In Review: Metal Queen Music Fest
I intended to arrive in Tweed Ontario and find a legitimate journalism story. I packed pen and paper to make copious notes about local Metal talent. I packed my camera to take an extensive photo montage of events. I expected to chat with hundreds of musiclovers and hear their opinions of the event. But this is not a legitimate journalism story. This is an entree about camping, the excesses of alcohol, a group of song-singing hooligans and fun... with a side-dish of music. The first Metal Queen Music Fest may not have been what I expected or what the Metal Queen had expected but it was a fun little excursion to country bumpkin Tweed that I would have never made otherwise.
Sandwiched in a small Matrix with tents, sleeping bags, guitars, drums, boxes of magazines, gatorades, beer and backpacks, spotted with your typical Don Valley Parkinglot / 401 East traffic nightmares -- made for an anxious four hour drive. Once we stretched our legs and unloaded, we had a chance to mingle with the 50 rowdy metal-lovers that made up this modest party.
My traveling companions, Rehab For Quitters, sprinted their gear inside barely two minutes before their set time and climbed onto the sweaty stage. Nervousness pervaded the air. The announcer had a gameshow host smile and looked around as he made his opening statements. "Uh, if you're outside... you can come in now... guys...we're going to get started... the band is ready...". For one awkward moment it looked like it was going to be a typical Toronto show - fifteen or fewer people standing around offstandishly, arms folded. But once the guitars flooded our soundscape, the crowd piled in with enthusiastic cheers. Initially I wasn't sure how a party band like Rehab would go over for the metal crowd; however, the drumming and guitar riffs were just heavy enough to appeal to a wider audience and unrequited lovesong lyrics like "It's so hard to say goodbye so I say fuck you" had everyone moshing around. Later on, "The Cheese" and the audience-requested "Captain Obvious" would become our campfire singalongs.
I had never seen The Dr. Lang Band before but their name had been thrown around Myspace, sound guys and local Toronto clubs for the past year so I was curious. Last set I had been chuckling about "the crazy guy with the Canadian flag draped as a cape", assuming he was one of the local Tweed-ites come out to party. Suddenly Canadian flag man was perched atop a stool behind a set of Pearls, his voice floating effortlessly through the mic as he drummed. Colour me impressed! That's no easy feat at all but he pulled it off wonderfully and added dexterious metal guitar riffs generated a powerful sound for a trio. Ferocious songs like "Control " echoed a raw 90s rock grit similar to Refused.
Labra's radio-friendly sound flowed smoothly over eardrums in a Staind kind of way. Burning The Day was getting a lot of buzz around the festival grounds, as young girls and As I Lay Dying fans ran anxiously to catch the catchy metal set. The night's music festivities seemed to end far too early and I wondered how many of the bands had cancelled at the last minute. "We got bumped to tomorrow for some reason," the guitarist for Shatterpoint told us with a shrug and a beer gulp.
As the night progressed, music fell to the background and the gears shifted to friend-making, party-building mode. A truckload of wood appeared seemingly out of nowhere and amid the shadows I could only see long hair swishing from side to side and a rather enormous teepee structure situated in a metal basin. "You guys ready?" the singer for Shatterpoint growled. I looked around nervously, anticipating brush fire, and figured I wasn't too drunk to run if need be so YES, I was ready. The pyre ignited and the largest bonfire Canada has ever seen plumed into the inky night sky. A chorus of "WHOAS" exploded and people from other camp sites flooded over to check out the action.
Luckily the bonfire and smaller cooking fire never turned into the catastrophic nightmares I had predicted. But the fire still took its victims one by one. "You should have seen what happened later," Dan from Rehab For Quitters relayed to me. "The guys building the fire were having accidents all over the place! One of them burnt his hand so bad... it was all gross and flaky... but then he was picking off pieces of flesh.... and eating it! Another guy cut his hand throwing a piece of wood in... and this brain-like substance started oozing out of his finger! People were swimming in the lake cutting up their feet, bleeding all over. It was insane!" Flesh-eating zombies, guys wearing wigs and leotards, canned beans and Whiskey made the night more interesting by the minute. Apparently, stripping, trailer tipping and dragging tents full of drunks through mud puddles are what thrills people in the middle of nowhere. I was wildly entertained by the evening's antics - writers feed off these environments - but also felt relieved that this destructive obnoxious party wasn't happening in MY backyard!
Organizationally, the festival lacked that hectic and sometimes stressful "who's playing where/when?" vibe because we weren't juggling 5 different stages like Warped Tour or 13 different venues like S.C.E.N.E. Fest. The Bring-Your-Own-Beer aspect made the MQM Music Fest a wonderfully affordable time, the washrooms were surprisingly clean and the weather was fair. Since the main building was so ungodly hot, it would have been nice to have everything outside. If the room had been packed, the mainstage shows would have been brutal. Attaining sponsors like Pearl and Long & Mcquade made playing more convenient for the bands, while shuttle buses to the festival made attending more convenient for the fans. "The booking and scheduling of bands, advertising and publicity, crews and techs, merchandisers, sponsors, tickets..." sighs Metal Queen Betty. "There is nothing easy about any part of it."
No matter how much you're in it for the music, the gravitation towards reckless inebriation and socializing is overwhelming once camping is involved. As with any festival, I can't speak for every band, every fan or the organizers; I can only speak from my experience. Personally, there was nothing about the festival that really deterred me from having fun. Though the turnout wasn't massive like Ozzfest, the people that did show up undoubtedly had a great time and an excuse to take the weekend off work, get drunk and catch some new bands showcasing Canadian talent.
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