RPM Fest 2019 – August 30 – September 1, 2019 – Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club, Montague, MASaturday, 1st February 2020
It’s been more than four months since RPM Fest wrapped up its fifth year of hosting what has become the biggest heavy music party of the summer in New England, featuring the best in rock, punk and metal.
The festival is put on by Promotörhead Entertainment, PDP Productions and Robo Sound, and this year’s edition was the biggest yet, boasting more than 50 bands across three stages, metal karaoke, a live recording of the Promotörhead podcast, retro video games, movies, corn hole, bear pong, whiffle ball, camping, barbecue and plenty of beer.
The festival had its humble beginnings in the backyard of Promotörhead member Brian Westbrook (drummer for Lich King, Virus of Ideals, PWRUP), where it was held for the first three years, out in western Massachusetts. This year was my second RPM and also the second year where the fest was held in a new location, at the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club in Montague, Mass. Based on stories I’ve heard, the backyard festival provided an intimate, tight-knit vibe for the fans and bands that came together each year to celebrate the music they love and was made possible by a complete DIY spirit and attitude, as the stages were built from scratch and a bevy of volunteers pitched in to make it all possible.
After some neighbor complaints forced the organizers to find an alternate location, and being unsuccessful in that endeavor in 2017, RPM took a year off, only to reemerge stronger, with a new and improved site, resulting in more bands and more fans in attendance. The new location at the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club had adequate space for three separate stages, a shaded pavilion area for eating, open fields for activities and vendor tents, and woods for camping. The bigger and better 2018 edition at the new location was a rousing success, so it was no surprise that RPM returned to Millers Falls for the 2019 edition.
As for food, Cherry Rail Farm provided everything from the standard hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza, to pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, salted potatoes, chorizo, macaroni and cheese, and ribs, as well as eggs, sausage, home fries, French toast and pancakes for breakfast.
One of the added features to this year’s edition of the festival was food trucks. While I did not get to any of them, I heard great things about the falafel, and there was a variety of other treats to choose from.
When it came to beverages, not only does the Rod and Gun Club have its own liquor license and is able to serve alcohol, but there was a tasty selection of local craft brewers lined up as well. Prices were extremely reasonable, with $1 for soda and bottles of water and $5-$8 for craft beers.
Apologies for the long introduction, as I’m sure many of you want to hear about the bands, but I feel it’s important to point out the history of the festival, as well as what it provides because it’s all part of making this event the best there is in New England. And now on to the music!
RPM Fest 2019 featured more than 50 bands across three days. Every band was afforded a minimum of 30 minutes of set time, with a bit longer for the headliners. No band started performing before 1:10 p.m. at any time, and all music was finished by 10 p.m. each night, not including the extra activities that take place after the bands on the main stages finish up, which this year included additional musical performances.
Day 1 – Friday, Aug. 30
Since I apparently didn’t learn my lesson from last year in terms of leaving early enough to arrive on time and set up camp before the music starts, I once again missed the first few bands of the festival. This was disappointing, although it was nice to hear Thunderforge ripping through “God of Tits and Wine” while assembling my tent.
The first full band set I caught was North Carolina’s Bask, who were playing on the Ginger Libation Stage, the smaller of the two main stages. Unlike last year, the stage was covered with a giant tent, providing ample shade during the day and adding to the atmosphere at night. Bask has been described as progressive, heavy, psychedelic and Americana – let me add bluesy doom to the mix. Talk about atmosphere! As fog rose from the stage, the band’s bludgeoning riffs, melodic leads and Zeb Camp’s soulful croon combined to send the audience into a trance-like headbanging, especially the excellent “Asleep in the Orchard.” Bask may have been the first band I saw, but they were definitely one of the highlights of this year’s festival and I made sure to pick up both of their albums at the merch tent.
As Friday’s festivities kicked off at 5:15 p.m., there were only 10 bands scheduled to play this evening, and with my late start and running from stage to stage, I was only able to see three full sets. But I was able to catch bits and pieces of a few others, including the experimental alt-rock of Oroboro, the progressive death metal of Conforza and the intense hardcore of Thoughtcrimes, featuring ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer. That goes to show you the variety of bands you will encounter at RPM Fest; there’s something for everybody and plenty of new sounds to discover!
The next full band set I caught was Lich King. The band is one of my favorite thrash bands going and released one of the best albums of 2017 with “The Omniclasm,” so there was no way I was missing the festival veteran’s return to once again rule the RPM main stage, this year known as the Cherry Rail Farm Stage. The band wasted no time blasting into “Lich King V: Stalemate” but halfway through, the thrash intensity was too much for Zack’s microphone to take and it went out. The band finished the song as an instrumental, with Zack screaming from atop the speaker he promptly climbed to incite the crowd to keep up the chaos, no mic needed. Once the technical difficulties were resolved, the band tore through more circle-pit inducing anthems, including “Our Time to Riot,” “Waste” and, of course, “Combat Mosh.” Lich King had a surprise for the crowd before leaving the stage, which was a ripping cover of Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire.” Lich King is never to be missed, but especially when the band is playing on home turf.
