Monday, March 15, 2010

Flight 666

Scion Rock Fest
Columbus, Ohio

March 13, 2010

Only one word can describe this weekend: EPIC. I'm also just going to say this right now: Whatever I end up writing here will NOT completely convey how EPIC this weekend was... Scion Fest 2010 was overwhelming, man. Overwhelming in the best possible way.

Very early in the morning Photo Ray and Umlaut flew to Phoenix to catch a connecting flight to Columbus. This was a calculated move in order to meet up with Umlaut friend's Landmine Marathon, who were scheduled to open the main stage at Scion Fest. However, the EPIC nature of the weekend was set into motion not long after we arrived at the gate as 2/5 of Ludicra and those road dogs the Saviours all arrived at Gate 18 to catch the same connecting flight. WOW... a Bay Area Metal Scene takeover in the Phoenix Airport.... and so Flight 666 took off for that foreign land known as Ohio.

After landing in Columbus, we waited with the Rock Stars as they gathered their gear from baggage claim and then made our way to the taxi stand... and the MAGIC of the weekend started.

Not long after Landmine started to deal with the most uncooperative taxi drivers I've ever encountered, who should come lumbering up with their luggage carts but the almighty Shrinebuilder! Nice timing and it warmed my heart when Al started chanting "Umlaut, Umlaut.." as he walked up to me.... and it was funny as Scott, Al, and Dale all asked "What are YOU doing here??"

Shrinebuilder waiting for a cab..

Seeing old friends in unexpected places rules, right?

The tone for the next 36 hours or so was set as soon as we arrived at the hotel. The scene inside the lobby was intensely SURREAL with the space filled with bands waiting to check-in or just hanging out. It was like a scene from Almost Famous, but made more crazy because there was also a TEACHER'S CONVENTION staying at the hotel! Crusty musicians mingled past gawky teachers and one band member I know later told me a teacher offered him food because she thought he was homeless (HAHAHA!)! During the elevator ride to our rooms with some of the teachers one of them asked if we were there for "the music festival". When we said "Yes" the following exchange occurred:

Teacher #1: "What kind of music?"
Me: "Loud....."
Teacher #1: (staring at me blankly...)
Teacher #2: "Do you mean, Rock music?"
Me: "Yes....."

At this point I guess I'm supposed to say "Cue 'Hot For Teacher'"... but I won't.......... okay..... I will.

Awhile later, Photo Ray and I found ourselves at a pub across the street called Michael O'Toole's. We sat in the corner of the bar and people watched the normal Happy Hour types go about their fun. As our food arrived, a dude wearing a backwards baseball cap and a Slayer - Strictly F/X pyro crew shirt sat on the stool next to me. Ironically, Umlaut has the same shirt and I commented "Nice shirt.." to which the dude replied "Thanks. Slayer gave it to me.." and when I said "I have one too.." he kind of did a double take. During the uncomfortable silence that followed I kept thinking that the dude looked totally familiar, but I couldn't place him. Finally he turned to Photo Ray and I and asked "Are you guys playing the festival?" Long story short, it turned out the dude was fucking Pat O'Brien, lead guitarist of fuckin' Cannibal Corpse! Fucked with a knife, man... We ended up chatting with him about his band... Ozzy... Lemmy... and he ended up buying us shots of Maker's Mark. METAL! We would encounter Pat several more times before our stay in Ohio was over. A nice dude.

Later that night the hotel bar was the scene of an EPIC hang session. The amount of Metal in the bar was truly stunning... the conversations were truly stunning... the amount of alcohol consumed by some was truly stunning.... and it was stunning how many current and former San Francisco / Bay Area Metal people and bands were in the house. It was like we were all hanging out back at home, except we all NEVER hang out at home together. You meet some really amazing people on the road, man. Also, it was really cool for me personally because I was able to meet up with old friends like Dale of Shrinebuilder and Harald O. of D.R.I... who I've known since we were both teenagers in Silicon Valley, California. Life is strange.. How the Hell did we end up in Ohio, man!?

