By this point in the year, metal's summer tours and festivals are being announced almost daily. It’s an annual spring tradition for many metalheads (author included) to start arranging dates on the calendar, plan a road trip or two and throw down some serious money on tickets. Festivals have long been critical to the metal scene. It’s where we find our community, see new bands, celebrate the old ones and embrace all that makes us the loyal fanbase that we are.
Sadly, something is very wrong this year.
First of all, the subpar festival lineups that have already been announced are nearly the same everywhere. Secondly, almost none of them are anywhere near Texas. Even if we decided to travel to one of these festivals, the bands are so second-rate — most would hardly merit the side stage on an underwhelming tour — that we’d be embarking on some kind of anticlimatic journey that does little else than waste our time and money.
Think we’re kidding? Here’s a smidgeon of the headliners offered in various American festivals this year. Shinedown, Disturbed, Bring Me the Horizon, and Sixx A.M., among others. We’re not saying these bands don’t deserve to be on a festival; we’re not even saying they’re terrible bands. What we are saying is that these are not true headliner-quality acts. These are openers and and mid-level acts, certainly not good enough to close out a night at a weekend festival.
Why travel to these festivals if they all have the same bland lineup? Many of these bands are not at the caliber of musical skill or performance that would require travel. If you wouldn’t bother to see them in your hometown, why travel? Not only will ticket sales be sluggish at best, but these shows will undoubtedly disappoint.
And if you’re not willing to travel, there’s almost nothing to offer Texas audiences. Save some kind of dark and gloomy metal-icous offering at FPSF, Texas metalheads are doomed to suffer this summer. Sure, our summers are brutal and it makes sense that bands who would rather not experience heatstroke in front of a live audience would opt to play elsewhere. But, come on. What about us?
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Out of the dozens of metal fests already booked and announced, we count only two in Texas. Worse, they’re actually spring festivals not even occurring during summer. On April 9, Texas Independence Festival at Austin's Empire Control Room & Garage will host a decent range of black-metal bands including Carnifex, Despised Icon and Oceano. Just don’t ask us what “independence” is being celebrated here since Texas declared independence from Mexico on March 2, not April 9.
The other Texas metal fest, Bud Light River City Rock Fest, will occur in San Antonio May 29 and will feature virtually the same lineup as Rocklahoma the very same weekend: Megadeth, Scorpions and Disturbed, among other identical acts.
There are a few other notable festivals, but none that offer such an incredible lineup that they can’t be missed. Atlanta's Shaky Knees Festival has perhaps the hippest alt-rock and metal bill, with Eagles of Death Metal, At the Drive-In, Baroness, Ghost, and Jane’s Addiction. Maryland Deathfest may be the most diverse metal package with Testament, Venom and Nuclear Assault. But after those two, that’s it.
When just about every hard-hitting true headliner shipping off to Europe for the summer tour circuit, American metalheads face a serious deficit in the touring metal bands that are left. Without Mayhem Fest guaranteeing at least one metal buffet per summer, other serious tour packages that could replace it just aren’t appearing.
Even though it’s in a semi-stadium, Chicago Open Air features many bands who usually play sidestages. Headliners Rammstein and Gojira will certainly be interesting, but the overall lineup is not enough for an airline ticket and hotel fare.
And here’s a funny thing: 5 Finger Death Punch is on the bill as one of the main headiners. Never mind that they don’t deserve to share the same headliner spot as, say, Gojira, but why does that even matter? Because bro-metal masters 5 Finger Death Punch just so happen to be on at least eight festivals as headliners this summer.
Let that sink in, eight appearances of 5 Finger as a headline act. O...kay.
If you’re a 5 Finger Death Punch fan, you’re probably weeping tears of joy at the miraculous odds (everything is relative) of your good fortune. The rest of us get to mill over tasteless metal scraps like Asking Alexandria and Baby Metal. If you don’t feel like you’re being punished, you’re not paying attention.
Compare them to the talent that is gracing European stages this summer: Black Sabbath, Mastodon, Slayer, Behemoth, Mayhem and Exodus, to name a few. Now, those are headlining acts worthy of drawing festival-sized crowds.
There is something seriously lacking in the leftovers American audiences are being served in these second-rate summer metal shows. Don’t believe us? RockFest of Wisconsin — which has hosted huge names in the past — boasts headliners Skillet and Scott Stapp, plus a bunch of cover bands. What gives? Since when are decent, head-banging, devil-worshipping, mosh-pit-riling shows courting Christian music and cover bands?
Yeah, yeah…we can hear the rebuttals now: We need to show support to the younger bands and attend their shows too; they also need exposure, etc., etc. Sure. They do. And we’re all for that, even when we have to stand in the blistering sun, sweating our asses off, paying for overpriced warm beer — if there’s a quality headlining band that makes it all worth it.
What should be occurring here in the great United States are shows on par with HellFest, Download Festival and Wacken Open Air. Top-tier bands from across the world should be performing for American audiences, filling our stadiums and bringing much-needed tourism dollars here.
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Consider for a moment if Wacken or HellFest occurred stateside. How many hard-working American bands would gain exposure from all the sideline traffic, potentially using such a platform to gain thousands of new fans?
And, most important, these new fans are more likely to see these bands on a tour when it stops in their town simply because it's a lot closer than Europe. With all the dysfunction in the music business and the struggle to fund bands, we would think this would be obvious to the many concert promoters, bookers and management companies who work to organize metal shows. Sadly, it’s just not.
Although we’d welcome the challenge to be proven wrong by someone creating a HellFest Amerika with a surprise announcement for Summer 2016.