How One YouTuber’s Experience at Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2023 Serves as an Excellent Case Study For Communication Best Practices

Madison Pickard
8 min readSep 21, 2023

Breaking down a tour manager’s horrific first-hand experience at Blue Ridge Rock Festival from a communication perspective.

Blue Ridge Rock Festival in Alton, Virginia was marketed as a “Festival Created by the Fans”, but as concert promoters took to social media to announce the cancellation of the festival 2 days into the 4 day event, it appears any normal fan could have actually planned the festival better than what was provided. From severe weather and poor festival conditions to unruly concert attendees, this is the ugly truth of cutting corners and sacrificing something so simple in the process: effective communication planning.

Statement via blueridgerockfest’s Instagram

Ian Roberts, known widely as TankTheTech on YouTube, took to the platform armed with a 36-minute, unedited retelling of what his crew experienced the moment they arrived at the festival. Whether intentional or not, his video immediately struck me as a perfect case study. On one hand, he highlights what excellent communication looks like between him and his crew when facing a crisis situation. On the other hand, he hits almost every possible thing that could have possibly gone wrong at a festival of this caliber.

Watch TankTheTech’s Video Here

It’s a fascinating video for communication practitioners interested in learning what not to do when planning any event. So let’s break it down.

Advances with Blue Ridge Rock Festival

Roberts, who I will refer to as TankTheTech onward, begins by painting the tale of an industry standard. For every show his bands play, he advances with production managers at least a month out. They discuss every aspect of what’s going on at the location — bus parking, gear transport, backstage hospitality. In return, he debriefs production managers on what his crew is bringing — types of gear, number of buses, how many crew members will be there, power accommodations, and so on.

This is peak professionalism, but like previously mentioned, industry standard. He sends the production manager touring documents, a rider with the gear, power needs and space accommodations a month out from the festival. Blue Ridge production managers sent their own tech specs so he and the band were aware of everything that would be provided for them at the festival.

A week out from the festival Roberts makes 2 phone calls, one with a production manager and one with the head of artist relations, to ensure nothing has changed.

TankTheTech did everything right and made sure his band was set up for Blue Ridge Rock Fest. So how did things go so wrong so fast?

Artist Relations Nightmare

The answers to that specific question introduced themselves the moment TankTheTech, German Electronicore band Electric Callboy, and their crew arrived at the festival.

Right away, it was evident that no one had the slightest idea what was happening. The crew remained at the festival entrance for over an hour waiting for the buses to be parked at the artist compound. Bus drivers needed to get to hotels to rest since they had a long day of driving the next morning. Since no one from artist relations was responding, TankTheTech had to make the first of several executive decisions that day and decided to park the tour buses at the festival entrance.

Electric Callboy was finally shuttled to their dressing room trailer, only to find there was no A/C, water, or catering. There was virtually no hospitality for the performing artists. These were all things advanced with production managers a month out from the festival, but this barely scratches the surface of what was to come.

The most mind boggling artist relations blunder, in my opinion, was the treatment of the performing artists themselves at the festival.

Electric Callboy had contractually scheduled media through the festival on this day. They were originally scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. signing session, and their set time was at 6:45 p.m. This left the band half an hour to get to their stage. Even if things were running smoothly, this is a near impossible time crunch to conquer. TankTheTech explains this to artist relations and asks if they can be moved up to 3:30 p.m.

Artist relations at the festival said it would be no issue, and they would update fans, sign time schedules, and make announcements at the festival of the changes.

What happens next is one of the most awkward things I have ever heard of. When Electric Callboy shows up at their new time, there’s no security or official staff from the festival to oversee the signing session (*sound the alarms*). People were lining up thinking the other band originally allotted this 3:30 session were still doing it at this tent. When this other band arrives, because no one told them their time had been changed, conflict arises between the tour managers. Yet again, TankTheTech had to make the executive decision to end the band’s signing session early.

The band also had an interview with Mark from Kardavox Academy and two other media events that were canceled due to lack of structure by the festival and their artist relations team.

… Where do I start?

