Summer Camp For Metalheads: A Q&A With Shadow Woods Metal Fest Promoter MA Spiro

It’s no surprise that many metal fans don’t like to wait in lines, cram into hot venues for days and navigate crowds to get their fix of live music. Yet so much of what is offered for metal enthusiasts every festival season is more of the same: days trapped inside the same sweaty venue. Promoter MA Spiro is looking to offer a better experience for the discerning fan with the curated Shadow Woods Metal Fest, an event at a summer camp that brings together established bands (like Decibel favorites Tombs) and up-and-comers in the great outdoors. Spiro talked to Decibel about why the festival is needed and what fans can expect (in addition to their first REI visit) if they attend.

Advance tickets to the Shadow Woods Metal Fest (September 15-18) are available now. Tent camping is included with the weekend pass. People who want to reserve cabin beds can do so for an additional $20 for the duration of the fest. Only 400 weekend passes will be available and about one-third have sold. A limited number of day passes will go on sale in August. 

You’ve promoted other events before, correct?

I started booking shows when I turned 50 by throwing myself a birthday show. It wasn’t a big deal but after things sort of snowballed. I started booking smaller shows and it grew to larger touring bands. We had the first (Shadow Woods) fest last year. It went pretty well – we sold about 75 percent of the tickets. For a first outing, that’s pretty good. And it’s not like we have thousand of tickets to sell – we only sell about 400.

I’m basically creating a summer camp for metalheads. Prior to last year’s festival, I attended Stella Natura in the fall of 2013. I always liked that sort of setting for music and thought it would be cool to do it on the East Coast. My initial thought was to just use local bands but it took on a life of its own.

When you were scouting locations did any camps have reservations about hosting metal?

Our first year, we had a camp in Pennsylvania booked and were set to go and a group of local Christians decided they would find a way to block us. They went to their town supervisor and they decided we couldn’t have alcohol. We moved it to another place we scouted in Maryland. I looked at about a dozen properties and some weren’t going to work because of size and noise restrictions.

There are tons and tons of these“jam fests” where deadheads show up and people are very accommodating to them. They are less accommodating to metal groups. It’s even hard to get event insurance. But the people in Maryland decided to take a risk with us. We gave them all free tickets to come last year and we left the place immaculate. There wasn’t even a cigarette butt on the ground. They also need an income stream to stay afloat so having events of any size is like their secondary income.

How do you decide on the lineup? You’ve been able to add some bigger names this year. Do you have a wish list or personally select the bands?

I do select them but I also rely on the wisdom of people who book shows in the region. I talk to other promoters and ask them who they like. The whole philosophy behind the fest is that I don’t want this to look like every other festival. We do need to have some bands that draw and that fans recognize. The appeal is that people can come and not know but a handful of bands and discover music.

One of the issues of festivals is that the act of discovery often isn’t there. You are paying to see bands you already know and love.

That’s great, and if people want to go to a fest like that I get it. I’m trying to appeal to people who are more exploratory in their music tastes. I want to try something else. That’s how I approach music in general: let’s go see what’s over here instead of what everyone else is checking out.

Whenever I think of metalheads in the outdoors I think of people going nuts but it seems like you are curating a different experience, something more intimate.

(Laughs). People are pretty chill. We don’t have a lot of people and we have 200 acres to use. A lot of people said last year that it was the best weekend of their lives. But it’s also not a hippie fest. Some metalheads aren’t great campers but last year they started building communities and decorating their tents.

What kind of experience can people expect if they come?

They should expect to hear music they haven’t heard about. And they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the environment. The camp is magical and there are cabins if you need them. We have three stages. I have a phenomenal production manager and he makes sure the sound outside is perfect. And there is no pricy beer line. It’s a very different experience than a venue.

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SHADOW WOODS FESTIVAL: CONFIRMED BANDS

A SOUND OF THUNDER (DC) **traditional old-school heavy metal
ATHAME (MD/WV) **black
AT THE GRAVES (MD) **solo doom-sludge
ACID WITCH (Detroit) **horror death
BLOOD STORM (PA/TX) **black thrash
BOUND BY THE GRAVE (Baltimore) *death
CEMETERY FILTH (TN) ** death
CEMETERY PISS (Baltimore) **black
COFFIN DUST (Philadelphia) **death
CORPSE LIGHT (Baltimore) *doom
DARSOMBRA (MD) **psychedelic drone
DESTROYER OF LIGHT (Austin, TX) **sludge
EMPYREUS (Chicago) **black
FAITH IN JANE FEATURING WINO (MD) ** doom trio joined by the godfather of the sound
GENEVIEVE (MD) **experimental black
GHOST BATH (ND) **suicidal depressive black
GRAVE GNOSIS (St. Petersburg, FL) **black

HAXEN (Rhode Island) **black
HELGAMITE (VA) **doom/stoner/sludge
HELLEBORUS (Manitou Springs, CO) **black
HERON (NC) **black
HORSESKULL (NC) **sludge/doom
LOTUS THIEF (CA) **blackened space rock
MANTAR (Germany) ** sludge
MYOPIC (DC) **death/doom
NUMENOREAN (Calgary, AB) **post-black
SADGIQACEA (Philadelphia) **doom/sludge/black
SADISTIC VISION (PA/NC) **death
SAPREMIA (New Jersey) **death
SURGEON (Philadelphia) **progressive
TELOCH VOVIN (NY) **black
TEMPLE OF VOID (Detroit) **doom
TENGGER CAVALRY (NY/CHINA) ** Mongolian folk
T.O.M.B. (Philadelphia) **ritual noise
TOMBS (Brooklyn) ** black/post-metal
TORRID HUSK (WV) **depressive/melodic black

VORATOR (VA) ** death thrash
WINDFAERER (NJ) **black/folk metal
WIZARD EYE (PA) **doom
XEUKATRE (Baltimore) **black
ZUD (Maine) ** black

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