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America's Secret Metal Paradise: The DeLand Rock & Metal Festival

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Band Photo: Death (?)

Most of us in metal love to complain about trolling, irrational vitriol, subgenre tribalism, and elitism online. Not to mention the fact that most of said complaining also takes place online.

It’s like plugging the cord of a power strip into the strip itself and expecting it to produce juice. No wonder nothing positive ever seems to get accomplished.

So how do we fix this?

Well, we can’t. At least we can’t fix others. We can, however, control ourselves and try new things from time to time. And when considering just how ridiculously much time we spend drooling in front of our screens, the simple act of attending live music concerts is indeed a “new thing,” or at least a relatively seldom thing. Sort of like shutting off Facebook and actually writing your best friend a letter.

But don’t the same issues manifest in our local clubs? A package tour comes to town, containing bands with separate (or, at best, overlapping) fanbases, which promptly begin to work against each other. Show me such a concert that isn’t brimming with guys judging each other’s perceived tastes, putting on airs by boasting “I’m only here for [insert obscure opener],” and I’ll show you my fourth nipple.

How about major European-style summer festivals? Don’t get me started. Don’t get me wrong, either; they’re ten tons of fun. But often the numbers are too immense for any type of bonding to occur on a mass scale. Crowds usually just devolve into cliques, all corresponding to their chosen favorite acts.

So there needs to be a middle ground. A unique event, rare and special enough to draw the enthusiastic, but familiar enough to include the curious. Small and precarious enough to forestall any jaded complacency, and large enough to foster a carnival atmosphere.

The musical equivalent of a big group of friends around a campfire, bonded not only by the fun they’re sharing, but also by the knowledge that one bad attitude will douse the good time in cold water.

For me, the DeLand Rock & Metal Festival was that event. And for the moment, it has alleviated some of my cynicism over the much-ballyhooed “brotherhood and sisterhood” concepts thrown around in metal.

Here, in central Florida, from November 7th through the 9th, these bonds were very much alive.

Where else in America, other than this twice-annual open-air metal carnival, could I encounter such little trouble locating a parking space for a festival? Additionally, where else could I freely stroll between the festival grounds and my vehicle within sixty seconds and NOT be frisked by failed-the-rent-a-cop-exam venue security every time I returned?

Where else are the ticket taker at the gate and the promoter’s mother… the same person?

Where else will I find the familiar sights of an open-air metal festival in miniature, beginning at the rear smoking deck of a humble restaurant and spreading out into the backyard to the tree line? Where else will I be able to traverse freely, back and forth, between said festival and said restaurant for piss breaks, and catch flashes of local color in the process? Where else could I trade the cacophony of a band covering “Aces High” for that of an indoor house band covering 3 Doors Down, and then back again, reminding me just why I love metal in the first place - all within seconds?

And that strange fella that strikes up an unwanted conversation while I’m standing at the urinal, in a Deep Southern accent: “Them partyin’ sonsabitches are gonna be regrettin’ it when they wake up in the mornin’?” Life just wouldn’t be quite as amusing without him, would it?

Where else, when the dreaded rain pays a visit, could a band swiftly reorganize their equipment on the back-less stage and flip 180 degrees to face the opposite direction, inward toward a crowd sheltered beneath a tent roof?

Where else, for that matter, would I not even need to move an inch to enjoy alternating bands on the two stages a mere couple dozen yards apart?

Where else in this country will I find a festival with not one, but TWO, fire pits to visit for some warmth on a frigid evening - and still not miss any music or even ruin my view of the performers? And around what other fire pits will I become engaged in such passionate conversation about said music? Around what other fire pits will I meet people whose faces I will see constantly through the rest of the weekend?

And don’t answer that by listing off the popular hippie and hipster festivals, either - they’re all bloated, oversized bastions of mainstream culture by now, and we all know it.

