ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — Severe weather forced a massive music festival to cancel for the day after evacuating its venue on Saturday afternoon. This happened just one day after thousands of people found themselves trapped in gridlock traffic for hours on Friday night, prompting an outpouring of frustration on social media and an apology from festival organizers.
The Epicenter Festival is a three-day event happening at the newly-created Rockingham Festival Grounds in Richmond County.
From May 10 to May 12, the Epicenter Festival includes performances by more than 65 music groups, including well-known artists like Korn, Rob Zombie, Foo Fighters, Tool, and Judas Priest.
"For the safety of fans, artists, and staff, the county of Richmond has
determined that Epicenter will not resume tonight," Epicenter posted on its Facebook page.
The severe weather caused damage to the site, according to the post, and doors will reopen at 12 p.m. Sunday.
"Please understand that this is a difficult decision and we know how excited each of you were," the post says.
At about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, severe weather approaching the festival forced organizers to evacuate the venue for safety reasons. According to an announcement on Epicenter's Facebook page, tents where thousands of people were staying on the grounds for the weekend were not safe.
"Please seek shelter inside vehicles and RVs only," the page warned attendees.
N.C. Highway Patrol, event staff, and local law enforcement were on scene helping people reach safety before heavy downpours and wind pelted the festival grounds.
Photos sent to WFMY News 2 show large crowds of people tightly packed leaving the venue after the evacuation notice.
Anthony Falchi, attending the festival for the weekend, spoke with WFMY News 2 just minutes after the evacuation was announced.
“Right now, it’s pretty eerie. The wind’s coming in. The rain is starting to fall. It’s the calm before the storm," said Falci.
“It says tents are not safe, so we’re probably going to stay in the car. If things get too bad, we’ll probably go underneath the tunnel," said Falci. "We’re here for the festival, we’re going to stay for the festival.”
Another festival attendee, Will Bench, arrived to park his car just as the heavy winds and rain began to increase.
“There is some mad weather going on," said Bench. “I’m going to wait it out to see what happens. Hopefully I get to go to the show tonight because I drove all the way from Wilmington.”
Epicenter announced on its Facebook page that all tickets would be honored once the venue reopens after the severe weather.
Saturday afternoon's storm interrupting the festival comes just over 12 hours after extreme traffic gridlock trapped at least hundreds of fans in the parking lot on the festival grounds.
Todd Brown, from Kernersville, told WFMY News 2 that he was excited to attend the Epicenter Festival, but he ended up spending three hours stuck in the parking lot Friday night.
“This is by far the worst I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m an older guy, I’ve been to a lot of different festivals, and you know you’re going to get traffic going out. It’s a known. It’s fine. I’m OK with that, as long as you’re somewhat moving. This was literally two-and-a-half hours, and we did not move one inch,” said Brown.
Brown said he paid $20 to park Friday in a field by the festival grounds.
In video sent to WFMY by Brown, vehicles are seen in random directions in the field trying to leave the festival ground’s parking lot.
“I saw people literally get out of their vehicle, and they started walking to their hotel. They just left their car there,” said Brown. “I think after the two-and-a half-hour mark, people were really getting upset.”
A chain link fence was finally cut open to allow cars to leave the parking lot, said Brown.
“It literally looked like somebody took some shears and cut open this chain link fence, and then people started pouring out,” said Brown.
“I would have hated if somebody had a medical emergency, they would not have gotten out. And that is a definite safety issue there," said Brown.
Epicenter addressed the traffic delays on its Facebook account Friday night, which has accumulated more than 1,000 comments.
“We want to thank everyone for enduring absolutely terrible traffic today. As a first year festival, we expected that traffic could be bad, but this year’s learning curve was worse than we imagined. We underestimated the effect of the local Friday afternoon business traffic,” the post reads.
"Additionally, we thought more campers would check in on Thursday but far more checked in today."
Epicenter’s post adds that organizers are working overtime with N.C. Highway Patrol to improve traffic flow.
“You should expect that traffic will be slow tonight on the way out and ask that you please continue to be careful, courteous and patient,” the post reads.
Epicenter also posted on Saturday afternoon that they have increased the number of inbound day parking lanes, and they encouraged festival-goers to arrive early.
WFMY had planned to interview the festival's producers, but Saturday's severe weather cancelled the interview.