BLAIRS — For Josh Gorg, the four-day Blue Ridge Rock Festival is a much-needed event.
“It’s finally something to do since COVID,” Gorg, of Pennsylvania, said while walking along Carson Lester Lane on the way to the festival. “It looks like they did a half-way decent job organizing it and the band lineup looks very well put together.”
Happening through Sunday, the event is slated to be the biggest event ever in Pittsylvania County.
More than 35,000 are expected to attend the festival, with 20,000 of those camping and remaining on site for the entire event. With personnel and bands, total attendance could be as high as 40,000.
More than 180 bands are expected to perform on six stages at the venue, according to the event’s website. Acts include Anthrax, Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Megadeth, Bush, Lamb of God, Cypress Hill, Seether, Ludacris, T-Pain, Body Count, Lil John and Rev Run (from Run-DMC).
The sold-out event has booked up hotel rooms throughout the region on the dates of the festival.
On Thursday, northbound traffic on U.S. 29 was backed up south from R & Smith Road all the way to the Blairs Fire & Rescue station, up the exit ramp and back to the 29 bypass.
It took about 20-30 minutes to get from the exit onto northbound U.S. 29 to R & L Smith Road, which leads to Carson Lester Lane and the Blue Ridge Amphitheater.
Virginia State Police manned restricted crossways along U.S. 29 and directed traffic to allow festival-goers — who had parked in one of two nearby day parking lots — to cross the highway on foot onto R & L Smith Road.
Festival-goers walked about 1 to 2 miles one way to the concert from the two nearby day-parking lots along 29. A third such lot was further north in the area of Dry Fork Road.
“We’re trying to manage,” said Virginia State Police spokesperson Sgt. Richard Garletts. “If we had access off 29 for the festival, it would go a lot smoother.”
In addition, buses shuttled festival-goers who did not want to travel from the parking lots to the festival on foot.
One parking lot covered 100 acres and a second was about 60 acres, Garletts said, adding that he was unsure of the size of the third day-parking lot.
Officials were trepidatious about attendees having to cross the highway to get to the festival.
“We have people crossing 29, which is very dangerous,” Garletts said. “We don’t want that to happen.”
Fifteen state police personnel are on scene for traffic control, working 12-hour shifts for the event, he said.
Festival-goers were not supposed to drive on R & L Smith Road, which was reserved for residents and bands.
However, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said the biggest issue surrounding the event is traffic and infrastructure, with residents on R & L Smith Road inconvenienced by increased traffic.
Taylor suspected some festival-goers may have alerted others on social media about alternate routes on back roads, which led to congestion in those areas.
Also, “We’re very concerned about people walking along 29,” Taylor said. “That’s not a good combination.”
He would not say how many deputies were working the festival.
“We have adequate law enforcement presence to respond to any activity we have to respond to,” he said.
“We’ve had very problems at this point,” he said, referring to any illegal acts. “The crowd at this point has been cooperative.”
Ready to rock
Back at the festival, where a thrash metal band could be heard performing from one stage, Jessica Stuck said, “I’ve never been to a festival this big.”
Stuck, of Hastings, Michigan, and her friend Shanna Morisey, of Providence, North Carolina, were not too concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic’s delta variant. They said they were both vaccinated.
As for the traffic, they weren’t deterred by that either.
“As many bands as you get to see and the people here, it doesn’t matter what had to wait for,” Morisey said. “It’s just awesome. It does not matter. Just go with the flow.”
“Rock on,” Stuck said.
Randy Mendoza and Senia Rivera traveled down from northern Virginia to enjoy the lineup of bands.
“It could be a little more organized, but it’s pretty good,” Rivera said.
Mendoza and Rivera, who were both vaccinated, weren’t too worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, either.
“As long as you’re cautious with the people around you, that’s the best thing,” Rivera said.
Zack Fleming, who lives nearby, said of the festival, “I heard about and said, ‘You know what? I’m in.’”
He added that he plans on attending more events at the amphitheater, depending on how the Blue Ridge Rock Festival goes.