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Clowning Around: Insane Clown Posse Returns to Worcester Palladium for Mighty Death Pop Tour

By Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the May 2, 2013, Worcester Magazine.

Worcester doesn’t make everybody’s top 10 list, though it does have a special place for some, like horrorcore, rock/rap act Insane Clown Posse (ICP).

“Worcester is like top three out of everywhere in the country, maybe even number one,” Violent J, a founding member of the band, says.

“We can always count on the shows at The Palladium to be off the fucking hook and they always are and it just is a great, great thing for us,” he says. “And we’re really just grateful for that.”

The band returns to its favorite local haunt, The Palladium, on tour in support of its latest release “The Mighty Death Pop,” on Saturday, May 4.

“I don’t know what it is,” says J, “but from day one when we used to come through town, we used to draw really well there and had a lot of love and the shows were really super energetic and super awesome, and it’s just a blessing, man! That city is a wonderful place on tour.”

PHOTO: Insane Clown Posse fanatic, Juggalo, Joe Dayter shows off his ICP tattoo, clothing and face paint. Steven King/Worcester Mag

And J looks forward to seeing the excited throngs in Worcester again next week. “I feel really indebted to the city,” he says. “I mean, I really do. Me and Shaggy, last time we played town, it was Shaggy’s birthday, and we went out there and we stopped the show and we thanked everybody for the years of support and everything and we threw a big cake in Shaggy’s face. It was awesome, man!”

The duo, which has carved out a very successful career, including gold and platinum records (nearly 7 million sales total), a 20-year touring log, and a rabid legion of fans known as “Juggalos” and “Juggalettes,” despite maintaining a largely underground reputation, promises something new this time around for the diehards on a tour that will feature daily shows over about five weeks, spanning the country, from California to New York, Worcester to Florida, according to the singer.

“This show is an all-new show for us,” says J. “We’re doing a bunch of songs we’ve never done before in concert and we’re doing a bunch of stuff differently. At the last Gathering of the Juggalos (the band’s annual festival), during our seminar, we made the promise that the very next time we went on tour, the Mighty Death Pop Tour, we would do things differently.”

The all-new show, says J, came about, because of the particular demands of their rabidly loyal following. “That’s for the Juggalos that have seen us 15 times, 20 times, 50 times – to those Juggalos who come out to every show – which is probably a majority of the audience – people that have seen us before, we’re going to switch things up and show that we can deliver a brand new, all new show.”

Fans of the scene shouldn’t worry about losing the old with the new songs, skits, and rearrangements, J says, because “we’ll still have plenty of Faygo and the regular tactics of ICP.”

“There are songs off the new album, ‘The Mighty Death Pop,’ and there are songs out of the back catalogue that we’ve never done live before. This time we’re going to experiment. We don’t know if it’s going to be the kind of songs that go over well. We’re going to have to fi nd out live in concert. But we just wanted this one tour to do something different. We’re going to really dig into it and we’re not going to just pull out rarities and stuff that only die-hard super-fans know. We’re just going to do songs that we never thought about doing live before and figure out ways to do them live and hope it gets over.”

In addition to regular touring, a steady flow of records, film work, and a growing annual festival that has featured a long list of mostly rap acts, and more oddball celebrities than “The Surreal Life,” (Vanilla Ice, Charlie Sheen, and Cheech and Chong are just a few) Violent J is also pretty excited about the band’s new DVD set: “The Riddle Box Weekend.”

“It’s good times!” says J of the DVD that captures a weekend event in February of a live performance at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, of the band’s 1995 independently released gold record, “The Riddle Box.”

“A lot of people, it takes them back to the days of ‘The Riddle Box,’” says J. “When that album came out we were new, there was mystery to us. This is the days before YouTube and all that, and that show, that whole weekend, kind of took people back to the mid ‘90s and those days when things were more of a mystery about ICP, and every question that no one could answer was filled with an answer in their own heads, something they wanted to hear, or wanted to believe.”

“For that one weekend we went back to those times and you could feel it in the air at that show. Boy! You could cut the excitement with a knife in there, and it was so cool. The show sold out in like a day and a half, and it was the hottest ticket we’ve ever had. People wanted that ticket from all over the country, to go see that show, and it was an experiment, but it was really a success.”

The DVD set also features a disc of that weekend’s JCW (Juggalo Championship Wrestling) event. “We put on a big wrestling event and it was called ‘Oddball Brawl,’” says J, “which featured some pretty big names, guys that were formerly in the WWE, on top of JCW’s biggest stars, and that whole show was a lot of fun.” Professional wrestling figures prominently in the band’s cultural sphere; Violent J grew up a fan of wrestling and worked as a wrestler in the late 1980s before founding the Insane Clown Posse.

Violent J even sees pro wrestling as a metaphor for the ICP experience. “It’s a lot like pro wrestling: nobody believes it’s real, but they all still want to escape and get away with it and boo the bad guy and cheer the good guy.”

