It was always going to be hard to follow Download 2013. Last year's Download featured three main stage headliners who performed to such a level that if that had been all you'd seen and you'd run into the promoters afterwards you'd have still insisted on giving them more of your hard earned cash and possibly a kidney in gratitude.
Before a foot had trodden on the hallowed Donington turf, many an armchair promoter and naysayer wailed at the 2014 offerings. With competition from other festivals and the memory of 2013 there was always the expectation that this year would be a quieter one for Download. Well as quiet as a rock and metal festival can be.
In truth the numbers were down, the arena felt a little roomier and the overall atmosphere was oddly serene at times. Does this mean Download 2014 flopped? Very far from it.
The three main headliners of Avenged Sevenfold, Linkin Park and Aerosmith did not float everyone's boat, mine included, but that did not mean I, nor others, were moored. Focusing so heavily on the headliners is akin to moaning all the way through a Sunday roast about the meat to the point you miss out on the roast tatties and gravy.
Whilst the crowd for Avenged Sevenfold was smaller than those of Friday headliners past, they were at least a satisfied crowd. Similarly, Linkin Park, now veterans of four Downloads, produced a solid performance which included Hybrid Theory. Aerosmith brought some old school, honed rocking to close proceedings. Yes, we all know Steve Tyler sometimes looks like a funky grandma, but when he belts out 'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing' part of your heart melts.
And, let's high five the organisers for the main stage's new erection. The catwalk into the audience certainly made it feel more intimate and many bands put it to good use. The natural show offs such as Steve Tyler and Rob Zombie certainly used the catwalk to good effect with their own brand of sashay.
For those who didn't fancy the main stage menu, a walk up the hill to Zippo Encore (Second) Stage provided some safe hand alternatives on Friday and Sunday in The Offspring and Trivium respectively, whilst on Saturday it was a long overdue Download debut Status Quo. Status Quo are not called the Mighty Quo out of gentile reverence, these guys can hold their own with the best of them. If you couldn't have fun with Quo playing you may be missing a vital fun gene.
From a personal standpoint, for me it was all about the Pepsi Max (Third) Stage. It had three superb and distinct headliners. On Friday Opeth set the bar high. Mikael has to be one of the most charming men on stage, one moment growling like Satan being buggered by his own pitchfork, the next drawing you in with the velvety tones of Gabriel. Saturday and it turned darker and hotter as the painted faces and flaming pyro of Behemoth closed the evening. Death and black metal was a little thin on the ground this year, so this was a much needed injection. For the final night, The Dillinger Escape Plan had obviously eaten all the sugar, as they bounded on for a hyperactive set. The tent thronged for TDEP, testament to their appeal and a grand way to burn that last ounce of stamina.
Quickly touching on some other performances, Rob Zombie was lacklustre compared to what he can be and I truly believe the cause was the sun (damn you ball of burning gas). Rob Zombie should not be allowed out pre-nightfall.
A pleasant surprise was Fall Out Boy, prepare for the patronising klaxon to sound. Having only ever seen recordings of live performances and being underwhelmed at best, it was hats off that they held the crowd as well as they did. Even those proclaiming FOB to be varying degrees of procreating excrement, they seemed to do so whilst dancing with a Cheshire Cat grin on their face. You see anything is possible in a field with sun and cider. Whilst for stage-to-performer size ration FOB may be better suited to Stage 5, what they lack in physical statue they made up for in effort.
Also on the main stage, and no doubt seen as in the germination phase of a possible future headliner, was Bring Me The Horizon. Fronted by Oli Sykes, he clearly stands in front of a mirror a la Travis Bickle before a performance, and walks a fine edged sword of engaging and annoying. A word of advice, it's hard to be a future headliner if you disappear up your own anus.
Talking of germination, it is important, nay vital, Download continues to support and showcase new and emerging bands, and those on the cusp of the white whale of stardom. Whilst much of the grumbling on headliners centred round the fact it wasn't bands we've all seen multi times over multi decades in many cases, as a Download community we need to balance our comfort zone with that horribly scary thing - the future. There are many big, established names who have yet to grace Download, and I shall be tapping my feet until they do but, should the top layer not tickle your fancy do take adventures further down, you may be pleasantly surprised.
There was certainly a lot of good vibes bouncing round the site for Crossfaith, Letlive and the 'I've just caught someone on stage x, they were great, who the hell were they' band. Love affairs are set aflame at Download. One friend made the journey to acoustic stage to see Jon Gomm and was quite literally moved to tears.
The old guard acted as mentors (even if they didn't realise it). Twisted Sister, or to be specific, Dee Snyder shook the stage with an intensity measurable on the Richter scale. Philip H Anselmo and The Illegals took grump to a glorious new level. Angry, angry Philip, whose H much stand for Harumph, belted out a set that included a bit of his Pantera past. Have a bad day at work? Put on some Phil.
Remember how I said the overall atmosphere was somewhat muted, this is true but when you brought it down to a granular level and reached out to the people immediately around you the spark was there, there was a more tribal and intimate feel to this year. This spark was truly ignited when the bands that gee up participation come on - for this party Skindred, Bowling for Soup and Steel Panther had that 'drag them out of the kitchen' air about them.
In between the bands, there was ample good food, ample good beer and cider and a bit of retail therapy. The rain knew to only make a brief appearance. The joy of meeting new people and discussing the finer points of life with a man dressed as a banana should never be undersold. The poignant moment when the crowd cheered and put their thumbs up forStephen Sutton, after whom the main stage was named, really brought home that a festival's true achievement is its people.
Does Download 2015 need a stronger line-up? Well define stronger. Does Download 2015 need a line-up more catered to me, well wouldn't it be nice if festivals were tailored to us personally? But let's get real. What Download needs is the Download tribe. That tribe, happy to list their wants but also realise the need for adaptation and to let a choice not to personal taste sail on by now and then, that's who needs to speak up. So if that's you, if you can have fun in a field with some cider and a cardboard box and the rest is a bonus, mark Download 2015 in your calendar. I'll be surprised if you are disappointed.