Maryland Deathfest XI ran from Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 through Sunday, May 26th in Baltimore and uncharacteristically there were some issues with the fest which left many people unhappy with the way things were run. I contacted Evan Harting, one of the two co-organizers of Maryland Deathfest, and he agreed to do an interview with me to address many of these issues. The following 30 minute interview was recorded in the evening of Tuesday, May 28th, 2013. My words are the ones in bold. You can listen to the interview by clicking the orange play button on the player below or you can download the 28mb mp3 of the interview by clicking here.
UPDATE: Ryan Taylor, the other MDF co-organizer, made a few clarifying comments about this interview on the MDF message board, which you can read here.
Hi, this is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and it’s just a couple days after Maryland Deathfest XI. The four day festival in Baltimore, Maryland every Memorial Day weekend is the biggest underground metal festival in the United States and heavy metal fans come from all over the world to see dozens of metal bands play. For the most part I had a great time though there were a few bumps in the road. Maryland Deathfest has a reputation for being organized and run very well though this year there were some issues that came up. Attendees took to social media sites and there was a lot of anger and negativity towards the fest sometimes for things well beyond their control. I’ve seen rumors and misinformation along with some issues that I myself witnessed all being talked about on sites like Facebook at Twitter. I love Maryland Deathfest. It is one of the highlights of my year every year and so I reached out to Evan Harting, one of the two co-founders of the festival, to help clear up some of the issues and complaints about this year’s festival in his own words. So hello Evan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Now before we get into some of the heavier stuff I’d like to first thank you for bringing together such great bands year after year. Because of Maryland Deathfest I’ve gotten to see some bands perform live that I never thought I would see in my life and I’ve gotten the chance to check out some great up and coming bands as well. So my first question for you is: what were your favorite performances at Maryland Deathfest XI?
I didn’t get to watch any of them.
Alright, you were that busy.
Yeah. By far the busiest year for me.
Now ever since Sonar’s co-owner Daniel McIntosh was arrested and convicted on drug trafficking charges last year [details here] there’s been a lot of questions about where Maryland Deathfest XI would take place. It seemed like you and Ryan Taylor [the other co-organizer of Maryland Deathfest] kind of settled for Sonar this year, which is now rebranded as Paparazzi by their new owners, and the tent set up, which I don’t think many people were that happy about, seemed like you guys were just kind of trying to do the best you could with a bad situation. When exactly did you find out that Paparazzi did not have a suitable stage for Maryland Deathfest bands to play on?
We found out pretty late in the game. We were looking for new venue options and our head of security works with Paparazzi now and he came to us [and] said that the new owners would really like for us to have it there again and it seemed like some of the other options were kind of like falling apart and such. So we decided that we’d at least hear them out. Give them the chance to at least see what they had in mind. It seemed like it was going to work out fine [and we] might as well have it there another year. The biggest thing for us was just [that] we wanted to have an inside component and the proximity to the hotels is ideal for us. You know we want to have people near their hotels so they can just stumble home at the end of the night and not have to worry about it. Those are the biggest things for us so it worked out that way. And the new owners had lots of ideas of how we can expand and make it better and all this stuff so that’s what we decided to do. And they told us we can use the building the way we have in the past. Still have our inside stage and everything like that. So that’s what we were planning on and they did say that they were making renovations to the place and making it different but that was the extent of it. So we booked the entire festival and then we came down to the venue to check it out after the renovations had been made. And we walked into that room and were like, wow. We cannot use this at all. We are screwed.
Yeah. So how did the tent come up as a solution?
That was pretty much the only other option at that point. We couldn’t use the inside. We’d already sold a lot of tickets for Thursday’s [indoor only] show and the portion that was going to be inside and we didn’t want to have a completely outside thing. Certain bands count on having an inside show. That’s what they want. That’s a part of the agreement with them. Originally our first backup plan was [that] we were going to use part of the parking lot right there and kind of wall it in. So that would be kind of like a tented stage for us. But that did not come together and we didn’t know about that happening until kind of the last minute as well. So we, kind of at the last minute, decided we would have to put up an entire tent on the street.
Now was there any difference in regards to the fire code and noise curfew from the tent stage and the other outdoor stages?