“I think Juggalos want to live the vigilante tales that we talk about. ICP has a lot of strong opinions against the evils of the world, like racist people and fucking pedophiles and the evils of the world, and I think Juggalos like to get caught up in the vigilante tales that our music provides.”

“I think our music reaches people with an imagination, people that maybe it takes a little more to entertain them than just a fancy song. They get lost in the stories of the music, and they get lost in the saga of the Dark Carnival,” says J. “Because we all have to live and breathe in a real world all the fucking time, and they want to go to a concert and they want to get lost in it.”

“It’s like therapy,” he adds. “It’s no different than a comic book or any movie. People of all walks of life are Juggalos. The only thing I know that they all have in common is they have a big brain with a lot of imagination.”

See Insane Clown Posse live at The Palladium on Saturday, May 4. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $30 at thepalladium.net.

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Stomping at Nick’s: Worcester Bar to Present “The Unknown Ellington” March 22 through 24, 2013

By Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the March 14, 2013 issue of Worcester Magazine.

Local club owners Vincent Hemmeter and Nicole Watson don’t just launch boiler plate ventures. They have singular visions and shoot for high quality. Take Nick’s, for instance. They didn’t just swap the name on the old Stoney O’Brien’s, sweep the floor and hang a few new beer signs. Like Vincent’s, they gutted it and unearthed a structural treasure over which they built a room of character.

The same attention goes to their entertainment. Both present entertainment that may not please all tastes, but each of which is sure to excite audiences of a certain mind. Nick’s has really homed in on their thing: jazz and cabaret, and they’ve assembled a stable of area musicians that turns out quality productions of a variety you would equate with big cities.

Nick’s doesn’t stop with good ideas, though. When they present one of their increasingly popular revues, they shoot for the deep cuts.

On the weekend of March 22-24, Nick’s will stage four performances of their latest idea, “The Unknown Ellington,” featuring works by The Duke’s multi-decade career as a pioneering jazz composer and bandleader.

“If you were to put a few jazz musicians together and just let them jam, I can guarantee you that before the night is out you will always hear a quantity of Duke Ellington songs, such as ‘Take the A Train,’ ‘Satin Doll,’ ‘Perdido,’ etc.,” says Nick’s co-owner Nicole Watson. “But doing a show with such over-exposed material would be way too easy and not much of a challenge for the musicians or the audience.”

Instead, says Watson, the Nick’s “house band” will dig deeper into the Ellington catalogue, making a show that might please a casual jazz fan, but provide something extra for the connoisseur, as well.

Most jazz lovers are familiar with ‘I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good),’ written by Ellington for his 1941 musical ‘Jump for Joy,’” says Watson. “Our concept allows us to bypass that well-known song and, instead, present two lesser-known songs: ‘Just Squeeze Me’ and ‘Brown Skin Gal in the Calico Gown.’”

Additionally, the group will perform other rarities, such as “Take Love Easy,” from Ellington’s ill-fated 1946 Broadway musical “Beggar’s Holiday,” which, Watson says, was crowded out of a season overrun with blockbusters. The piece will be performed “as a duet for Dan Burke and Linda Dagnello,” she says.

Another highlight for Ellington buffs will be Ellington’s “forgotten instrumental recording, ‘Starting With You I’m Through,’” which Watson says “is only known to exist on a single.” This version, which will be performed by Nick’s regular Dan Burke “expressly for this production, is possibly the first public vocal performance anywhere,” she says.

Nick’s commitment to live music has rewarded them with a growing circle of first-rate musicians with an ambitious bent. The personnel for this production is no exception. The return of four-time Nick’s revue musical director, Frank Racette, will be of particular interest, as he knew and worked directly with Ellington at the end of The Duke’s long career.

“Racette was responsible for Ellington being presented with an honorary degree from Berklee College of Music in 1971,” says Watson, and “he continues to maintain ties with the Ellington family,” adding, “in fact, Duke’s grandson, Edward Ellington II, has been very encouraging to us as we have been planning this event.”

“The performers involved in the show have shown themselves to be adventurous and open to trying new things,” says Watson. “Brian Koning, who was such a hit on trumpet in our Chet Baker production, will be using several types of vintage mutes that he has never tried before, and our drummer, Tom Spears … will be adding castanets to his percussion arsenal.”

Heavyweight area jazz vocalist Linda Dagnello will also be featured. “We suspect that she will stop the show with her bluesy version of ‘Rocks in My Bed,’ which was written by Ellington for the legendary Kansas City blues singer Big Joe Turner.”

Asked why they might tackle ambitious productions like this, while other rooms settle for risk-free money makers, Watson says, “Despite the great deal of effort that goes into it, I find it very personally rewarding. Worcester audiences are very savvy music lovers,” who, she says, “have proven it with their attendance to our previous sold-out productions of revues of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and Chet Baker.”

The logistics, she says, are daunting. “A production like this requires an enormous amount of planning, coordination and work for everyone involved.” Yet, the result, she says, is “a top-shelf product … with a very theatrical experience for the audience.”

