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By Geoff Ketler, Cleveland Contributor
Friday, September 6, 2019 @ 11:15 AM

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All Photos By Geoff Ketler/Aces High Photography

Once again, it was time to gather upon the hollowed grounds of the old Mansfield Reformatory; the historical site that once housed Ohio’s premier criminals and was later the filming set of the masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption. This year; the second year of this specific festival, was bigger, heavier and scaled up to proportions previously unseen at the site. Some 45,000 people braved the July heat and attended the completely sold-out hard rock and metal extravaganza that boasted tattoo artists from around the country as well as a caravan of food trucks to dazzle anyone’s taste buds.

There were a few accommodations and changes made to better suit the larger crowds. The food trucks had their own separate area; opening up the space between the main stage and the second stage, allowing for a better flow of people. In addition, to temper the rising temperatures, there were two “cooling stations” installed with fresh water and misting fans. People were allowed to fill up their own containers for free. Great idea – bad execution. The lines for the two stations were hundreds of people deep 100% of the time – making it impossible to take advantage of it without missing one or more of the musical acts. Cooling stations aside, it was still one of the most well-run and professional festivals I have been lucky to be a part of; whether I was media or just a fan. The layout and the flow of music simply eliminated dead space between acts all while keeping multiple groups from performing simultaneously.

Day 1

The first day was a bit abbreviated only since it fell on a weekday and the stream of concertgoers sort of eased in as the afternoon went on. Getting things rolling first was BROKEN HANDS - a gang of dashing Englishmen that were touring in support of SHINEDOWN; the first evening’s headliner. What I truly love about so many of these festivals is getting the opportunity to “discover” new acts. I just love it when a band wins me over with their live show; especially a group that I had not even heard of previously. On the first day of Inkcarceration, I discovered THE FUNERAL PORTRAIT and was immediately hooked. Yeah, they are a little emo, but still fresh, mixing punk, metal and a dash of horror. Opening their set with “Casanova (C’est La Vie)” truly showed off their range from the get go. Vocalist Lee Jennings is a bit eccentric, but the good ones usually are.

Over on the main stage, FOZZY was just getting started as the “lower bowl” of the grassy hillside really began to pack in tightly with crazed fans; commuters and campers alike. Every time I see Chris Jericho he looks more and more like Dog The Bounty Hunter. And the long flowing blonde locks with a pseudo mullet that he now sports is not helping. Sorry Chris, but it is true. At this point the sun was just beating down on the stage. The potent stench of sweat, leather and cigarettes dulled the senses with our ability to view the stage impaired as well by the blinding sun. Chris Jericho did do his best King Kong impression as he climbed the scaffolding stage-right in an effort to stir up the audience. Guitarists Billy Grey and Rich “The Duke” Ward were on point throughout the brief set.

Once again, things flowed nicely as I caught a meager performance from THE RED JUMPSUIT APPARATUS on the second stage before returning to the main stage for the remainder of the evening. Up next was the always fun SKILLET. I have watched this band grow from playing a small, private, high school gymnasium in Amish country (true story) all the way to festival gigs all over the world. Although vocalist/bassist John Cooper has gotten much longer in the beard since those days, the quartet continues to dazzle audiences with the raw emotion and vigor you’d expect. This night was no different – CO2 out the wazoo. Production was top notch as crowds gathered, leaving much of the outlying festival space barren and empty. A swift changeover and the odd band out - TAKING BACK SUNDAY took the stage. I say that, because in a hard rock and metal-dominated festival such as Inkcarceration there are a handful of outliers that just seem to make you wonder why this group was included. Rather than rip on the group (they were great if you’re into that kind of thing) I will just point out that vocalist Adam Lazzara managed to win the crowd over with his southern charm and wit. His is a staggering 6’4” and watching him spin the microphone around and dance is enough to make the stiffest people loosen up – myself included.

At this point, the sun had set and the air cooled slightly. A large opaque curtain had been draped across the front of the stage as roadies began to build the set for SHINEDOWN. I should really learn to quit doubting the radio-friendly powerhouse. I am overwhelmed by the band’s production, performance and energy every single time I see them live. With an enormous explosion – the curtain dropped. My reaction must have been quite a scene since one of the security guards down front asked me if I thought I had been shot. “Yeah”, I replied. It was that kind of performance – one that is riddled with “oooooh’s” and “ahhhhh’s” and copious amounts of pyro. Highlights of the set included “The Sound Of Madness” and “Enemies”.

Day 2

I trekked home for what equated to a cat nap before gearing up and heading back to Mansfield for an early start to Day 2. The first action of the day was Cleveland’s own IMPENDING LIES on the second stage. It was decent start to packed schedule. Highlight was hearing a fantastic rendition of JOURNEY’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”. The main stage was also kicked off by a local product, TITANS IN TIME before giving way to the obliterating metal forces of LIGHT THE TORCH - formerly known as THE DEVIL YOU KNOW. Howard Jones, the former vocalist of KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, led the charge in a now slimmer and more fit form. Few people can have such a beautiful, clean singing voice and still be able to reach deep within and belt out the most horrific screams.

