Part of Jul 2009 by
Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2009

Rockstar Mayhem Festival Diary

Groovey wisdom: Put a comb through that thing. And: our music buzz man cuts in line, experiences one legendary life moment after another, and estimates the entire sound crew was fired on one day.

The running joke about my adventures at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2009 is that I failed at everything I set out to do but its okay cuz I ended up with much more than I expected.  Except one thing:  I wanted to interview Marilyn Manson  with a sock puppet.  No, really.  I even pitched the idea to his people.  Insert lead balloon here.  Why would I want to interview Marilyn Manson with a sock puppet?  Because I am a way big fan of smacking the ridiculous with the silly, head-on.  That match-up is sometimes the best blacksmith shop for creating the legendary life moment.  I didnt get the Manson interview but he did spit on me 3 times.  More about that later on.

The Rockstar Mayhem Festival is the largest and most successful metal tour running.  It hits around 25 cities over about 2 months.  Each date has many thousands of ravenous metal heads in attendance.   For 2 years now I have attended the Denver and Kansas City shows.  Last week in a 4- day period I gleefully persevered for 30 hours of live metal performances (including sound checks for you fact-checker types). And I drove 1100 of the straightest highway miles on the planet.  All for the dream of hanging out with the legends of metal…and sock puppets.

Marilyn Manson on stage

Marilyn Manson on stage

My first legendary life moment came in Denver within the first hour, when I got final clearance to interview a band member from Killswitch Engage. Killswitch Engage is one of my favorite bands of all time.  My standard line is that if you cut me I bleed Slipknot, but I bruise Killswitch Engage.

After about a 15-minute wait I was escorted, along with Stu Kennedy the videographer, into Killswitch Engages jampacked with amps n stuff dressing room.  At this point it went all Matrix slo-mo in my head.  2 managers on laptops to my right.  Howard Jones lead singer walking towards me on the left, he touches my shoulder and says…”Excuse me,”  as he passes.  So of course in my head Im like 12 years old again going OMG!! OMG!!!  Yes, I am that much of a dork.  We are escorted further into the dressing room and are introduced to one of Killswitchs guitar players Joel Stroetzel.  Please check out the interview here and come back.

Yes, I know homework sucks.  Okay, so 2 things before we continue on with the adventure.  First, you can tell how nervous I am with Joel and the rest of the band looking on from behind the camera… “So….um.”.  That video has taught me more than you can possibly imagine.  I spent the next day and a half removing the word “So” from my vocabulary and rehearsing interview skills in my head.  But that beard comb/brush part?  Yeah the next day on the road to Kansas City I got an idea.  A very silly idea.

I go to the Kansas City Mayhem because it is the home turf of Jett Fox Promotions – one of Kansas and Missouris elite promoters –  and also because KC is a hotbed for the online music video juggernaut Hollywood Music TV which has a large following there. Both organizations are very wonderful and generous and make awesome things happen.  Shortly after arriving at the Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas we (my photog Chris Ehmann and I) get checked in with management and security and get our passes.  Now please remember 2 days before this I had spent the day in Denver interviewing bands and taking their pictures (over 950 pics in all) from the press pit in front of the stage and etc.   Most rock stars meet 2 million people a year in 5-second intervals but because I had spent a lot of time with the bands in Denver (plus Im a big fat bald guy with a purple beard) most of the guys remembered me.  This opened some doors.  Very fun doors.  One of which is that I got to interview another all time fave band of mine: All That Remains.

While waiting for All That Remains to get done with another interview with some network type people I was hanging out taking pics.  There is a picture I took of Matt Heafy of Trivium being interviewed by the HMTV dude.  Now like most pics from that day theres a lot more going on than what the camera shows.  To my 10 oclock was All That Remains and the network people; to my 9 Oclock was Paul from Cannibal Corpse;  to my 3 oclock was Bullet For My Valentine just chillin; and then just as I took that picture of Matt Heafy my buddy Chris slaps my arm and says, “Theres Joel.”  Back to my silly idea on the way to Kansas City:  to find the most insanely large and ridiculous 80s comb and write on it in bold black magic marker, “Joels Beard Comb.”  Chris and I found a comb so wrong that it should have been outlawed even before it got produced.  Literally –  if you wore hot pink flight pants in the 80s they were less embarrassing than this comb, a sort of neon translucent purple and the size of 3 Wham! cassettes glued end to end. Joel and I greet each other with the metal horns thing and  we chat for a bit and then I go, “I got a present for you.”  I dig in the camera bag and pull out Darth Comb.  I wish I had a video of the spontaneous laughter that hit him.  A legendary life moment for sure.