According to Watson, Nick’s has “added extra performances to allow more patrons to attend and to enjoy a great night of music in an intimate venue” where the cover charge is quite reasonable “for the quality of the show, which one would find at such venues as Sculler’s or the Metropolitan Room in New York City.”

“I am confident that the intelligent and curious music lovers of Worcester and beyond will support this ambitious project,” Watson says.

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Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

From the June 21, 2012 Worcester Magazine

My photos from the 2011 Paulie’s NOLA Fest via Facebook

by Matt Robert

New arrivals to Worcester are quick to notice the potential of this city, held afloat by a small but devoted group of activists, who work tirelessly to provide fun, equity and culture. Paul “Paulie” Collyer is one of them; though, if you ask him, he’s just having a party and promoting the things that he loves.

Kick off the summer of 2012 with a taste of New Orleans in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Piedmont, west of Park Avenue on Chandler Street in Worcester, at the 5th annual Paulie’s NOLA Festival, on June 22, 23, and 24. This year’s bill features New Orleans heavyweights Sonny Landreth, Tab Benoit, Johnny Sansone, Mem Shannon, Eric Lindell, and Anders Osborne; rising talents, like The Royal Southern Brotherhood; and local and regional acts, like Boston’s Soul of a Man; Connecticut’s Shaka and the Soul Shaker; and Worcester’s Roadkill Orchestra, as well as food by Sweet T’s Southern Kitchen and Vinnie’s Crawfish Shack, and beers by Harpoon.

“I got world class musicians in my back yard and hundreds and hundreds of folks having a good time each year,” says Collyer. “It beats picking up trash or raking leaves.”

The idea came to Collyer at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “My first one,” Collyer says. “I had only planned to catch Van Morrison… .I didn’t miss a minute of the festival over three days and said to [my friends] ‘I could do this!’”

And so he did, beginning humbly with a free show in 2008. “Two bands: Hurricane Horns and Chris Fitz [who also played a great set in 2011], four kegs of Harpoon IPA and buckets of gumbo and Jambalaya from One Love Café,” says Collyer. “My best pal of 30 years, Jimmy DiSanto, and I served the beer and food. It was free, and 200-plus showed up.”

Collyer liked the result, and he did it again in 2009. “We bumped up to six bands and started charging $15. We drew new folks,” he says. “In 2011, we sold about 1,400 tickets [over two days, despite heavy rain on Saturday night], and I hope to sell 2,000 this year.”

The festival is held in an unlikely spot: the sand driveway behind John and Sons II deli, but Collyer doesn’t skimp on providing a great experience. He brings in professional sound engineers and enough gear to outfit side-by-side stages that allow for leap-frogging the band setups and near-continuous music.

As for the unlikely location of the festival, it’s all part of Collyer’s larger vision for the event, which, as it turns out, isn’t all fun and games. “My festival crew has chosen to host the festival in the part of the city that needs a lot of uplifting and support, and a part of the city that doesn’t always get its fair shake as a vibrant, valued segment of the Worcester community. We have made an effort to bring in new fresh music to the city from Louisiana, as well as support the local Worcester music scene and broader New England music scene.”

“I am a hardcore city guy who likes to have fun in the city. Green grass is for cows not the blues and jazz!” he says.

Worcester isn’t a favorite tour stop for most traveling acts, but that hasn’t deterred Collyer. “I start bidding early for them [and] am aggressive in my bid,” he says. His business philosophy, furthermore, is sound. “We have treated the musicians well. We have a nice festival and the Louisiana musicians have acknowledged this and have been supportive of what we are doing in the Village of Piedmont. The Gulf Coast went through a lot the past seven years, and so has my neighborhood the past 30 years — there is some synergy there. Rebirth requires a lot of help and these cats all know about that.”

Asked about Worcester’s response to the festival, Collyer is fair and optimistic. “The majority of the crowds have been from out of town,” he says. “But I have a hardcore group of Worcester locals involved in the festival planning who dig the New Orleans scene, and this group is getting bigger.” In fact, last year, upon word that legendary guitarist Tab Benoit had been acquired for the festival, a major buzz was generated, and people attended the festival from Boston, upstate New York, and even New Orleans; the upstate New Yorker telling me, “I go wherever Tab goes!”

“Phish,” he reminds me, “was in town last week and not everyone in the DCU Center was from Worcester. I dig being able to draw folks in from elsewhere. New blood is good in a community, and it adds more economic bang.”

In the end, Collyer is just “thank[ful] to those who have been supportive over the past four years,” and adds, “to those who are just hearing about the festival for the fi rst time, give us a try, I don’t think you will be disappointed.”

Paulie’s NOLA Festival, June 22, 23 and 24, 2012, Keystone Plaza Urban Fairgrounds 221 Chandler St., Worcester, baevents.com/pauliesnolabluesandjazzfestival.

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The Mecca of Metal

The Palladium proves its worth in a niche market 

by Matt Robert 

Photos by Steven King, courtesy of Worcester Magazine

The following is my May 3, 2012, cover story for Worcester Magazine. Click the link to see the original layout.