No. It’s the same.
Are you considering holding the fest at the same location next year?
Many bands were cut off while still performing at the fest this year. Sometimes these were even the headliners. I saw Bolt Thrower, Kommandant, Pentagram, Venom, they all got cut off this year. What was the reason for this?
We have a very strict noise curfew. We have to abide by that. If we don’t then we get fined a lot of money. Venom knew about it and they continued to play so we literally had to pull the plug on them and it looked bad on our part but there’s nothing we could do about it. They knew they had to stop at that time but they decided to keep going. So when we pulled the plug, we’re the bad guys. So that sucked.
The one band I saw that didn’t get cut off was Sleep. They ran about ten minutes over so why weren’t they cut off?
I don’t really know to be honest. At that time I was in the middle of a million other things and I didn’t even know about that to be honest. But Venom also took their time setting up and I don’t remember exactly what the deal was but they should have gone on earlier.
I think everyone’s in agreement that the fest has really outgrown the streets outside of the Sonar/Paparazzi building. So what kind of options are you considering next year? Like maybe [the] Powerplant Live! area or a camp ground kind of set up or– I’m really hoping it’s not on a fucking cruise ship, that’s all.
Yeah it will be on a cruise ship actually… no. We don’t really know yet. You know we just wanted to get through this one before getting started on the next one. But we don’t give ourselves more than a week of rest before planning for the next one. Yeah we don’t really know yet. Powerplant area is unlikely just because there’s so many bars that have their own thing going on. It would be hard to work out a deal with that and also I know the people that are involved, the owners. I’m sure that they would want tons of money from us just to even have it there. I mean anything’s possible but I just don’t see that happening. And also it would be a lot smaller. Sometimes they do free shows in the outside area. It still doesn’t hold as many people as we would need. We could pretty much put it anywhere. A parking lot or park or something like that.
Maybe the parking lot between the two stadiums right there in downtown?
That’s one of the options we were looking at before deciding to have it at Paparazzi. So that’s also an option. We just have to weigh the options and decide which one will work out the best for us. Then we’ll have to deal with, are we getting shuttles to take people to and from the hotels because they won’t be able to walk to them any more? We really want to avoid that but I don’t really see any other way around it at this point.
Now I noticed that most of the security working the main festival grounds were some of the same team of guys who have been there, you know, the past several years. Many of them were wearing Sonar shirts which I thought was odd since Sonar doesn’t really exist any more. How exactly was the security team put in place for this year’s fest?
It’s the same security crew for the most part that we’ve worked with that worked for Sonar. The head of security, he’s awesome and he knows what he’s doing and his core group of guys, we’ve never had any problems with them. They know what they’re doing and they are, for the most part, very friendly to the people and everything. We enjoy having them. When he has to hire people from different venues and people that are not familiar with this at all, they are the ones we’ve had some issues with over the weekend.
OK so what happened with the no studded jackets or belts policy that suddenly arose early on Saturday? I had heard rumors that somehow Phil Anselmo of Down was involved in that or something. Is that true and if not how did that policy even get [put] in place?
It was basically a misunderstanding. It does have something to do with Down because they had a security rider that does enforce those things but I think that’s more for different types of concerts they’ve done. I have talked to their agent about it a while back and he said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to enforce that at the fest it’ll be fine.” And then they get there and their security guy said that we need to enforce all of that and he didn’t know anything that I’ve worked out with the agent previously. So that’s why that was going on and we had to really talk to him about it and he eventually was like “It’s fine, at your discretion just do what you want” so we lifted that. But Phil himself didn’t seem to care about enforcing that at all so I’m not really sure exactly where that started.
Alright. Now one of the problems that affected almost everyone attending the fest at some point this weekend was the long lines, especially on Sunday. There seemed to be a lot of confusion about whether wrist bands got you into the venue without a wait, as they had previous years, or whether that did not happen. And this confusion wasn’t just among the attendees, it was also among the staff that were working the door. The security at the door seemed very under manned at many points throughout the weekend. I went to the SoundStage on Sunday to see Ilsa play and when I came back to the main grounds I walked over and there was this huge line wrapping beyond the parking lot down the street, and when I first walked up there were literally two people checking bags at the door, which I thought was probably the big bottle neck right there. Were there supposed to be more people searching bags and if so where were they?
