Located in a rural area about 12 minutes southwest of the Richmond International Airport, Hadad’s Lake probably isn’t the first place one might expect to find a metal festival. When you throw Gwar into the mix, however, the water park backdrop makes all the sense in the world—perhaps more so than the 2007 Sounds Of The Underground festival stop that saw the best damn band from Antarctica headline the grounds of Louisville’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
Unlike previous Gwar-B-Qs, this—the fifth annual installment—brought with it several questions, and its fate at one point seemed up in the air for fans, if not the band itself. The death of founder and mouthpiece Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, raised questions of whether the Scumdogs could soldier on in their conquest of Earth. A well-known frontman is perhaps the hardest member of a band to replace, and doing so has signaled the beginning of the end for more bands than not. (Of course, bringing a familiar face into the fold is a solid move, but more on that in a minute.)
As with any festival, seeing everything on display is nigh impossible. Seeing every minute of every set can mean missing various events and vice versa—and with this being a festival built around a band of artists dressed as rubber alien monsters that drench the crowd in fake blood, jizz, and other bodily fluids, there was plenty of really cool weirdness on hand. Here are eight things you missed if you didn’t make it.
Why did we go? Did somebody say Viking funeral? In all seriousness, though: To pay tribute to the mastermind behind a mythos 30 years in the making, and to hear those close to him—current and former bandmates, as well as friends like the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe, and Holliston creator Adam Green—share their memories. (Unfortunately, we missed Biafra due to a chemical spill on I-95 that held us up. Similar traffic incidents and car troubles also prevented Goatwhore and Bam Margera’s Fuckface Unstoppable from making it on Saturday.)
Why we won’t forget it: As cheesy as it sounds, it’s easy to be disconnected from how many lives someone touched when you’ve primarily only seen them dressed as a rubber alien monster. The amount of emotion on the stage and in the crowd, especially when Green played a voicemail left by Brockie just weeks before his overdose, is something not often seen at a metal show. And, of course, seeing a flaming arrow immolate the Oderus Urungus costume on a boat doused in kerosene and full of fireworks following a procession led by Danielle Stampe, a.k.a. Slymenstra Hymen, in full valkyrie garb and a guy playing bagpipes. The sound of the gravel-throated Blythe weeping for his friend five feet away from us isn’t likely to leave our memories anytime soon, either.
Why did we go? While Gwar has had elements of pro-wrestling in its live show before, Eat The Turnbuckle takes it to an extreme. The band performs in various wrestling costumes, from luchador masks to Arab headdresses à la the Iron Sheik while bludgeoning themselves and one another with steel chairs, trash cans, forks, and various objects wrapped in barbed wire while a “commentator” sits at the side of the stage. Throw hardcore indie wrestler Necrobutcher, who you might recognize from 2008’s The Wrestler, into the mix and you have all-out carnage.
Why we won’t forget it: This set was—if water park operators everywhere have any luck—the last time anyone sees barbed-wire-wrapped Funoodles. The nature of Eat The Turnbuckle’s performance also made this the most likely place attendees would see the inevitable “kid who does karate kicks in the pit”—and while he showed up in his own luchador mask and swung from the rafters, he wasn’t the only member of the gathered crowd actively participating. Iron Reagan’s Landphil Hall and Rob Skotis got involved at one point, with Landphil becoming the recipient of a sick Samoan drop onto the concrete.
Why did we go? Because you can’t have a festival at a water park and not have events like this. The Spew-O-Lympics is a competition that pits 25 contestants (selected in advance via an essay contest) against one another in events including a rope swing and “The Blob,” an inflatable super launch. “You basically try to hurt yourself to win,” Iron Reagan drummer Ryan Parrish mused later in the afternoon, while discussing some of the best belly flops.
Next to the pools, at the lake itself, FBM Bike Co. had a ramp set up, from which they flung themselves into the lake for no prizes at all.
Why we won’t forget it: Something about watching people attempt to do stunts into pools or lakes, for prizes or not, is just entertaining—especially when you’re taking a minute to eat. It helps that both events were easily viewable to most people sitting in the picnic areas, where seeing either stage was a little more difficult, if not all together impossible.
Why did we go? As punk rock legends, the The Meatmen inevitably influenced Dave Brockie, much in the same way he likely influenced younger bands on the bill like Iron Reagan and Noisem. This isn’t to say necessarily that there would never have been a Gwar without songs like “Crippled Children Suck,” but it might have looked different.
