Notts, we treated ourselves with whiskey and gin in the hotel lounge where we met some old-school Downloaders. I must say people really are at their best in contexts like these, you talk more, you share memories and expectations and it’s all just beautiful.

Time to rest was up and Download was about to start.

JUNE 10TH – FESTIVAL DAY ONE

This year I came prepared, really prepared. I made my own Excel spreadsheet with all the bands I wanted to see and what level of priority they had on my schedule. I pre-listened to them all, not even the smallest band was spared. And that was a pretty messy thing to do as I liked a lot of them. The easiest solution was to try seeing half sets instead of the full thing so bear with me if I’m judging some from only a few songs.

As we entered the arena on the first day a very unfamiliar sight awaited us: grass. I know, we all thought “Ha, just wait and see bitches”. The sun was shining bright and Wayward Sons were playing on the main stage. Nice sound paving the way for Theory of A Deadman who played some of their most famous tunes, warming up the festival atmosphere. I couldn’t help doing something quite unusual at Download: I sat on the ground without looking like I’d shit myself. What a dream. Then it was my first adventure at the bar featuring the lady at the counter asking me for ID because I looked underaged (flattering, but I could get alcohol with no questions even when I was 15) and overpriced beer served in a slippery paper cup.

I found Black Veil Brides in exceptional shape, even if I’m not really into their latest album, it was a good setlist manoeuvred by established musicians who really know what to do on a stage. Against all odds, I didn’t stay for “In The End” because I was beyond curious to see Tempt at the Dogtooth Stage. Wow people, I’m so very sorry for those who were not there, you really missed some show there. They’re incredibly young, incredibly nice and incredibly talented. I loved every single minute of it. After their set, I had the chance to meet Zach, the singer, who had stars in his eyes and told me “we’re doing the big festivals, you know, this is the big dream”. I do know very well my dear Zach, I’d give my kidneys and lungs to be on a stage like that and it’s fantastic to see young people succeeding, it always is.

Another Dogtooth fine choice were British Lion, with master Steve Harris jumping and smiling from start to end. I must say it was nice to see Mr Harris outside the Iron Maiden bubble for once, I mean he still plays the same way, but it’s funny how different combinations can deliver different stuff. Love and hate for me, as I’ve always admired him knowing that I will never be half as good as he is.

Next was Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes. The huge hype of the season I would say, not really my kind of hype, but I get why people like them a lot. Lastly, it was time to gather before the real old-schoolers and let’s not act tough, their iconic intro always does something to your spine you can’t really control. Kiss have never been the best ones if we focus on music, but everyone must face the fact there’s nothing like them, nor ever there will be again. Their show is unique, from the fireworks to the stage setup, and it simply cannot help having some kind of impact on the crowd. Kiss was my first big concert and twelve years later I still believe they deliver the most spectacular shows.

As day one was already a memory, we began our walk of shame to the bus shuttle area. If you thought thousands of people walking the pace of a penguin singing “Bohemian Rapsody” out loud was something funny to see, you should’ve stick around for the next tune, promptly started by someone way back: “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” with a compact choir answering “SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!”. Honestly, I was laughing so hard I was crying.

Big no-no for the bus shuttle situation that got everyone piling up at the barriers with no possibility of building up a decent queue. It got us almost an hour to get into a bus and witnessed multiple potential fights happen.

Time for pot noodles and American Dad before dropping dead on the bed.

WAYWARD SONS

THEORY OF A DEADMAN

KRIS BARRAS

BURY TOMORROW

DEAD POET SOCIETY

BLACK VEIL BRIDES

TEMPT

BOKASSA

AIRBOURNE

BRITISH LION

FRANK CARTER AND THE RATTLESNAKES

KISS

4.5/5
4.5/5
4/5
3.5/5
4/5
5/5
5/5
2.5/5
4.5/5
5/5
4.5/5
5/5

JUNE 11TH – FESTIVAL DAY TWO

Alarm clock rings. “Uhm, weird, I feel like my skin is very hot on my face.” I said to myself while getting off the bed. I looked at myself in the mirror and suddenly this echoing voice started to make room in my mind, that of my boyfriend asking me before packing the tiny little bag for liquids “should we bring sunscreen?” “Ha ha ha, that’s funny”, I replied, “I’m not even taking the travel size, a couple of samples will be more than enough”. Now, with a Rudolph-reindeer-red nose (very fashionable colour this season), swollen forehead and two-tone arms very much resembling a vanilla and raspberry Chupa Chups, I just wanted to retire as a human and turn straight into a vampire. But day 2 was on its way and I was determined to make the most of the hydrating lotion I had left.

