Is It Time to End the Touring Summer Metal Festivals?
Yes. Yes it is.
Now that the Autumn chill is slowly setting in and Summer is in our rear view, I feel that now is a good time to look back on what can be considered a tumultuous year for the summer touring festival. In its heyday, Ozzfest did well. It was a chance for the average metal fan to catch some classic metal bands, popular acts of the day, and up-and-comers. Unfortunately, costs ran too high, and with a faltering economy, the touring fest has been reduced to a one-off festival in Japan. Remember the Sounds of the Underground tour? Same type of deal. Started out hot and burned out quickly.
While it seems like forever ago, it was only a few months back that bands and organizers involved with the Rockstar Energy ™ Mayhem Fest were sniping at each other. Attendance was bad. Bands feuded. Festival co-founder Kevin Lyman took issue with metal as a genre, drawing the ire of just about everyone. (Okay, it was mostly just Slayer, but the internet was pretty angry too). Lyman apologized for his jab, but the numbers (and pictures) don’t lie. Mayhem Festival was pretty much a bomb.
The light attendance for Mayhem can be blamed on multiple factors. The biggest culprit was the lineup. King Diamond and, to a lesser extent, Slayer, are still draws, but enough to fill up 15,000+ venues? Not on their own. Combine that with low-drawing, borderline niche bands Hellyeah and The Devil Wears Prada, and you have a confused main stage that does not contain a lot of crossover appeal.
The bigger problem, though, was the Victory Records Stage. In previous years, there had been multiple smaller stages. 2015 was reduced to Whitechapel, Thy Art Is Murder, Jungle Rot, Sister Sin, Sworn In, Shattered Sun, Feed Her To The Sharks, Code Orange (who dropped off the tour), and Kissing Candice. I could have easily made up at least 2 of those bands and you probably wouldn’t notice. Getting a new, unknown band on a touring metal fest in hopes of selling some records is a time honored tradition. Isn’t that right Depswa, Magna-Fi, and Gizmachi? While some of those bands may be able to draw in small venues on individual shows, most fans are unable or unwilling to pay a full price ticket to see them for 25 minutes at 2 in the afternoon. Were festivals organizers hoping to draw in Jungle Rot fans with the promise of also seeing Hellyeah? Were King Diamond fans showing up extra early for Kissing Candice? Not bloody likely.
Cost-cutting, a weak lineup, a still-recovering economy, cancellations and no reduction in ticket price led to the end of the festival, though some have expressed an openness to keep it going. Mayhem’s case may be extreme, but it is not unique. It is endemic of the big problem with the touring metal festival. Take this past year’s Summer Slaughter festival. While there weren’t any major problems with the fest, at its core lies the same problems as Mayhem.
Take a look at this lineup from the tour’s stop in Worcester, MA. Eight touring bands and nine locals. NINE! Doors at 2, show starts at 2. Those poor, poor local bands. How many people did they play in front of, excluding the other bands and their parents? I seriously hope they didn’t have to go through battle of the bands to get that sweet 2 in the afternoon slot. I hope even more that they didn’t have to sell tickets for this. While it’s nice to say “I opened for Arch Enemy”, it’s unfair to the locals.
Beyond the massive amount of locals problem, the number of touring bands on this is just as massive. A lot of those bands are cramming into their stink-filled vans to drive all over the country to play shortened sets. Is it worth it for the bands to do this? Is it worth it to the fans? Yes, you get your money’s worth if you get there at the very beginning and stay until the very end, but how many people not employed by the venue are doing that? Split this fest into two separate tours and it’s much more reasonable.
It’s time to end the touring summer festivals. Prices are rising while quality (in some cases) has been dropping. It’s an unnecessary hardship for both the touring bands and the locals trying to get a boost by appearing on the same stage. The money isn’t coming in, not even for well-attended non-metal festivals like Warped Tour. The fans themselves don’t want to drop a large chunk of money to sit through music they will hate just to see a band that they can see for cheaper and in a more intimate setting at a later date. I saw King Diamond last year at a sold-out show. It was incredible. Why would I want to spend more to see less?
Touring metal festivals can be great, but the way they are currently run is just unsustainable. I would rather the concept take a break, regroup, and put out something that would do well. The bands still are out there and, more importantly, the fans are still out there. We want to have fun. We want to have a good time. We want to see bands we like and bands that we would like. One-off festivals like Maryland Deathfest and New England Metal & Hardcore Fest prove it. Now if those can be boiled down to something manageable to hit the road, it would be welcomed with open arms and banging heads.