Why we won’t forget it: At 59, frontman Tesco Vee is as provocative and vitriolic as ever. It’s an age by which most of his peers have toned down or pissed on their legacies with petty squabbles, and he isn’t about to let anyone forget it. “If you’re going to be a legacy punk band, don’t suck like Black Flag,” he sneered between songs—though we were probably never going to see anyone from any incarnation of that band hump a blow-up doll onstage to begin with.
Why did we go? Speaking of punk legends, special guests the Misfits are the progenitors of horror punk. Forget the Kiss-level merchandising and the off-chance that the band may very well be another that Tesco Vee was taking a shot at, Jerry Only, the sole remaining member of the band’s 1977-1983 lineup, is the creator of the iconic devilock hairstyle and his Misfits still hold up well in a live setting.
Why we won’t forget it: There’s something to be said for a band that can still drive thousands of kids nuts with a high-energy set 37 years into its existence. For longtime fans, there was something for everyone here—from Danzig-era cuts like “Halloween,” “Astro Zombies,” and “Skulls” to Michale Graves’ “Scream!” and “Dig Up Her Bones.”
Why did we go? Singer Tony Foresta’s promise to play 20 songs in 18 minutes made Iron Reagan a must-see. Fans were already packing the second stage pavilion while Hatebreed were still commanding a sizable main stage crowd across the lawn.
Why we won’t forget it: The performance itself was one of the most raucous of the day, rivaled only by Gwar. Fans not only spilled onto the stage, they hung from the rafters. At least 10 people could be seen above the stage at one point as the beams began rocking, chips of white paint falling intermittently.
Why did we go? Like Gwar, Ice-T’s Body Count was among the most controversial acts of the early ’90s. Both were on Parents Music Resource Center co-founder Tipper Gore’s shitlist, though Body Count’s song “Cop Killer,” pulled from the band’s debut album, was even condemned by President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle.
Why we won’t forget it: To say the least, Ice-T is outspoken, commenting between songs on the “pussification” of America (“Girls, have you noticed your man has started to grow a vagina?”) to the current unrest in Ferguson, covering the Exploited’s “Disorder” and predicting just that for America if things don’t change soon. As bassist Vincent Price told us earlier in the afternoon, “It’s been going on for a long time, and it’s like now, people are really starting to see what’s going on. Back in the day, when it was happening where we grew up, there was no news. News was scared to come into places where we live.”
Beyond the sociopolitical commentary, Ice and company had the crowd in the palms of their hands, singing along to “Body Count,” “There Goes The Neighborhood,” the aforementioned “Cop Killer,” and “Talk Shit, Get Shot.”
Why did we go? Following the announcement that Gwar would continue on in the wake of Dave Brockie’s death, there was plenty of speculation as to what that meant. In a 2006 interview in the now-defunct Metal Edge magazine, whether serious or not, he had suggested the possibility that one day, there could be multiple Gwars touring at one time and that the concept could outlive the members. The retirement of the Oderus Urungus character still left a gap to be filled. Sure, a variety of characters with their own songs in the band’s mythos, and many of them–Slymenstra Hymen, Sleazy P. Martini, Bonesnapper, Sawborg Destructo, and the Sexecutioner–were confirmed to appear at the festival weeks in advance, along with the original Beefcake The Mighty, Michael Bishop, handling lead vocal duties as an all-new character. Earlier in the afternoon, we pressed the current Beefcake for more info, and he promised us only that Gwar’s future would look “violent and bloody.”
“There’s a lot of people still alive here, so we’ll really try to do something about that.”
Why we won’t forget it: Martini, the band’s manager, took the stage to explain to fans that Oderus had accidentally been “smoked out” by the rest of the band, who, following his explanation, launched into “Madness At The Core Of Time.” Through heavy stage smoke, Gwar new frontman, who would later introduce himself as Blothar, emerged, sword and shield in hand. As the set played out, however, many others vied for the role. Sawborg Destructo shared his “Private Pain,” as did Bonesnapper, while the Sexecutioner had the entire crowd singing along with his namesake song. Even Justin Bieber showed up to claim the spot—before being torn limb from limb.
Of course, Slymenstra’s re-emergence also meant the return of fire dancing to Gwar’s shows, and she remained a heavy presence throughout songs like “Saddam-A-Go-Go” and “Tormentor.” The 75-minute set even saw a visit from Oderus’ pet Tyrannosaurus, Gor-Gor. As the festival drew to a close, Blothar led the crowd in a massive sing-along of the band’s early-’90s power ballad, “The Road Behind,” in remembrance of Brockie before Martini returned to the stage for a game of “Slaughterama” that saw Jello Biafra (the real deal, animated as ever) run onstage for his turn to die at the hands of Gwar.