My Saturday schedule began with a 30-minute delay followed by The Raven Age, one of the bands I looked most forward to seeing. The boys did not disappoint and I stayed through the whole set even though my daily schedule was already messed up.

Another act that I couldn’t really miss was definitely Those Damn Crows. Real good stuff there, I remember I couldn’t even get into the Dogtooth tent in 2019 because it was incredibly packed for them. A big step up to play on the main stage, but I believe it’s all well deserved. 

During the Black Label Society set I was giving my best sunbathing performance ever and I almost fell asleep. Don’t get me wrong, I love some good BLS but the show began with the wrong songs to be honest and I only showed a hint of headbanging during Fire It Up.

The energy was well saved though for the one act that gets better every time I see it: Shinedown. There might be not enough words to describe what a great band they are, in all aspects. You feel the energy, you feel the emotion, you can tell this band knows how to deal with large audiences. I always say Brent Smith could easily have a career in politics and I have all the reasons to believe so; the man is a natural, the way he talks is just mesmerizing, I would listen to him for hours and damn, I’d vote for him if he ever runs for president.

After another sunbathing session and beer while listening to Mastodon and Megadeth in the background it was my glorious time to finally witness Iron Maiden at Donington. Ok so, for those who haven’t followed the whole story, I’m just a young foreigner who doesn’t need to hear how many times you’ve seen Maiden at Donington and how tired of them you are. What I find funny, however, is every year I hear thousands of people complaining about the same headliners and yet every year the same thousands of people show up to watch their show. Let me tell you something kittens: nobody delivers a show like Iron Maiden. Those grandpa-old motherfuckers have simply no competition and I challenge you to find some. Technically impeccable with flawless instrumental lines and vocals. People, Bruce Dickinson is 63 and he still can sing like that while running back and forth on stage and role-playing with the many different stage designs they bring along. The scenography is simply breathtakingly beautiful, so detailed and so well designed (I still can’t believe they have a freaking Spitfire on stage for Aces High). Long story short, I cried. Iron Maiden are one of the two bands that can get my tears out. I basically started on Blood Brothers, kept on going on Hallowed Be Thy Name and literally burst on Aces High. I already gave up both of my lungs when I heard Bruce saying “Scream for me Donington!”, something I’ve been waiting to witness since I was 8 and first listened to their 1992 live cd. A very iconic moment of my life and a huge fucking bravo to a band that’s made history and still continues to do so.

The whole shuttle bus thing on day 2 was handled very differently and we had no issues at all getting our vessel back to Derby.

Once in our room I took off my dusty wellies (listen to me, “dusty” instead of “muddy”, what has the world become?!) just to see my well-cooked feet had the socks’ pattern engraved on them. Every part of my body was itchy because of the sun or because of the dust, but nothing a nice shower can’t make better, right? Not quite right. My already sunburnt skin had gotten worse and by simply wearing a studded chocker I could’ve easily been mistaken as a female version of the Download Dog (Thank God it was not mating season). So I squeezed what was left of my soothing lotion and prayed for the best.

THE RAVEN AGE

THOSE DAMN CROWS

DRAGGED UNDER

MONSTER TRUCK

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY

SHINEDOWN

MASTODON

MEGADETH

IRON MAIDEN

5/5
5/5
3.5/5
3.5/5
3.5/5
5/5
4/5
3.5/5
5/5

JUNE 12TH – FESTIVAL DAY THREE

I’ve always been intrigued by how ancient civilisations (or MacGyver) could build just anything with only a couple of wooden sticks. So as a supporter of human evolution, I had to find a quick way to fight the sun with my limited resources. I placed a couple of baby wipes on my forehead and kept them firm with my hat. Needless to say, I looked like a weird moustacheless safari version of Super Mario, but let’s face it, who has any dignity left on the third day of Download?

