So, what exactly is HeartSupport? In a nutshell, it’s a non-profit, family-like organization that provides support to the community in areas such as addiction, anxiety, depression, and self-harm, just to name a few. These are not counselors or therapists; they are just everyday people that care. The aid provided by HeartSupport is not only online, but also through events such as conventions and music festivals. This unique and outstanding group was founded by none other than Jake Luhrs, lead vocalist for August Burns Red, one of the explosive and ultra-talented bands we would be seeing this weekend. As I arrived at the Orlando Amphitheater, I took a quick stroll to check out the layout. 2 stages were placed at opposing sides of the venue, and in between was a lot of green grass that was now home to the numerous vendors that were here for the event.
After the awesomeness that was Day 1, I was beyond curious to see what today had in store for me. No rain was forecast for today, but it was going to be warmer, with temperatures pushing 82 or 83 degrees. Considering that I’ve been to some shows where it was 95 degrees or hotter, this should be a breeze.
Kicking off the day on the Hot Topic Foundation Stage was another band from the great state of Florida. Prison was created in 2014, and a lot of their songs lineup perfectly with the subjects that HeartSupport aims to help, including suicide, mental illness and sexual abuse. Singer Johnny Crowder went through his pre-show stretches and then removed his shirt revealing full upper body ink, invoking mental images of Josh Todd of Buckcherry. Could Prison bring the charisma and energy this early in the day? Absolutely. Even more impressive is the fact that the band plays with 2 bassists and no lead guitarist. This smoking set even included the debut of the band’s new single, “The River.” Prison is the real deal.
Prison (Hot Topic Foundation Stage) 1:30pm:
Johnny Crowder: Vocals
Tyler Kruckmeyer: Drums
Austin Coupe: Guitar
Jonathon Pentz: Bass
After heading over to the BetterHelp Stage, it was time for Silent Planet. Brought to us from Southern California, Silent Planet has been grinding it out since 2009. The band launched into their set with “Panic Room” which was followed by “Orphan.” Vocalist Garrett Russell announced that this might be the only show the band plays in North America this year, and he thanked the fans for coming. He also stated that he has a background in mental health counseling and had invited HeartSupport to attend every one of their stops on their 2017 tour. So far, the day was shaping up to be a blast.
Silent Planet (BetterHelp Stage) 1:50pm:
Garrett Russell: Lead Vocals, Guitar
Thomas Freckleton: Bass, Keyboards, Clean Vocals
Mitchell Stark: Guitar, Clean Vocals
Alex Camarena: Drums
Nick Pocock: Guitar
Straight out of Chicago, Illinois, Harm’s Way hit the stage right at 2:30pm. Described as a straight edge hardcore punk band, Harm’s Way is fronted by the ultra-jacked vocalist, James Pligge. The band had the pit slamming early with songs like “Human Carrying Capacity” and “Infestation.” Christopher Mills’ drum work was impressive, and the crowd really enjoyed the performance. Pligge proved to be a challenge to photograph because he never stops moving and after the set my neck was in need of a break.
Harm’s Way (Hot Topic Foundation Stage) 2:30:
James Pligge: Lead Vocals
Bo Lueders: Guitar
Christopher Mills: Drums
Nick Gauthier: Guitar
Casey Soyk: Bass
American noise rock duo ’68 was about to grace the BetterHelp Stage and this was a set not to be missed. I had the pleasure of covering these guys once before, so I knew how entertaining they were. The stage setup was as simplistic as it could be; a drum set, and a mic stand positioned center stage. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada came out dressed in their signature black suits, white shirts, and black ties. Scogin had his trusty Titan KR1 Single Humbucker guitar, while Yamada manned the helm of his kit. ’68 made use of every second of their 20-minute set to thrill the crowd. Scogin provided the comedy when he reminded the photographers that they were allowed to shoot 3 songs. He said, “I know it’s hard to tell when our songs end and begin and we don’t know either, but I know we didn’t hit 3 yet.” Yamada was exceptional and continued playing despite Scogin disassembling part of his kit before the set was over. If you get a chance to see ’68 do it!
’68 (BetterHelp Stage) 3:10pm:
Josh Scogin: Vocals, Guitar
Nikko Yamada: Drums
Four Year Strong is another band that’ve I covered before, and they are such a fun bunch of guys. Unlike their name, Four Year Strong has been rocking hard for more than 20 years. The band jumped right into it and got the crowd moving with songs like “Get Out Of My Head” and “Go Down In History.” Alan Day and Dan O’Connor shared the vocals throughout the set, the latter of which rocked a Radiohead t-shirt. The pit raged throughout this performance and even the rising temps weren’t about to slow it down. After today’s show, the band will gear up for an upcoming European tour with The Offspring.