Friday night’s headliner was Chicago comedy metallers Psychostick. If you ever wondered what would happen if “Weird Al” Yankovic were to ever tackle heavy metal, look no further than Psychostick. The band’s heavy riffs, wacky lyrics, zany song parodies, goofy stage props and all-around hilarity and good-natured shenanigans paired perfectly with the colorful pool noodles and various inflatable objects flying through the air during their set. The majority of Psychostick’s material consists of original songs, but the band also features parodies and actual covers, including “Danger Zone” and “Numbers (I Can Only Count to Four),” a parody of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies,” both of which were played. One of the highlights of the set was “Sombrero Prophecy,” during which a sombrero was tossed into the crowd and everyone mauled the person with it trying to get their own piece. Other songs in the set included “Bruce Campbell,” “Obey the Beard,” “Beer!” and the closer “Hokey Fuckin’ Pokey.”
After-show Entertainment and Activities
One of the great things about RPM Fest is there’s so much more going on than just the music. Activities on Friday included Metal Pub Trivia, another new addition this year, hosted by Too Sketchy Dudes Comics and featuring prizes up for grabs, as well as the return of Heavy Karaoke. Karaoke performances ranged from “Holy Diver” and “Wasted Years” to “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Dragula” and “The Conjuring,” among many others. The drinks were flowing steadily as fans took turns behind the mic belting out their favorite songs, often with the crowd joining in.
I spent the rest of the evening catching up with old friends and meeting new ones while wandering the festival grounds before finally heading back to my tent and getting some sleep to prepare for day two, the first full day of the festival.
Day 2 – Saturday, Aug. 31
After waking up and showering, I made it just in time to get the last of the eggs, bacon and home fries and found a seat to relax in the pavilion. It was just about time for Metal Yoga hosted by Daayani Yoga featuring Nick Lee of Moon Tooth (providing the background music) to get going. Metal Yoga was another festival activity brought back from last year since it was such a hit. Even though I had finished breakfast, I continued to relax in the shade of the pavilion, letting Nick’s playing carry me off.
The Steelface Circus
It wasn’t long before The Steelface Circus, winners of the RPM Fest Battle of the Bands crowd vote, were getting ready to kick things off at the Ginger Libation Stage. This band was impressive. Vocalist Liam Steelface is only 11 and his brother Riley Steelface, who plays drums, isn’t old enough to drive, yet they did not hold back from delivering a high-energy set of heavy metalcore, complete with pounding kit work from Riley and growled death vocals from Liam. The band didn’t even let a brief holdup in the set to fix a sound issue stop them, filling the dead air in between with stage banter. Liam spent the set stomping across the stage and encouraging everyone to go crazy, even getting in on the action himself during the band’s final song as he jumped off the stage and into the pit for some moshing action. Great way to kick off day two!
After The Steelface Circus, I helped my friend Laura, who had recently arrived with all her camping gear, set up her tent and then we got some cold brews before returning to the stages for more raging.
My thirst quenched, I headed back to the Ginger Libation Stage to catch Black Absence. Hailing from Holyoke, Mass., this quintet plays melodic thrash metal. Rooted in the ’80s old school, there’s enough modern elements mixed in to keep things fresh and engaging. In addition to drummer Liam “El Smasho” Malone living up to his nickname with his work behind the kit, loads of riffs, plenty of groove and tasty solos can all be found within the band’s sound. The pool-noodle circle pits were certainly in full swing. Another worthy addition to the festival.
After Black Absence, I took some time to relax, get some food, hang out and catch up with friends. Usually, I’m running around like a madman from stage to stage trying to catch as many bands as I possibly can, and while there are benefits to this, I must say slowing down and pacing yourself while taking time to hang with friends and connect with fellow festival attendees and heavy music fans leaves you with a much richer festival experience and fun memories to look back on, even if it means you miss some of the bands you wanted to see.
Upon returning to the stages, I headed back under the tent at the Ginger Libation Stage, where Heavy Necker was unleashing their blues-infused rock ’n’ roll, providing a nice change of pace from the thrash and death metal assaulting the crowds earlier in the day. RPM is all about all things heavy, be it rock, punk, metal or something in between, and though Heavy Necker fell on the lighter side of that, the band turned in a potent performance that still had many dancing and headbanging along. After Bask and Heavy Necker, I’m all for having more blues rockers on future RPM lineups.
The next band I caught was Connecticut’s Bone Church, although based on their psychedelic stoner rock sound, you might think the quartet hailed from the bayous of Louisiana. Thick riffs, heavy grooves, extremely tight playing and gritty yet melodic lead vocals, almost in the vein of Chris Cornell, were all on display. I had seen Bone Church previously and one of my first thoughts was they would be perfect for RPM Fest, so I was excited to see them get announced. Although the band didn’t have their usual burning candles adorning the stage, they still delivered a powerful performance that I’m sure gained them more than a few new fans.
