Written By: Jeff Ayers and Photos By: Jim Gilbert Heavy music fans of all ages descended upon Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), starting at 1PM on July 23. The first sounds of pounding drums signaled the opening of the gates, ominous clouds added to the palpable intensity of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Three stages adorned the lawn of SPAC, rows of tents flanked the main concourse. From the time the doors opened, until about 6:30PM, all three stages were in a constant rotation of hard-hitting, face-melting heavy rock and metal of all kinds.
The show kicked off with black metal newcomers, Erimha, a budding band from Montreal, playing on the Victory Records Stage. On paper they might seem out of place with the rest of the acts on the day long bill, but they were a good welcoming committee, setting the tone for the rest of the day. The tents were hot spots for patrons to meet and greet their favorite bands, before and after they played, and to pick up band merchandise as well as festival merchandise like T-Shirts, bandanas, and sunglasses. By 2:30, the crowd had already settled in for the day, flocking to each stage as new acts started their sets. Texas Hippie Coalition ignited the ColdCock Whiskey Stage with their southern heavy rock. At one point, lead singer Big Dad Rich claimed the lawn for his own, saying that anyone on it better raise their fist in acceptance. The crowd happily obeyed, and looks of joy and entertainment washed over the few hundred strong in attendance. Veil of Maya took the Sumerian Records Stage soon after and drew an even bigger crowd with their gigantic wall of sound.
The first ‘destination’ band of the day was definitely Mushroomhead out of Cleveland, Ohio. It seemed that everyone that was on the fringe of the stages or lost in the sea of tents during other acts all made the point to be in front of the ColdCock Whiskey Stage when the troupe of masked men started their performance. With multiple singers, crushing riffs, sound samples, and two powerhouse percussionists at the front of the stage, they ruled the crowd with ease. The second not-to-miss band of the day was undoubtedly Ice-T with Body Count. Strutting out on stage to the wail of guitars, Ice-T screamed, “Saratoga, we are moving right next door to ya!” and fired a (fake) gun into the air. Flanked on stage by his wife Coco and their two bulldogs, Ice-T whipped the crowd into a frenzied pit with classic Body Count songs, each getting a bigger response than the last. Rain started to fall finally during their set, and though it never became a torrential downpour, it helped to cool off the throngs of humans who had been dealing with the 80 degree heat and blacktop walkways all day long. Each of the three stages did a good job keeping the show running smoothly, with little to no down time between acts. By 6:00PM each stage’s headliners were finishing up their sets to satisfied crowds. The entire population turned its sights to the main stage, many taking their seats inside the amphitheater. Trivium and Asking Alexandria got great responses from their fanbases, a mostly younger audience, but the crowd grew bigger and bigger with all ages filling in the lawn. Parents taking their children to their first festival, or possibly first ever concert, and older couples reliving their youth with shirts they might have dug out of the back of their closets. All were enjoying the days festivities to their utmost potential.
By the time Korn took the stage, almost every seat inside was filled with people on their feet, the lawn was packed with fans, singing along with the opening song, “Falling Away From Me”. Playing hits from their extensive back catalogue, they stoked the fire that had been burning all day inside the rambunctious crowd. Favorites like “Freak on a Leash” and “Shoots and Ladders” complete with bagpipes, let the crowd join in the obvious fun the band was having on stage. With the return of Brian “Head” Welch last year, the band is back to its full original strength, and it shows. Lead singer Jonathan Davis crooned “You can’t bring me down” during one of their newest tunes, “Hater”, and he meant every word. They proved that they are still relevant in the ever changing world of heavy music, a landscape that they helped shape with set closer, “Blind” way back in 1993. Avenged Sevenfold are no strangers to holding the top spot, and they came out controlling the crowd from the start. They had a huge stage backdrop, reminiscent of a Dio fantasy, with large steps leading up to castle facades, and three arch ways with huge high definition screens. Showing animation and live feeds of the band members from the stage, the over the top scenery threatened to steal the show from the actual performers, but just barely. M. Shadows used his vocal prowess to capture the crowds attention, while guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates harmonic precision helped to keep hold. When the band finally touched on “Hail to the King”, the center screen opened up to reveal a towering animatronic Skeleton, complete with crown and sword upon a throne of skulls. A7X made sure that the culmination of a the day was brought on the wings of a nightmare, into the waiting ears of an eager audience.
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival is now in its sixth year, and shows no signs of slowing down. Much like many of it’s predecessors, like Ozzfest and Family Values Tour, it is a haven for like-minded bands and fans to congregate and celebrate the heavy music and dark emotion filled culture they enjoy. If the thralls of happy faces throughout the day, or the inherent sense of camaraderie between musicians and fans is any evidence of success, then hopefully Mayhem will continue to return to Saratoga Springs, NY every year.