It would be difficult to call X Fest 2016 anything less than a success. Thousands of people showed up for the return of what used to be a summer rite of passage for 100.3 The X. Despite it being a weekday, a decent size crowd showed up early to show support for the earlier bands taking the stage. The Morning After Show’s Big J celebrated his 40th birthday, and the weather turned out to be pretty decent, especially as the show moved into the evening hours.
X Fest Battle of the Bands winner, Traitors Gate delivered an impressive performance to kick off the event. The crowd could be heard cheering our local heroes out in the parking lot. The guys opened the performance with crowd favorite “Killing Fields” then blazed through a tight set that included “Blitz”, “Dear Miss Kelly”, “Plausible Deniability”, “Acceptable Losses”, and “Burn”. Frontman Mr. Y was in the zone, and guitarist Ken Mansfield looked like a man in his natural element. The rhythmic duo of bassist Colby Dees and drummer Tim Allan were right in the pocket, propelling the band forward. It felt good to see such amazing local talent on the big stage.
SoCal’s Stitched Up Heart then took the baton, serving up a fiery set from their debut album Never Alone, kicking it off with the hit, “Finally Free”. Vocalist, Mixi Demner wowed the crowd with her powerful voice as she drove the band through several cuts like “Turn You On”, “Event Horizon”, “Catch Me When I Fall”, and their latest hit, “Monster”. During the latter, Mixi crowd surfed while singing the song. Stitched is quickly becoming a Boise favorite.
Shaman’s Harvest took over next, slowing the pace with some Southern Comfort style, blues-based hard rock. The guys burned up the stage with choice cuts from their latest album, Smokin’ Hearts & Broken Guns including “Blood in the Water”, “Dangerous”, “Country as Fuck”, “In Chains”, and their whiskey-soaked cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”. Frontman Nate Hunt took it all to the finish line with their breakout hit, “Dragonfly”, which they began with a snippet of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”, giving the track added dramatic effect.
Sweden’s Avatar assaulted the stage, with frontman Johannes Eckerstrom telling the crowd at the outset, “We are Avatar, and we have just stolen the show.” And in deed they did. The Gothenburg boys were the heaviest band on The X Fest bill, and the only band to immediately rouse a pit in front of the stage as they opened with “House of Eternal Hunt” from their latest album, Feathers & Flesh. The band’s unique look and signature sound made Avatar the most talked about act of the event. Guitarist Jonas Jarslby looked every bit the fierce Viking with his heavily bearded square jaw and his dangling dreads. Drummer John Alfredsson played up his role in carnival fashion as well. The band performed several cuts from their latest album, including “One More Hill”, and show closer “For the Swarm”, as well as the highlight of their set, “The Eagle Has Landed”. The band, which has found a second home in Boise, took fans back to their breakout Black Waltz album, for “Let it Burn”, and “Smells Like a Freakshow”. Avatar also performed “Bloody Angel” and the title track from their Hail the Apocalypse record. While some may disagree, myself and those I spoke with all agreed,Avatar owned X Fest 2016.
Saint Asonia had the unfortunate job of attempting to follow Avatar, with frontman Adam Gontier (ex-Three Days Grace) stating the band planned to “steal the show back.” Sadly, they failed. In fact, while their set was well-performed overall, they were the least impressive set of the day. The band played a mix of tracks from their debut record, as well as a couple of Three Days Grace tunes, but they simply could not revive the energy of the crowd and it all sounded and felt a little flat. From their eponymous debut they performed the hits, “Better Place” and “Let Me Live My Life”, a track they used to close out the set. Others tracks included “Fairy Tale”, “King Nothing” and the ballad, “Waste My Time”. Among the Three Days Grace hits performed were, “Just Like You”, and “I Hate Everything About You”. Guitarist Mike Mushok is also in Staind, so the band performed, “For You” to cover that base. There was even a cover of The Tragically Hip’s “Fully Completely” that Gontier handled acoustically.
The 2016 X Fest headliner marked the return of Breaking Benjamin who recently played at The Knit earlier this spring. Musically the band delivered a set to delight fans packed with hits, old and new. From their latest album, 2015’s Dark Before Dawn, the band tee’d up the hits “Angels Fall”, “Ashes of Eden”, and “Failure”. Going back to 2004’s they opened the shows with “So Cold” and “Sooner or Later”, the latter of which showcased guitarist Keith Wallen (ex-Adelitas Way, ex-Copper) on lead vocals. The show also yielded the hits “The Dairy of Jane”, “Breath”, and “Until the End” from 2006’sPhobia album, as well as “I Will Not Bow” from 2009’s Dear Agony, and “Polyamorous” from 2002’s Saturate record. The band played 13 tracks in all, including a mid-set medley of “The Imperial March” from Star Wars, led off by frontman Benjamin Burnley declaring his nerdiness to the crowd. They concluded the medley with parts of Tool’s “Schism, “Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Pantera’s “Walk”. In all, Breaking Benjamin put on a fantastic performance sonically. The downside to their set was the immensely bad lighting. The entire lighting rig seemed designed to blind the crowd and leave the band in the dark—no one more so than Burnley himself who spent almost the entire set in the shadows with no spotlight. As a fan, it felt intentional and frustrating. I can only imagine what the poor photographers felt like.
All photos © 2016 Katarzyna Cepek Photography
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