“Welcome home,” says the LED banner above the main entrance to the arena at Bloodstock Open Air 2023. The fans flooded in, 20,000 over the weekend, and according to a friend who was in conversation with one of the main BOA team, just 400 sales short of a full sellout across the whole event. So, what is it about this event that makes it so special and genuinely makes it feel like home?
You can read MetalTalk’s 40 articles covering Bloodstock 2023 here.
There are many factors. The Bloodstock team are masterful in their use of social media. They skillfully nudge throughout the year, building momentum as the days tick away, drip-feeding the line-up band by band, announcement by announcement.
They take onboard feedback from fans through their BMF666 Facebook page, which is run and moderated by Bloodstock fans, and they engage directly through Facebook live events that allow the opportunity for real-time questions.
In the past, Bloodstock have held fan meetings. On the weekend itself, they are often seen around the site, posing for selfies, chatting happily with fans, and generally having a good time. It’s a relentless operation but far from the corporate feel of other festivals. It still feels like a family event, even if, when you look around you on that magical weekend, you realise this is a year-round business. The logistics are huge.
The closeness of it all has always been a big factor in my return year after year. I still managed to average about 18,000 steps a day this year, but it’s never a problem to traverse from tent to tent to catch bands, to meet up with friends, or even nip back to the tent for a breather.
It’s the layout, the easy design, and the smallness of the site which is one of the big draws for many. Sure, there are always gripes, but you can always get a decent view of the main stage, albeit from a distance, and the big screens and usually clear sound make it feel intimate even if the band are many metres away.
The word community is often brought to the fore when you talk about Bloodstock. I’ve been going since 2010, when the event attracted around half the current numbers. I’ve moved from standard camping to VIP, and so have many of those who pitch around me. And we share a feeling of togetherness.
It’s a sense that starts on the motorway services of the M5, Strensham, for my crew and me, as we see other fans, clad in their best black, stopping en route on a Thursday morning. It’s a nod, a smile, a flash of the horns, or even a quick chat. The feeling of community is there from that moment.
When you arrive at the site, you see the early birds in the queue or pitching the first of thousands of different coloured tents, and your heart soars. Even that first Bloodstock This Way road sign lightens the mood.
And once the staff and volunteers greet you, invariably friendly and full of smiles, it just makes you feel great. A weekend away from all the daily grind, the stresses, and strains. Fans inevitably help each other out, sharing tent pegs, hammers, beers, and assistance as those a little hapless struggle with their tents. It’s all good-natured.
Then there’s that moment when you enter the actual arena. The sights, the smells, the sheer excitement that comes with it. You see Lemmy’s Bar. This year, the bar sign moved to the Ram Gallery, and four flags with the great man’s face fluttered in the breeze. It’s not my favourite move, but it’s a minor issue.
There are the food stalls, with a huge range to sate most appetites, and the shops, selling everything from cushions to leather jackets to hand-crafted jewellery. It’s a kaleidoscope of colour, a sensory overload which you can rush headlong into or sit back and let sweep over you.
There’s so much to do – and that’s before you get to the music. Rockfit provided fans with an opportunity to do a morning workout. There were running clubs doing circuits of the campsites, gaming tents, the Ram Gallery, and the signing tents.
In recent years, we’ve had Viking battles, strongest athletes and, this year, some Biohazard-led self-defence sessions. All provided extra activities, which were gratefully accepted.
You bump into old friends and acquaintances, make new ones over a beer at the bars, and generally let go. You can go hard, fast, raging in the pits, or relax in your camp chair, people-watching. There’s always loads to see, from the chap who is there every year in just his speedos to the Darth Vadar costumed fan and everything in between.
This year, we had the pink for Sylvia days, the corpse paint Saturday, and the pumpkin-themed Sunday, despite the absence of Halloween. I’ll grant you that the rather rotund lady in giant pumpkin wasn’t very popular trying to navigate her way out of the crowd during the Megadeth set, but she was there, fully engaged.
And, of course, we have the bands. Around 120 of them over the weekend, kicking off with the five on Thursday, which usually brings a range of styles to get the party started. From there on, there is something for everyone.
The headliners draw the biggest crowds, but it’s the smaller stages that hide the gems. You could spend all weekend sitting at the back of The New Blood Stage, watching winners of the annual Metal 2 The Masses competition, and you wouldn’t feel hard done by.
There’s a similar feel to the Sophie stage, with bands who bridge the gap to the Ronnie James Dio stage grabbing their moment. Where else do you get the filthy D-Beat of Wolfbastard followed by the expansive progression of The Enigma Decision?
Yes, the bill has become wider and more commercial as the years pass by, but anyone who saw Meshuggah, Parkway Drive, Mercyful Fate, or Megadeth in recent years would be hard-pressed to deny the size and spectacle of the show. My only challenge here would be that another band in the Sophie whilst the headliner is on would provide an alternative that is not available.
In 2023, the atmosphere at Bloodstock was as good as I’ve ever experienced. It was busy, at times very busy, but it was still easy enough to traverse the site. There was a friendly vibe, and I had conversations with many strangers with no issue. Shooting for MetalTalk, I was in constant conversations with fans on the barriers in both tents. They were always smiling.
The weather, always a topic, was kind for the most part, allowing a wider spread across the site. I heard few stories of unpleasantness, apart from thefts of phones during the headline sets. One wonders if this is more about carelessness, although it is inevitable in a crowd that big, I suppose.
The sad news of a fan dying in his tent on Saturday night brought a sombre note, although the cause of death is not public. Rest in power, brother in Metal.
The fact that the VIP and Campervan pitches sold out immediately a few days after the festival demonstrates that the festival has done something right. VIP felt calm and relaxed this year. Demand for this aspect far outstrips supply. Such is life. You won’t please everyone, of course, especially with social media providing a 24-hour opportunity to moan.
But there will be very few who attended this year who will be put off returning, whether it be in a different format or just for a day. With a line-up that is already tantalising, 2024 could just be the biggest and best yet. I can’t wait.
Bloodstock Festival 2023 is held over the weekend of 10-13 August 2023. MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings and Adrian Stonley report from Catton Park.
All MetalTalk Bloodstock Festival 2023 coverage can be found at MetalTalk.net/tag/bloodstock-2023.
Weekend early bird tickets for Bloodstock 2024 will be available to purchase at the box office on-site for £165. This is the cheapest way to buy a 2024 ticket, minus any online booking or admin fees.
Bloodstock 2022 can be relived at MetalTalk.net/tag/bloodstock-2022.