At what other festival will I receive a commemorative plastic beer mug upon arrival, which then earns me a discounted price on said beer? And where else will I have all the bartenders’ names memorized when all is said and done, and they mine? It’s been said that if there’s a bar where everyone knows your name, you’re probably an alcoholic. In this case, it means you’re probably at the DeLand Rock & Metal Festival.

The answer to all these questions is, of course, “Nowhere.”

I’m fairly certain the bands would agree, seeing as their experiences were more or less the same as my own. In other words, there are no barriers, seen or unseen, between artists and attendees at the DeLand Rock & Metal Festival. Everyone is there to watch and enjoy live music, and each other. Some of them simply happen to also be playing it.

Here’s Josh Schwartz, guitarist of Washington, D.C. outfit A Sound Of Thunder, checking into our hotel, escorting his 74-year-old father to the elder Schwartz’s first-ever metal concert. “I knew he was talented, but… I just can’t believe how good they were!” the man is reported to have exclaimed with delight.

And here’s Chris Haren, A Sound Of Thunder’s drummer and creative mastermind, padding down to the first-floor vending machines for some midnight munchies. “Nothing else is open!”

There’s their frontwoman, “Queen of Hell” and frustrated wrestler Nina Osegueda, falling deeply in love with a folding metal chair beneath an equipment tent… and photo-bombing numerous pictures, pretending to bash in the heads of her peers and her fans alike.

Speaking of photo-bombing, here’s musician, metal aficionado, and superfan Tommy Parnelle, who appears to have played with just about every band in sight, showing up seemingly everywhere at once, doing his best to make everyone’s pictures look as vaguely perverted as possible.

There’s Seven Kingdoms guitarist Camden Cruz, moonlighting as this event’s tireless promoter and organizer, strutting around like a true boss, getting involved in every conversation from the gate to the outhouse (and there aren’t even lines!). And there’s his wife Sabrina, dividing her time between the band’s merch tent and the general crowd, before taking on her third persona as Seven Kingdoms’ frontwoman.

Before me stands a fake-blood-spattered fellow who calls himself “Sigurd Snake-In-The-Eye,” although he introduces himself to me as simply “Alex.” One moment, we’re hanging at the bar talking music, literature, and even theology. The next, he’s leaping mere feet up to the stage to take the mic as frontman of death metal act Sons Of Ragnar. I didn’t even know whether or not he was in a band until that very second.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the “light-dark” spectrum, beside me sits Rimond, guitarist and so-called “harmony master” of Christian power metallers Armor Of God. We’re sharing a round after their stirring set and discussing everything in metal from Insomnium to Woods Of Ypres to Wayne Static.

Here’s Mary Zimmer of White Empress and Luna Mortis, paying a casual visit to support her metal sisters, of which there are many performing at this event. And there’s Florida death metal veteran Rick “Rozz" DeLillo, co-writer of Death’s famous “Leprosy” album, onstage with his resurrected band Massacre, reminding - without even speaking - all the up-and-coming Florida metal acts who was here first.

Last but not least, here’s Judicator, a band without a state of origin, composed of members spread across the country. The amazing thing? This, on Friday night, is their first-ever live performance. Even more amazing? The musicians met in person for the first time mere hours ago. Now it’s as though they’re childhood friends. You’d never know the truth if they hadn’t told you.

Oh, and here they are again, on Sunday afternoon, playing by popular demand to a rabid new fanbase. There’s hyperactive keyboardist Tyler Sherrill, playfully toying with the patient waitress at Chili’s, announcing there’s nothing he’d love more than a “Royale With Cheese.” And there, down the table, is guitarist Tony Cordisco, high school English teacher by day and metal shredder by night, relieved to finally not have to watch his language.

Judicator’s is as unconventional a story as you’ll find in the annals of metal history (though the Internet age is rapidly changing that), but what of the music itself this weekend? Is it all so cut-and-dried, and easily categorizable, as the unofficial labeling of “Death Metal Day” (Saturday) and “Power Metal Day” (Sunday) might have us believe?