Photo Ray... Umlaut... 3/4 of D.R.I.

The highpoint of the night for Umlaut was being able to introduce certain band members from Arizona to their Rock Star heroes. Awww...

The next afternoon we went to the Will Call tent to collect our passes and I was impressed by how well organized Scion Fest was.. For the newbies: Scion Fest is a FREE Metal festival sponsored by Scion / Toyota. Yup, all tickets were free to anyone who registered online (last year's Scion Fest was held in Atlanta). The festival was spread out over 4 different venues (Newport Music Hall, Skully's, Bernie's Distillery, and Circus) with 24 bands scheduled to play. All of the venues are located on High Street and, not unlike SxSW, the venues are all a straight shot from each other. The furthest two venues were around a mile apart, but shuttle vans were operating to ferry Metalheads to and from the venues. Like I said, the event was very well organized AND I was surprised by the lack of overt Scion advertising anywhere around the festival site. Interesting...

After collecting our passes at the Will Call tent, we rode over to the venue with Landmine Marathon and watched their soundcheck at the Newport Music Hall. The Music Hall was the main stage of the festival and it's a cool, decrepit old theater that seats around 1,500 people. It's always fun to walk into a venue via the back door, but this time it felt so Metal since Newport Music Hall has faded glory character and it was raining, which added to the METAL atmosphere. When the doors opened there was some time to relax before the mayhem; one of these people is NOT in a band:

2/5 of Landmine Marathon...
Slint / Zwan / Yeah Yeah Yeahs...

Then at approximately 5:30pm the Metal began.

Landmine Marathon (Newport Music Hall): A sizeable crowd arrived early for Landmine's opening set and I was impressed how the vast majority went to the front of the stage instead of hanging at the back by the bars. Even if the festival was free, people were there for Metal. I'll just cut to the chase and say this about Landmine's set: THEY FUCKING KILLED IT. ABSOLUTELY KILLED IT. I know they will say otherwise... and they had to struggle with playing on the festival's rented equipment instead of their own gear... and they were playing the big stage when they would rather have been on a small stage in a club down the street... but THEY KILLED IT.

I've said this many times in this space: My favorite bands are the ones who take a less than perfect situation and make it their own... and that's exactly what Landmine did. For their 40 minutes in Ohio they OWNED that big stage.

Hate Eternal (Newport Music Hall): To be honest, I wasn't familar with Hate Eternal at all... although I think I've seen them before. I guess that says it all right there... but to be fair I spent almost their whole set hanging out in the merch area with friends.

3 Inches Of Blood (Newport Music Hall): I've seen 3IOB before and I really like them live... Their Old Metal sound translates well to the stage. I found it interesting that the guitarist who looked so much like vintage James Hetfield the last time I saw them had ditched the white Flying-V for a Les Paul... so he doesn't look so much like vintage Hetfield anymore. Anyway... 3IOB earned big points for using the music from the Star Trek (Original Series) episode 'Amok Time' as their Intro Tape... "Kal-if-fee!"... although at the time I couldn't remember the name of the episode (GEEK!). As Photo Ray pointed out, you can't really go wrong with songs about Thor's Hammer. Word.

Lightning Swords Of Death (Bernie's Distillery): Halfway through 3IOB's set we wandered down the block to the next closest festival venue: Bernie's, which is one of the funkiest venues I've been in.. From the front doors you immediately walk downstairs to the basement of the building. After you turn a corner you enter a space with a dining area and sandwich counter to the left and to the right is a dark bar and a dark open area with a low ceiling and a "stage" (maybe 2 inches high) shoved in a dark corner underneath pipes and floor supports only inches above the bands' heads. Even with only around 50-60 people in the space it was impossible to see the band. I tried to move around and get a good angle but getting an unobstructed view of the "stage" was not to be. After listening to Lightning Swords for a bit I *think* we wandered back out onto the street and got something to eat at a pizza parlor.