Yeah there definitely should have been more people at the front handling that. There should have been people there earlier setting up a system and that did not happen. We seem to have an issue with that every year. As many times as we meet and reiterate how important it is that we get the line moving something always seems to go wrong and it just doesn’t happen when it’s supposed to. That’s just one of the issues that we know how we’re going to deal with it for the next year and that’s all we can really do with it at this point. Just learn from the mistakes and move on and know how to improve for the next [Deathfest].
Cause one of the things about these lines too is it made it very impractical to go back and forth between venues if you had the passes that let you. And it resulted in a lot of people missing a lot of bands because some of those bands were stacked very close to each other on that schedule. So you know you walk ten minutes and then you stand in line an hour and you’re missing stuff. I know you guys really trust, again, the security team but is it possible [that] like how Deathfest has outgrown Sonar that they’ve possibly outgrown the security team as well and is it time to bring in a new group of people that are used to bigger events like this?
Well one thing that we’ve briefly discussed even over the weekend and since the weekend is that we have to have a security company. We can’t just hire a bunch of our buddies to do it, there has to be a company. So we’re fine with having just a core group of guys that we’re used to. Just like, you know, even if it’s a very small number of them. We’re fine with that. But other than that, it’s likely that we actually are going to just hire our own people. People who actually know what’s going on and we know there won’t be any issues with.
OK have you considered maybe opening the doors earlier before the bands start? This year I think it was really underestimated how many people were going to be interested in seeing Speedwolf and they played very early on Sunday. They got that full page of worship, basically, written about them in the official MDF program and that probably got a lot more interest in them as well and it seemed like the door people were just not ready for that and with the door time being 1:15 and I think they went on about 35 minutes after that, there was just no way to get that many people into the venue that quickly so maybe earlier door times next year like before the first band?
Yeah, for sure.
OK cool. That’s sounds really good. One thing this year too, there seemed to be problems even just getting out of the venue, the main grounds at least, after the final bands played each night, especially after Venom played on Sunday. You heard people chanting, let em go, because they were just trying to leave. The way they had it set up was you could really only have two people standing next to each other, like a two person line, and people were trying to get out of there. This of course increased tensions and then this led to a lot of violence happening right outside the main gates as everyone was trying to leave. You’ve probably seen that video of the security guard choke slamming one guy out in the parking lot [see it here], it’s been going around. I’ve seen some other ones. You know it reminded me a lot of the pepper spray incident after Ghost closed the fest in 2011. So I’m wondering why didn’t security open up the gates and let as many people out as possible. Obviously nobody else was coming in at that point?
I’m not really sure what happened there to be honest. I heard that there was some kind of an incident and they had to wait to clear that up before letting people out. I’m not really sure. Normally either myself or Ryan are able to come and address issues like that as they come up throughout the weekend but we were just completely overwhelmed with everything over the weekend. We had zero down time. We were multitasking the entire weekend and it was just extremely stressful for us so we were not able to address all of these issues as they happened. Which was really unfortunate because [when] people are upset, it upsets us and we obviously don’t want any issues to arise at all.
I spoke with an actual off duty police officer who was attending the festival just as a fan and he was trying to video tape some of this and the security they told him that they were going to beat him down if he did not stop recording. That’s really weird to me. I can’t imagine that’s something the festival would actually endorse, telling everyone to turn off their cameras. Is that really the policy, that people should not be allowed to video tape anything like that?
No it’s not.
OK, good. I think a lot of people would probably argue that the biggest problem this year with Deathfest was the security however I would actually say that the biggest problem was the lack of communication with attendees. There was no official map or directions on how to travel between the venues, not even in the official program. There was no address given for the pre-paid parking lot entrance. There was no list of items that were banned from the festival. Nobody knew the signing schedule, or the location of the signing area, for Sunday until it was posted that morning on your Facebook page. I don’t think Broken Hope‘s signing session was even mentioned anywhere. On Thursday evening Carpathian Forest announced [here] that they would not be playing Deathfest but there was no official statement from you guys until Saturday. And then I think even that Facebook post was deleted at some point. There were other Facebook posts that were removed as well such as the photo of Down performing. Why were those posts taken down?
