Storm Wreaks Havoc as Blue Ridge Rock Festival Calls for Evacuation, Attendees Lodge Complaints
UPDATE: On Sept. 9, Blue Ridge Rock Festival announced that the remainder of the event had officially been canceled due to severe weather, however many in attendance alleged other reasons for the full cancelation. See more details here.
The first night of this year's Blue Ridge Rock Festival was canceled due to a severe storm, that rolled through Virginia, which included lightning and hail amid driving rain and winds, a sudden evacuation was called for. Attendees have documented the experience on social media, noting the myriad of logistics issues ranging from parking and entry, lack of hydration stations and an inhibited ability to seek shelter as directed due to a shortage of shuttle buses.
Why Was Blue Ridge Rock Festival Evacuated?
An emergency warning was issued by Blue Ridge Rock Festival, which stated:
SEVERE WEATHER APPROACHING. Please exit immediately and seek shelter in your campsite vehicle or our shuttle buses. More information to come.
With only two options for shelter for a crowd of 40,000-50,000 and one of those shelter options being a necessary means of transporting attendees to their campsites where their vehicles are parked, this reasonably appears to have created a lack of proper shelter opportunities for those on site.
Many pursued alternative means of shelter.
Attendees Post About Trying to Evacuate + Seek Shelter
A sudden mass exodus of people, not completely unlike the exit process after the last band has finished playing, left many waiting hours for a shuttle bus to transport them to campsites. While attempting to seek the shelter advised by Blue Ridge Rock Festival, attendees were stuck standing out in the open while enduring the storm.
- Wait Times For Shuttle Buses
Fans reported waiting upward of five hours for shuttle buses.
One person relayed their experience in great detail on Facebook, taking stock of the shuttle bus shortage as "hundreds" stood there waiting.
"Instead of us staying in the raceway in the storm, we were standing in groups of hundreds of people on a road in the middle of the woods in the storm getting poured on, plus there was hail," the post reads, also noting, "No communication, security allowing groups of people to cut the line, etc. People hadn’t eaten or drank anything in hours and we were all wet and cold and miserable. Pissed is an understatement lol. What the hell is the plan if there’s an actual emergency? We’d all be dead right now."
Below is another one of many common complaints observed on social media, which was the lengthy wait for a shuttle bus, despite the festival's promise to have resolved this same issue that has been a problem in previous years even without inclement weather.
Another attendee wonders why a traditional parking lot is not part of the festival's plans.
- Seeking Shelter
Attendees were directed to seek shelter in one of two places — shuttle buses or vehicles at campsites.
However, with these options not feasible for everyone, many sought shelter in other places, such as beneath an accessibility platform and even, dangerously, underneath the main stage.
One TikTok video shows a rather calm scene, all things considered, as rain pours down on the campsite.
Merch tents were also a popular alternative for emergency shelter despite not being one of the festival's recommended options.
Those who made it back to their campsites were at the mercy of the storm, which damaged equipment and upended tents.
What Logistics Issues Has Blue Ridge Rock Festival Faced in the Past?
This is not the first time Blue Ridge Rock Festival has had to contend with failed logistics.
In 2021, the fest's inaugural year, attendees bemoaned the hours-long wait on the highway to enter the festival grounds. It was also reported that campsites had insufficient facilities and shuttle buses were not in great enough supply to meet the demand.
Accessibility for those with disabilities was also said to be an issue.
Many of these issues were not resolved in 2022, prompting Blue Ridge to openly disclose their plans to improve upon these unsatisfactory conditions for the 2023 event.
In August, the festival released a big statement informing fans about all of the steps taken to rectify these persistent problems.
Addressing the shuttle bus problem from previous years, the fest wrote in August,
There was just one remaining key area left to publicly resolve and it was, by far, your most voted for item of improvement: Shuttle Buses. Addressing this ultimately cost us more than a headlining artist, but making this move was something we felt was an absolute necessity in order to deliver our dream of the ultimate fan driven rock experience. This solution has been in the works for many months now, and we hope you will be genuinely excited and fired up by the result.
The next part of the statements says that the camping capacity has "more than doubled" but that shuttle buses will not be as necessary due to "directly on-site" parking.
Regarding accessibility, the fest's resolution notes, "ADA Patrons: Please note we have provided you with on-site parking this year directly at the Raceway."
A layout of the festival grounds can be seen here:
Attendees Post About Other Issues
As one would expect, the severe storm left campsites in disrepair as many attendees now grapple with what to do for the remainder of the weekend.
Additionally, before the storm arrived on Thursday, many fans reported that free hydration stations were in short supply, leading to long lines and wait times to get water.
- Traffic Jams
Blue Ridge's website shows camping check-in was available on Wednesday (8AM-9PM), Thursday (8AM-8PM) and Friday (8AM-8PM).
A local news report by WDBJ7 indicates that "some attendees and locals say they had to sit in traffic for up to 12 hours Wednesdsay due to the number of visitors" for the festival that sold over 50,000 tickets.
It was also reported that staff shortages at VIRginia International Raceway, where the festival is held, were a result of some staff members experiencing heat strokes, which contributed to the traffic delays.
Kerrigan Smith, COO and President of VIR, tells WDBJ7, “The inspections were taking sometimes five minutes to get people out of the car to be able to search the car to look for weapons. Some groups lost half their staff and security was dropping out. We had to do IV for the search dogs. There was a lot to it, but on the bright side to that, we also learned a lot about how we can take care of the workers and prepare ourselves a little bit better for those conditions.”
- Camping + Aftermath of the Storm
One attendee posted about their struggle to get from the main road into the festival to the camping grounds. After an alleged 10 hours of waiting, this person was "informed there wasn't enough GA [general admission] tent camping" and was "directed to a 'new' area that isn't marked and wasn't made for cars to drive through.
There is a discrepancy in the timeline as the post states that they were able to enter at 5:30AM, later acknowledging that their tent was erected at 4:30AM.
Some people shared photos of the damage done to camping equipment as a result of the storm.
Unfortunately, some have been left with no option but to abandon their plans for the weekend and return home.
- Water Stations
It has been reported by some in attendance that there are a total of two free water stations (with multiple faucets each), one for the general admission crowd and another for the VIP pass holders.
A post cited earlier also elaborates on the water stations, alleging that the VIP station ran out of water.
The Rest of the Weekend for Blue Ridge Rock Festival
Blue Ridge Rock Festival has not posted about the storm or anything related to the evacuation on Facebook, Instagram or X (formerly Twitter) at the time this story was published.