Not Your Average Religious Benefit Show In Country Town, USA
Nashville has a lot of homeless people. That’s an understatement. Nashville has a massive amount of homeless, displaced, and destitute folks living out in the streets. Regardless of what your particular beliefs are about these people, they are real, they are there, and they are hungry. In a solid underdog move in the cold of February, the heavy metal genre found a way to do something about feeding these fellow human beings by pairing up for a show to benefit an organization that does just that – The Bridge Bunch.
Part of Christian Pastor Bob Beeman’s “Sanctuary International – The Rock N’ Roll Refuge,” The Bridge Bunch claims to serve about 4,500 meals per month to these folks under the Jefferson Street Bridge in downtown Nashville, TN. On the night of February 15th, the titans of progressive power metal in Theocracy headlined a bill backed by Illinois-based Innersiege and Nashville’s own Oblivion Myth in support of The Bridge Bunch’s efforts. With the country-fied Kid Rock playing a show in town that night, as well as Lindsey Stirling, the dancing-violinist-turned-YouTube-sensation from America’s Got Talent, the heavy metal fundraiser served as a nice counterpoint.
It was to be a night to remember for those in attendance, as Theocracy had announced prior to the show that they were going to play their entire latest album, “As the World Bleeds,” in its entirety at this show, along with another to-be-experienced-live surprise. Along with Innersiege following suit in deciding to play their entire “Kingdom of Shadows” album, Theocracy held the final surprise ace – they would play the entire 24-minute “Mirror of Souls” song and “Absolution Day” as well. Moreover, it would be broadcast on a UStream feed for the rest of the online world.
The night started off with Pastor Bob up at the microphone to announce the benefit and give a little send-off to Oblivion Myth. Those unfamiliar with Pastor Bob up until then now knew him to be an endearing large, tattooed, and long-haired preacher, more than appropriate for this evening. Taking the stage, Oblivion Myth and band rolled through song after song of their own blend of power metal, with guitarist Keith Smith notoriously flashing huge smiles after his solos. Ray LeGrand also elaborated on what this benefit show meant to him between songs and reiterated to the crowd that they were making a true difference by being there instead of elsewhere.
More classic in feel than the other bands, Oblivion Myth got things rolling on a spirited and familiar note to most everyone in the house. During the set change between bands, Theocracy vocalist Matt Smith took some time out from chatting with fans in the audience to hang with me in the backstage area for an interview. After coming back inside from the cold, Innersiege was about to take the stage as the audience swelled to both the front first floor area and the seated area one floor up, flowing over into the bar area to the left.
“Dragon Rider” kicked off the set as lead vocalist Jeremy Ray drummed up the audience. Guitarists Kevin Grose and J.L. Prater engaged in rapid-fire guitar battles all throughout the album, one-upping their solos from the Fredrik Nordstrom-mixed record. It was almost as if they were both younger brothers to Yngwie Malmsteen, although J.L. had a less iconic but better-looking custom guitar to go with his fast-picking style. Drummer Wade Helm kept the band adhering to the solid framework of power metal as he shaped the songs. Bassist Ravn Furfjord brought some enthusiastic facial expressions along with his playing, as well. Giving a shout-out to the ProgPower USA fans during the middle of their set, you could tell these guys were the genuine article. I would later find out that they had been going to the festival as attendees for years already.
In-between sets this time around, Oblivion Myth vocalist Ray LeGrand assisted in calling out the winners of the raffle that everyone was entered into upon paying for admission, sponsored by local businesses and Ulterium Records. Everybody had been eagerly awaiting the next set when the lights went up for Theocracy around midnight. The intro to “I Am” started playing over the house speakers and the house was electrified with energy. With only minor sound troubles interfering with the intro, the band ripped through the lengthy opening number like it was just an appetizer in a three-course meal.
The follow-up to “Mirror of Souls,” the album has been widely praised by critics and fans alike as a near-perfect follow up to a near-perfect sophomore effort, regardless of their thoughts about the religious lyrics. The Theocracy live rendition of the gigantic album was more than adequate, with only a few backing tracks for vocals and keyboards dialed in. By the time “Drown” rolled around, everyone was sweating and feeling great. At the end of the album, with drummer Shawn Benson nearly out of breath, the audience still called for more. Vocalist Matt Smith replied “…But we just played a whole album!” to which the audience responded, “Yeah, and you’ve got two more!”
Matt announced “Mirror of Souls” and the crowd went nuts at around one o’clock in the morning. They would also play “Absolution Day,” giving the fans all they had to give. All in all, the Bridge Bunch got a chunk of money to assist in their homeless ministry, the fans got what they wanted, and it was all being filmed by a crew for the making of a Nashville metal bands documentary headed up by Oblivion Myth. It was not your average religious fundraiser in Country town, USA.
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