WDBJ7 Investigates: Blue Ridge Rock Festival canceled after nearly 200 stagehand workers strike

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 11:34 PM EDT
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ALTON, Va. (WDBJ) - A strike ended the music at Blue Ridge Rock Fest, but it may not have been from lightning.

WDBJ7 is investigating what some are calling the ‘nightmare’ Blue Ridge Rock Festival (BRRF), and what led to its cancelation.

The organizers stated they canceled the festival because of the weather. But some people are saying that’s not the full story.

WDBJ7 has received hundreds of emails and social media messages from festival-goers asking us to look into why the fest was canceled for weather after it was already hit by storms.

Stagehands who worked the festival told WDBJ7 they walked out on Saturday because of poor working conditions.

“By them [organizers] blaming it on weather, it made us feel like that they were putting the rug over the real problem of what was going on,” one stagehand said.

Several stagehands from Blue Ridge Rock Festival are speaking out about why they left, and how the festival was canceled shortly after the strike. To protect their identities and jobs, WDBJ7 has omitted their names from this story after verifying their employment and experience.

“There was absolutely nothing set in preparation for our arrival,” a stagehand said. “No showers, no toilets, no fencing that was expected to be there, and a lot of it didn’t start showing up until right at dusk.”

Stagehands say these issues started ten days before the actual festival began when workers first arrived at Virginia International Raceway. They say from the beginning, the showers were not functional and living conditions were unsanitary.

Workers claim more than 150 workers were forced to share six porta-potties for the two weeks of festival preparation and during the actual event. They say the porta-potties were only cleaned out every few days.

“We were literally living around our own filth, in our own mess that we were trying to keep contained to the trash cans but [there isn’t] much you can do especially after a storm comes through and blows that stuff around,” a stagehand said.

Fed up with the conditions, stagehands presented a list of demands to Blue Ridge Management on Friday, September 8 at 5 p.m. They demanded more water stations, showers, food, and safer structures within 24 hours, or else they strike.

BRRF canceled Saturday’s program, citing weather concerns. They said they would provide an update for Sunday’s events by 5 p.m. on Saturday, the same deadline for the stagehand strike.


“It all fell on deaf ears,” a stagehand said. “80% [of workers] were gone by 7 p.m.”

The festival was canceled, and workers are left frustrated by the aftermath.

“They’re trying to control the narrative on us and trying to bury the fact that we ended up walking out because this correlates with all these other festivals that have dropped the ball and put people’s safety at risk,” a stagehand said.

Organizers initially posted on a Facebook story on Thursday that partial and full refunds would go out for Thursday’s weather cancelation, but said in a post on Saturday that information about refunds will go out this week.

The festival’s policy online states no refunds will be given for inclement weather.

“We’re done with it,” a stagehand said. “People really need to recognize that the people who are running it could care less about your passion for music.”

This is not the first time workers and festival goers have expressed safety concerns about the Blue Ridge Rock Festival.

We saw similar issues in 2021, which caused the festival to change venues in 2022 to be at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR).

A VIR spokesperson did confirm to WDBJ7 even after this weekend’s festival, VIR still has a contract with Blue Ridge Rock for at least another year.

The festival’s website is already pre-selling tickets for 2024.

WDBJ7 received dozens of tips from attendees claiming this year’s festival oversold the capacity limit. Our team checked with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office about the number of people who attended.

Blue Ridge Rock Fest told the sheriff’s office 45,000 tickets were sold for this year’s festival. However, the sheriff’s office estimates there were 50,000 to 60,000 people at the festival.

WDBJ7 reached out to festival organizers multiple times asking if and when attendees can expect a refund. So far, no one from the festival has responded to our requests for comment.