Just because of all the backlash that people were posting as comments. We were just completely overwhelmed. I know some things definitely should have been handled differently and we were just completely overwhelmed. You know it’s just us two dealing with this festival and it can be very overwhelming and we just were not prepared for all of this. Security, that kind of stuff, at least now we know exactly what we need to do and what we need to change. And I know some people left with a bad taste in their mouth after some of these issues and that upsets us just as much as them. All we can do is try to convince people, and assure them, that the next fest will be nothing like this. We know what has to change and we will definitely make sure that happens.
That’s really good to hear. Now the Maryland Deathfest Twitter account was reactivated shortly before the fest this year and I really hoped there would be a lot of up to the minute information coming from that and the Facebook page. These are really powerful tools that could have answered a lot of the questions I’m asking now, and they could have been answered in real time. That didn’t really happen and so I was wondering have you considered hiring a social media expert to handle this next year? Like someone that could just run your accounts for you and get information out and answer people’s questions.
Yes. That will have to be the case. Normally we have a lot more down time during the fest so we can do stuff like that but that was not the case at all this year. I had zero downtime. And I had no time to log on to Twitter and send updates. So yeah we’ll definitely have to get someone to do that kind of stuff for us.
Alright now why exactly didn’t Carpathian Forest end up playing Sunday night?
Well their singer was denied visa and one of the other guys was going to do it. The guitar player was going to do vocals but he also was not allowed over so three of the guys were there just hanging out but unable to play.
OK so why was Evoken moved from Thursday to Friday?
Because of work related stuff. It was something relating to work like they thought that they’d be playing later than that so they didn’t prepare for that and so they either would have to cancel or be switched to a different day.
OK so why did Vinterland end up playing at 10pm on Saturday instead of 5pm?
Because a couple of the guys had their flights canceled and had to fly in the next day and they didn’t even arrive until 8pm.
Oh wow. So they basically came directly from BWI [airport] and got on stage.
Yeah. Actually, quite a few bands had their flights canceled or delayed by a lot. So that was like a whole nother thing that we were dealing with all weekend. Just as an example, because of that stuff the shuttles were no longer there picking them up from the airport because their times changed. The hotels canceled their rooms because they didn’t show up when they were supposed to. It was just a whole lot of crap that resulted from that.
Is that why Tinner did not play at the SoundStage on Sunday as well?
No. Their tour fell apart or something so they didn’t end up coming. We hadn’t even heard from them in a while. We assumed everything was fine but then they wrote and said that they couldn’t play at the last minute pretty much.
Although it wasn’t really announced anywhere I thought it was really cool that you gave Speedwolf another set cause the lines had been so long Sunday and a lot of people had wanted to see them and by the time they got in they’d already played. Although their second set was during Sleep’s set. Is there any reason you put them on during that time slot instead of any other time in the festival?
That’s just when it worked out. We figured the least we could do was have them play again since a lot of people were in line before when they were playing but that just happened to be when we had that kind of time that we could slide them in during. And it’s unfortunate that it was during Sleep but it was all we could really do given the situation.
Also what happened with Golden West not being at the festival after they had been listed as a food vendor? I really like the food there a lot and I was looking for them and I never found them.
Yeah actually the girl that we have helping us, I don’t even know what to call her title exactly but, she’s like just under us, like she’s the only one helping us during the festival. She’s a manager over there and she got that together but I guess at the last minute they ended up not being able to do it. People were looking forward to having them there so that was unfortunate but they weren’t prepared for it and didn’t make it. A couple of them came for a few hours and set up in the VIP lounge and just made some tacos and stuff for some of the VIP bands that were in there but that’s it.
One other thing that I noticed about pretty much all three of the stages at the main grounds was there was a poor mix for a lot of the bands. The bass was often very high in the mix, particularly the kick drums for many of the bands playing. I actually left in the middle of Glorior Belli‘s set, a band that I was actually really excited to see, because it was pretty much unlistenable. I know some bands had their own sound guys like Pelican, who sounded great. Some of the bands due to their own sound could deal with the extra bass alright kind of like [how] Anhedonist did but you know when I’m watching a black metal band and all I hear is the bass there’s something wrong with the mix. Is there a reason so many bands were getting a mix that you’d expect of somebody like Obituary? Were there simply not enough high range speakers to counter the large amounts of bass coming out or was this something that was the sound engineer’s preference?
