by: Frank Godla
I've been to more metal festivals in my life than I care to count. Touring festivals, destination festivals, one day to four day festivals, festivals in a desert and festivals in a city. However, as I sit here in my boxers still feeling the after shock and stacked hang overs of last week, I can honestly tell you 70,000 Tons of Metal not only surpassed any expectation I've had for the 4 day floating adventure, but it has already secured the #1 spot on my lifetime festival experience list. So why is 70K Tons of Metal the best fest I've ever been to? Hopefully the following list will help you understand, although I doubt it'll do it justice. Unfortunately this fest mostly falls in the "you had to be there" spectrum, moreso than any other fest we've been to. If you weren't, no explanation may suffice to the neigh sayers.
Who Is The Headliner?
We all been to fests where the opening band is forced to be the mediocre act in every sense of the word. Their job is to build hype in the audience while massaging the egos of the headlining tier. There is an entire business strategy that often goes into positioning these band line-ups and set times in appropriate order of worth to the organizers. The way standard festivals are organized often limits certain bands to terms like 20 minute sets, stripped stages, shitty sound, and higher merch cuts. With 70K Tons of Metal however, there really is no "headliner" per-se and if there was, it certainly wasn't noticeable by any means. Every band had an opportunity to shine under multiple conditions with each band playing two sets. Each on a different day, at different times, on different stages, of different sizes. In short, you basically got to see what a band is made of by watching them on a huge festival size outdoor stage, and then do it again in a small dark club like setting, or even in an indoor half seated theater.
The best way to describe the over all sound quality of the stages aboard 70K Tons of Metal would be impeccable. There was no favoritism of sound on this fest what so ever. Every single band sounded just as sharp, heavy, and loud as the next band you played on the same stage with. All 3 stages were equipped with the perfect blend of equipment and sound man who understood the atmosphere and room he was working with. To say the least I was very impressed with how well the live shows were managed, they made it possible to genuinely enjoy the charm of all 3 stages and settings equally.
Much like the first point I've made, metal festivals are often concerned with being as efficient as they possibly can considering the time and money involved. So it's not uncommon to find a festival where they literally try to cram every band they can find on the bill. When you first glance a festival bill of 100 bands in 3 days, it may sound like a great idea at the moment, but it often means YOU, the consumer, are lacking in the top notch experience you deserve from the price of admission. Whether you are the band or the audience, no one is ever truly pleased to see bands get rushed on stage in three minutes, play a 20 minute set, and rushed out the door in five. This is the formula for high levels of stress on stage, shitty sound, and bad feedback from the crowd.
Yet again, this is where 70K Tons of Metal stepped in and did things differently. Having 3 stages, and a very specific number of bands to play with, essentially meant you can leave an entire hour between bands on each stage. Since most of the equipment was backlined by the festival, a large portion of that hour went towards sound checking and fine-tuning each and every band for the best possible performance you can get. This method also allowed for each band to get anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes of set time. Seriously, I cant stress enough that this team knew how to keep their consumers happy.
Everyone Has A Great Spot
No one enjoys being crammed next to each other in any concert experience. People sweat; they smell; they knock over your drink; they step on your foot and generally moods are not that upbeat when people are uncomfortable. To put this as plainly as I can, the cruise ship is fucking huge for the 2000 attendees on board. Having the luxury of space and multiple things to do at the same time means you are never uncomfortable or fighting for a better view of your favorite band. Even when the outdoor stage deck looked packed, it was built in such a way that no matter where you were, you could get a great view and be incredibly comfortable. At one point I couldn't help but notice a waiter taking a drink order in the middle of the pit at the outdoor stage while Marduk played their set. Where the fuck else would you see that!?
You Really ARE Backstage
I admit, when I first saw the video promo for this festival I found the line "It's like everyone has a back stage pass" a little cheesy. My cynical side had lead me to believe all the bands would group up in some secret lounge and eat their private food, and breath their private air. My initial impression couldn't have been more wrong. This fest broke down barriers between bands and fans in a way I have never seen before. Whether you were eating your dinner, gambling your money, buying a drink, or soaking in the hot tub, you were inches away from the bands constantly. You have to understand, this experience was just as much of a vacation for the bands as it was for the fans. It wasn't uncommon to see the bands mingling with the fans and sharing laughs like they been friends for years. If you were up late enough to catch the shenanigans in the karaoke bar (the party usually only started in there around 3:30AM) then you may have caught Herri of Tyr, Paul of Blackguard, Warrell of Nevermore, Matt Barlow of Iced Earth, Burton of Fear Factory, or Petri of Ensiferum belting out their favorite tunes from less than metal pop stars along side their fans. It was a sight to see.
