On August 23rd, I checked out the first Southern Darkness Fest held in Tampa. The multi-venue hard rock, metal, hardcore, and punk show was the first festival of it's kind to be held in Tampa. According to the founder,
Southern Darkness is unique for a couple of reasons: the festival actually presents a coherent narrative and it’s exceedingly cheap show for so many bands.Between 28 bands and 3 bars, there was a lot going on and of course, I was unable to catch it all. But I wanted to give a quick review of what I did see. Instead of going into a longform narrative, I'm breaking the review into chunks and give each part a grade.
1) Music - A : This is a no-brainer. I wouldn't be going to the show if I didn't want to hear the music. That said, however, I wasn't familiar with hardly any of the bands. As a matter of fact, I had only heard of three (Black Tusk, ASG, and Weekend Nachos), and that was because they had songs on a Relapse Records sampler I picked up. So I had heard three songs from the catalog of 28 possible bands. Maybe less than 1% of the total music?
(Compare that to the Soundgarden show I saw recently where I had most of the songs in my collection for 20 years.)
Every band was new to me and none disappointed.
Here is where I have to admit I missed half the festival. I only saw 5 bands total, only one song from one of them. I saw Scrog (half their set), Weekend Nachos, Black Tusk, Bongripper (one song), and Pelican. I didn't realize the festival began at 3pm. I thought it began at 8pm. But what I did see was badass.
Of these, Black Tusk was the most imposing, Weekend Nachos had the most energy, and Pelican was the most groove heavy. Each band brought something different to the table. I felt a little old for Weekend Nachos (I wasn't the only one), but their show was really good. Stage diving, mosh-pit slamming, and high energy.
Black Tusk is described on Wikipedia as "swamp" and "sludge" metal. They were more "grown-man" metal than the somewhat punk vibe of Weekend Nachos. With their tattoos, long beards, and Black Sabbath-esque riffs, Black Tusk looked like they could be part of the WWE's Wyatt Family. I was impressed and even picked up a CD.
Pelican also impressed me a lot. They were the headliner, so of course they drew the most attention from the crowd. And they did not disappoint. All instrumental groove-metal songs. I've often critiqued some bands by their lead singer. I've dug the music, just not the tone of the singer. With Pelican, I didn't have to worry about that as there were no vocals at all. Just over an hour of instrumental heavy metal. Good stuff.
2) Venues - A- : The Southern Darkness Fest was held in Ybor City's Orpheum, Crowbar, and Ritz Ybor. I had seen shows at each of these venues and knew each were good places for live music. Of the three, Crowbar was the most crowded and with Weekend Nachos, it was the most energetic venue. Orpheum was a bigger venue and its dark vibe suited the doom metal bands that played there very well. Of the three, Ritz Ybor was the least impressive. Instead of their main stage, Black Tusk was in a side room. The room held a decent size crowd, and Ritz probably realized Black Tusk wasn't going to pack their 500 head main room, but being stashed in a side room was a little disappointing. Thankfully Black Tusk did not disappoint.
Another spot for improvement would be give each concert-goer a venue set list, perhaps with a genre listing next to each band. When I walked from one bar to the next, not only did I not know who was playing, I didn't know what type of metal it was. Each bar was a crapshoot.
3) Ticket Prices - A : The total festival cost on the day of the show was $45. No processing fee, no handling fee, just $45 for 28 bands and 10 hours of music. And had I bought the ticket a day earlier, the cost would have been $35. And had I been there on time, I would have seen more music for the price I did pay.
But I paid $15 each for 3 bands and 4 hours of music. That's still not bad.
4) Concessions - C : Most bands had a merch table, which was awesome, but what was missing was a festival t-shirt. I was hoping to buy one. The only merch the overall festival had was a small poster they were selling for $10, which I thought was overpriced. If it was a larger poster I could hang on a wall, then perhaps, but I was not going to buy a small poster.
Maybe next year, if they do a second Southern Darkness Fest, they will have festival t-shirts or large posters. Some room for improvement there.
5) Overall - A : I had a good time, drank some beer, and rocked out to some metal without spending an arm and a leg. That's a good night. I hope there is a second festival next year and they book similar bands. Next year, I promise I will get their earlier.