Moments later I was back at the second stage for the dark and twisted RAVEN BLACK. Like a female-fronted AVATAR, RAVEN BLACK was the circus sideshow of the day. Metric tons of face makeup, black lace, metal studs and a black umbrella paved the way for one of the more interesting acts of the entire weekend. More and more, the audience continued to swell as campers made their way in for the day. Up next was the freshly resurrected BUCKCHERRY. With founding member Keith Nelson out and only Josh Todd and Stevie D remaining from the most recent lineup, it seemed just a little forced. Don’t get me wrong, I love BUCKCHERRY and that ruthless, raunchy brand of hard rock, but this just isn’t the same band. Maybe it was the fact that Josh’s microphone failed to register for the first 4 songs. The set was already winding down before they worked out the kinks – the only major hiccup from the festival. It was a tad unfortunate, but it really wasn’t their day. Although it is the lead single off of the upcoming release, it was odd to me that they lead off with the NINE INCH NAILS cover “Head Like A Hole”.

I enjoyed lively sets from EYES SET TO KILL and the recently resurrected STABBING WESTWARD on the second stage, but it was the main stage that really stirred the pot, beginning with the local musicians turned rock stars, RED SUN RISING. With original guitarist Ryan Williams sidelined with a new baby at home, vocalist Mike Protich spent much of the performance with a guitar slung around his neck, filling in the voids without missing a beat. Mike is one of those vocalists that just never seems to be off…off key, having an off night, etc. The day’s lineup never really gained traction until RED SUN RISING hit the stage. Maybe it was the heat, but until that point it really seemed more like a small, private showcase for A&R people at the label or something. Finally, the bottle was uncorked and people were excited again. This atmosphere would carry right into the next act on the main stage - MOTIONLESS IN WHITE.

It was pretty striking to watch the sinister MOTIONLESS IN WHITE in full-on makeup perform on a stage doused with daylight and a shimmering sun beginning to head towards the horizon just behind them. My images were flooded with those “golden hour” soft lights that photographers long for, but it wasn’t a newly engaged couple or family portraits with babies and a dog – it was Chris Motionless with slicked back hair, lots of foundation and eye shadow for days, screaming into a microphone about horrific things that you would normally only see in a horror flick. Judging by the shrieks and screams, there was a definite segment of the captive audience there to see the boys from Pennsylvania. Sans Chris, you might as well refer to them as “Emotionless In White” since no one else in the band would do so much as crack a smile during the performance. I am not too familiar with the new material but it was nice to hear “Devil’s Night” back in the set.

Once MOTIONLESS wrapped, I was back at the second stage ready to “Party Hard”. That’s right – everyone’s favorite motivational speaker, Andrew W.K. was back in town to remind us all that “music is worth living for”. It was difficult to fit all 38 members of Andrew’s band up on the meager second stage (I am only exaggerating slightly), but once in place, Shawshank began to rock to the party-anthem tunes featuring chunking guitars and keys. Adorned in skin-tight, light-colored jeans and an equally tight, dirty, white t-shirt, Andrew stepped into his groove – which kind of looks like an emotional breakdown. Few others can really pour it all out on stage like this guy and the fans just feed on it. I know it sounds cliché and kind of generic, but Andrew W.K. really brings this energy and raw sense of emotion that people really can grasp and lock on to. I know I did.

The remainder of the evening would revolve around the main stage and a pretty unlikely pair. Going on before the headliner, GODSMACK, was the 90’s alternative rock titan, LIVE, out on the road to celebrate 25 years of the 8x platinum certified record Throwing Copper. LIVE was completely true to form despite the unusual pairing. They are one of those groups where you don’t really have a sense for the hits or back catalogue until it is all laid out there in front of you in a perfectly executed setlist. My initial fears of the life being sucked out of the place, halting the inertia that had been gradually building throughout the day were quickly extinguished. Sporting all original members (how difficult is that these days?) LIVE quickly captivated the sold-out crowd with “All Over You” and methodically worked everyone over with hit after hit alongside a couple of well-received covers of R.E.M. and THE ROLLING STONES.

As night fell upon the prison, GODSMACK took the stage that was now engulfed in flames with a pyro show that would make Beavis blush. “When Legends Rise” jump-started what would be an onslaught of new and old GODSMACK material alike. Guitarist/Vocalist Sully Erna was surprisingly chatty that night. He reminisced with the audience about filming the band’s music video for “Awake” right there at the Mansfield Reformatory. I can remember the casting call to be a part of the video, unfortunately I was still in high school and could not take part. Although the disparity between LIVE and GODSMACK is quite wide, somehow it worked. It was very nostalgic to hear such hits as “Keep Away”, “Whatever” and “Voodoo”.

