After losing a year of my life behind the wheel, I finally arrive at my destination: Kimberly, Wisconsin. Upon walking into the hotel—and I use this term loosely—lobby, I am happy to find a lovely old lady behind the counter chatting it up with a handful of punks. Punks I can only assume are in town for the same reason I am—the first annual Midwest Hell Fest. She tells me several groups of people “dressed in all black” have checked into the hotel today and asks me if I know what’s going on. I don’t have the heart to tell her its true name, so after pointing out that I’m not wearing any black; I tell her it’s just a silly little concert. After tearing up the sheets, flipping the mattress and performing other necessary beg bug checks, I run to the nearest grocery store to stock up on weekends rations—Doritos and beer, naturally. Back at the hotel, I bump into a group of dudes dressed in all black and ask if they know what time the fest starts. They tell me they are playing and even they don't know what time it starts. “Typical,” someone says, and we all laugh.
The venue is a giant adjoining room of, oddly enough, a sports bar—Tanner's Bar & Grill. By the time I arrive, I have already missed three or four bands. Looking at the lineup posted at the door, it appears the band list is quite a bit different than had been advertised. “Typical.”
Choose Your Poison
My immediate reaction is to ask out loud to no one in particular, “Remind me why I drove all this way again?” Nobody answers me. Then I remember, “Oh yeah, it's 'cause I love this shit.” These guys are from Appleton or Madison or somewhere in Wisconsin and share membership with Wartorn. Cross-over thrash with a stoner edge, like DRI, Municipal Waste, Cross Examination, etc. If I heard the singer correctly, I think he called one song “Smoke Weed, Worship Nothing.” That totally rules, man.
I get a chance to share an economically priced pitcher of domestic light beer with Aaron Gallows—guitarist for ska-crust ragers, Diskast, and drummer with street punkers, Born For The Gallows. In between frequent interruptions from folks coming up to say hello to him (seriously, this guy knows everyone) he shows me the leather jacket that Ben Crew (In Defence, Bring That Shit!) just gave him for his birthday. He's just turned 21, and it shows—dude is pretty wasted and it's not even 8pm yet.
More from the Wartorn family, as Bitty, the chief organizer of this event and singer for Wartorn, plays bass in Pyroklast. Musically, it sounds like Zeke, REO Speedealer, or Bad Wizard with d-beat undertones. Strange, I know. Pair that with some bro-ish vocal styling, reminiscent of any number of NYHC bands and things get even weirder. This is all just my opinion of course. When the front man introduces a song by screaming, “Today I woke up on the wrong side of the law!” it comes off more comical than it does political.
It might be the multitude of beers clouding my already road-weary judgment but, for a band that I have seen enough to last a lifetime and never been too impressed with, I find Wartorn surprisingly good tonight. Lots of energy coming off the stage and this partisan Wisconsin crowd is eager to return the favor.
There is a young man walking around with a stack of what I can only assume is his self-produced fanzine. (I was able to catch a glimpse of the cover and it did indeed say “fanzine.”) It looks as though he'd like people to buy these but I have yet to see him make a sale. As a supporter of the arts and fellow 'zine-maker (HotDogDayz), I would gladly buy or trade for one of these, yet whenever I approach him, he recoils in fear. Maybe it’s my Doritos-n-beer breath that's off-putting?
Minneapolis hardcore pranksters, Ben Crew and co. start things off as usual with the latest version of “Call More Dudes,” a song in which several mics are passed out to people in the crowd for a giant sing-along. “Call more dudes/call more dudes/C A L L/M O R E/D U D E S!” It never gets old. You’d think it would but it never does; unless, of course, you don't have a sense of humor. There are some people here without a sense of humor. Boo to them. There are lots of pizza-sucks-tacos-rule shenanigans as usual. It's refreshing to hear throw-back hardcore amidst all the the-apocalypse-is-coming crust that usually rules fests like this. Unfortunately the mics cut out for several songs. The bass player, Tony Talker makes a joke about playing Where's Waldo with the crowd, “If Waldo wore a black vest with patches and studs on it.” It was worth the drive just for that joke. Which, I will undoubtedly steal from him sometime in the near future.
Speaking of jokes; this place has an extremely good ventilation system, which, while easy on the nostrils, has in-turn ruined my opportunity to use all the “smells-like” material I was working on during the drive.
I start to sober up, which is good because there was a moment there where I was having an, ah, moment. I take the opportunity to run back to my room (which, thankfully is within' walking distance) to catch a little bit of the Oklahoma City/Memphis playoff basketball game and eat more flavored corn chips.
I arrive back at Tanner's just before Portland, Oregon's reigning kings of stench-core take the stage. Turns out it was guys from Hellshock that I shared a laugh with in the hallways of the hotel earlier. Not that I care about fan boy moments or anything, but it does further enforce one of the aspects I love about punk rock at the DIY level—the accessibility between band and audience. I’ve heard Hellshock on record but never seen them before this. I figured these guys must be something special, considering the plethora of Hellshock insignias you see patched across the backs of the jean-vested folks that travel in these circles. But seriously, I had no idea how good they would be live. I am reminded of Sweden's Wolfbrigade, in that it's a dervish of energy, both on stage and in the pit. Hellshock absolutely destroys the place.
More Wisconsinites that always play these fests. One of the guitar players, Cory, who runs Halo Of Flies Records, usually has a small but decent distro table that I sometimes buy cassettes from. Because cassettes, like, totally rule, man. Protestant are solid and I have no complaints. But Hellshock is a tough act to follow. Unfortunately I'm not the only one that feels this way. Many people have taken this opportunity to get refills.
Question: If it's warm enough for cargo shorts, can it also be cold enough for a leather jacket? I ask because this particular combo seems to be the sartorial preference of many in attendance this evening. Also, what purpose, exactly, does the sleeveless jean jacket serve?
By the way, the between-bands DJ is horrendous.
These guys have made the journey all the way from South Central, Los Angeles, California. “This one is in Spanish. It's anti-war.” Cool. Melodic grind…I think. Eh. Good night.
Back at my room I order way too much pizza and way too many breadsticks. And when it finally arrives, I tip way too much. I barley touch it because I eat way too many Doritos in the interim. Instead I pass out watching a John Wayne movie on AMC. Throughout the night, I wake up periodically to the overwhelming smell of said pizza and breadsticks, which lay virtually untouched on the floor next to the bed. Such is the illustrious life of a rock-n-roll journalist blogger.