Self-dubbed as "America's Biggest Metal Party of the Year," Maryland Deathfest is an 11-year tradition on which I'd somehow always missed out. Despite its taking place a mere 45 miles from my home, I just never got around to it.
At first, I merely flirted with the idea of attending this year. Then I saw the line-up:
...and about 50 other bands I was either vaguely familiar with, or not at all. With the exception of Pig Destroyer, I'd never seen any of these bands.
This would have to be my year.
Unfortunately, my monetary situation was going to force some difficult decisions: even with a three-day pass coming in at a tidy $160 (far, far less, by the way, than the cheapest Rolling Stones tickets I could find....fuck you, Keith), I was going to have to settle for a one-day $60 ticket.
And to complicate matters, the festival line-up had most of the bands I wanted to see spread across each of the three days. Bolt Thrower would perform on Thursday night. Pig Destroyer and Carcass would perform on Friday. The Obsessed and the Melvins had Saturday. And Germantown, MD's beloved Bobby Liebling would perform with Pentagram on Sunday.
I was not going to see everyone I wanted to see. And so, after performing some comparative analysis, I put my money down for Saturday. I'd catch local celebrity, Scott Weinrich, perform with the Obsessed. I'd see the Melvins for the very first time. (Aside, of course, from that one time I intruded on Buzz Osborne in a bathroom on a fearfully drunken evening in Seattle). And I'd keep an open mind about seeing Down...less to see Phil Anselmo and more to finally see Pepper Keenan.
And, so, at around 2:00 on Saturday, I departed for Baltimore. The day went a little something like this:
2:50 PM: I arrive in Baltimore, and make the questionable decision to park in Fells Point, treat myself to lunch there, and then walk roughly a mile to the festival site. Because I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for parking.
3:00 PM: I decide to grab a beer and a bite at the Heavy Seas Alehouse. The house-smoked pastrami sandwich, coupled with a Powder Monkey Pale Ale are wonderful, and the siren song of the bartenders dark eyes and enormous bosoms tempt me to enjoy another round. Summoning all of my will power in the name of metal, I push away from the bar and begin my festival crusade. Sort of.
3:45 - 4:15 PM: I'm in zoned parking, and I have a strong suspicion I'm going to get ticketed, so I spend nearly half an hour looking for a new space. I continue to cling to the idea of parking in Fells Point -- which is actually even stupider than it sounds. (I thought I might grab a late night hot dog at Stuggy's on my way home...as though I couldn't have just driven to the fucking place at the end of the night). Meanwhile, even the "safe" streets I park on don't inspire a lot of confidence.
4:45 PM: I complete my dumbass walk down East Baltimore Street and arrive. Despite the festival being well underway by this time, the line to enter is otherworldly. As it turns out, some impromptu rule had been set on this day, banning all clothing featuring studs and spikes. The line I was witnessing was for re-entry after everyone went back to dump their jackets in the car. Total mess. (Personally, I marched right in after an aggressive pat down at the will call desk).
4:50 PM: I take in a bit of the end of Weedeater's set, but I'm too overwhelmed by everything to stand still. I make a round through the merch vendors, and I'm reminded once again just how deep the metal community runs, and how much of an outsider I really am to it. So much merch. So many bands.
5:00 PM: As the crowd disperses following Weedeater's set, I see a familiar face in the crowd. It's my guitar player's ex. I haven't seen her in nearly ten years, and for good reason, given the nature of their breakup. Despite the massive amount of negative PR surrounding this individual, I call out to her. She doesn't recognize me (because I've gotten old as fuck). I reintroduce myself and we have a long conversation about the old days and gossiping about old friends. A friend of hers' shows up, and I use this as my opportunity to make my exit. I wonder around feeling deeply conflicted over the fact that I'm not supposed to like this person, but also relieved that we had a pleasant adult conversation.
5:45 PM: The Obsessed takes the stage. The Maryland crowd gives a fantastic reception to Weinrich, but I'm finding myself compulsively staring into the alley next to the stage, which serves as a make-shift backstage/VIP area. This is where I first see Buzz Osborne during the day, and I find myself instantly very starstruck.
Betcha didn't know I'm an awesome photographer. I call this one "Where's Buzzo?"
5:46 PM: I begin to inhale a constant stream of second hand marijuana smoke. Unfortunately, I'm past the point of the fabled "contact high," so I pretty much just enjoy it for its earthy aroma, and the pleasure of watching security make a true team effort to look the other way as much as possible.
6:12 PM: Local metal legend, the Chicken Man, is spotted in the pit. Curious observation: the Caucasian security guys think this is a hoot (so to speak). The African American security guards aren't the least bit impressed...or amused.
6:20 PM: The only three guys in Baltimore taller than I position themselves directly in front of me. The sun is blaring down from just above the stage, blinding everyone trying to take in the show. I give up....it's time for water in the shade.
Nice head, dude. Apparently Washington Wizard, Jan Veseley likes doom metal.
6:42 PM: A girl certainly young enough to be my daughter corners me to comment on my Samhain shirt and talk at length about her love for Glenn Danzig. Her date looks on uncomfortably from a distance as she pulls up her sleeve to show me her tattoo of the Unholy Passion banshee. "She's my spirit animal," she tells me. "Only without the 80's bush."
I excuse myself to see the end of the Obsessed's set.
6:50 PM: I go around the corner to watch the beginning of Broken Hope's set. Highly interesting until the vocals kick in. Then it just becomes ridiculous. (Sorry). African American security guards continue to be all business. Baltimore City cops, on the other hand, are taking pictures of the freaks with their iPhones, and leering at the chicks. I feel safe....
7:11 PM: Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest tattoo. Ever.
"To be the man, you gotta beat the man."
7:35 PM: Grab a beer and get in place during sound check for the Melvins. It becomes clear that this is going to hurt.
7:45 PM: The Melvins slay the fuck out of everything in their path for more than an hour. No one is chatting in the "VIP alley." They're all perched on the fence and the windowsills to get a better view. At this moment, the festival reaches an entirely different level. A solid 20-25 people - film crews, road crews, wives and girlfriends, buddies, other musician -- are jamming themselves on the side and the rear of the stage to watch up close. It is absolutely incredible. I wish I could write more about this....
Scorched. Earth. Melvins.
8:35 PM: The Melvins break. The entire crowd -- all of them -- make a break for the bathrooms at the same time. Apparently, I'm not the only one who was afraid to move for the past hour. The floor of the Sonar is covered with a thin grey film that flows forth from the men's room.
It is best not to discuss this any further.
8:40 PM: I head to stage two to check out Ihshan. Oh, hell no.
8:42 PM: I head to stage three to check out Revenge. Also, hell no. Kill time looking at merch and having a beer.
9:30 PM: My back hurts. My knees hurt. My ears hurt. I kind of want to go home, but feel obliged to stick it out for Down. To kill some time, I order an Italian sausage from a vendor. At the first bite, it is very clear that it isn't
9:50 PM: Here comes Down. I give them three songs and two speeches by Phil Anselmo. And I'm fucking done. Anselmo is a hero to many and he carries the flag for metal. But he's an idiot.
10:35 PM: I begin a long walk back to my car. These streets didn't look so great when I came down during the day, but they're positively frightening at night. I start planning for what I should do if the car is (a) stolen, or (b) broken into when I reach it. Thankfully, the car is as it should be and I hop in. I allow myself the pleasure of sneaking out a fart and immediately realize that I'm very much on borrowed time.
10:36 PM: I begin the drive home. Windows are down. Ears are ringing. Have to say: I'm very happy.