TONS OF ROCK 2014 – Day 1 – Halden, Fredriksten Festning

TONS OF ROCK 2014 – Day 1 – Halden, Fredriksten Festning

It’s not every day that you are given the chance to attend the first edition of a rock festival, and since I already skipped a similar type of event this year in Bergen, I was very enthusiast to receive the news about photo accreditation at 2014 Tons of Rock festival, in Halden, Norway. The lineup looked rather great and able to attract a decent amount of people and it was announced that the festival would take place inside the fortress at Halden. Two more reasons to get myself over there, as I’ve never seen that location and, after having had experienced Dark Bombastic Evening in Alba Iulia Fortress, I know how majestic a festival can get when the location is so ‘magic’. Even when driving towards the ‘Fredriksten Festning’ and seeing how big it actually is, it felt like the right choice for that weekend. And, from the beginning of my review, I can tell you the experience was well worth the money, the lack of sleep, the legs pain and any other complain I might have encountered on the way. It turned out to be an amazing weekend.

The Fredriksten fortress, whose construction started in 1661, is located very close to the border with Sweden and it has witnessed a lot of dramatic and bloody events throughout the history. Luckily, the metal festival didn’t end up having a place in these chapters, except maybe for those who lost their own battles against alcohol. The hole fortress covers a total area of about 600,000 square meters – approximately 150 acres, but some of it was not usable for the event or, it was not accessible to the crowd (being used for backstages and such). We had access to a big inner yard in which the two main stages were placed at each end and two sound tents in between. On one side there was a small hill hosting the VIP area (and two cannons. And a bar), on the other side toilets and one of the entrances. Behind one of the stages, you’d find your way towards the Tent stage and the merch/food stands, not too many of them but probably enough for the number of participants. Having to always go up and down, it wasn’t easy to check very often how the merch area looks in terms of crowds so I have no clue whether there were neverending queues or it all went smoothly.

Tons of Rock 2014
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

The organizers chose ‘CashLess’ as a festival payment solution – meaning you get yourself a card that you charge with a certain amount and the payment is made by presenting this card only. If you run out of funds on it, you can always recharge, and when you’re done using it, you can get back the unused amount. A rather quick solution that saves you the trouble of carrying your own cards around, of having to enter the pin all the time, but it also costs you some extra bucks to get it issued and filled in for the first time. Price wise, I don’t think it was any worse than other metal festivals in the country and probably cheaper than the non metal festivals altogether. The volunteers working behind the bars would always remind you to rock on or to have a great festival ahead. Which was a nice idea when it was done by people with the kind of personality suited to say such things to you and to be somewhat louder than others. But when done by more shy and reserved ones, it feels fake. So I can’t decide whether it was good or bad that they were asked to greet you like that.

At the exit between the two main stages, there were some indoor toilets – probably used for the regular visitors of the castle. So, instead of queuing for the plastic ones, I preferred to walk the extra steps and use those, or even walk the steep hill towards the press area if needed. So I don’t know if the toilets were too few compared to the number of people. I heard some complaining about it, but then again, I guess there’s always queues when the main act is playing and everyone is gathered in the same area. Another complain I heard from people who camped at the festival was that the camping area – which was a golf field next to the fortress – was lacking water. So they couldn’t shower nor fill their bottles with water. That, indeed, seemed like very bad planning.

From the point of view of the press area and its maintenance, this was the best planning ever. It’s not often you get daily treats and free cold drinks constantly and, most of all, such great company like the volunteers who were working there and always had a nice word and with whom I had some great chats during the ‘idle’ times of the festival when I wasn’t running around to photograph bands or crowd.

The running started more or less as I got inside the festival area and I stopped by the tent stage to take some photos. I wanted to go inside the photo pit but the guards there didn’t allow me. When I looked better, I saw they were wearing elegant suits and such so I decided they’re probably not very familiar with the concert etiquette so I’d best go and ask the press ‘managers’ to communicate them that we actually have a job to do as well. It turned out ok, but this made me lose both Blaze Bayley‘s concert (but I heard when he played ‘Fear of The Dark’ and it made me chuckle since it was plain daylight) and the beginning of ‘Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘. But I caught enough of their show to get to hear the psychadelic sound that they create and that, together with their outfits, take you back in time and brings out a new retro surprise – for me at least. They were nicely followed in my schedule by the Norwegian psychadelic-stoner band Spirits of the Dead, who slowly gathered some audience in front of the tent stage and who quickly invited you to join them in their melancholic and restless trip back in time. At some point I was wondering what it would sound like if the two bands ended jamming together, so I left back to the initial concert, only to realize that it ended and a female band took their place on the second big stage. It was Deathcrush and after few seconds I was so unimpressed I decided to take a small break and get familiar with the area.

KVELERTAK live @ Tons of Rock 2014
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

I got back to the main stage in time to catch Kvelertak and to be, once more, entertained by their energy and dedication. I think it’s the first time I didn’t see their vocalist not jumping into the crowd, but there was quite a distance between the stage and the audience. And he might as well had done it later in the show, but there were no big screens on the side of the stage to keep you updated with every moves. Kvelertak was a band that impressed me live from the very first show few years ago and I think they only grew stronger with each year in which they got to tour all over the world and gain live experience. They’re good, they’re tight and they love to perform and it probably works 10 times better hen they do it in their home country with people understanding what they sing about.

SHINING live @ Tons of Rock 2014
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

Another explosion on energy followed on the other stage, also from Norway but with a different musical approach – the inventors of the Black Jazz, aka Shining. Another band whose live appearances can leave you breathless if you try to comprehend everything that’s happening on stage. Unfortunately, the magic was several times interrupted by big sound failures, as many of the instruments would not be heard for few seconds at times. The band didn’t decrease the rhythm, but something felt missing in the end. Yet, the fans who loved their crazy works didn’t give up and kept on dancing and cheering.

VOLBEAT live @ Tons of Rock 2014
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

I recall that there was a bit of rain sometime during Kvelertak and/or Shining, but it all stopped by the time the Danes from Volbeat took over the stage and made the girls scream loud with their charming smiles and winks. The voice that can sound either like Cash or like Elvis hasn’t disappointed and performed nicely a mix of old and new songs and even a great Ring of Fire cover. Volbeat songs are meant to dance and to keep you entertained and that’s what they did for the duration of their performance. They still haven’t convinced me to try to listen to the newer materials, but they offered a great time on stage and that’s more or less one of the most important aspects during a concert. They get a big thumb up for that.