On a Sunday in April, I drive into downtown Worcester, a day bright but dreary and a light mist falling. The streets are barren. A few cars move leisurely along Main Street, as does an occasional pedestrian, or a small group of them, walking past the plate glass windows and locked doors of dormant businesses.

At north Main Street, what one local impresario calls “the hysterical courthouse district,” crowds appear: mostly black-clad, T-shirted boys and girls, with hands stuffed into jeans pockets, or holding cigarettes, mulling about in front of the Palladium theater, which, in contrast to the overwhelming gray, is lit up warm and bright, with flickering lights, and a large marquee announcing the 14th-annual New England Metal/Hardcore Festival.

I find curbside parking a few blocks away, where I can already hear the large firebrick structure rattling and emitting a steady rhythm of low bass notes. I pass through the mulling crowds out front, through security, and into the Palladium, which is swarming with concertgoers that both confirm and defy the expectations you have by now formed, most moving slowly up or down side staircases that lead below to the main theater and stage, or up the center staircase of the foyer to the smaller bar/stage area, or leaning on a wall or doorway with a blasé expression, texting or talking to a friend.

They are all part of what I will soon learn is a capacity crowd on the busiest day of the three-day festival, and that several of those mulling out front have been sold out of the event. The draw: most specifically, the attraction is a reunion show by Sunday’s headliner, Western Massachusetts metalcore band Killswitch Engage; and, in general, it is the festival, which has become a widely known, oft-celebrated event for metalheads, not citywide, not statewide, not throughout New England, not even throughout the Northeast. This festival now draws fans from…wait for it…the world over.

To Worcester? To a metal show? Yes, and yes.

THE TOWN

“If you’re into metal music anywhere in the world, you know about the Palladium,” says Chris Besaw of Break-Thru Music, a joint business venture of MassConcerts, which exclusively books the Palladium as well as a few dozen other venues throughout southern New England, including Gillette Stadium and The DCU Center, and smaller venues, like Lupo’s, in Providence. “It’s definitely known internationally within that world of the metal and hardcore scene.”

Justin Thomas, 27, agrees. He, along with friend, Jason Gill, 32, drove 500 miles from southern Maryland to attend the event, renting a hotel room in Westboro for the weekend. As Atlanta, Georgia’s, Attila performed, the two watched from an open riser beside the bar in the main theater.

“We had to make the pilgrimage to the Mecca,” Thomas shares. “We paid a shitload of money for the VIP passes,” he says with an air of embarrassment, before quickly shrugging it off and enumerating the perks. (VIP passes cost $175 for all-day, three-day access, plus “swag” and meet-and-greet opportunities with select bands. Standard tickets cost $40, $45 and $40 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday respectively, or $115 for a three-days pass.)

Thomas and Gill, engineers who do contract work with the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, are both longtime metal fans, and agreed that New England was more fertile soil for the particular brands of heavy metal and hardcore music that the festival showcases, which are decidedly less commercial than some of its distant relatives like Van Halen or Nickelback, for example, who would be headlining a show a block away at the DCU Center a week later to an audience roughly double the size of the crowd that would pass through The Palladium over the weekend.

“We met people from Australia,” raves Scott McLennan, freelance journalist and former music editor with the Worcester Telegram, who covered the event in hour-by-hour dispatches on Tumblr, with photos by his son, Sam, a Boston University film student. “They’re big metal fans and they were like, ‘Coachella [a massive annual California festival] looks cool, but this looks even cooler,’ and he said, ‘I love this music, and you can’t find this music in Australia.’”

“I met people from all over,” continues McLennan, who says he witnessed a couple get married at the New England Metal/Hardcore Festival (NEMF) during a GWAR set, a band from Richmond, Va. The ceremony ended with the bride and groom getting stuffed into the satirical metal/punk band’s meat grinder. “People have a good time!”

Joshua Lovell, three-year tour manager for Worcester-bred hardcore band Four Year Strong, says “Worcester is a good market for almost all bands. They say it every time they come around, and despite the fact that obviously Four Year Strong is getting a better reaction from fans, the other bands are still psyched and still very happy with the energy they get from the kids.”

“The Northeast in general, compared to other parts of the country, is the best market for music,” he says. “But Worcester/Boston is, in my opinion, the best market – period – for underground music.”

“The audience here is amazing in that every time the band plays Worcester, it’s like they’re playing a huge local show,” Lovell adds. “Almost like it’s just every kid that supported them when they used to play small hall shows just comes out in huge numbers. And they bring that same enthusiasm and energy.”

This great hometown support has propelled the band to significant success. Lovell says FYS is still going strong. “I just did a world tour with them. [Four Year Strong] played the UK and Europe, then went right into Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and Australia. Right now, they’re doing some scattered college shows before they get ready to do a small UK run with Blink182, and then it’s right on to Warped Tour for the summer.”

Still, he says that the band “will always be a Worcester band. They all grew up here and they still love it and rep it. They still put [Worcester] on a lot of their merchandise items, which is awesome.”