Metalheads Know How To Behave
If you had told me one day I'd be blogging about how well behaved, level headed, and mature an audience of 2000 drunk metal heads are, I would have pissed my pants laughing. Yet, here I am telling you about the story of a couple thousand metal heads who got on a ship, got wasted, and had the best time of their lives without a fight, problem, drama, accident, or foul behavior. The attitude of the entire fest experience can be described as "brotherly and light hearted" and spawned dozens of international friendships every day. It can be argued that this fest went so well because it didn't contain the kind of bands that come along with bad attitudes, ninja kicking, or the American beatdown mentality, but I'd like to think it was because everyone understood they were part of something special. Whether you were a band, a fan, press, or crew everyone had something in common. We were all the guinea pigs for the biggest floating metal party known to man, and we we're all just as stoked to be there with one another.
I Don't Need Car Keys, I'm On A Boat!
This may fall under the obvious column, but I'd like to take this opportunity to revel in the idea of a 4 day around the clock party without any of the inconveniences of a typical party weekend like running to an ATM, cleaning your room, making your own food, cleaning your clothes or even making it home while drunk. No matter where you were or how hard you partied, you were only five minutes away from getting back to your bunk. Even if you couldn't, there was always a friendly face to help you out, or even let you crash somewhere. Most of the topics on this list contains items having to due with the musical aspects of the event, however it can not be forgotten that this was in fact a cruise! I've never been on a cruise before, and never really considered it a thing I'd ever be down to do. However this festival made a believer out of me. I cant say I'd be down to go on another cruise without a metal festival attached to it, but I can certainly understand why other people would now.
A Great Place To Meet People
With 2000 people from 48 different countries present at the event you were bound to meet people of all cultures and backgrounds unlike your own. Every one of them just as interesting and pleasant as the next. At one point it had occurred to me that I made numerous friends from around the globe in record time. Then it had occurred to me, there was a large portion of people who attended the festival solo. Imagine that! Traveling 15+ hours from your country to get to Miami, so you hang out on a ship for a week with people you've never seen in your life and walk away with new friends and a head full of great memories. Granted if you're the anti-social type who finds meeting new people more of a chore than a pleasure, then it's probably not your thing. However, if you're a laid back person with good vibes and a positive outlook then you'll fit right in and have a great time.
Fuck Phones, We're Here For The Metal
One thing that always really urks me about American audiences is seeing a sea of people more entertained by their phone than the show they're currently at. It often makes me wonder whether or not people go to shows to experience music in it's truest form, or to simply brag to their peers that they were at the show, and then spend half the band's set fucking around on Twitter. Thankfully, for the majority of the trip there was no phone reception, and internet connection was somewhat unbearable. I know that must sound crazy considering what I do for a living, but you have to understand it forced the audience into the most primitive idealistic setting I almost forgot existed because I haven't seen it in many years. A place where the audience was entirely about the band they watched, or not present. If you didn't want to watch a band, there was a plethora of other things to do and no one was stopping you. This ensured that every band you watched at the festival, meant that you were watching them along side other fans who wanted to be there too. Everyone wins!
Open Minded Behavior
I cant help but think of your typical heavy metal parking lot type setting when attending large U.S. based festivals. I often see the meatheads drinking beers out the back of their Dodge Ram trucks while blasting the headliner's latest record, possibly to refresh their memory for later? I don't really know why those people do that, but it doesn't fucking matter. The only thing I take away from that scenario is that they are completely close minded . I feel sorry for their girlfriends… if they're that close minded to music, I can only imagine how it affects their personal life. I'm not trying to say that every single person attended a set for every single band on the 70K Tons of Metal festival, however I can honestly say that I saw lots of people explore new bands for the very first time. Perhaps it was the setting, or the stage, the sound, the atmosphere, hanging around laid back Europeans, or the fact most of these people paid upward of $1000 to be there, but I can't tell you how many times I over heard something like "Wow, I've never even heard of this band and they blew me the fuck away!" I genuinely love open minded people, and I was so stoked to see people exploring new bands first hand. I'm sure the bands got a kick out of that too.
Well there you have it, 10 topics right off the top of my head as to why I enjoyed my experience at 70000 Tons of Metal. Please note that I did not include any of the obvious awesomeness like free food, hot tubs, cleanliness, room service, half naked attractive metalheads, pools, cheap drinks, and all the other amenities included on the cruise. I know a number of you had reservations concerning what this event would be like. I had friends tell me things like "Have fun with the over 40 crowd!" or "Man, its going to be a shit fest on that ship, I bet it smells, etc etc." Well I'm here to tell you to throw away everything you possibly thought about why you shouldn't go, and treat yourself to one of the best times of your life next year. I know I will!