– Words by Jordan Buford – Photos by James Villa –
Diversity is key to any music festival, and the 7th annual Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival had plenty of it. The Oklahoma City date also had plenty of sun beating down on the grassy field that is the Airpark, where the three roving stages (Coldcock Whiskey; Victory Records; and Sumerian Records) had set up for the day. Some die-hard fans even staked out spots in front of the main stage — which wouldn’t see any action until six-thirty — just to ensure they had a prime spot for Avenged Sevenfold and Korn, among others.
The 100+ degree temps were taken in stride by attendees, who, even at two-o’clock, were already out in droves on this Thursday afternoon.
Of course, the music helped make it bearable, and frontman Big Dad Ritch, bassist John Exall, guitarist Cord Pool and drummer Timmy Braun of Texas Hippie Coalition made time pass like a breeze as they ensnared everyone with opener, “Hands Up”. If you by chance weren’t familiar with THC before this, Big Dad Ritch made it crystal-clear in their set that they are Red Dirt metal. “I can’t tell you how good it fucking feels to have my feet planted on some red fucking dirt!” he bellowed after that first tune, also adding that they needed to wake up any other bands who might be sleeping off hangovers from the night before (or just sleeping in). “…’Cause if Big Dad’s got to be up, then everyone got to be up!” he exclaimed. They had no trouble with that: waking people up or keeping them awake.
The stage setup was interesting, with all three side stages lined up next to one another. Bands on each end (the Victory and Sumerian stages) were playing at the same time, and despite the close proximity, the sounds never bled into each other that much; and now audience members got to pick between Veil of Maya and Wretched, neither of whom disappointed the metalheads.
One of the most memorable sets of the day came from Mushroomhead. It didn’t matter that it was as hot as hell outside, the nine-piece band from Cleveland was still sporting their trademark masks that make the performance so interesting. Seeing them was a first for me; but they hit the stage with an explosive force as they began their 24-minute long set with “Our Apologies”. Playing in the daytime did have its upsides, though, because the sunlight allowed all the audience, no matter how far back, to see the water that rose up from the additional drums with each strike Stitch and Roberto Diablo gave them. Relatively speaking, it’s a simple effect, but it’s a incredibly cool effect.
The crowd was brought more into it when they were instructed to put their fists in the air during the second song; and after being told by the band they weren’t sure if anyone out there was even awake, fans proved it by clapping along during “We Are the Truth”. One of the greatest moments came during “Born of Desire” (their final song), during which Stitch grabbed an inflatable Killer Whale, like what would usually be considered a kids pool toy. He handed it off to the fans first, then jumped on, and while he almost suffered some near falls, he kept going — surfing out a ways before having them send him back to the stage.
J Mann, Jeffrey Nothing, Waylon, Shmotz, Skinny, Church, Dr. F, Roberto Diablo and Stitch owned the stage in a way that few bands did this day. They commanded the crowd with total ease and executed a set that had everyone head banging, pumping their fists or whatever else they wanted from the spectators. Even the final words of “Keep hydrated.” sounded pretty metal.
Ill Nino followed immediately after, and as they say, the show must go on. Lazaro Pina, Diego Verduzco, Ahrue Luster, Dave Chavarri and Oscar Santiago began their fist number, and it was a minute or more later before frontman Cristian Machado took the stage. Your first thought was he was just waiting to make more on an entrance; and he got some of the audience to jump around during “La Epidemia”. He hadn’t waited just to make an entrance, though. “Pardon me, I was having a bout with throwing up just two-seconds before coming on stage.” Machado informed everyone.
You could tell he wasn’t at his peak, though he didn’t let that sickness hinder him, either. He challenged the audience to a head-banging contest on “This is War”, something he partook in as well. Whenever he asked people to jump around, he did it, too. Just goes to show that if you have true passion and dedication for what you do, you’ll do it, regardless of how you might be feeling.
They offered up the lead track from the newly released Till Death, La Familia, and “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow” wound up being a favorite of mine from their performance. The song in general is killer; and the onlookers picked up on the chorus quite quickly, helping them in singing it. Then, for the final song of their 25-minute set, they invited Chris Garza of Suicide Silence up there with them. “He has more talent in five fingers than I do in my entire body.” Machado said, speaking of Garza, who helped them with “God Save Us”.
Ill Nino might not have been up to par this day, yet they still delivered an intense show that can outdo many.
The attendees had gotten plenty of metal so far this day, but now it was time for some metalcore, and Miss May I was serving it up. I’ll confess, their music is much harder from what I typically like, yet even I found it impossible to resist raising my arm up when Levi Benton asked to “see those fucking horns in the air!” before they ripped into “Refuse to Believe”. He kept the commands coming all through their set, and people were happy to meet them, rather it meant jumping, moshing or whatever. “You guys are as much a part of this song as we are!” Benton declared before “Day by Day”, as they continued on their very vibrant set that will no doubt ensure that while this may be their first Mayhem Fest, it won’t be there last.
Following in that same vein was Emmure, who closed out the Victory Records Stage; and Suicide Silence had more eyes on them than any act so far this day. They capitalized off it, too; and two songs in, vocalist Hernan “Eddie” Hermida jumped from the stage into the photo pit, and then, from the rail, leaned pretty far out into the crowd, continuing to sing “No Pity for the Coward” while people grabbed him. It was metal to the core.
Another highlight of the day came when Body Count took the Sumerian Stage. These days, to a new generation, Ice-T is known as much or more of an actor as he is a rapper. Still, rapping was where he got his start, and even now, in his mid-fifties, Ice-T can run circles around almost anyone.