“Bands like Killswitch Engage, Converge, Shadows Fall, and a ton more have helped build the amazing metal and hardcore scene that we have in Worcester and surrounding areas,” explains Scott Lee, production manager of MassConcerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VENUE

Others, however, see the concert hall as part of the magic equation. “A classic venue like the Palladium has a certain pedigree about it,” adds Lee. “A lot of the bands know the history of the place and what kinds of bands have come through here. I feel that a venue that has been around as long as it has and has been successful as long as it has might have something to do with these bands coming back.”

Palladium General Manager Chris Besaw, who has been involved in the development of this scene – one that we can now take for granted – for a long time, agrees. “One of the reasons our metal and hardcore scene is so strong is the venue,” he says. “The Palladium is a great venue. We’re open-floor, general admission, where you don’t have to sit in your seat. You can walk around. People love that. You can see the band from on the floor, from the back of the room; you can go up to the balcony. It’s a very open and free space.”

“You have to have a space that’s big enough,” he says. “But you can’t have a space that’s too big. You go to an arena, you lose that general-admission freeness, and you’re stuck in a certain area – you’re stuck on the floor and you can’t move around.”

“Old theaters happen to be a perfect spot for live music,” he notes.

“They’ve taken care of it,” says McLennan about the old theater, which has operated in Worcester since November 1928. “They constantly tweak it. They don’t fuck with what’s nice about it. They don’t try to pass off dingy as, like, ‘We’re trying to preserve it.’ They clean, and they put new things in, and they make it nice. It’s comfortable.”

As I made my way around the theater on the Sunday of the festival, which I hadn’t done since seeing The Brian Setzer Orchestra in November 1998 (as well as a dozen or so concerts prior to that, and all-day movie festivals when I was in junior high), I observed metal heads, young and old, extreme and average, roaming to one stage or another, looking for a drink or a bite to eat, or simply reclining in any of the theater’s innumerable quiet corners, many low lit and outfitted with padded wraparound booths, and was reminded of what I loved so much about the place in my youth. It’s a great venue, especially if you’re in for the long haul, as any festivalgoer must be. Many, like Thomas and Gill, would be in the building 12 hours a day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE

The theater, though beloved, did not draw in the scene on its own. As is often the case, strange twists of fortune often play a part. McLennan has covered music in the area since the early ’90s, and has followed the metal festival since its inception. Of the ’90s music scene, he notes, “A lot of those touring bands weren’t welcome in Boston. Bands that either had a reputation for mosh pits or crowd surfing – pretty much punk and metal and hardcore – there was just a lot of resistance to booking it. Hardcore bands had a bad reputation in Boston. There was an element of violence, especially with some of the Boston bands. So, places like Avalon, the Orpheum, the Paradise, it was like, ‘you know what, we’re just not ready to deal with this right now,’ especially in the ’90s when indie rock was really taking off and there was a new band from Seattle every week they could book.”

According to McLennan, Lee really had his fingers on the pulse of what was going on with metal, so when John Peters, owner of the Palladium and MassConcerts came in around 2000 and took over, they basically hung a “Metal Welcome Here” sign at the Palladium and brought in all these big touring bands, like the Buffalo, N.Y., death metal band Cannibal Corpse and Auburn, N.Y., heavy metal band Manowar, and GWAR; all underground bands that had pretty big followings, but couldn’t get a shake anywhere in Boston.

McLennan says a ’90s metalcore scene started to take root because of guys like Lee who were managing, promoting and fostering bands like Overcast (who, he says splintered into Springfield metalcore/thrash metal band Shadows Fall and Westfield metalcore band Killswitch Engage). As these bands started to get popular and go out on tour, they’d come back to Massachusetts with their friends and play at the Palladium.

“I started working here in 1997,” Besaw says, explaining how the old theater became the destination for metal bands the world over. “And we were just a dance club. MassConcerts came in and took over in – I want to say it was 2000 – and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve been to all 14 Metal Fests. I was at the first one, and we just finished number 14.”

“Before MassConcerts took over, Don Law used to book some acts in here, and I think they did a few shows in here before we took over,” Besaw says.

Of the building’s recent history, he notes an unlikely start for a would-be metal mecca. “We were one of the biggest dance clubs in the Northeast,” he says, adding that the club booked huge touring DJ acts, like DJ Scribbles, which brought in sizeable crowds – huge crowds – for the little city that could.

“[We’d do] 1,500 people a night, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then a huge under-21 dance night on Sundays,” he says, suggesting that all-ages shows were always part of the formula.

Eventually, however, he says, the Palladium “transitioned over to doing live music.”

And though he doesn’t think that the focus was (or is) singly metal, he remembers that one of its first shows was California thrash metal band Slayer.

According to Besaw, metal eventually became the niche for MassConcerts and the Palladium, thanks to MassConcerts’ Scott Lee and John Peters who came up with the concept of the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.

“The first year was definitely a building year,” Besaw recalls. “We did well.”

“It wasn’t our first festival,” he continues, noting the production company’s experience in the field. “We were involved with Warped Tour, and had done some skate festivals.”

