The final leg of Download Festival’s three-day haul in Donington Park finally, unfortunately, came to pass on Sunday. Waking up to the familiar sound of the ongoing storm outside, the day was full of excitement and anticipation as the time of Iron Maiden’s set neared ever closer. To be frank, at this point we were used to our skin being completely drenched at all times, and our feet had adapted to travelling via mudslide. The crowds queuing for the arena area piled up and up, forming the biggest queue of the weekend, with every other person wearing an Iron Maiden shirt, impatient to start the day.
Kicking off the final day, Canadian four-piece Monster Truck rocked the main stage with a set to rival even those higher up the bill. Sending out their classic-rock vibes to a surprisingly large crowd, they played with a passion and exuberance that had been lacking from many bands of previous days, choosing to open with ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Live’ before moving onto their hit ‘Sweet Mountain River’, which had the crowd chanting happily, seemingly forgetting about their blatant tiredness and exasperation with the weather. Closing with the almighty ‘The Lion’, they left their fans satisfied, and with massive grins plastered on their faces. Good on them. They were also lovely to talk to.
The Raven Age were a surprisingly gripping act, and pleasantly so as most of their crowd were only present to escape the incessant rain under the canvas of the Maverick stage. Not expecting very much, they played with a very clear sense of fun and gratitude and it was lovely, really, to see a band so unashamedly excited to be playing at England’s biggest rock festival. Download’s Sunday leg really was turning out to be a day of love between band and fan.
Soon enough, Breaking Benjamin ran onto the Encore stage to one of the most devoted and enthusiastic crowds I’d seen all weekend for a non-headliner. Opening with ‘So Cold’, their fans came in the masses to shout and scream along with the lyrics, with not even one person standing still for any one song. The group went through a long line of hits and crowd favourites such as ‘Blow Me Away’, ‘Breath’ and ‘Failure’ before closing with the beloved ‘The Diary of Jane’ to the almighty cheers of their hording fans, who were the first crowd I’d seen to holler for them to return to the stage after leaving. Unfortunately, timings were tight so fans soon gave up and meandered off elsewhere, leaving a crowd of next to nothing for the next act, Don Broco.
The sparse group of Don Broco fans soon grew as the changeover time went on, and as the Bedford-born lads ran onto the stage, the crowd began to push forward with excitement. As the opening riff for ‘You Wanna Know’ started, a whole host of cheers erupted into the air and the four-piece dived headfirst into the set. Don Broco are always a fun band to see live, and with many of their songs this time round taken from their new album Automatic, the crowd were coaxed into singing along with many of their hits like ‘Fire’ (“if you don’t know the words to this one, don’t even worry,” explains frontman Rob Damiani, “you just have to say ‘fire’ over and over – you’ll be fine”) and ‘What You Do To Me’. And with a charisma he has cultivated since the very beginnings of Broco , a chiselled jawline and toned physique he has honed more and more as the gigs go on, the crowd – hesitant at first – soon let go and enjoyed the set. Cut off slightly early, the band had to forgo ‘Nerve’ and skip straight to their closer, ‘Money, Power, Fame’ but they closed, inevitably, with true, unique Broco style.
Doubling in size in about 15 minutes, the crowd for Billy Talent seemed to be a mixture of the more youthful groups that Breaking Benjamin had brought together two acts previously and a handful of older adults either on their own or in pairs. Oh and one white guy who kept swinging his dreadlocks around like a lasso, often hitting people in the face. I guess that says a lot about Billy Talent’s wide appeal. The band, formed all the way back in 1993, do deliver an impressive set though, with songs like ‘Rusted by the Rain’ and ‘Louder Than the DJ’ leaving no fan to feel miserable about their mud-soaked shoes. “I know you want to go home and sit in the bath and jerk off and watch Game of Thrones – so do I!” frontman Ben Kowalewicz joked near the start of the set. Now there’s a man who understands his fans.
But it’s Nightwish, who played on the main stage, who really knew how to put on a show. With mind-blowing lights and effervescent symphonic elements, Nightwish stunned their audience for the entirety of their hour-long set. Unashamedly preposterous and utterly fantastical, their set took fans far away from the now ankle deep mud and downpour, which was, I’m sure, something every member of that crowd were grateful for.
The crowd gently grew in size as the time for Iron Maiden’s appearance drew ever nearer, with most bands finishing up long before the iconic group even began their set. Even far, far back from the stage, the crowd were forced close together and the stench of sweat and anticipation grew with it. Finally, the stage lights were cut and silence fell over the crowd of 85,000. Screens beside the stage showed a wild looking jungle, before panning to an animated Ed Force One – Maiden’s real-life substitute for a tour bus – caught up in the trees. It fired up and escaped the jungle with a roar, provoking a cheer from the crowd. The screens cut to black and several flames were ignited on stage; one with a mysterious looking Bruce Dickinson behind it, who soon jumped out, along with his bandmates, and dove straight into ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ – meeting the deafening roar of the crowd.
Currently on their Book of Souls world tour, the band did extremely well to make and maintain an exciting, invigorating set. And whilst certain hits like ‘Run To The Hills’ were unjustly missing from the setlist, many taken from their recent album The Book of Souls proved to be instant hits – which is saying something, given a good lot of the crowd had never heard any of their recent works. Classics like ‘The Trooper’, ‘The Number of the Beast’ and ‘Blood Brothers’ were welcome additions, the latter being fittingly dedicated to the victims of the recent Orlando shootings after an emotional speech from Bruce about the importance and power of love and understanding. Complete with a giant Eddie figure walking around stage and getting into fights with our hero Bruce, Maiden proved again and again that they are the ultimate headliners for Download. No doubt we’ll see those rock veterans again around these parts soon enough.
And so, as Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ played from the speakers and fans began to head for the exits, Download Festival 2016 came to a close. The rain stopped and the mud dried enough to allow fans to be released from the arena and the nearby car parks and campsites were headed to for one last time. You were one to remember, Download 2016 – or should I say Downpour festival. Download 2017, you’ve got a lot of preparation to do. Starting with consulting the ministry of weather.