Carnival of Madness featuring Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown, Halestorm and Highly Suspect

Thursday 4th February 2016

SSE Wembley Arena, Wembley, London, United Kingdom

Sometimes you will get an event in the live music calendar which will be met with pure excitement and anticipation. For some people its Adele’s UK arena tour, for others its the live return of Jeff Lynne’s ELO but for the UK based fans of American rock music the arrival of The Carnival of Madness UK Tour was the show that they were waiting for.

Firstly, a little bit of background information; The Carnival of Madness was founded in 2010 as an annual hard rock/alternative rock festival and it began its life in the US. Wanting to create a family-friendly atmosphere, the Carnival of Madness adopted a pleasant carnival them which featured prize giveaways and band signings sessions alongside the live performances. It is like a traveling music festival and over the years it has included In This Moment, Evanessence, The Pretty Reckless and others in terms of the lineup.

However, someone had the great idea of bringing the festival across the pond and although it was the Carnival’s first outing outside of the US there was no sign that the event would compromise or alter its overall vibe or ethos in anyway which was fantastic. The UK leg of this show was sponsored by Monster Energy drink and the lineup was a glittering collection of bands that have all taken part in the American Carnivals including the headliner Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown and Halestorm.

On arrival to the grand SSE Wembley Arena in London the first thing I noticed were the long queues at the various merchandise kiosks throughout the venue as large groups of people arrived early to scope out and purchase the variety of music and apparel that was on offer. I have got to mention the incredible merchandise that was available such as Shinedown hoodies, new Black Stone Cherry shirts that featured the cover artwork of their new album ‘Kentucky’ and the very clever and reasonably priced Black Stone Cherry fan pack which consisted of a BSC shirt in a size of your choice, a new album sticker, a special physical CD of their new single ‘In Our Dreams’ and a cool black tote bag all for the price of £25. Well done to all of the people involved in the tour merchandise as it was high-quality and at a fair cost which can be difficult to find at live gigs nowadays.

Taking our seats in the arena, the first act of the evening had just kicked off their set to a pretty packed London crowd. They were Highly Suspect a trio from Massachusetts which was formed in 2009 by twins Rich and Ryan Meyer, and their cousin best friend, Johnny Stevens. Supporting their debut album ‘Mister Asylum’ which features Grammy-nominated single ‘Lydia’ it was the track entitled ‘California Dreaming’ (not the Mama & Papas classic) that was the highlight for me as the lyrics were really strong.

It is important to note that this tour was the first time Highly Suspect had visited the UK and after their ferocious performance it won’t be their last. Songs with the lyrics ‘dance mother******!’ won’t probably make the Radio 2 playlist but their live set is soaked in riffs and energy. Overall, they may be classed as a heavy rock outfit but their are elements of blues in their technique and that is great to hear.

Highly Suspect’s debut album ‘Mister Asylum’ is out now. For more information visit their website here:

After the quick and efficient changeover from the highly skilled road crew, the crowd erupted when rock band Halestorm from Red Lion, Pennsylvania arrived.  They started their 9-song set with ‘Apocalyptic’ from their third studio album ‘Into The Wild Life’ which was released in January 2015. ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ showcased front-woman Lzzy Hale’s powerhouse vocals as they traveled throughout the arena. Her brother Arejay Hale is an incredible drummer and he helps create a kick-ass rhythm section along with bassist Josh Smith.

However, although Arejay was incredible humble to the crowd about the band playing a venue this size I did find that is drum solo at times was a tad bit self-indulgent. But I thought the medley of classic rock hits such as ‘Rock and Roll All Night’ and’Highway To Hell’ was a great idea.

‘I Am The Fire’ was my favourite song of their set but Lzzy Hale was at times shouting rather than singing which I felt was a real shame. Closing the set with ‘I Miss the Misery’ the crowd sang loudly and it appeared that it was a clear fan favourite. In conclusion, it was clear that Halestorm are not only great musicians but also accomplished songwriters. They were extremely well-received and it was wise to put them on the bill.

Halestorm will be returning to the UK to perform at Download Festival in Donington Park, Donington, Derbyshire on Sunday 12th June 2016 on the main stage which has been renamed in tribute to Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead to  The Lemmy Stage. For more information visit their website here:

After Halestorm left the stage to raucous applause the sound system began to play David Bowie’s ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’ and it made me think of how many fantastic songs Bowie had created and how he always reinvented himself and his sound with such ease.

You can read our piece about David Bowie’s passing here: 

As the lights dimmed, it was time for the penultimate act Shinedown from Jacksonville, Florida to take to the stage. Shinedown are no strangers to The Carnival of Madness setup having performed at both the 2010 and 2013 carnivals at various US cities to both critical and public acclaim. Interestingly, Shinedown’s first overseas concert was in June 2006 at the London Astoria in the UK when they supported Alter Bridge so this appearance at Wembley showed just how much Shinedown has achieved outside of America.

With metal platform staging in place, Shinedown went straight into their set with ‘Black Cadillac’ from their new album ‘Threat To Survival’ which is out now. Lead vocalist Brent Smith has clear vocals that have a lot of presence which is incredibly important especially in a venue this huge. He regularly engaged with the crowd and at one point stated ‘I want everyone to stand up! Even the people in the seats! We’re not at a funeral or in a library!’ He enjoyed jumping off the stage and running through the crowd standing in the floor area as everyone moved to let him pass sort of like a rock parting of the red sea.