I’m glad you asked. The answer is: hell no. Get a load of Miami's Orbweaver on Saturday night, breaking up a lull in which the string of death-and-deathcore acts began to blur together. They bill themselves as “experimental metal.” Me? I think they sound like Emperor. I’m entranced.

And check out Everthrone of McConnells, South Carolina. What’s this? A progressive “Darkwave” act slyly slipped in amongst the power/traditional crowd, drawing from Amorphis and Katatonia over Judas Priest and Blind Guardian? Shut up and take my money already.

Little delightful surprises lurk around every corner here.

General segregation of the days aside - which is helpful for those who’d rather pay for a single day ticket and get their money’s worth of their preference - I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the beautiful simplicity of this festival’s very title.

“DeLand Rock & Metal Festival.”

It could’ve gone the other way entirely. Some names unambiguously target a specific crowd, like the Czech Republic’s Brutal Assault (death/grind freaks) and Atlanta’s ProgPower (virgins).

Here, considering the cliquish niche markets represented - power metal is an especially outnumbered cult in America to this day - the fact that this event needs nothing more than the words “Rock” and “Metal” to signal that all are welcome is a subtle and overlooked blessing.

One last observation. At what other music festival will you find an afterparty that never really ends, in which passes and ID checks are not required, in which bands and attendees alike - whoever’s left standing, really - gather for the same gigantic group photo?

I think you know the answer by now.

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a native Virginia writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine.

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7 Comments on "America's Secret Metal Paradise"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Charlie Gibb writes:

Great article. I was there for the whole weekend including the Pre-Pre Party on Thursday night. Only one thing that you forgot was mentioning the band MindMaze that played Sunday evening. They are from Allentown, Pa. They were effin' awesome!!!! Allenetown is only two hours from where I live here in Delaware. I'll be going to see them in 2015 for sure!!

# Nov 21, 2014 @ 6:26 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. Slenderman writes:

Just had to chime in and say that Orbweaver are from Miami, not Orlando. Otherwise, fantastic article. Glad you enjoyed the fest! \m/

# Nov 21, 2014 @ 7:04 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
OverkillExposure's avatar

Writer

3. OverkillExposure writes:

Fixed. There were a lot of Orlando bands there - easy to get some mixed up.

I did watch and enjoy MindMaze very much. However, given the sheer number of bands, for this piece I mainly stuck to mentioning those with whom I could connect a little offstage vignette that I witnessed.

# Nov 21, 2014 @ 7:14 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Imani Ramos writes:

Really enjoyed this article!! Camden Cruz has been successfully putting on this event for years and it's equally as awesome each time. Glad to see him getting the credit he deserves for the constant work and support he puts into the local metal scene, both bringing in incredible nationals while giving the opportunity for our local bands to show off their normally unseen talent. I've been to the massive events and I agree with the majority of the statements expressed, so I'm really glad he gives us the opportunity to experience a much more intimate, yet just as incredible, outdoor festival. Great people, comfortable atmosphere and such unbelievable talent all packed into one weekend. Also, thanks for the mention for Sons Of Ragnar, as everyone knows, they're a personal favorite!! Sigurd, the resident conversationalist, very humble (and normally fake blood spattered) is also the frontman. Thanks everyone!!!

# Nov 21, 2014 @ 7:16 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
CROMCarl's avatar

Writer / Reviewer

5. CROMCarl writes:

Amazing article Mike...as always. You captured all of those special moments we had.

But really - how come you never mentioned The Hanging Chads...I was there all weekend with you and by golly I thought for sure you would have mentioned them!

# Nov 21, 2014 @ 8:31 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
OverkillExposure's avatar

Writer

6. OverkillExposure writes:

Now don't you start with that malarkey!

# Nov 22, 2014 @ 9:13 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. Dandy Davis writes:

Man Third Eye Blind was great too! They were definitely the most talented band there. Mad bj's in the boyz room too. Thanks Carl! Don't swallow I have AIDS.

# Nov 22, 2014 @ 1:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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