Hellfest NY State Fairgrounds, Syracuse NY - July 3 to 5, 2003

The sun, the sweat, the sounds and the vegan chicken wraps, Hellfest 2K3 rolled in with a bang this Fourth of July weekend in Syracuse, NY with enough bands to populate a small city. Already six years running, this year's fest was undoubtedly the biggest and best organised in Hellfest's history. Friday was a good day to be Canadian; hometown girls Kittie earned some scene points by closing the first night of the festival and proved that they can actually rock with the best of them, while St. Catharine's Alexisonfire put on a short but well received performance in the very moshable C-stage tent. But it was the Sunday performance of Winnipeg's Figure Four that really had us singing the national anthem, as the band tore up the stage with their brutally distinct style of hardcore. Ecstatic fans saluted the Manitobans as they paraded in one of the biggest mosh pits of the entire festival, a pit matched only by the havoc created by California hardcore heroes Terror. It wasn't all fast and heavy hardcore this weekend though. Despite being visibly intimidated by the predominantly tough hardcore crowd, lighter and more emo/punk-oriented bands like the Movielife and Armor For Sleep still managed to hold their own with solid and entertaining performances. Modern screamo legends Thursday and From Autumn To Ashes closed Saturday night with everyone singing along, including Jonah from Onelinedrawing, who made guest appearances during both bands' sets. Sunday saw a few disappointments, including those of Alabama rockers Haste and the latest incarnation of Earth Crisis, Freya, as both performances failed to stand up to the hype that currently surrounds each band. Also disappointing was saying farewell to amazing bands like Skycamefalling and Brother's Keeper, who both called it quits after their Sunday performances. However, the musical highlight of the night, and perhaps the entire festival, was Dillinger Escape Plan's true-to-form rendition of Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You." A sea full of hardcore kids couldn't resist getting their groove on to this number, which made up for the not-so-inspiring performance by CKY that followed. With barely any injuries and most people being friendly with one another, tons of cheap food and drinks on scene, including fresh fruit and the always sought-after vegan chicken wraps, this year's Hellfest had that community atmosphere many music festivals strive for. Running around the fairgrounds of upstate NY to the soundtrack of modern hardcore was more fun than ever.