After a confused (yet bloody typical) day of showers, blazing sunshine, bare bodies, full waterproofs and teeth-chattering cold, the rain abated for the start of my choice of headliner – Zippo Encore stage's American rock'n'roll heroes, Black Stone Cherry.
As self-proclaimed Download Darlings, this is a fourth return but their first go at a headline slot here at Donington, as requested by the forum-going public. It's a proper Cinderella story, despite not having a new album out or any tours planned (prerequisites for booking festival slots generally) BSC are here on the back of some serious fan-fare. Hailing from the not-so-deep south (read: Kentucky) these good country boys are Lynyrd Skynyrd with better riffs, and less blue-collar/redneck jokes.
With three already stellar albums greedily devoured by UK fans over the last few years, it was inevitable that the bustling arena was going to be a good testing ground for new material and a fun soundboard for old, and as BSC drop right into 'Maybe Someday' the crowd yells right along as if the main stage (and Slipknot) don't even exist. The apt refrain "But for now I've got to rock and roll" sets the tone for the rest of the set, with fan favourite 'Blind Man' and brand-spanking-new (seriously, this is it's first ever outing from the studio) 'Me and Mary Jane' which is an immediate ear-worm.
The unfortunate opening line of 'Rain Wizard' "Here comes the rain" does indeed seem to open the heavens, but a heartfelt 'Things My Father Said', with the crowd singing the entire first verse back to homesick frontman Chris Robertson, who is for the first time away from his baby son, brings a tear to his eye.
'White Trash Millionaire' and 'Soul Creek' go down a storm, almost literally as by now it is widdling it down most ungraciously. Drummer John Fred Young's unruly mane is flapping wildly as he smashes about in a manner not unlike Animal of The Muppets, but his quick solo is a reminder that he's a technical whizz as well as a solid rock beat, and Robertson tells us how they may be four guys from Kentucky, but the heart of this band is in the UK, because "nowhere else in the world would people stand for an hour in the pissing rain to see [them]". No-one had the heart to tell him standing in the pissing rain is practically a national passtime of ours, but we certainly appreciated the compliment.
After a raucous 'Blame it on the Boom Boom', they close out with first album hit 'Lonely Train' and leave the crowd yelling for more. As the stage lights die, the sound of Slipknot on the main stage floods back into our ears but they could have been a million miles away during Black Stone Cherry's extraordinary set.