McLennan says the scene fostered itself internally, and MassConcert’s timely and continued investment paid off, nodding to the headliners of this week’s metal fest: Winthrop metalcore band Unearth, Springfield metalcore band All That Remains, and Killswitch Engage.

“All of those bands at one point played as early afternoon openers within the first year of their first record. All of those bands have a legacy of playing the festival multiple times, getting bigger and bigger and bigger up to the point where they were headlining. Sunday night, you couldn’t get another body in there, because of that Killswitch Engage reunion with the original singer,” McLennan elaborates.

“I think that it was just very fortuitous that these bands kind of came from Massachusetts and they still do, McLennan continues. “Bands like Unearth and [Boston post-hardcore band] Vanna and [Chicopee heavy metal band] Acacia Strain – these are all bands that over the last 10 years have really become very prominent in the underground metal scene and connected with everyone else and brought them back here, and that kind of explains why the Palladium became such a destination.”

“I remember one time I was hanging out [at the festival] and there was this band,” recalls McLennan, laughing. “I want to say it was [Polish blackened death metal band] Behemoth [who played NEMF in 2007] – and the guitar player walks into the Palladium and he’s like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here; I can’t believe I’m in the Palladium!’ And Mike Hsu [of WAAF] and I were like, ‘This shit hole?’ So, it was like hallowed ground, like ‘Metal Land.’ It was the first place that they brought in bands like [Swedish extreme metal band] Meshuggah from Europe; and they brought in [English power metal band] Dragonforce from Europe.”

Besaw seconded McLennan’s bemused perspective. “A lot of them come through and say that the Palladium is the best venue they’ve ever been to. Or they can’t wait to come back. We take a lot of pride in that,” says Besaw, while noting that the success of the festival and of metal, in general, is not by chance.

“Picking the newer bands,” he states. “That’s the hardest part. Established bands are easy. You know which bands are the bigger bands. It’s trying to pick the up and comers, the people who are going to be big next year; the people who are just starting to break now, the people who are going to break in a year from now. Those are the hard bands to pick.”

Lee adds another facet of the formula: “We like to keep our ticket prices honest and general attendance is what would keep us going. We try to give the best concert experience we can so people want to come back. If the price is right, the fans will come.”

Besaw and the others assert that it isn’t just metal that MassConcerts books into the Palladium. About a year ago, when electronic music started to get big again, with dub step, they booked a lot electronic music shows, such as California electronic music producer Scrillex and English dubstep producer Flux Pavilion.

“We also do really well with groups like [Detroit, Mich., rap/metal duo] Insane Clown Posse,” adds Lee. “They chose to have their New Year’s celebration at the Palladium, when they could have had it anywhere else in the world. Mostly everything works there, though.”

Lee points to “a slew of [metal/hardcore] shows coming up,” including Meshuggah, a sludge metal band out of Savannah, Ga., Baroness, and Behemoth. And McLennan notes that “they have a shitload of heavy shows coming up all summer. Every major heavy tour is going to pass through there—the bands that have no interest in playing Mayhem Fest or any of the sheds.” To wit, he points to a Palladium schedule that is packed with a variety of metal shows, full of bands that would be wholly unfamiliar to any but the most alert, ardent metal fans.

As to whether a similar scene could be cultivated for other kinds of music, such as blues, Cajun, and funk, like Paulie’s annual NOLA Festival, in Worcester, or events at Wachusett Mountain, for example, Besaw was doubtful.

“I just don’t think there are enough people in the area that are into blues [to generate a similar festival]. You have to have enough people that are into a certain type of music to make something this big out of it,” he explains. “MassConcerts has definitely cultivated the Palladium into what it is today by bringing in acts that people have wanted to see, and by knowing our genre and bringing in the acts that people are really interested in. They’ve cultivated it into being kind of the capital of metal around here.”

Killswitch Engage, whose reunion created the most buzz at this year’s festival, originated out of the remains of two earlier, important metalcore bands, Boston’s Overcast and Aftershock. (Overcast, too, would have a reunion at the NEMF in 2006.) Their Wikipedia page lists among their accomplishments slots on tours and festivals such as Ozzfest, The Reading and Leeds (England) Festivals, and Mayhem Festival tour, a 2005 Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance, two albums that have gone gold (500,000 units sold), and one that cracked the top 20 on the Billboard 200. The band’s 2005 DVD “(Set This) World Ablaze” centers around a concert filmed at the Palladium on July 25th of that year. (The DVD has also been certified gold.)

“Worcester is typically a B market, or a secondary market, with a lot of things, but, as far as the metal and hardcore scene, we are defi nitely an A market,” said Besaw. “When bands are routing their tours, they make a point to come through here just so they can play at the Palladium. Bands will even skip over playing Boston to play here, because they know our crowds will be bigger here, and they just love coming back here over and over again.”

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Besaw acknowledges the rewards of fostering a new or overlooked scene, and investing in a niche, but also notes an additional practical benefit, one you might hear discussed at any chamber of commerce roundtable.