I don’t really know what happened there. They’re some of the same guys that have done it in past years. I don’t know what was wrong with the mix. I’ve heard conflicting stories regarding the sound as well, you know some people said that all of the bands sounded amazing and other people say that it was horrible so it goes back and forth but even any of the negative feedback, you know, we want to work to change it for the next one. So we definitely are taking all of that feedback under consideration. I mean we definitely want to make sure that bands get the best sound that they can. So even if some people thought that it wasn’t good that’s enough.
I think the main problem was it seemed like a lot of the bands were all getting the same mix regardless of what kind of band they were and that’s why [for] some of these bassier doom bands it wasn’t as much of a problem and then you see this black metal band and it should sound like a beehive or something not all kick drums and bass you know?
But these are people that have worked with you before and stuff, alright. Now this is something that actually kind of bothers me every year although this year I really noticed it a lot. Shots of the audience from the stage while major bands are playing at Deathfest. During many of the bands’ sets this year I saw photographer Aaron Pepelis of Return To The Pit shooting while standing on the stage itself with a professional camera flash repeatedly going off while the bands were playing. As a photographer myself I found this very distracting and also very unprofessional. Now I understand if you guys want a couple shots of the crowd like that during some of the bigger bands, whatever not a big deal. But I saw this going on throughout the fest at both venues. It was really frustrating and I’m wondering is it really worth the detriment to the show to be able to post a picture of Matt Pike’s coin slot on Facebook? Is this something we’re going to see more of in the future?
I’ve never heard anything about that so if it’s an issue it can definitely be addressed. That’s the first time I’ve heard someone express an issue with that to be honest.
Alright. Like I said there have been a lot of changes this year and we know that some people will bitch and moan about any change but some of them were actually very good. Which changes did you think worked the best this year at the fest?
It was great to have food there for one. I think a lot of people were happy just having more food options then there were in the past. Having a few less bands at the Sonar part made it easier for scheduling and stuff like that. Every little thing is planned you know, every little detail, so the things that come together and work out great and it’s awesome. But things that don’t are really hard for us to take.
One of the changes that I really liked was that you included the Baltimore SoundStage. I thought the venue had the best sound of all the stages at Deathfest this year and I don’t think I really heard any complaints about their security. Are there any plans to possibly work with them again or are you going to try to keep everything at one location next year so that people don’t have to go back in lines?
I think the line stuff and going back and forth could have been arranged a little better and that’s something that we definitely will work on but the whole concept behind it seemed to work out well and I did hear awesome things about the venue. The sound and everything. I wasn’t able to make it over there myself for anything but I’d be totally down to include them next year.
The biggest problem I actually had with the Baltimore SoundStage this year was the schedule. There were often several multiple hour long gaps between bands playing at the venue. And for people who had only purchased a ticket to one or multiple of the days at the SoundStage but not the main grounds, that must have been pretty frustrating. And it also would kill any momentum that say an opener band had started to build up with an audience because then you’re sitting around for two hours waiting for the next band. Why were there such large gaps in the schedule at the Baltimore SoundStage?
We just didn’t want to have certain bands playing during certain other bands’ sets at Sonar. There are some people that had tickets to only the SoundStage but not that many. Most people had both so we just were trying to avoid as much clash as possible especially with bands that are more likely for people to be into both that would hypothetically be playing at the same time.
Alright, while some of the food vendors this year were not that high quality there definitely were some great food options this year. The Zombie Barbeque was great. There was a half smoke sausage cart that was really good. Are you planning on getting more food vendors like this in the future?
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah this was like the first time that we’ve really expanded to that whole thing. In the past couple years we’ve only had one because it was the owner of Sonar that owns a restaurant and we just kind of worked it out, a deal with him, that he would be the only food vendor to set up. They were there as well this year but obviously not the only one and I think it worked out much better that way.