Shortly after that we got to chance interview Oli from All That Remains, another great one for the life pinball score (He is truly a soft spoken and very intelligent man who considers every word before speaking and is a master of classical and metal guitar.) but what came after his interview is just plain funny.  Ever cut into a lunch line in high school?  The lasagna smelled way too good during the interview with Oli for me to pass up so I snuck into lunch line between Bullet For My Valentine and Trivium.  The only problem is that I didnt know you needed a meal ticket to get food.  An elderly man looks up at me from his chair at the front of the food table and says, “Meal ticket please.”  An awkward deepspace-like silence ensues – eventually and painstakingly broken only by a very assertive “uuhhduhhuuduhhhh” from me.  Followed by the other guys in line (who have all sold millions of albums.) giving me the “You dumbass” look.  Immediately my brain went, “Movie scene idea!”  and then we hightailed it out of there.

I guarantee you the main stage soundcrew all lost their jobs that day in Kansas City.  Bullet For My Valentine sounded like they were playing a high school gymnasium and during Slayers set the whole PA basically blew up.  After almost 30 years of Slayer I was expecting them to just walk off the stage and not give a crap.  But they didnt.  They stayed on stage and played what they could when they could as the sound guys fixed stuff.  I among everyone there was impressed with their attitudes and classiness.  Yes, I just called Slayer classy.  Complaints form to the left.  However, between Bullet For My Valentine and Slayer, Killswitch Engage performed and their sound was flawless.  I have no clue why the sound guys were so iffy that day.  But what I do know is that 2 things happened with Killswitch that set the bar for me.  Chris and I were in the press pit taking pics and video and Joel from Killswitch sees us and grabs his beard and starts laughing.  Chris and I are doing high fives and woohooing in celebration of our stupid comb antics.  It is at this moment that Howard Jones comes over and asks Chris to give him the video camera to take on stage.  Go watch the video.  Theres no reason for more words about it.

Now for Manson.  Manson, Manson, Manson.  (Sung to the Brady Bunch mantra of Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.)  In Denver I met 2 national pro-photographers who told me that Manson only allows 1 song to take pics and he fills the stage with smoke and red lights so its impossible to get a good shot. I didnt take Manson pics in Denver so I sure as hell was going to in KC.  Besides a “good” pic for me is not the same as a “good” pic for the Rolling Stone dude.  Im there for completely different reasons.  Mine are more in alignment with why people climb Everest.  Manson was my Everest for that moment.  I am a large man who has spent the majority of my life in martial arts and mosh pits.  It takes a lot to rattle me.  I planted myself at the end of the walkway protruding from the stage and  got ready for the curtain drop.   After an intro that lasted longer than your average DMV visit the big black shroud dropped, the volcano thick smoke billowed out, and the red lights all sprang into action.  Manson walks out and spits his mouthful of beer right onto my head.  Then he goes back into the smoke comes back out and does it 2 more times.  It was at this point he chuckled and squatted down and I took the pic where his glaring eyes are 3 feet from the lens of my $100 Walmart camera.  Rock n Roll is a dirty business that smells like old beer spit on you by Marylin Manson.  Now I know that.  When I left the press pit one of the on site media big wigs asked me if I was the one getting spit on.  My reply was, “Yep, but I kept my mouth closed so Im sure I didnt catch nothin.”  “Nice job,” was the reply. “Heres my card.”.  That Manson pic and the Killswitch filming the crowd video have become 2 of the most heavily requested things I have ever done.

That night was the after party.  I drank and chatted with many of my metal heroes and got to to know them a bit better as men and women.  I only took 1 pic at the after party and that was of the Jager ice sculpture.  What happens at the after party stays there.  Not because of any crazy level of debauchery or anything but because the barrier between band and fan must exist for the illusion of demi-godness to continue and for the bands to remain safe and sane.  Relatively sane that is.  But yeah….the after party totally, completely,  and absolutely ruled. The life pinball score is still spinning on that one.

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