Four Year Strong (Hot Topic Foundation Stage) 3:30pm:
Alan Day: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboard
Dan O’Connor: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboard
Jake Massucco: Drums, Percussion
Joe Weiss: Bass, Backing Vocals
Ohio rockers Hawthorne Heights is hot off the release of last year’s album, The Rain Just Follows Me, and their performance today was highly anticipated. The backdrop that hung onstage depicted an alligator along with the words “Florida is for Lovers.” Singer Jt. Woodruff mentioned how cold it was back in Ohio and encouraged the fans to sing along, dance and not to be afraid to fall down. He then said, “somebody bring me an alligator,” before going into 2006’s “Pens and Needles.” The set also included hits such as “Hard To Breathe” and “Niki FM.” When it came time to close things out, Woodruff said they were going to pretend that it was 2004 again, and then went into the mega-hit, “Ohio Is For Lovers.” It was a perfect ending to the set.
Hawthorne Heights (BetterHelp Stage) 4:00pm :
James Thomas “JT” Woodruff: Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Piano, Keyboard
Matt Ridenour: Bass, Backing Vocals
Mark McMillon: Lead Guitar, Unclean Vocals
Chris “Poppy” Popadak: Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Jersey boys Senses Fail came out with a patriotic vibe as guitarist Jason Milbank played the National Anthem. From there, the party was on. Mic-swinging vocalist Buddy Nielsen was at the top of his game, telling the crowd that they had to burn those calories if they were going to drink that fucking beer. He went on to emphasize how important it is to seek and receive help when needed. The hard-driving set featured songs like “Can’t Be Saved,” “Buried A Lie,” and “Bite To Break Skin.” Senses Fail is definitely a band that excels in their live performances. Their latest album, Hell Is In Your Head was released last summer and is definitely worth a listen.
Senses Fail (Hot Topic Foundation Stage) 4:30pm:
James “Buddy” Nielsen: Lead Vocals, Piano
Gavin Caswell: Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jason Milbank: Guitar, Backing Vocals
Steve Carey: Drums
Greg Styliades: Bass
Hailing from the Great White North, Silverstein is another product from the illustrious country of Canada. I had been looking forward to their performance for some time, as they are permanent residents on my playlist. Vocalist Shane Told appeared with a huge smile on his face and sporting a black Misery Made Me jacket. The band started off with “Infinite” and followed it with “It’s Over” from last year’s Misery Made Me album. Guitarist Josh Bradford shredded with unmatched ferocity and the entire performance was outstanding. With Canadian flags visible in the crowd, the band finished with “My Heroine” and “The Afterglow.” The band won’t get much rest as their upcoming tour will keep them on the road through summer.
Silverstein (BetterHelp Stage) 5:00pm:
Josh Bradford: Rhythm Guitar
Paul Koehler: Drums, Percussion
Shane Told: Lead Vocals
Billy Hamilton: Bass, Backing Vocals
Paul Mark Rousseau: Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
As I made my way back to the Hot Topic Foundation Stage I couldn’t help but notice a striking sunset occurring right behind the stage. It caused me to pause from the constant hustling about to realize the importance of this festival.
Spiritbox is a band that has somehow eluded me, and I was amped that I was going to be able to finally rectify that. Spiritbox is the creation of the husband and wife duo of guitarist Michael Stringer and vocalist Courtney LaPlante. The following that this band has amassed in just 5 years is mind-blowing. The 1st song of the performance was “Circle,” however LaPlante immediately experienced some audio difficulties. The crew were eventually able to correct the issues and the party continued. As the band blasted through hits like “Yellow Jacket” and “Holly Roller,” the art of dodging crowd surfers once again became a necessity. LaPlante’s vocals kept the fans captivated, while Stringer and company provided the thundering melodies that were delivered like a swift kick in the teeth. The band proved to be very adept at kicking beach balls from the stage and they never missed a beat. The final song of the set was 2022’s “Hysteria.”
Spiritbox (Hot Topic Foundation Stage) 5:45pm:
Courtney LaPlante: Vocals
Mike Stringer: Guitar
Zev Rosenberg: Drums
Josh Gilbert: Bass, Backing Vocals
As darkness fell, it was time for another band that I’ve been waiting to catch live, The Ghost Inside (TGI). Born in Los Angeles, TGI have been at it since 2004. Their story almost ended in 2015 just outside of El Paso Texas when their bus crashed head on with a big rig. Both drivers were killed, and vocalist Jonathan Vigil and guitarist Zach Johnson were critically injured. Drummer Andrew Tkaczyk was in a coma for 10 days and lost his right leg. Their story, however, did not end there. Tonight, TGI was here in support of an awesome cause and throngs of TGI faithfuls had shown up in force.
