Sonic Temple 2019, MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, May 17-19, Part 1 of 3

The inaugural Sonic Temple festival was held at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio during the Ides of May weekend. The event is billed as an arts and music festival, and you can begin to see the art part from a mile away before you even enter the grounds of the stadium. Huge banners hung on the stadium itself, and art installations big and small were to be found all about the grounds. While there were many artworks with Hindu motifs, the art varied considerably while being uniformly of high quality. Artists were painting some of the large standing placards live during the festival and so fans could watch first-hand as the artwork was created. The art part of the arts and music festival permeated the event at every turn and it is one of the important ways Sonic Temple sets itself apart from other festivals.

While the artwork is captivating, the music certainly is the central attraction to the festival, and Day 1 offered up acts ranging from heavy – Beartooth, Black Label Society, Meshuggah – to theatrical – Pussy Riot, Avatar, and Ghost. There were three stages on the grounds, the main one, the Stadium Stage, second biggest, the Echo Stage, and third, the Wave Stage. The action started on the Wave Stage with The Jacks, hoisting some peppy goodtime rock and roll up the flagpole. It was just the right kind of music to drink beer with at 12:45 in the afternoon. Things got heavier and weirder as the day wore on.

Cleopatrick is part of a two-piece insurgency ramming the edges of rock these days. Voice and a six string accompanied by a standard drum kit goes a lot farther than it seems like is possible. The sound, surprising full, gave fans a firm grip on straight forward RnR, which they would need out on the Wave Stage, because the next two acts shook everybody up. Ho99o9 followed and it is hard to describe them. Sort of a pop-punk hip hop group fully steeped in horror themes. The enthusiastic antics of this three-piece left me disoriented but wanting more. What I didn’t know was Ho99o9 is positively linear compared to the next act on this stage: Pussy Riot. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Sonic Temple was to see Pussy Riot, the famous Russian performance art group who has been in the news in the past eight years for many staged protests and for its members being arrested several times and spending some time in jail. I had seen videos of the group before and I was expecting some kind of screaming violent punk performance art, but that is not what happened at all. There were three principal members in the musical part of the production during most of the performance and two … dancers? A screen behind the performers scrolled low resolution images and text that sometimes seemed to go along with the performance and sometimes not. Most of the singing was in Russian, but occasionally there was a song in English, and the lead sing spoke to the crowd in English as well. The sound of much of the music was a sweet, preteen pop kind of thing, with occasional eruptions into something … else. It was an experience, that is for sure, and there was no other act at the festival remotely like them. I tip my hat to the organizers for including Pussy Riot on the bill and I am extremely glad I got to see them.

Elsewhere at the festival, the day brought solid performances and heightened revelry. Three bands I hadn’t seen before were Wage War, Halestorm, and Avatar. I don’t have an excuse for not having seen Lzzy Hale belt out the rock before, but she got the crowd fired up on the main stage in the end they moved way up my list of bands to see again. Wage War is a newish band with a Breaking Benjamin kind of angle with two vocals on most songs, one growly and the other melodic. They found a lot of fans during their performance, judging by the crowd’s reaction. Avatar gave me a minor fit of cognitive dissonance because the music was great with gruff vocals and piercing guitars, yet the band members were dressed up like they were in a circus*. Between the songs, the lead singer’s chatter hit hard the idea that they were weird and that people in the crowd were also weird and that’s the reason why they liked such a weird band. The word freak came up a lot, too. It’s their act, the banter and the uniforms and so on. They were fun to watch but I think their strength lies most in their musical performance, which was top notch.

The Comedy Tent opened at 7:00PM and had a spoken word line-up on Friday, featuring Henry Rollins. It was packed and the line was long to get in during the entire time it was open. In fact, I didn’t get in at all and instead stood with a couple hundred other people outside the tent looking in and listening. It was great to hear Henry tell stories and dispense wisdom.

The two main headliners on Day 1 were Ghost and System of a Down. I had seen both bands on tour last year and they always give the fans what they want. Ghost played their hits and gave a fairly subdued performance with a surprise or two, the most notable being the sudden appearance of Papa Emeritus playing saxophone for a minute or two. I don’t want to be too much of a fanboy about the whole thing but that really put a smile on my face. System of a Down provided a light-filled fast-talking tour of their work that got everybody’s hands in the air. They brought a satisfying end to an excellent Day 1. Sonic Temple was off to a great start.

The Day 2 review posts tomorrow.

*Thanks to Jazmin for the circus analogy. It fits perfectly.

©2019 Wayne Edwards.

[All photos by Wayne Edwards. Image below is from the festival’s Instagram feed.]

Sonic Temple 2019, MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, May 17-19, Part 1 of 3