The first band of the day: The Last Internationale. Meh. I mean, I was somewhat curious to see them and I always appreciate young acts who manage to play in the grown-up playground but the truth is I didn’t think they were quite prepared for a festival of that scale. The singer might have been one of the most clumsy performers I’ve ever seen: she was moving to a rhythm that wasn’t even there and she was not impressive on her vocals. The guitarist tried his best to move on stage but it was not enough to cover for the others. I got bored and headed to the Avalanche to catch Cemetery Sun who definitely put on a killer show.

I normally avoid buying food on-site because it can be very expensive and I don’t like to waste my time queuing while someone I like is playing. This time though I was attracted by the delicious smell coming from the trucks and got myself a very nice Yorkshire pudding which I devoured during the Massive Wagons set.

Back to the Avalanche, it was the turn of The Hara. Wow, just wow. I wasn’t planning to stay for the whole set but honestly, I couldn’t just leave. A-bomb-mazing band with such genuine energy and a wonderful way to master the stage. The sold-out show at the Avalanche, however, belongs to Spiritbox: the tent was so packed I couldn’t even get in. So I did what many others did and sat outside on the grass to catch a glimpse of one of the biggest hypes of Download 2022. I must say they’re not my cup of tea but I gladly listened to their music anyway.

Speaking of tea cups that don’t fit in my cupboard, Volbeat are one of those bands that I can’t really frame. I don’t love them, I don’t hate them, it’s just that every song seems exactly the same to me.

Quite the same sentence for Skillet, aggravated by the fact that John Cooper’s performance was very disappointing and I didn’t fully understand why Jen Ledger has someone else playing drums for her while she sings “Hero”. I mean, if that’s your instrument, stick to it. You want to sing as well? Cool, ok. But if that’s going to limit the whole band because you can’t do both at the same time, either you become a singer full time or play drums only. Sorry Skillet, but I wouldn’t pay money to see you.

Younger and way more promising were Boston Manor. I thought they were good on record and they exceeded my expectations live. I’m sure it’s a name we will see back at Download again in the future.

The peak (or Pea-Cock?) of the day were Steel Panther. Hands down the best act of the festival (except for Maiden!). Do I even have to describe Steel Panther? A bunch of funny perverts, playing dirty songs and giving one hell of a show. Their technical skills are out of this world, songs are catchy and very hard to forget and they managed to make sexism fun. Steel Panther are the real 21st century geniuses, in a world where everyone takes everything way too seriously we need to be reminded that it’s possible to let it go, to make a joke about sex or about someone’s looks. It is fine, it is great fun and I challenge you not to have a blast.

As the sun set, Biffy Clyro headlined the main stage. Yes, from uphill the view wasn’t quite as crowded as it was for Kiss or Iron Maiden, but despite the many online haters I believe they’re a great band making some really good music. I’m not a huge fan of them, but I enjoyed what was left of the last day before heading back to Derby.

THE LAST INTERNATIONALE

CEMETERY SUN

MASSIVE WAGONS

THE HARA

ALESTORM

TREMONTI

MODERN ERROR

RISE AGAINST

KILL THE LIGHTS

SPIRITBOX

VOLBEAT

SKILLET

TRASH BOAT

THE DARKNESS

BOSTON MANOR

STEEL PANTHER

BIFFY CLYRO

1.5/5
4.5/5
3.5/5
5/5
3/5
3.5/5
4/5
3.5/5
4.5/5
4/5
4/5
1/5
4/5
4.5/5
5/5
5/5
4.5/5

The morning after our adventure continued in London, but you know, that’s a whole other story that deserves a dedicated article. Download festival is one of a kind and I couldn’t be happier to be one infinitesimal part of it. It’s a weekend made of the oddest things, tailored for the oddest people like us, music lovers who just can’t get enough of what makes our hearts race, no matter what pandemic stands in the way.

And as Bruce Dickinson said to wrap up the show: “It’s been almost 3 years of shit, you deserve to be here, you fuckin’ deserve it.”

And I think he is terribly right, you know, because being there all together in the same place and for the same reason, it just meant something huge in a small portion of history. For one weekend we really all have been blood brothers.

Will we ever know what the answer to life really is? Can you really tell me what life is? Maybe all the things that you know that are precious to you Could be swept away by fate's own hand

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