Artist relations at a music festival, especially one of this size and status, is supposed to ensure that the festival runs smoothly and that both artists and their respective stakeholders have a positive experience. Some primary responsibilities include:

  • Communication: serving as a liaison between the festival organizers, the artists and their representatives. Naturally, they’re supposed to facilitate clear and timely communication to address any concerns, requests or issues that may arise.
  • Artist Hospitality: ensuring artists and their team have all their needs met during their time at the festival — arranging accommodations, transportation, catering, and backstage amenities.
  • Media and Interviews: assisting with artist interviews, press conferences, and media interactions.
  • Artist services: providing additional services that artists may need such as tech support and medical assistance (we’ll touch on this one later).
  • Security and Safety: arranging security personnel to ensure the safety of the artist, their equipment, and the festival attendees.

These are all conditions TankTheTech, Electric Callboy and every other artist at Blue Ridge Rock Festival expected to be met, and rightfully so. This isn’t a negotiable aspect of festival planning, it’s crucial to the operation of the event as a whole.

With all this in mind, you’re probably wondering “if none of those things were correctly executed at the festival for the artists, how could they possibly ensure everyone stayed safe at the festival?”

The short answer: they didn’t.

Safety is Non-Existent

The entirety of this day was defined by the lack of stagehands, transportation for gear to the necessary stages, and, to no one’s surprise, insufficient communication.

There were not enough stagehands, and those who were there were completely overwhelmed by the lack of support offered by the festival.

By 4:00 p.m., Tank’s crew still doesn’t have transportation for their gear. Frustrated and nearly defeated, it was obvious that no one from higher production management had given on-ground festival staff any advances.

In addition, there was still no A/C, water or catering for artists or fans on a 90 degree day in September. From walking the grounds, there were trash mountains as tall as 7 feet and overflowing porta potties. Guests were left at the front gates, unable to get into the festival for hours. People spent their hard earned money and traveled near and far to come to this festival, and this was the treatment they got.

Back to Tank’s crew, the problems kept piling up. There were still no straps for a flatbed, so there was no way to get three, 1500lb video carts to the stage. Production was told to hold on to the carts for a mile and a half drive. This resulted in a crushed stagehand and badly injured production manager.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Even in the midst of this catastrophic failure of an event, there is a silver lining to this story.

TankTheTech highlights what highly effective communication planning looks like, even in the face of a huge communication crisis.

Since there was no transportation for the gear, 4 hours of setup time had to be condensed into a 20-minute period for Electric Callboy’s crew. Though many would have been completely defeated at this point, they were able to get it done. This includes getting rafters set up, tech being tested, and getting light and video production ready.

To no one’s surprise, power distribution for Electric Callboy’s set was not advanced with the stage managers, but due to having a connected network, they were able to use another band’s power. Though they had to scramble in the last 10 minutes to get it all worked out, miraculously Electric Callboy performed their set without delay and left Blue Ridge Rock Festival relatively unscathed.

So where does this leave everything?

Accountability is Past Due

First, let it be stated that Blue Ridge Rock Festival is an unprofessional and unorganized conglomerate of unethical and deceitful practices with an overall disregard for the health and safety of their workers, performing artists, vendors and guests.

After doing my own research, it’s evident that Jonathan Slye, Blue Ridge Rock Festival organizer, has yet to have his day of reckoning.

In an interview from June 2023, Slye plays off the festival’s past failures as learning experiences. He talks about having only 4 year-round staff members, with every other role being subcontracted through different companies. He talks about his CFO, who had to take on CFO responsibilities due to lack of resources. She also helps with website updates, credential orders for access solutions for the festival, and apparently that “barely scratches the surface of all the hats she wears”.

To me, what this barely scratches the surface of is the gross and senseless misunderstanding Jonathan Slye has adopted when it comes to successfully organizing a music festival — not caring who he leaves in his wake.

In the interest of every metal lover’s time, money, and safety, I do hope a new higher management is installed for 2024’s Blue Ridge Rock Festival, which, surprisingly enough, has not been canceled yet. Jonathan Slye has no place at the table any longer.

A huge thanks to TankTheTech on YouTube for recounting his first-hand experience at Blue Ridge Rock Fest 2023, and not being afraid to speak up when you know people have been wronged. The insight provided in this video is crucial in understanding how crucial communication is to an event of this size, and how it is not at liberty to be a corner cut in the planning process.

Head over to YouTube to watch his experience and let me know your thoughts.

--

--