Photo credit: Alex Lindsay
Following Bone Church’s crushing performance on the Ginger Libation Stage, I made my way over to the Cherry Rail Farm Stage to see Gwell-O. Having only heard of the band, I had no idea what I was in for. What followed was one of the most over-the-top, out-of-control, fun performances of the festival and definitely one of the highlights. Inspired by the likes of GWAR, especially with the colorful, duct-taped monster costumes, and Green Jellÿ, add in the comedy of Psychostick, and you get an idea of what Gwell-O is all about. In addition to playing a heavy, fast blend of metal, punk, thrash and rock, the band’s performance included monster battles, Nerf gun wars and toilet paper cannons. Add in the pool noodles and inflatables, including swords, and it was a wild, whacky performance that won’t soon be forgotten.
High n’ Heavy
After the visual and aural onslaught of Gwell-O, I headed for The Enthusiast Stage, the small stage under the pavilion, where High n’ Heavy were finishing up their set. Having been influenced by The Stooges, Black Sabbath and Motörhead, the New Bedford, Mass., four-piece plays a loud, heavy, raw mix of stoner, rock and doom. I especially enjoyed vocalist Kris Fortin’s wizard-like getup, complete with robe, hat and the walking stick mic stand. Apart from the lack of a white beard, he looked like Gandalf stepping out of the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale of Middle Earth.
Goblet is an institution at RPM Fest. Hailing from Pittsfield, Mass., the quartet is the only band to play RPM Fest each year it has been held, laying waste to audiences and the stage with their self-proclaimed “western Mass bastard thrash.” Not only that, the band members are also responsible for building some of the first stages of RPM Fest back when it was held in Brian’s backyard.
Goblet always have something special hidden up their sleeve for RPM Fest. Last year, vocalist Jesse Pause, who drives an actual hearse, was delivered to the stage in a coffin, which he burst out of jack-in-the-box style to begin the band’s set. This year, adorned in a white dress, he was wed to Lich King vocalist Zack Smith, also in a dress. The nuptials were officiated by Lich King guitarist Nick Timney as Kid Rock. The performance that followed was fast, hard-hitting and tons of fun. From the likes of older cuts such as “Forced Blunt Trauma,” “Party Monster” and “Dragons in Space” to new songs off the band’s upcoming full-length release such as “Beer at the Wine Bar” and “Madman in the Band Van,” it was a nonstop circle-pitting, neck-wrecking good time. And the fact there was an inflatable shark flying about during “Wavecrasher” was perfect.
I’m not sure anything could have prepared the audience for what was next. Headlining the Cherry Rail Farm Stage and the second night of RPM was West Virginia’s Byzantine. The groove metal machine brought the heavy and absolutely leveled RPM Fest and everything in their path with massive riffs, high-octane energy and sheer intensity. For an hour, we were bombarded with devastating riffs, beautiful melodies and copious amounts of groove, as the band gave everything they had.
Relentless headbanging, whirlwind circle pits, pool noodles raining down and inflatables, including a giant duck and a few beach balls, flying about. You name it, it was all there during Byzantine’s commanding performance that took RPM Fest by storm. The band grabbed the audience by the throat and never let go. Byzantine said because they don’t play often these days, when they do, they make it count. If you’re fortunate enough to have them play near you, get out and see them. Easily one of the most powerful performances of the festival!
Although there was no trivia or karaoke after the bands finished up, there was still plenty to do and see, with video games on offer at the Ginger Libation Stage and something a bit different at The Enthusiast Stage in the pavilion, featuring the RPM Afterparty with a hip-hop set performed by Pariah and a DJ set by Dirty Lil Sex Brats. Credit goes to the promoters for keeping an open mind and inviting varied acts such as Pariah and Dirty Lil Sex Brats to be part of the festival. Rainbowdragoneyes was also lined up to perform as part of the afterparty but unfortunately wasn’t able to make it.
Pariah, also known as Kendall Divol, is a multitalented artist. Earlier in the day, he was bashing his kit as the drummer for death metal mavens Necronomichrist, who played the Cherry Rail Farm Stage, and then at night on The Enthusiast Stage he was spitting raps and dropping rhymes as his hip-hop alter-ego Pariah. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no rap or hip-hop connoisseur, but Pariah’s performance was excellent and I hope he’s invited back to reprise the role next year.
I didn’t stay much longer beyond Pariah’s performance, eventually making my way back to the tent and succumbing to sleep not long afterward. However, I was awake long enough to hear a mystery fiddle player serenading those who were still partying in the woods into the wee hours of the morning. You never know what you will see, hear, or run into at RPM Fest, which just lends to the festival’s charm.
Cover Psychostick photo credit: Jessica Miller
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