D.R.I. (Newport Music Hall): D.R.I. had the main floor of the Music Hall packed and the crowd action was really good... BUT I couldn't get past the fact the bassist is the old clerk from the Photo Drive-Up in Sunnyvale, California who I've known since we were teenagers. However, the Midwest crowd ate up D.R.I.'s set and no matter what, it's just simply cool to see Spike onstage healthy and playing guitar! The kidz (and adults) still like the Crossover stuff.

Ludicra (Bernie's Distillery): We cut watching D.R.I. short to run back down the street to Bernie's to see local S.F. heroes Ludicra in the basement. They must have gone on early because they were already playing as I turned the corner into the basement. What a bizarre venue! The low ceiling and the non-existent stage made it impossible to see the band, but they sounded amazing even in that bunker. I had listened to Ludicra's new album (The Tenant) on the plane... and the new songs are even better live.. even in a basement. We heard later that Laurie Sue accidentally smashed her head on John's headstock and "blood was everywhere", but I couldn't see that action! METAL.

Voivod (Newport Music Hall): For my money Voivod had the best stage backdrop of the festival.

Although it was weird seeing them without Piggy on guitar (R.I.P.) they still laid down an absolutely solid set; the old songs sounded so great! I watched VoiVod's set with old Umlaut friend Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Shrinebuilder) who was in full-on geek mode. Before VoiVod's set Scott mentioned he had to get to his gig (a mile down the street at a place called Skully's) right afterwards and that we should share a cab down there. Long story short, I felt like the Make-A-Wish Foundation when I invited one of my Arizona band friends to join me and one of his heroes for the cab ride. It was a short ride, but the conversation was magic. I think it's safe to say it was my favorite cab ride ever.

Yob (Skully's): Skully's was easily the most annoying venue of Scion because it had the highest number of Hipsters crammed inside; I guess every city has that problem. Ironic moustaches were in full effect. Unfortunately we only saw the last 2 or so songs of Yob's set... which is a bummer since The New York Times raved that Yob are "one of the best band in America" after witnessing their set. Good for Yob... I do dig their last album... too bad I missed them in Ohio since they don't play that often.

Shrinebuilder (Skully's): We made our way fairly close to the stage as Shrinebuilder finished setting up. When the houselights went down the lights still glared onto a disco ball which caused Al to say "Can you turn off that fucking disco ball!"... which they did and the band launched into 'The Architect' and I really dug the first couple of songs before I realized I didn't want to be jammed down front anymore (especially since I'd seen Shrinebuilder twice already). I joined Photo Ray and 1/5 of Landmine Marathon back at the bar for the rest of the set.

Upon leaving Skully's we were starving and, once again, the Midwest impressed me by having things that you simply don't find in San Francisco. Right outside of the venue was a food cart serving a selection of gyros that were both inexpensive AND delicious. It was something that kept the mood of the evening going as Photo Ray, 1/5 of Landmine Marathon, and I piled into a cab to find the After Show party that Scion's organizer had e-mailed us about earlier. During the cab ride I had an epiphany and remembered the name of the Star Trek (Original Series) episode whose music 3 Inches Of Blood had used as their intro tape (GEEK!). I texted this important trivia to another 1/5 of Landmine Marathon who was on the other side of town; mission accomplished. The cab took us to a darker part of town (literally... there was nothing else lighted around the club) and we entered a place called Carabar.

Saviours (Carabar): A cool, long space! A BIG bar area on one side and a small stage tucked in the back right hand corner (For the S.F. locals: Picture Bottom Of The Hill maybe 3x bigger). Saviours were setting up onstage to play their 2nd set of the night (earlier in the night they'd played at the festival's 4th venue... a club called Circus that we didn't make it to..). We made our way to the front and it wasn't long before Saviours launched into a blistering version of 'Acid Hand' and it was game over, man. It was a riotous set and, the more people gave the band shots of Jäger, the BETTER they played! It was AMAZING and they did the Bay Area proud by blowing the roof off the drunken, late night crowd. At one point a woman who was in her 60's (we learned later she is in the bar practically every night...) pushed her way to the front to air guitar and rage in her own private mosh pit; I did a total double take when I first noticed her. Hope I die before I get old too!

