Full Terror Assault – Reflecting on Five Years of FTATuesday, 3rd September 2019
When it comes to being a North American metalhead, one point of jealousy is looking over across the Atlantic each summer and seeing the sheer wealth of killer festivals in Europe. Huge stages and seemingly gargantuan line-ups each weekend. While in the US, there’s just not the same foothold for metal in general as in Europe, there’s not the number of music festivals in general.
But extreme metal fans have been treated to a European-styled open air festival (complete with camping) for the last few years with Full Terror Assault in Illinois. This coming weekend marks the fifth anniversary of the festival, which another strong line-up of bands – from national acts to lesser knowns across many subgenres. We chatted for a few minutes with event organizer Shane Bottens for a reflection of what has made the festival work (as well as the time he has sunk into it), some of the challenges, and his goals for the future with it.
Dead Rhetoric: When you first started out with the idea for the festival – what made you feel that you could accomplish this feat?
Shane Bottens: I kind of had it all in my mind for a while, I’d say 5-6 years before I even started it in 2015. It’s one of those things where you kind of take a chance with something. I had an idea, or a dream so to speak, to bring a European-style festival. I also wanted a festival where bands could play with major touring acts and not have to do any sort of pay-to-play to be on it. It was a risk, but I finally found the right location. The guy that owns the place is actually a super-cool dude. We are actually partners in it now – he believes in it just like I do. He thinks this fest could be something big. I presented my ideas to him and we went back and forth – in the end I said, “fuck it, let’s do it!” I rolled the dice, and here we are five years later.
Dead Rhetoric: So what are some of the benefits of the location itself in serving what you want to accomplish?
Bottens: It’s down by Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. If people don’t know where that is, it’s the eastern, southern tip of Illinois. The area down there is really beautiful and scenic. There’s a national forest down there [Shawnee National Forest]. It’s a little bit different than some locations – you aren’t just in a flat field with no woods, or having the festival itself on a paved, parking lot area. The good thing is that it is in the middle of nowhere – it’s on private ground. The bad thing is that it’s in the middle of nowhere [laughs]. Phone reception is sketchy based on your service provider, and the Internet is as well. The good with the bad. I guess you have to take a step back in time and have conversations with people instead of being on your phone constantly. Which is a good thing, you know!
The camp grounds are so nice, I’m not just saying it. The guy who owns it also does a motorcycle rally for like 20 years. There’s structures onsite, there’s electricity and water for RVs. It’s a really cool area, and well-kept campground down there. It’s 120 acres too, so you can really get remote if you wanted to right now. If you want to just hang out by yourself, you can right now. Hopefully that will change one day and it will be completely packed though.
Dead Rhetoric: Have your own personal experiences with events like this helped you develop the festival?
Bottens: Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to go to festivals both in Europe as well as here in the US. With the larger festivals, there’s nothing like them – events like Wacken and Hellfest. But if you look at a festival like Obscene Extreme, that type of atmosphere and vibe. Curby does a really good job of putting on that type of festival. He’s been doing it for 20 years. Much respect to him!
I wanted something where it was a little different – having the bands that don’t have festivals that they can go and play at. It’s really geared for the bands that are up and comers in the scene. Maybe they don’t have a label or an agent, but they are out there and hustling. This is a chance for them to play in front of some different people. It’s a diverse line-up, so you are seen by all types of fans. That was the whole goal. We try to have some bigger bands that we can afford as well, and it seems to be working.
Dead Rhetoric: When you are setting line-ups for the festival, what’s most important to you?
Bottens: We always start with a budget, and I have a wishlist of bands I’d like to get. But it’s a matter of who is available and who agrees to do it. I try to go after my headliners first, and I’ve been fortunate to get bands like Overkill and Death Angel. This year I’ve got Soulfly. We definitely have some big name acts. I just try to raise the bar each year, and build around that. So I lock in my headliner and see what I have to work with after that. I don’t’ have the luxury or budget to have multiple big name bands each year. I am taking it slow and building it over time.
Dead Rhetoric: That actually brings up another point I thought about. Looking at ticket prices, the fest is pretty cheap compared to some similarly styled events – how do you effectively keep costs down?
