When you imagine a metal music festival, you’ll likely think of a sea of metalheads dressed in black band t-shirts or face paint. The air is thick with the smell of food trucks, the sound of electric guitars, powerful drumming, and aggressive vocals. You imagine fans buzzing with excitement and big energy that will power them through hours of heavy music, crazy mosh pits, and hoards of crowd surfers. Mental health isn’t what most would expect to be in the forefront of their minds.
However, on February 18th and 19th, of 2023, Jake Luhrs and his team at HeartSupport created just that, a place for fans to come and use music as therapy. HeartSupport is a non-profit organization that provides mental health resources and support to individuals in the music community. The organization was founded in 2011 by lead vocalist of the metalcore band August Burns Red, with the goal of creating a safe space for people in the music industry to talk about mental health and seek support.
HeartSupport offers a variety of resources to those struggling with mental health issues, including a crisis helpline, online support groups, and one-on-one mentoring. The organization also provides educational resources on mental health topics, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. In addition to its mental health services, HeartSupport partners with musicians and bands to create a community that supports and uplifts each other. The organization hosts events and tours featuring live music and mental health resources to promote awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The first ever HeartSupport Festival was hosted in Orlando, Florida at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. It had 2 stages with no overlapping sets, fans were able to make the short walk between the two stages and had easy access to food, drinks, restrooms and merch. Each stage had its own dedicated VIP section that included bars and bathrooms right on the side of a beautiful lake.
VIP ticket holders had special access to meet and greet events, an air conditioned lounge and classes provided by multiple artists. One of the classes was taught by Melissa Cross who is a renowned vocal coach, known to work with many prominent metal and rock musicians. She is particularly famous for her method of teaching “screaming” and aggressive vocal techniques without causing vocal damage.
The day started at 1:30 pm both Saturday and Sunday as the first bands hit the stage.
Betterhelp sponsored the main stage while the side stage was put on by The Hot Topic Foundation. The music was diverse and spread across multiple genres of hard rock and heavy metal. Saturday featured heavier music such as Currents, The Devil Wears Prada, Bleed From Within and Memphis May Fire. Sunday was vastly different taking a more mellow approach including emo classics like Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein and Senses Fail.
As the sun began to set, the Hot Topic Foundation Stage was closed out by Florida natives, Underoath on Saturday. Their set featured a dynamic and intense experience that showcases the American metalcore band’s unique sound, emotional depth, and powerful stage presence. They are most known for their aggressive yet melodic sound, incorporating elements of post-hardcore, emo, and progressive metal into their music.
Spiritbox had the honor of being the last band to perform on the second stage on Sunday evening. Lead singer Courtney LaPlante’s incredible range and dynamic stage presence captivates fans with her dynamic vocals, as they shift seamlessly from delicate and ethereal to raw and intense. The atmosphere shifts to excitement by launching into their set with a mix of ethereal and heavy sounds, with soaring vocals and intricate guitar riffs creating a unique and mesmerizing sound. With the addition of new bassist, Josh Gilbert, the vocal harmonies became the most captivating part of each song, especially “Yellowjacket”.
Fans started to make their way over to the Betterhelp Stage for the final bands of the day.
August Burns Red is a metalcore band that is known for their high-energy live performances. As the lights dim and the crowd let out a loud cheer, August Burns Red took the stage as one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. The band members are all energetic and jumping around the stage, headbanging, and playing some of the most precise guitar melodies in modern music. Their energy is contagious leaving fans hypnotized by crushing riffs and pounding drums.
Parkway Drive is known for an intense and high-energy experience that showcases the Australian metalcore band’s passion and musicianship. They started the show with their latest single, “Glitch” and that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Fan favorite, “Carrion” brought waves of crowd surfers over the barricade. During the closer “Wild Eyes”, everyone in the venue sang the guitar melody and created a truly immersive experience. Vocalist, Winston McCall, made sure to take the time to thank everyone who was involved with the festival and even shared a personal story about his own mental health struggles.
As the second day was starting to wind down, you could feel the anticipation building for The Ghost Inside to take over the Betterhelp stage for a very rare performance. In 2015, the band was involved in a serious bus accident that left several members injured and killed two crew members. After a hiatus and a long road to recovery, the band returned to the stage in 2019 with a renewed sense of purpose and a message of hope and resilience. As the band’s members have overcome significant challenges and adversity in recent years, they were a perfect fit for the festival. Lead singer, Jonathan Vigil spoke about how they all leaned on each other to work through the tragedy.
Ending the great weekend was Rise Against who are known for their politically charged lyrics, passion, energy, and commitment to social justice. Throughout the show, the band was encouraging fans to get involved and make a difference in their communities. They broke out all the fan favorites spanning almost 20 years worth of material.
Overall, HeartSupport Festival was a huge success. It was particularly well organized and everything seemed to play out flawlessly. Each band that took the stage made the time to embrace the HeartSupport message with many sharing their own experiences, letting everyone know that they are not alone. Hopefully this becomes an annual event in central Florida and will build on the foundation they placed this year!
Heart Support 2023 Line Up
- Bleed From Within
- He is Legend
- The Word Alive
- Comeback Kid
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Memphis May Fire
- August Burns Red
- Dance Gavin Dance
- Parkway Drive
- Silent Planet
- Harms Way
- Four Year Strong
- Hawthorne Heights
- Senses Fail
- The Ghost Inside
- Rise Against