Right from the start of “There Goes the Neighborhood” it was evident he was a machine. “…You are the softest pit in the United States!” he told the crowd, saying he didn’t care if it was a BBQ pit, he just wanted everyone to “make a fucking pit.” Heat and tiredness were probably factors in that, though parts of the crowd did as he said, while he and the rest of Body Count continued with their beast of a show that ended with what else, but “Cop Killer”.
Cannibal Corpse capped things on off the smaller stages, and then attention turned to the main stage, where the final touches were being added for Trivium.
“Are you fucking ready?!” Shouted Matt Heafy when the band took the stage, being met with thunderous roars. “Prove it!” he shouted, as they jumped right into the pulse-pounding “Black”. A couple songs in, Heafy asked if they had any “first timers” out in the crowd, and quite a few hands (including mine) shot towards the sky. There were far more repeat offenders there, but for all the new ones, he made clear that they have one rule: “…Whatever we’re doing up here, we need you doing out there.”
That was easy enough; and the further they progressed in their all too short seven-song set, old and new fans alike just got more and more into it. Then again, with a show so topnotch, how could you not?
Asking Alexandria got about a 45-minute set over the thirty of the band before them, which was just long enough for seven tracks. They focused most of their time on the From Death to Destiny record, from beginning with “Don’t Pray for Me”, to “Killing You” and even showed off the soft side they are capable of with “Moving On”.
As usual, they killed it, leaving all satisfied.
The day had been grueling, though everyone had held up to the heat surprisingly well, and now the payoff was here.
The intro alone was enough to get fans of Korn excited, and all that excitement bubbled over when Ray Luzier took the stage, opening up the track with some ferocious beats; and was followed closely behind by keyboardist Zac Baird. “Oklahoma City, you ready for this shit?!” Jonathan Davis asked when the rest of the band ran out there, beginning this unforgettable 55-minute set with “Falling Away From Me”. Luzier caught my eye many times this night, and ended that track by slinging one of his drumsticks high into the air, before catching it and slamming it on one of the skins.
Davis worked the crowd during one of the few breaks they took, telling them they could do better when he asked to hear everyone. He then spoke in tongues to the congregation during the brief “Twist”, using that as a lead in to “Got the Life”, which become a song for the audience to clap along to; and Brian Welch and Reginald Arvizu had an awesome moment where they faced one another and tore it up on their respective instruments.
They killed it all the way through, but about halfway was when the fans reached a fevered pitch. “Are you ready to take this shit up to another level?!” asked Davis after using his bagpipes on “Shoots and Ladders”. With that, they began a stretch of songs that mixed seamlessly into the next; and Welch armed himself with his double bass for “Coming Undone”; while Davis pointed the microphone out to everyone before the first chorus of “Here to Stay”, letting everybody sing back at them, “Anticipating all the fucked up feelings again!”
It was really something to see the fans reaction to all this, because with each song they screamed and cheered louder out of glee of what they were about to hear. Korn neared the end, and then the noise that had been constant died out for some reason. “I didn’t tell you to shut up!” Davis remarked, prompting more screams to fill the air. He mentioned this last song was the one that started it all back about twenty-years ago, and perhaps the best thing about “Blind” was seeing some of the band members kids run out on stage and bang their heads along to the music. I doubt that was something they ever envisioned happening twenty-years ago, but it was cool to see.
Korn was yet another band whom I hadn’t seen before this day, and I can say they exceeded all expectations. In the little more than two-decades they’ve spent together, they’ve perfected what a live show should be about, packing it full of energy, to the point it was hard to decide which band member to focus on. They all have an overwhelming stage persona, and combined, well, it’s clear why Korn is the titan they are.
Oh, something else that was cool, they stayed on stage for a few minutes after finishing, just throwing picks, drumheads and assortment of stuff out to those lucky enough to be in the front.
The sun had set long ago now, and for the first time all day it felt nice. Perfect weather for Avenged Sevenfold.
The pyrotechnics were superb, and if you were close enough (I wasn’t even directly in front of the stage), you could still feel the heat from the massive flames that shot into the air during “Shephard of Fire”. “You alright out there?” M. Shadows asked once they finished, just checking in on everybody. “Let’s do this!” he said, as they tore into “Nightmare”, during which he said to every single person that he wanted to see everything that they may have had left in them after this day.
The duel guitar solo Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance did during “Bat Country” earned them the full attention of all the people who had turned out; and then came something very interesting. A light suddenly illuminated a man who had somehow climbed the scaffolding of the stage and sit atop it, talking to someone on his cell phone.
This upset all the festival goers, most of whom showed no concern for the man and didn’t care how he got down, they just wanted A7X to come back out. See, the band had left until this matter got resolved, and someone yelled a “Fuck you!” at them, which Shadows made clear was not the right way to handle the situation, and they would be back as soon as this guy was safe.
It took maybe all of five-minutes before the man suddenly scuttled across the scaffolding and came down, and then the band returned. “I’m so mentally distraught I can only play one more.” Shadows laughed, before starting a chant of “Hail!”. They got back on track with “Hail to the King”, and kept delighting fans’ ears with songs like “Almost Easy” and “Afterlife”.
Nine songs wasn’t enough for these rabid fans, though, but the two-song encore, which wrapped up with “Unholy Confessions”, did the trick.
Even that one weird moment with the guy on the scaffolding wasn’t enough to throw Avenged Sevenfold of their game, and the band who came out firing on all cylinders just got better with each passing moment, mesmerizing the crowd not only with the fire and stage props, but also their musicianship.
For those who ventured out early in the afternoon, this was a long day. The music was more scorching than the heat was, though; and the fact that it encompassed everything from metal, to metalcore and even hip-hop guaranteed this year’s Mayhem appealed to many.