Drummer Barry Kerch (who along with Smith is an original member of Shinedown) had a very heavy bass drum sound whilst I could at times hear an acoustic guitar being played but I couldn’t see anyone playing it which confused me a bit. ‘Second Chance’ was a beautifully written song which had everyone in the crowd shaking each others hands even if they didn’t know them. Smith walked along the stage and shook the hands of all of the security stewards and it left a warm feeling in my heart.

Their take on the Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ vocally reminded me a  bit of Sir Elton John and it was a stunning moment as the arena became lit up with lighters and mobile phones. It showcased  the light and shade of Shinedown’s material and that is incredibly refreshing. At that moment it felt like Brent Smith was singing to me personally and not to an arena with thousands of people. Just magical. As the band left the stage they threw plectrums and setlists into the audience. Shinedown are shining brighter and brighter and when they told us that they ‘didn’t believe in ceilings’ I completely understood what they meant once their set had finished. After this set,  I wouldn’t be surprised if Shinedown announce their own headline arena tour.

Shinedown will be returning to the UK to perform at Download Festival in Donington Park, Donington, Derbyshire on Sunday 12th June 2016 on the main stage which has been renamed in tribute to Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead to  The Lemmy Stage. For more information visit their website here:

During the final changeover, a white sheet was placed in front of the stage as the audience got pumped for the final act of the night Black Stone Cherry. Black Stone Cherry have been going from strength to strength in the UK having already headlined SSE Wembley Arena in 2014 and they now have a new studio album ‘Kentucky’ which will be released on Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group on Friday 1st April 2016.

The arena lights went down and the large white sheet fell to reveal this Kentucky four-piece starting their set with the catchy ‘Me and Mary Jane’ as the smoke machines billowed out. Now for the uninitiated, this song is not about BSC having a fling with Spiderman/Peter Parker’s girlfriend but rather having how do you say an ‘experience’ with an illegal substance. Chris Robertson’s lead vocals are impactful and set the scene beautifully whilst the guitar interplay between him and Ben Wells is stunning.

‘Rain Wizard’ from their self-titled debut album was well received by the crowd as the band’s drummer Fred John (who we have a 20 Questions with here: showed the thousands of rock fans how it is done whilst his bandmates ran up and down the ramps on the large stage. This band is just a bundle of energy and it really brings a smile to your face when you see them enjoying themselves.

‘Blind Man’ has a really drive to it as bassist Jon Lawhon excels whilst the crowd sing back all the words during the call and response. Robertson’s electric guitar solo has punch on this number and ‘Yeah Man’ allows us to see which artists inspire BSC as ‘Roadhouse Blues’ by The Doors is performed as an introduction. It is important to note that sixties music and the blues have played a big part on BSC’s overall sound. In fact, during the band’s special Teenage Cancer Trust show in January 2016 Chris Robertson’s sang his version of Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Built For Comfort’ which is a blues classic. What BSC do though is put their own unique spin on it and that is pretty cool.

With BSC including early rock and blues music in their high-octane live shows, it is quite possible that they have helped expose younger generations to these genres/styles of music and that in itself is a wonderful thing because it helps keep the music and the artists’ legacies alive in the 21st century. Respect BSC.

As previously mentioned in this article, BSC have a new album coming out in April 2016 and the band decided to treat us to the first single from the album ‘In Our Dreams’ which saw the crowd clapping along like it had been in their catalogue for ten years. It can be quite tricky for an act when they say ‘Here’s a new one’ because some crowds just want to  hear the three hit radio singles from the debut record and that’s it. This audience was soaking up all of the material and for me that was incredibly refreshing.

Admittedly, it would have been cool to hear a couple of tracks from ‘Kentucky’ such as the sinister romp of ‘The Way Of The Future’ but at a show of this size you need to play stuff from your previous albums as a way of saying thank you for helping us headline Wembley Arena for a second time. From that viewpoint, the setlist was definitely well thought- out.

Wells, Robertson and Lawhon then left the stage so that Fred John could perform a blistering drum solo as everyone watched in amazement at his musical skill. However, the snare drum accidentally broke during this piece and because he is an absolute professional it didn’t phase him when it happened. He even grabbed a harmonica and started mixing it with the drums! Phenomenal solo and the crowd went absolutely nuts.

Then Wells and Robertson returned for a very special segment which featured an acoustic solo of the emotionally charged ‘Things My Father Said’. As the crowd sang the lyrics, Chris had a tear in his eye as he became a  bit overwhelmed my the magical response. The venue was lit up with mobiles/cellphones and that made this song a live highlight for me. There was not a dry eye in that place after that I can tell you.

After this, Wells began an acoustic stripped down take on ‘The Rambler’ which is from the new album and you could see that BSC have really gone back to their roots with this new release and it has helped continue to fill them with passion when they play.

In conclusion, BSC have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are now with several album releases under their belt and intense worldwide touring schedules. It isn’t surprising after this live spectacle that they were chosen as the main stage headliners on Sunday 24th July 2016 for Ramblin Man Fair in Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom. This will be the band’s only UK summer festival appearance so get your tickets quickly: 

Carnival Of Madness

Glenn Sargeant

You can pre-order your copy of ‘Kentucky’ now at iTunes and get new album tracks, ‘The Way of The Future’, ‘In Our Dreams’ and ‘The Rambler’ right away.  Pre-orders for physical CDs and special vinyl packages are available over at

For more information visit Black Stone Cherry’s official website here:

(A big thank you to Steve Marsh at Mascot Label Group for helping with this review and his continued support)