The lightbulb for the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival went off in tour co-producer Kevin Lyman’s head late last summer.
Lyman, the founder of the Vans Warped
Tour and the Taste of Chaos Tour, booked some
heavier bands on the 2007 edition of Warped, including Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying. The week after the Warped Tour ended, the latter band’s latest album, “An Ocean Between Us,” debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 — a highly impressive first-week showing directly attributable to the fans it won over on Warped.
“By the next morning we were getting calls from all the metal labels saying, ‘We need to get our bands on Warped Tour!’” Lyman recalls with a laugh. “Around the same time, some of the people we work with at Rockstar energy drink were saying, ‘We don’t have a summer property,’ and they couldn’t do Warped Tour because of my relationship with Monster energy drink.
“Then we heard Slipknot and Disturbed were looking for something unique to do together. So it was a lot of things coming together.” It all coalesced into this year’s inaugural Mayhem Festival, a three-stage, 14-band, eight-and-a-half hour din of righteous noise, mosh pits and devilhorn hand signs that has effectively replaced
Ozzfest as the traveling metal event of the summer.
Headlined by Slipknot — whose next album, “All
Hope is Gone,” comes out Aug. 26 — and Disturbed,
whose new “Indestructible” was the Chicago quartet’s
third consecutive No. 1 debut in June, the lineup is filled with established young acts such as Mastodon and Underoath to up-and-comers like Dragonforce, Airbourne, Black Tide and Detroit’s Walls of Jericho, as well as the Metal Mulisha motocross freestyle squad.
On top of that, Mayhem’s
organizers kept ticket prices
relatively affordable — a $57.25
top ticket price compared to
Ozzfest’s $86.50 — while sponsors
that include Jägermeister and
Hot Topic are helping to create a
fan-friendly environment similar
to Warped and Taste of Chaos.
“The metal world has never
had that community feel like (Warped Tour),” says John Reese, Lyman’s partner in Taste of Chaos and a Mayhem principle along with booking agent Darryl Eaton of the Creative Artists Agency. “It’s always been the $45 T-shirt, one-for-all and all-for-none kind of attitude, to a degree.
“Kevin has created a community on Warped Tour, and we wanted to do something like that for the metal world, too.”
The artists are certainly noticing. Disturbed frontman David Draiman says Mayhem has “a summer camp vibe again, like the old school Ozzfest used to be.”
Walls of Jericho vocalist Candace Kucsulain calls Mayhem “definitely the best tour we’ve ever done,” adding that it’s “way more relaxed” than Ozzfest, with less rules for the bands — and fines when they’re broken — and organized “metal mixers” and barbecues for the participants.
“When there are rules, you’ve got a bunch of rock ’n’ rollers who want to break the rules,” Kucsulain notes. “(Mayhem) is very similar to Ozzfest, but the people who run it make it different. If you don’t treat us like children, we won’t act like children.”
Even Slipknot’s admittedly taciturn and “skeptical” Shawn Crahan (aka Clown) is impressed with Mayhem’s early going.
“I love checking out the second stage bands,” Crahan says. “I love the hunger, seeing these driven people who are just coming up through the ranks. I remember when we did that (on Ozzfest). Now you’ve got a bunch of people who saw the Knot at 11 o’clock in the morning and now they’re coming to see us on the main stage.”
Lyman says having Slipknot and Disturbed on board to launch Mayhem brought welcome “credibility” to the new venture, and he salutes their willingness to be part of the package. “A lot of times the headliner wants all the money and you can’t put a good support package around them,” Lyman explains, adding that Slipknot and Distbured “were smart and sensible; they got their heads around the idea of working together and had to step back from their own personal goals. They realize if this works it will help them be new leaders of the metal scene, guys who did something new.”
Reese, meanwhile, says he’s “never seen anything like” the submissions for the Mayhem bill, both in number and fervor. But the acts were chosen strictly “by merit,” according to Lyman, rather than allowing record companies or managers to buy their way onto the lineup as on other tours.
“Nobody told me their marketing plan,” Lyman says. “We wanted to have bands you can listen to and say, ‘I believe in them.’”
Reese recalls one proposal for the tour where “someone came and wanted to write us a check, give us a half a million dollars in promotional value and all this bull****, just to put his band on the (tour).”
“In the end,” Lyman adds, “it was like, ‘Sorry, we have no room’ — and he doubled his offer!”
Lyman and Reese hope Mayhem helps provide a launching pad for some of the younger bands, just as Ozzfest and Warped have done over the years. “If we don’t break a band off the second stage and develop a new headliner, that will be a personal disappointment to me,” says Lyman, who’s predicting Airbourne will emerge with a raised profile.
Reese, meanwhile, is hopeful the tour will bolster Machine Head’s steadily growing popularity. Mostly, however, the Mayhem organizers hope “to get to a year two and year three,” according to Reese. “We tried to keep ticket prices as low as humanly possible, so we’ll sacrifice making a ton of money now to keep a scene going and create this community and really let it flourish and blossom.”
Lyman adds that, “We’ve done a lot of work on this. We think it’s right. If people don’t come out to see the show, we’re a bunch of knuckleheads trying to do something. If fans don’t believe in it, then we did the wrong thing.
“But I feel like we’ve done everything we can to bring people a good show. Then, on August 20th (after the tour ends), we’ll sit back and go, ‘Do we belong in this world?’”
The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 9) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Bands include Slipknot, Disturbed, Dragonforce, Mastodon, Machine Head, Airbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, Walls of Jericho, Underoath, Black Tide, Suicide Silence, the Red Chord, 36 Crazyfists and Ray Street Park. Tickets are $57.25 and $47.25 pavilion, $32.75 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. More information and Saturday’s performance schedule is available at www.mayhemfest.com.
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