Vid by Umlaut

Saviours closed the night with a magnificent cover of Blue Öyster Cult's 'Hot Rails To Hell' that was simply... perfect.

Some local band took the stage after the Saviours, so we finished our beers and went out to the sidewalk to figure out how the Hell we were going to get back to the hotel. The area around the club looked deserted and, although a cab did stop to pick people up out front, there was already a fairly long line of people waiting for the next cab... and the next cab... and the next cab. I imagined us standing there for hours. Perhaps emboldened by our weekend of METAL (or maybe the beers we'd drank), we set off walking down the street towards the darkness of the surrounding neighborhood. Up to this moment our Scion Fest / Ohio experience had been absolutely perfect. Being the eternal pessimist, I thought this was when things were going to go wrong. We walked about a half a block when, lo and behold, A CAB turned down the far end of the street towards us! BUT then it quickly made a u-turn and went in the opposite direction! WTF?! Here we go, right? However, not 30 seconds later ANOTHER CAB turned down the street towards us... and he stopped to pick us up! Within 15 minutes we were walking back into the hotel lobby... where we saw Pat of Cannibal Corpse AGAIN who stopped to chat with us AGAIN; I didn't tell him that I'd missed his band's Scion set... Anyway, it was the perfect way to end the weekend... or was it?

The next morning we met Landmine Marathon downstairs for brunch / early lunch... but after wandering around a couple of blocks we realized it was SUNDAY in OHIO and everything was closed. WTF... Luckily Matt Landmine remembered that a certain pizza chain had a location nearby and he arranged for a delivery of 3 pies to us in the hotel lobby. How Metal was that!? Very...

After one last hang out in Ohio, over pizza, it was time to get to the airport. It was hard to let the weekend end, but alas it had to... For the record, my theme song for the Scion weekend is 'Acid Hand' by Saviours... I listened to it, like, 3x in a row on the plane on the way home. From Columbus we flew to Denver to catch the connecting flight back to Alcatraz... and Flight 666 continued with Yob and 2/5 of Ludicra being on the same flight. It was in Denver that the magical weekend had its magical conclusion.

We had only around an hour layover in Denver before our flight back to Alcatraz. Within a few minutes of getting off the plane I was leaning against a wall checking my iPhone messages when I noticed somebody standing next to me. I looked up and it was Paschke, my Old Metal buddy from San Franfuckincisco who I hadn't seen since last December!! He was on his way to NYC and his connecting flight had been delayed so he just happened to be wandering the terminal when he saw me.... What are the ODDS of that happening?! I trip on coincidences like that, man...

Unbelievable, right? The Rock Godz work in mysterious way...

Yeah, I'm leaving stuff about Scion Fest out... like the vomiting... and the falling down... and the desecrating of the hotel Bibles... and the "Do you want to come up to my room and look at drugs"-ing... What happens in Ohio, stays in Ohio. THANKS to Adam of Scion for the All Access hook up. A special shout out to Photo Ray,Team Landmine (Matt, Ryan, Grace, Mike, Dylan, and Valerie), Harald O. of D.R.I., Ludicra, and Al, Dale, and Scott of Shrinebuilder. Good times.

On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags... which makes sense I guess. I was able to see 10 of the 24 bands at the festival and I know I didn't really rant about them too much. Also, I'm not sure I even accurately captured my Scion Fest experience, but I guess it's simply a case of "You had to have been there"... The vibe of the entire weekend was pretty fucking cool and the best part was being able to hang out and bond with friends, both old and new and from near and far, with MUSIC being the glue that binds us together... and not just MUSIC... but METAL. It was really cool, man... Really cool.

Best back patch ever...

Click HERE to see Photo Ray's awesome photos from the weekend!