Bottens: That’s the other thing. When you come to an event like this, you will have to have some camping gear. We have some food vendors onsite, but we try to keep it affordable. I’ve been to festivals and shows…this is a BYOB event. You bring your cooler in and whatever – you aren’t paying an obscene amount for alcohol if you are a drinker. Some people charge a low price to get in, but once you are inside, you are spending money on food and alcohol and it kills you by the end of the day. I think the fans kind of pick up on that – you aren’t trying to jab them with prices. We keep it fair. It’s like anything else. You want to give people more than what they feel they paid for. That’s the goal with anything, whether you are running a restaurant or any other business. That’s what we try to do.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that you have been able to grow and cultivate the festival over the last five years?
Bottens: To be honest with you, a lot of it is word of mouth. We have been fortunate enough to grow every year. It hasn’t been a huge amount, but I think that people are starting to get the word out there. Especially with there being five years now. The line-ups are solid and once you get down there, the campground and vibe is everything. Word of mouth has been huge for us. We don’t have a huge advertising budget each year. It’s hard – if you spend $4,000 on advertising, that’s something that you don’t know if you get back or not. I always feel like I could have put that towards a bigger band or something, which might also pay off.
Every year we try some different things. We go to a lot of shows and hand out flyers. It goes right back to the fans. There’s been so many that have been there, even all five years. I’ve heard numerous stories of people coming down year one, then coming back the next year with 3 more people, and now they are bringing down 8 people. That’s how we are really growing to be honest.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it become easier or more challenging as things progress?
Bottens: Well, it’s never easy. I can tell you that right now. For me, I work a full-time job as well. It takes a long time to put this together. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of great friends that help me out. I have a girl who came to the first year of FTA and she just came up to me and asked about how she could help out with it. She has been helping out for three years now. It takes a lot of different people to make this thing click. Which makes it cool as it’s a DYI type of thing. But as far as it being easy – it’s so challenging to get those bands locked in. Every year, you want to get those people who have been loyal to you – you want to raise the bar and make each year better. You stick your neck out a little further, you book more expensive bands, and you’ve got to really hustle and sell the tickests. It’s never easy [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: So what are some of the challenges in bringing a more European styled festival to a US audience?
Bottens: I think it’s US people to travel and camp. It’s one of those things. You are making a commitment. You go there and you are a part of this community for 3-4 days. There’s showers, food, and drinks available, but it’s a different vibe than festivals like Rock on the Range or something like that, where at the end of the day you go back to your hotel or everyone goes their own way. You may meet a few people here or there, but it’s not like being out in the elements with your fellow metalheads and taking it all in. So the biggest challenge is putting together a line-up that makes people want to travel long distances to camp, and feel like it is worth their time because there are so many good events going on, constantly.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw in a Decibel interview you’d like to incorporate a horror/gore element into the fest – what do you think it would entail to do so?
Bottens: A lot of money [laughs]. The problem that I started getting into in doing something like that is that you have to have a lot more people, a lot more money, and a lot more planning. If you are going to do it, you’d want to do it to where it was something special. You don’t want to half-ass it. It was something I thought about in the beginning, and when I started really looking at the numbers and people it would take to work it, logistically it would have been too much. But one day, if I can get 5-6 thousand people on a yearly basis, and I have some extra money/time, I’d definitely like to try it.
Dead Rhetoric: 5 years in, what do you feel that you have accomplished, and what would you like to accomplish in the future?
Bottens: I think I’m just like in the sense that I’ve got 5 years. I think that’s an accomplishment. Most wouldn’t make it a year. I’ve always paid everything. There’s never been any problems, which says a lot to the fans that show up. I would love to be one of those festivals that has a really strong following. I’m not saying I want 15,000 people down there, because that might ruin the vibe that we have right now. I think that if I could start getting 5 to 7 thousand people down there in the next 5-10 years, that would be a huge accomplishment for me in building it over time.
I take it year to year, but I feel like I have made a lot of good friends out of it. To be honest, that’s what keeps me going. I’m not really making money off of it right now. For me, it’s been all about the people. I’ve met some really cool people and new bands – a lot of great people in that respect. Like I said in the Decibel interview, I’m generally happy but I’m never content. Until I get to that, I’ll just keep pushing it.