Examining the Lack of Metal at Mainstream Music Festivals
  • FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2014

  • Posted by: Anthony Toto

Spending an entire weekend soaking in the sounds of live music ranks atop the list of cathartic experiences. The beauty found in music festivals is their core ability to expose concertgoers to newer artists and sounds they aren't accustomed to hearing. American festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza draw bigger crowds each year as thousands of indie, hip-hop, and electronic dance music artists perform in front of millions of attendees. Yet, it's blatant that these festivals glaringly cast aside the genres of heavy metal and hard rock as if they're some disregarded step-child in the vein of Cinderella (Disney princess, not the band).

My personal tastes primarily lean in the direction of heavy metal and I understand that I'm a part of a minority demographic of music listeners. Only a select group of metal bands have ever crossed into the mainstream. The genre, however, has remained alive for generations as its fans show a level of loyalty rarely seen in popular music. For most metal fans, the intensity of the music is a positive outlet to unleash negative energy, yet the sound itself is often frowned upon because of its aggressive nature.

In recent years, appreciation for metal seems to be growing with Bonnaroo hosting Mastodon, Meshuggah, and Deafhaven this year. Since 2007, the festival has also invited acts like Metallica, Alice Cooper, The Sword, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Shadows Fall, GWAR, and Opeth down to Tennessee. This continual improvement signifies progress as a variety of metal sub-genres are properly represented, whether its Opeth's Swedish brand of melodic death metal or Shadows Fall's Massachusetts metalcore. Far from perfect, Bonnaroo's inclusion of metal bands at least indicates a sense of acknowledgement from the outside music community.



When comparing the efforts of Bonnaroo with those of Coachella and Lollapolooza, the latters' efforts are completely lackluster. Viewing a decade's worth of lineups leaves us questioning: Where is the platform for young hard rock and metal bands to receive exposure on these bills? Aside from Ghost B.C. and Motorhead appearing at Coachella, it feels like a cutoff began after the year 2000 as the very few hard rock acts on these bills date back to the 90s. Deftones, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, and Soundgarden still churn out solid releases and amazing live performances but festival promoters need to stop pretending that metal's evolution stagnated.

Within the last decade alone, a scene of young innovators propelled metal into un-renowned realms of emotional expression, intensity, and musicality. As we speak, the metal scene is experiencing a progressive renaissance with bands like Between The Buried And Me, Periphery, and Animals As Leaders creating intrinsically dynamic music with a texture of aggression. I mention these three bands specifically as I could see them fitting into the culture of Bonnaroo. Each act boasts incredibly talented musicians and any music fan with respect for showmanship would appreciate their performances.



Mainstream American festivals deserve criticism for shunning aside the bands and listeners of heavy metal. The key to breaking barriers is squashing preconceived notions or "target audiences." Every festival, tour package, record label, and promoter pursues a target audience. Instead of separating genres away from one another, one stage should feature a mixture of DJs, folk, hip-hop, and metal acts together. Mixing up the tones adds more diversity and flavors the experience as a whole. For the performers, the challenge of trying to win over an unfamiliar audience raises the stakes and produces greater reward. Most spectators walk away with a list of acts to check out once they return home. The notion of categorization potentially holds listeners back from discovering life-changing music. Every music scene displays a unique characteristic that could potentially resonate in the conscious mind of a listener.

Metal commands the same respect as other genres from Coachella and Lollapalooza. Alternatives exist in Europe, South America, and Australia where metal festivals host dream lineups every year. In the United States, festivals such as New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, Carolina Rebellion, South By So What, and Rock On The Range grow larger each year. This demonstrates a demand among metal fans to experience festival settings similar to Coachella, Lollapalooza, and other noteworthy festivals. Spectators from other scenes should witness the dynamic adrenaline raising characteristics of metal while metal fans should absorb the incredible vibes of every other genre. Exposure expands musical innovation while artists and audiences both benefit from experiencing different instrumental approaches and interpretations. Maybe outside music fans wouldn't frown upon heavy metal once they experienced its music in a live setting.

Bonnaroo is proving itself to be this year's premiere festival. Every year faithful fans of countless music genres travel thousands of miles to Manchester, Tennessee to see their favorites bands and explore new and unheard sounds. Few music festivals would host Elton John, Kanye West, Skrillex, and Meshuggah all in the same weekend. With so many different artists sprinkled throughout its schedule, every major American festival should follow Bonnaroo's lead by allowing heavy metal to join the ride.

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