“Worcester’s a good location due to the fact that you’re not in the big city. You don’t have the issue of getting in and out of Boston. We’ve got the Mass Pike nearby; 290 runs right through it. You get a lot of people from western Mass. who come up. You get a lot of people from Connecticut that come up, a lot of people from New Hampshire that come down. It’s more the central location of Worcester that just makes it a great market.”

McLennan notes that the staff, too, is part of the Palladium’s equation of success. “The people who work there are kind of fans of music,” he says. “They’re there because they like what they’re doing. A lot of people have been there for a long time or they’ve been to 14 metal festivals, and they get it and they’re fans. Some of the bartenders will rig their shifts to be at the main bar when the bands they want to see are playing. They’re there as much for the music as they are for the work.”

Understanding their customers, says McLennan, sets the Palladium staff and MassConcerts apart. “They don’t let you act like a jerk, but they don’t hassle you unnecessarily, either. They know how to be hands off…They try to make sure that nobody gets hurt, but they’re also not going to incite something by being heavy handed.”

Cory Sargent, a security guard for the event, who, on Sunday was stationed by a side door, reported that he had seen “no problems” despite Sunday being “the most packed” day of the weekend, which he estimated to be capacity at “about 1,800.”

Another effective business strategy seems to be the all-ages show. Even before the metal madness of this generation, the Palladium used this common ploy to fill otherwise slow nights, such as Sunday. Besaw sees the all-ages paradigm as practical. “You can come with your friends that are under 21, with your friends that are under 18,” he says. “Everybody can come here. It’s not age restricted.”

THE ELEMENTS OF METAL

Amidst all this talk of the business end of metal, you’re probably asking, “What is it that the fans are coming to hear?” Or “What’s the appeal of all that screaming and volume?”

“I like to hear some beauty, and it’s good to hear a little bit of melody,” says Thomas. “But no band is going to come out and play an Ozzie tune or anything like that.”

Most of the bands on the extensive bill (approximately 80 bands appeared throughout the festival) would frighten, or at least puzzle, unsuspecting mainstreamers. Attila, for instance, who is labeled on its official Wikipedia page as metalcore/deathcore/party metal, played a typically rapid-fire metal set replete with wailing drums, bass and dual guitars, while lead singer Chris “Fronz” Fronzak provided the obligatory scream/growl lyrics, even, at one point, moving beyond indecipherable toneless lyrics to a long, Guyoto-Monk-style guttural emission that was pure low-register – no melody, no rhythm, no words. None of this evoked to me quite what most would call beauty, melody, or “party” music. This isn’t the comical kids’ stuff of mid-eighties David Lee Roth videos. This festival’s music was, by and large, dark, intense, and sometimes goading or confrontational.

To a newbie like me, the subtleties that contrast one sub-genre or band from the other are lost on me. To the conditioned ear, though, distinctions can be heard.

“Metal is about aggression and anger, but also sorrow,” says Thomas, “the subject matter changes.” Thomas prefers, he says, “bands that preach unity over hate and discontent.”

“Some bands,” he adds, “can be intense, unrelenting, while others can be really cerebral.”

“It’s aggressive and cathartic,” explains McLennan, in an effort to describe the appeal of metal. “They’re all loud, and they’re all aggressive, and they’re all screaming, and they’re all bashing guitars; but you see a band like [Richmond, Va., heavy metal band] Lamb of God for the first time and you just say, ‘Holy shit! I’m seeing something completely revolutionary!’ It’s new and it’s fresh and it’s the way the band connects. I felt that when I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan, [a Morri Plains, N.J. mathcore band], which is very mathematical; it’s thick and it’s knotted, and it’s very dense, but very intricate. You see something like [California metal band] Huntress, and it’s got this flamboyant woman singer and it really hearkens back to Judas Priest, with all that guitar architecture – two or three guitars soaring up in huge-scale solos. They all just have an element of restlessness and aggressiveness and they strive for a ‘not going to take shit from nobody’ sort of attitude. That’s the unifying principal of it. It’s not the kind of music that wallows in its own bad feeling. There’s something gratifying about that.”

“It’s like horror movies,” he adds. “You know you’re going to be scared, you know you’re going to be shocked, but you like it. And I think there’s a very similar element to heavy music. It’s a very extreme music. It pushes your buttons, like a horror movie.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

So, the fans love it and the bands love it. But what’s in it for MassConcerts?

“I don’t know if they look at the dollars and cents over the course of the three days versus what’s the influence and impact of being the place that does this once a year,” says McLennan about the festival and why promoters continue to organize it. “When these bands are on tour and the House of Blues all of a sudden decides, ‘We want you guys,’ their [response] is probably going to be, ‘Well, we’ll stick to the Palladium.’ I think there’s a lot of loyalty.”

“It is [profitable],” assures Besaw. “It’s like everything else: when it comes to concerts it’s a bit of a gamble. I’m sure there have been years along the way that have been a struggle, but it is profitable.”

