I don't even know where to start with the Bull City Metal Fest. Mostly I'm just really glad that I live in an area that can sustain a two-day predominantly local metal festival AND have 160 confirmed guests (as of this writing) on the Facebook event page. That's impressive, and I heartily give thanks to Steve Gardner, who is now booking the Casbah, for making it happen.
Those of you who are in the local alt-country circle will recognize Steve's name. He's been promoting Americana house shows for years. I remember seeing an amazing Alejandro Escovedo show at Steve's house back in 1999. Some people have been a little surprised by Steve's seemingly sudden embrace of metal. Casbah IS booking some of the best metal in the area (including Buzoven and Cough on Feb. 16, and Weedeater and ASG on Feb. 20). Steve talked about this in my interview with him.
I would like to add a personal note here: This post marks the 998th post on Mann's World. I'm saving 999 and 1000 for the Metal Fest. My first post was on Jan. 20, 2003. So much has happened since then. I truly can't believe I've been doing this for so long.
1. You've long been known around the Triangle for promoting house shows -- usually by alt-country bands. Tell us how your foray into metal happened.
People often think I’m just an Americana kinda guy because of the house shows that I threw, but really I’m about as all over the map as you can imagine. I’m 43, so I grew up when the classic rock era was starting to change over into something else. I heard a DEVO album in the early 80s and it blew my mind. I swore I’d never listen to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles again and from then on I was just a punk/new wave kid. Ah, youth. As you can guess that didn’t happen and throughout my life I’ve delved into all sorts of different genres of music. Music is a high for me and I specifically get a high from music that is new to me and drives me to learn more about it. So back then I went from Led Zeppelin to DEVO. I then got into punk music in a big way with my first loves being the Descendents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, Sham 69, Suicidal Tendencies and the Adolescents. That was all due to a mix tape that a workmate gave to me. Later I got into UK punk and spent a summer in England buying up a bunch of UK punk.
That’s how my life has kind of gone. From one thing to another. Americana was a stop along the way. Other stops have included folk, Celtic, Cajun, bluegrass, oldtime, all forms of college/indie/alternative rock, R&B, hip hop, blues, jazz and whatever else comes my way that excites me. Right now the thing that I’m most excited about is a varied mix of metal, New Orleans bounce music and top 40 Hip Hop (yeah, I know, kinda uncool, but a gave up worrying about what I’m “supposed to like” a long time ago).
Metal is pretty new to me, btw. As a punk kid in the early 80s you either liked punk or metal, not both usually. Some bands, like Suicidal Tendencies tried to bridge that gap, but it wasn’t a bridge that I, nor many of my friends, wanted to get on. I still am not a fan of a lot of metal out there, but the stuff that I really enjoy tends to be the more riffed-based music that has more in common with 80s hardcore than anything with tiny guitars and a million notes per second. Give me Black Tusk over one of those bands, any day. I think the festival I booked reflects this. It’s eclectic, but it’s also something that metal heads and your more indie rock fans can both enjoy.
I think you’ll see my eclecticism if you look at our show schedule. Right now at the club I have a Janis Ian poster hanging between ones for the Bull City Metal Fest and a Weedeater/ASG/Hog show. I love that. Casbah really allows me to book anything that I’ve liked in my life…which is about everything.
2. How is booking a venue different from booking a house show?
It’s pretty different. The biggest difference is worrying about the draw. With my house shows I got to the point where I would put tickets on sale and they’d sell out, usually in less than 24 hours, but sometimes in less than 24 minutes. I could pretty much book anything I wanted and people trusted my instincts and would buy a ticket. It was quite a luxury. The club is very different. I’m still trying to find what works, but getting people out to see live music in a club is much harder than you’d think. In the battle of Casbah vs. TV, sometimes I don’t know who is winning.