Day 3

I found myself to be sunburnt, sore, tired and weak as I head out of the “Green Lot” one last time; walking towards the already thick lines of people dragging themselves back for one more epic day. I was unable to catch every act on Sunday, but I did manage to get over to the mainstage to see SMILE EMPTY SOUL for their brief performance before ISSUES delivered an intense set. Fresh out of the studio after recorded their soon to be released album, Beautiful Oblivion, ISSUES pumped out song after song despite it only being early afternoon. Bassist Skyler Acord steals the show with his jumps, dives and pirouettes; whipping his mop of hair around with every beat.

Soon after, STARSET appeared on stage in sort of “Mad Max” looking garb, complete with goggles and sandblasted, hooded outfits. I guess I was kind of looking forward to the space suits, but the always colorful group did not disappoint. The self-prescribed “cinematic rock” band from down the road in Columbus, OH performed with a live cellist and violinist to add to that depth. It was more of a “performance” than a “gig”. I felt like we should have been on blankets drinking wine and eating cheese, but it very entertaining, nonetheless. Cameras in tow, I fought through the crowd to get back over to the second stage for FROM ASHES TO NEW. This was interesting; a band consisting of a guitarist, drummer and two vocalists. That’s right. There was no bass player. Turns out it was just a bunch of backing tracks, a couple of pretty-boy rappers and a guitarist and a drummer. That being said, the group could pack it in. I don’t recall the second stage being that swollen with people all weekend long.

Up next on the mainstage was the down and dirty I PREVAIL. Only 6 years removed from their inception, I PREVAIL are still in their infancy as far as bands are concerned and what they have been able to accomplish within that amount of time is nothing short of amazing. With vocalist Brian Burkheiser back to 100% after having a serious vocal cord injury, it was great to see group at full-force one again. The hits “Scars”, “Lifelines” and “Come And Get It” were all present and accounted for. It was at this point that security started to get a bit overwhelmed with the amount of crowd surfers coming across the barricade, including a lady on a mobility scooter.

The second stage headliner was none other than P.O.D.. More nostalgia. The boys from “Southtown” can still bring it. “Boom”, “Southtown” and “Rock The Party (Off The Hook)” were all performed uninhibited and just balls-out. Vocalist Sonny Sandoval can still belt it out and his vigor is unmatched. It was hard to get a shot with the way his was prancing around and jumping. He spent as much time down on the ground with the audience as he did up on the stage. It was refreshing – especially since they could just as easily mailed it in and called it a day. That was a wrap for the second stage, so all attention was on the mainstage where SEETHER was about to give us the “Remedy”.

Still touring in support of 2017’s Poison The Parish, the rockers from South Africa blazed through an eleven song set that included the hits “Remedy”, “Country Song” and “Fake It” among others. Vocalist/guitarist Shaun Morgan is not much for talking. In fact, I do not believe he addressed the crowd once during their performance – just straight rockin’. SEETHER is really a “no frills” kind of act – red lights, fog and well, that is about it for production. They sound amazing live, but at the expense of a live show. At long last, we had made it to the final set change of the festival. It was time for FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH.

After vocalist Ivan Moody’s public battle with addiction and subsequent substitute vocalist in the middle of a tour, the future of FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH was no longer certain. A stint in rehab later, things seemed to be looking up. That is, until original drummer Jeremy Spencer announced he was leaving permanently after having back surgery. Jeremy was able to assist the band in finding his own replacement - Charlie Engen. Fast-forward a few months and the band was taking time out of the studio this summer to hit a few select shows at festivals, including the Inkcarceration Festival. An explosion kick started “Lift Me Up” and the now cleaner, leaner FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH was back with a vengeance.

Ivan Moody was his usual self; letting the audience sing his chorus lines and spinning club in his hand. He had the signature handprint painted on his face along with his aggressively over-sized shorts. Like the headliners of the past two nights, there was plenty of pyro, flames, explosions and CO2. Jason Hook’s signature light up guitar made an appearance during the solo of “Lift Me Up”. What the setlist made evident was that FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH has plenty of good tunes and hits, but the mega-hits were mostly covers. Think about it...”Bad Company”, “Blue On Black” and “Gone Away” were all part of the evening’s setlist and none of them were written by FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH. Just an observation. Regardless, what the band does do is bring a stellar show of pyro, showmanship and energy and that is nothing to shake a stick at.

As mentioned before, Inkcarceration Festival 2019 was a massive step up from the previous incarnation and it was done flawlessly. Everything from the timing of the bands to the daily lineups to the food trucks and parking were well thought-out and executed. I cannot wait to see what 2020 will bring for the Inkcarceration Festival.

Check out some more photos from the festival at the gallery links below!

Gallery 1
Gallery 2

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