“Our income comes from a few different aspects,” he explains. “Obviously ticket sales are our number-one generator of income. We have a bar, we do serve alcohol, but we also serve soda, water, energy drinks. Our under-21 crowd is purchasing beverages, too. We do have some sponsors for the metalfest, too. This year, our big sponsor was All In Merchandise. They definitely helped us get the weekend done and paid for.” The show also included sponsorship by major musical instrument manufacturers Tama and Ibanez, and energy drink manufacturer Monster.

“It gets its money the same way that Newport Folk Festival gets its money,” says McLennan. “They probably charge vendors to be there, they get sponsors to be there, ticket sales are robust. I don’t think anyone’s playing necessarily for free, but…”

As for expenses, Besaw enumerated a few. “You always have to pay the big bands; they’re not doing it for free. Our biggest expense is our entertainment, the bands. Sound and lighting is a huge expense. We have a staff of about 75 people over the weekend. We have a lot of help from the police department, EMT’s from the city of Worcester. We hired four police officers that were here all day, all weekend. It’s a pretty big expense, but it’s important to keep it safe for everybody.”

WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE …

So, is this just a blip on Worcester’s economic radar, a feelgood story about a small ray of positive revenue generation? Is it a call for other city businesses, or the city government itself to stand up and take notice?

“There’s definitely a huge economic runoff,” assures Besaw. “We’re bringing in probably, over the course of the weekend, in and out of the building, about 7,000 people. A lot of those people stayed in local hotels. I know some of those hotels were sold out. We allow re-entry during the day. So, these kids were all out in the streets, going to local restaurants, going to local stores across the street. Everybody who’s in the area is benefitting from us bringing these people to the city.”

In the end, though, it comes back to the fans and the entertainment value they perceive.

“That Killswitch Engage reunion,” says McLennan. “It had to happen at the Palladium. That band, reuniting with its original lead singer, in that building, was probably one of the more spectacular things that I’m going to see all year! It was insane energy and everyone just belonged there. It was crazy.”

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Guster/Ray LaMontagne/Rogue Wave 8/11/2006 Concert Review

Guster/ Ray Lamontagne/ Rogue Wave
Bank ofAmericaPavilion –Boston,MA
August 11, 2006

 Of Bands, Venues, and Fans

            As Guster ripped through the first single from this summer’s Ganging up on the Sun, “One Man Wrecking Machine,” with lead singer Ryan Miller voicing desire to “relive adolescent dreams,” the obvious question was whether this largely teen crowd had adolescent dreams to relive. For many, the lo-res recordings on cell phones and consumer digital cameras would provide the memory. Cell phone faceplates provided a sort of third-party light show throughout the night. Earlier, as Ray LaMontagne provided the stark opening set, the question had been whether they could appreciate the straightforward approach of a folky singer songwriter.

            But hey, this was a crowd of young girls, and girls just wanna have fu-un. So, Guster gave it to them at every turn, never mind the mood of the particular song. And Guster’s songs are good, so is their show, which makes the songs its focal point. But Guster’s got the girls, and an image of wacky college hijinks to uphold, and so the gimmicks: The band entered bedecked in blinking helmets and matching Member’s Only jackets, winding the aisles on Segways to the soundtrack of “Born to be Wild,” and Ryan asked the audience to call them out for their encore by “snapping their fingers and muttering curses under their breath.”

            Still, what Guster gives in constant antics, they recover in providing more-than-clever pop with a little depth. An hour and a quarter of great songs were met with spontaneous eruptions of applause and genuine delight. The band hit the whole canon, including the latest, Ganging up on the Sun (“Lightning Rod,” “Captain,” “Ruby Falls,” “One Man Wrecking Machine,” “Manifest Destiny,” “C’mon,” “Hang on”), 2001’s Keep it Together (“Amsterdam,” “Diane,” “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” “Red Oyster Cult”), 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever (“Fa Fa,” “What You Wish for,” “Barrel of a Gun,” “Happier,” “I Spy”), and 1996’s Goldfly (“Airport Song,” “Demons”). The lone exception was 1994’s Parachute, which Ryan says the band is trying to leave behind.

            For co-headliner, Ray Lamontagne, the primary question was whether the mumbling, smoky shanty singing, and plain strumming could translate to a big, airy summer stage. Basically, it didn’t. Ray 4/4’ed one slow ballad after another, standing statue-still, without benefit of any pyrotechnics, fronting a roadhouse country band of bass, drums, and pedal steel. Frankly, it hit all of Ray’s winning points: authenticity, snub of gimmickry, seriousness. But, despite polite, if not enthusiastic response to the early numbers, rising to a roar with the later, progressively upbeat numbers, the crowd talked through the set and largely ignored the rising icon for musical truth. To wit: two teen girls spent the better part of Ray’s set deeply enthralled in comparing cell phone pictures. Yet, at set’s end, they leapt to their feet, screaming their approval.

And so it was with the crowd as a whole. As Twain said about the classics, they’re “books that everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.”

            What an unlikely pairing. It’s hard to imagine that either act has anything to gain from the other. Guster’s association with Ray doesn’t add to their street credibility, and Ray can hardly expect the teen-preen set to warm to unadulterated folk esthetics.

            Rogue Wave played a short opening set.

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