The other thing that is different is just the experience. I try to make the appropriate shows at Casbah to be an intimate experience as possible, but nothing is going to be as intimate as a performer sitting 4 feet in front of you with no mics or amps in someone’s living room. But I aim to approach that with our amazing best-in-the-area sound system, chairs for the right shows and generally keeping the place nice and clean and comfortable.
3. Why did you decide to do a two-day metal festival, and what can you tell us about the out-of-town bands you have booked?
I think the metal scene here is the most exciting thing happening in the Triangle right now. We’ve always been an indie rock town, and for a while it seemed to me like we were just spinning our wheels. Then this metal thing came along with bands like Black Skies and Tooth and people started to get really excited about it all. Now it has blossomed into a great lineup of bands. When I first moved to DC I used to love to go to Sleazefest at the Local 506. It was an amazing time and I just love the live music as a circus atmosphere, where a club turns into a badass theme park for a day. Before I was booking Casbah I always used to tell my friends that someone needed to do something that was like Sleazefest, but for metal. Since nobody else really did, I decided to take that on when I started booking the club. I’m by no means an expert on metal, I just like what I like and with the help of some friends, like yourself, Grayson Currin, Michelle Temple and a few other folks I decided to give it a shot. It was surprisingly easy to come up with 18 bands. That shows the quality of our scene.
Besides the great townies that we have in for the fest, there are also some fine out-of-towners.
Graves of Valor are a great band from Florence, South Carolina that should satisfy some of the fans in the audience that are more into the death metal side of things.
Unholy Tongues are a Wilmington band that probably fit into this festival more because of its expansive nature and rather loose definition of metal. They are an instrumental trio, that rocks hard and has great dynamics and skirt the line between instrumental metal and post rock and your classic power trio.
Sons of Tonatiuh (the most misspelled band name at the fest, often by me) are from Atlanta and are sludgy half the time and rather punkish at other times and should be of interest to the Hog/Lurch crowd here. I’m very excited to see these guys, personally.
Also from Atlanta is Royal Thunder who have a badass female lead singer and also are the only band in the crowd to have an NPR feature under their belt. They also are more hard rock than metal, to be truthful, but it doesn’t bother me much to include them at this fest, because I love the variety. To me they sound like a Deep Purple with a female lead.
US Christmas, hail from the unlikely town of Marion, NC. They were noticed by many locally at first due to an article that appeared in the Independent a year ago. They, again, play a pretty unique brand of metal; one which isn’t constrained to any preconceived notions of what metal is supposed to be. They are a large band, with more than a half dozen members, and one of them even plays the violin. So typical metal? No. But if you want to experience a wide variety of sounds instead of a straitjacketed definition of the genre, then the Bull City Metal Fest is right for you.
4. Where should I eat in Durham before the show?
With your ticket from the Casbah you get 10% off at the James Joyce and Alivia’s, so that’s a good option. James Joyce has a new chef and menu, by the way, so if you haven’t tried them in a while and think they just have mediocre pub grub, it’s time to give them another shot. Other great options in the area are the Federal, of course. They’ve always been my favorite place to eat in Durham. They also have a new chef (from Nana’s) and a new menu and the food has only gotten better, I think. The nice thing about the Federal is that you can spend a little more and go fancy with one of their specials, or you can keep it cheap and get the excellent nachos or their amazing pork and jalapeno sandwich.
People forget about Parker and Otis sometimes, I think, when thinking of cheap dining options downtown, but I have to say that their grilled pimento cheese sandwich is the best I’ve ever had. I also love their curried chicken sandwich and their egg sandwich on their brunch menu. Delicious.
If you want to go really cheap (but still really good), hit Cosmic Cantina on Perry street for an excellent burrito (next to Chaz’s Bull City Records, one of the places where you can buy our tickets to shows in advance without any service charge.)
People should also sample our many fine food trucks in the area. I believe we’ll have some parked out near the venue for some cheap, convenient (and good) eats.
5. Priest or Maiden?
Priest. Less notes per second. Plus, how can I not respect a hard rock band that in the midst of the fairly homophobic 80s metal scene had a gay lead singer?