TGI came out swinging and never looked back. “Engine 45” got the fans rocking, and with songs such as “Pressure Point,” “Out Of Control,” and “Mercy,” the thrashing continued. Vigil, sporting a Dodger’s cap, gave a shout out to the security personnel that were working in the pit. He then informed the crowd that he would be handing out 20 setlists and all they had to do was surf on up to get one. Bodies tossed about, not unlike fish on hot pavement, and just like that the setlists were gone. Prior to performing “Unspoken,” crew members threw large inflatables, including a hot dog and a dinosaur, into the crowd. Another high point of the performance was when HeartSupport founder Jake Juhrs joined the band for the performance of “Between The Lines.” Before you knew it, the hour-long set was drawing to a close. The final song was “Aftermath” and at its conclusion, a monumental performance had been etched into HeartSupport Fest history.
The Ghost Inside (BetterHelp Stage) 6:30pm:
Jonathan Vigil: Lead Vocals
Zach Johnson: Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Andrew Tkaczyk: Drums, Percussion
Chris Davis: Rhythm Guitar
Jim Riley: Bass, Backing Vocals
8:15pm not only signaled the main event of the day, but also the last set of this memorable weekend. Rise Against has its roots in Chicago and have been making music for more than 20 years. The band prides itself in being involved with numerous organizations such as Amnesty International, PETA and other activist groups. Given their community involvement, it’s no surprise they were chosen to headline tonight.
A red glow engulfed the stage as the band emerged and took their positions. After a short instrumental intro, the band played “Re-Education (Through Labor)” from their 2008 album Appeal To Reason. Founding member and bassist, Joe Principe wore a “Bad Brains” shirt while providing the thunder with his Fender Jazz Bass. Vocalist Tim McLLrath took several minutes to talk about unity, community and support, and then asked everyone to raise their torches. Hits like “Satellite” and “Give It All” were well received by the fans as was “Nowhere Generation.” An acoustical performance of “Swing Life Away” turned into a gigantic sing-along with most of those in attendance happily participating. “Prayer Of The Refugee” was the last song of the regular set and it went off like a bomb. After a brief pause, the band reappeared for a 3-song encore that was comprised of “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” “Paper Wings,” and “Savior.”
Looking back now, the weekend was a blur. Everything went by so quickly that it didn’t seem possible that I had spent more than 20 hours here and had seen 23 bands, although my 4700 photos were evidence to those facts. This was my the 1st time working multi-day festival, and prior to the start I was somewhat apprehensive. I had heard so many negative things about other big festivals, but I am happy to report that I didn’t really see any major issues. HeartSupport Fest really was a well-oiled machine. All the performances started on time and security (Gator Guards) really did their best to maintain control while keeping fans and staff safe. The parking was plentiful as were the numbers of bathrooms and vendors.
Hopefully everyone that attended will take time to check out the HeartSupport website and get involved. Also, please take a moment to check out the socials for all of the awesome artists that performed today (links below). While many people played a part in the success of the 1st HeartSupport Fest, Jake Luhrs deserves the majority of the credit. It was his ideas and involvement that created HeartSupport and ultimately the HeartSupport Fest. The only question I was left with is will there be a HeartSupport Fest 2?
Rise Against (BetterHelp Stage) 8:15pm:
Tim Mcllrath: Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Joe Principe: Bass, Backing Vocals
Brandon Barnes: Drums, Percussion
Zach Blair: Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
1.Re-Education (Through Labor)
4.House On Fire
5.Ready To Fall
7.Chamber The Cartridge
8.Like The Angel
9.Help Is On The Way
10.Give It All
12.Swing Life Away
13.Prayer Of The Refugee
14.Make It Stop (September’s Children)
Follow Prison Online:
Follow Silent Planet Online:
Follow Harm’s Way Online:
Follow ’68 Online:
Follow Four Year Strong Online:
Follow Hawthorne Heights Online:
Follow Senses Fail Online:
Follow Silverstein Online:
Follow Spiritbox Online:
Follow The Ghost Inside Online:
Follow Rise Against Online:
I’ve had a love for photography since I was young. Whether it was a Polaroid or a Kodak 110, I was always the kid with the camera. My love of music goes back even further. Nothing beats being at a show when those lights go down and the crowd goes nuts.