It is kinda tough writing a review of a show that you not only performed at, but also helped put the event on to begin with. I will cover some of the highlights of the day from my perspective and try to give a general overview of the show. This was a 20th anniversary show for Metalfest at Wilson Fairgrounds. The first festival consisted of 4 bands on one flatbed trailer in 1991. The event changed over the years and became increasingly more well known throughout the state of North Carolina. After a run of shows in the mid 90′s inside one of the larger buildings at the fairgrounds, the event moved back outside to feature around 20 bands on 2 stages from 1998-2005. Earlier this year the decision was made to attempt it one more time at the fairgrounds, and to try to make it the biggest one ever pulled off.
This event honestly felt like a big family reunion of friends with heavy music being the central theme of the event. It is for this reason that I didn’t get to check out all the bands on each stage. Once you factor in making sure the event runs well, loading in and out gear for your own set, and catching up with numerous friends that I had not seen in a while, I missed quite a few bands that I planned to check out. With 30 bands performing on 3 stages (with the 3rd stage overlapping set times on both Stage A & B), it would be nearly impossible to write a review that covers all bands in this 11 hour marathon of local metal.
Photo Credit – Larry Smith
After being at the fairgrounds for the majority of the day on Friday helping set up the staging and preparing for the event, we then had to get home and get our gear packed up for our own set. I hardly slept at all on Friday night after getting everything ready to go first thing Saturday morning. That 7:00 alarm came way too early!!! After getting on the road and headed towards Wilson, I get a phone call from Dio telling me that JP (mainstage soundman) had broken down on the way. Minutes later we passed by a truck & trailer with the truck bed filled with PA cabinets… We were about a mile past when we realized that maybe we should turn around and see if we could do anything to help get our main soundman to the show on time. Only problem with that was the only exit to turn around was 3-4 miles ahead. Picture a loaded Honda Element driving the wrong way on the shoulder of US 264 for about a mile and you will get a pretty good idea of the first memorable antic of the day and it was 2 hours before the gates even opened!!! Luckily the breakdown was just a blown out tire, which JP pretty much had fixed by the time we got to him… On to the show we go!!!
Before I get to the bands, I would just like to mention that my bass player Bob & myself somehow married what has to be the most directionally challenged wives on the planet. The ladies were coming up a bit later and evidentially taking one exit off 264 and driving a couple miles and making a right turn into the fairgrounds proved to be too difficult of a task. When I got the phone call and realized that these ladies had driven right past the fairgrounds, missed the huge freaking stage setup in the middle of the fairgrounds and ended up on the other side of Wilson headed towards Rocky Mount, I literally was ready to give up hope. One of them even said, “Well we saw the American Legion Fairgrounds but didn’t know if that was the right one”… My response, “How many fairgrounds do you think Wilson has!!!”… In their defense Bob told his wife that he didn’t think it was called the American Legion Fairgrounds, so we may have to take some of the blame for this ourselves… Either way funny story number two already in the books, and the first band still hadn’t taken the stage.
NO MERCY from Sanford kicked off the days festivities with a set of classic thrash metal tunes on the main stage. Its tough as hell to play first at a show like this, but these guys took it in stride and kicked the fest off in style.
One of the main things I like to see when checking out a new band is originality and I saw a lot of that in Rocky Mount’s SAFEWORD on stage C. These guys are kinda like a skate punk band which mixes elements of classic doo-wap, death metal, classic bluesy rock & more. Looking forward to seeing more from these guys in the future.
BURN THE BLOOD from Raleigh was next up and brought their unique mix of melodic thrashy blackened metal to the main stage. This is the first time I have seen them live and it was nice to see longtime Metalfest veteran Ray King holding down the low end on bass for the band.
Totally loved KIFF (Knowledge Is For Fools) from Raleigh on stage B with their brand of punk influenced hard rock sounds complete with stage antics such as blowing fire and cutting up a blood filled pumpkin with a chainsaw spraying the crowd and the entire stage with blood. They even have their own superhero known as The Pabstman who came up as a special guest for a tune. I’ve known vocalist Andy Miller & bassist Ed Warner ever since way back in the days when they ran The Caboose in Garner NC, so its great to see them on the performing side of the stage nowadays.
Photo Credit – Charlie Fankhauser
BROADSLAB from Raleigh is a band that I can’t remember ever seeing live, but have heard the name for years. These guys blew me and many others away watching stage B with their brand of southern grown metal that could be described as what a bastard child of The Allman Brothers & Black Sabbath would sound like. Also cool to see longtime scene supporter Robby Rodwell laying down the bass for the band as well.
I must have gotten pulled away at this time talking & eating pizza & hot dogs prepared by the wonderful concession ladies Jo Gay & Heather Evans, both longtime friends. These ladies were working their ass off all day long and deserve a shoutout as later in the night I asked what they thought of certain bands and both said they were too busy to even pay attention to ANY bands!!!