OK now fans of DC Heavy Metal will know that I’m also a big fan of craft beer and instead of drinking these corporate Millers and Budweisers and whatever. I saw Flying Dog IPAs were available this year, but they were two dollars more than the corporate brands, and for a fan of dark beer like myself, I like stouts and porters, there was nothing available inside the venue, anything like that. Now Maryland actually has some great craft breweries like Heavy Seas, DuClaw, Union and even Baltimore’s own Brewer’s Art makes an actual Ozzy Osbourne beer which I’m sure would have sold well at Deathfest. Are there any plans to get some more local craft beers into the fest next year and possibly at a more competitive price point?
The reason why only those options were available is because the alcohol is completely up to the venue. We gave them suggestions many times, we should have this and this and this, but they don’t listen, they’re just going to do their own thing. We’ve had huge issues with these venue owners all weekend and that is really the icing on the cake that determines that we are definitely not doing it there again. Therefor, we’ll be pretty much doing all of this ourselves from now on. So we will have complete control over what kind of drinks will be served. So yes.
That’s great to hear. At a festival with so many of these just small, underground and independent bands it just kind of sucks to see all this corporate stuff going around when you’re looking at the beer you know when there’s so many small, underground and independent beers also in this area that could also be served there. So that’s good to hear. There were several bands that played Deathfest this year that also played shows in Baltimore during the festival such as Glorior Belli and Tragedy. Are you OK with bands doing this or are you considering having bands in the future maybe sign a contract prohibiting this or something?
We definitely do try to avoid that. The Tragedy thing was a last minute thing at the end. They asked me if it was OK and I was like “go ahead, it’s fine.” But the Glorior Belli thing was kind of a surprise. We knew about it before the fest happened but we were not very happy about it because we paid for their flights to play the fest exclusively. And then I saw they were not only doing a tour but also playing right around the corner from the fest on the same day as the fest. So yeah, we were not too stoked about that. We don’t care if bands do other shows and stuff but we just have to arrange that in the beginning. With bands playing the fest and then playing another venue in Baltimore that weekend is definitely is definitely something that we try to avoid.
The one thing from this interview that I’ve kind of heard over and over is that you and Ryan were both very overwhelmed all weekend. Do you have any ideas yet of what you’re going to do so maybe it’s a more manageable process next year so you guys aren’t just constantly overwhelmed?
Yes. A lot of it had to do with, we put too much faith in the new guys being able to help us out. They told us all along that they’d be able to like get us this and help us get this and etcetera. And they didn’t. All of that fell through so we were just not prepared for that. We put too much trust in them being able to make that stuff happen. So now we know that we cannot do that at all. We just have to take all the matters in our own hands and do things our way and not rely on anyone else to get things done. The specifics are yet to be determined because we’re still in full recovery mode right now but very soon we will start getting the gears in motion to plan for a better fest next year.
That’s great. Well thanks for answering all my questions here Evan. I really do appreciate you and Ryan Taylor bringing so many great bands to the area every Memorial Day weekend. So my last question for you is: when will you start announcing bands and a new location for next year’s fest?
Pretty much as soon as we have it confirmed. We don’t know. We’re going to start working on it pretty much immediately but we won’t announce anything until something is set in stone and we’re completely sure about it, and happy with it, so I don’t know when that will be. Regarding the bands, as many people know, we start booking pretty much immediately after this year’s fest so we definitely will start booking bands very shortly here and probably make our first group of announcements within a few months or so.
Alright cool, sounds good. Well thanks a lot for answering these questions. I know a lot of them weren’t the easiest and you’ve been really honest here and that’s awesome. I hope that you and Ryan do have a good little bit of time off. Actually relax and maybe get off your feet and have a couple beers or something you know?
Yes. That would be nice.
Alright well thanks a lot and I’ll be at the fest next year. Can’t wait for MDF XII.
Cool. We’re just stoked to basically now completely separate ourselves from a venue and everything and just doing… SoundStage thing is one thing but for the main festival grounds we’re just going to do it our own way and this will give us the freedom to do things exactly the way that we want. Every little thing can be premeditated and we can follow up on it and make sure that that’s the way it goes. I’m stoked to start a new chapter and I think it’ll be much better.
That’s great. Alright well thanks a lot and I’ll talk to you sometime soon.
Take it easy.