TINFOIL FUSE from New Bern brought their mix of modern metal sounds to the mainstage and sounded as great as ever. Bassist JP served double duty as a performer as well as running the sound on the mainstage, which deserves a special mention due to the sound being the best on that stage than any fest I can remember. He was also the only soundman who didn’t blow up his mains throughout the day which happened on both stage B & C. Also vocalist David Stowe has got the PIPES as I have mentioned to him before that he is one of the few vocalists around the metal scene that can actually SING. This is not to take anything away from other vocalists in other bands who do their growling or screaming thing and do it well, I respect pure singing talent when I see it, nuff said…
It was at this point in the show that the 3 stage setup created an issue for me wanting to checkout all 3 bands who were performing around the 5 – 6 time slot. It was also a time that stage manager Larry Smith was on my ass to get gear unloaded for our own set at 7. You can also add in that my longtime friend J Sherrod wanted me to get some up close video of HARLOTT’s set. So here is how that went…
HARLOTT from the country music capital of the world in Nashville, TN on the mainstage brought their blues based classic hard rock sounds and kicked the fest to another level. They let everyone know that there is a whole other side to Nashville than what country media presents. These guys have created quite a buzz for themselves lately since releasing their debut CD and touring anywhere that would have the band. Its great to see my former drummer & current HARLOTT drummer J Sherrod finally find guys that have the same desire & drive to make it in this business like he has always had.
I then ran over to stage C to catch a little bit of MY LIFE MY CURSE from Rocky Mount, who are a new band who have quite a unique sound due to having two vocalists (1 screamer & 1 singer), 2 guitarists, bassist, drummer and even a keyboardist. Yeah that is 7 members total… Hats off to them as I know how hard it is to keep 4 members of a band on the same page.. As I mentioned before, I like originality when I check out a new band and these guys have that without question with their techno-metal mixup. The band has seen some lineup changes recently, but I think they have finally found the right lineup with the addition of very talented 2nd guitarist Chris Toler & new drummer Zach Daniel. Zach’s former band SHILOH literally toured nationwide in recent years, which brings a wealth of experience to a very hungry band ready to take their music to the next level.
Photo Credit – Charlie Fankhauser
Back over on stage B was AUTOMAG cranking out their well known southern fried hard rock/metal sounds. Automag has played every Metalfest in Wilson that I can remember since the late 90s and their fans know almost every word to every song they do by heart. It was also great to see my longtime friend Paul McDermott back up onstage with the band as 2nd guitarist. I hear through the grapevine that he may become a permanent member again, which totally makes them a more well balanced band.
Next up on the mainstage was ONYX who did a special reunion at this show. The NWOBHM style band played the very first Metalfest that was held in Wilson and they also played the first Metalfest that I ever attended as well, so it was extra special to see the band reform for this show. Original guitarist Venge Helton passed away a few years go, so it was awesome to see my longtime friend Kirk Matthews rise up to fill the spot for this show. Matthews has said he was very influenced watching these guys as a kid, and it was the ultimate honor to be asked to fill in for this show. The band even broke out the first cover of the day (that I know of anyway) with Judas Priest’s “Breaking The Law”.
Finally, as the night started to fall we took the stage for our STRANGELUST set… I am not going to be the guy who reviews my own band’s set so here is what I will say… I want to thank all the crowd who checked out our set. I also want to thank Dusty McLamb for jumping up onstage with us after I dedicated a song to his brother Andy McLamb, Garry “Crump” Crumpler & Rob Wilkinson. Thanks also go to Josh & J from HARLOTT for jumping up onstage at the last song of our set for us all to give the Metalfest a little “MORE COWBELL”. I hope everyone dug it and we had a hell of a time doing it!!!
DARK DESIGN was next on the mainstage and featured a trio of musicians who have performed together in various bands for nearly 20 years. Ray Lewis, Robbie Mercer & Matt Mercer have all played together in bands GRIMLOCK, ASCENDANCY & NOCTURNAL FEAR throughout the years at previous Metalfests. The crowd loved their highly technical progressive power metal style of music and word around the fest was that they put their name on the map during their set as there were a lot in attendance who had never seen the band before and was left thoroughly impressed.
DRILL 187 was next on the mainstage and as many of you know their history and my history has intertwined for many years. I was a friend & fan of local metal band STORMCHYLDE which turned into DRILL 187 sometime around 1996. I played bass for a short while in the band as well and we did the October Metalfest in 1998, it was an honor to “crash the party” and jump up onstage and scream along the backup vocals to their signature tune 187. This was a reunion show of the Faceless Majority lineup which was the most successful of the various lineups of Drill 187 throughout the years. Most Metalfest veterans know what to expect from a DRILL show, which is high energy modern metal sounds, excellent stage presence & a killer light show and they delivered. Guitarist Jason Ussery & myself both attended our first Metalfest together in the early 90′s when we were both young kids, so it was awesome to see him come back for this special reunion show at the 20th anniversary of Metalfest.
After a guitar giveaway, the stage was set for the headliners WIDOW to perform. The band has recently performed various festivals & shows throughout the US as well in other countries. I have known John E Wooten & Chris Bennett for years now so its weird to actually sit back and realize just how big of a name they have made for themselves in the national metal scene. These guys still act like the same guys who played their first Metalfests in the late 90s with SORROW BEQUEST. I found it interesting that the band is currently performing as a 3 piece with Wooten playing bass. Although this does limit the dual guitar harmonies from some of the band’s early material, the band still sounds very full and the 2nd guitar was not very noticeable. This also allows Bennett’s guitarwork to stand front & center and I think the crowd agreed that he is more than capable of handling all the guitar parts himself (that is an understatement in itself honestly, Chris is THE MAN!!!). WIDOW‘s blend of traditional melodic metal ringing through the Wilson Fairgrounds was the perfect way to close off NC Metalfest 2011