You may remember reading about the summer camp for metalheads that is Shadow Woods Metal Fest. The outdoor festival includes over 40 different bands, including some tried-and-true favorites like Acid Witch and Tombs, but a camper at Shadow Woods could easily find a new favorite as well.
The festival prides itself on presenting some of the best bands in underground metal over the course of the weekend. You can get your tickets for the festival (which happens in White Hall, MD the weekend of September 15) here, then keep reading for more from promoter MA Spiro about selecting the lineup and the grassroots nature of Shadow Woods.
What made you want to host your own metal festival, and why did you choose to make it outdoors?
I had been hosting shows in Baltimore for a couple of years and found that it wasn’t particularly hard to do, so I thought, why not try something outside? I enjoy camping and the outdoors, and watching live music outside has always been more enjoyable for me. Indoor venues can feel really claustrophobic, especially when packed, but this is not the case with an outdoor music show. I’ve gone to a couple of outdoor/camping music fests, namely Stella Natura and the Walnut Valley Festival, and loved the ability to wander around and still be able to listen to the music. But as you can imagine, the logistics of putting on a fest of this scale are intense. It was uncharted territory and a ton of work, like way more work than most people can imagine, but I think it is worthwhile. My original vision for Shadow Woods Metal Fest was something much smaller and more regionally based. Somehow, it snowballed into a bigger event. As open-air fests go, however, it’s still very small, and I am ok with that.
One of the cool things about Shadow Woods is that there is an emphasis on underground and lesser-known bands. What drove the decision to make these bands the emphasis of the fest?
There are lots of festivals that take the approach of being a one-stop-shop for attendees, sort of a “here are all your favorite bands in one place.” I get that. Shadow Woods Metal Fest is unlike most other festivals because it is not organized by just one or two people, but by a large group of people from throughout the country, primarily on the East Coast. We didn’t want our fest to seem like a clone of another one. This fest is for people who are willing to take a chance to discover new music. We have a wealth of talent in the underground, and there should be a place to showcase it. We seek out the bands that are slugging it out in the clubs and melting faces in basements sometimes for a very long time, and we put them on a big stage with real lights and a great sound system in a cool environment in front of an audience of rabid music fans.
How do you select the bands to play? It’s a very diverse lineup that spans a lot of different sounds in metal.
People who come to the fest tend to listen to a lot of new music, all the time. Many of our attendees are writers, photographers, other promoters and musicians themselves. The lineup somewhat caters to that patron and participant of the arts. (This is also reflected in the type of marketplace vendors we choose. We have original artwork and specialty record labels; not bootleggers.) Some of the bands have reached out to us, and that’s cool because we discover something new. But most are bands that one of our organizers or I have seen live and recommend. People don’t listen to only one style of music, so we are open to whatever we think will work in our performance spaces. The bottom line is, we booked the bands we enjoyed listening to and not the bands we thought would be popular or trendy.
Shadow Woods has three stages; does each stage focus on a particular theme or genre, or do they just help achieve the maximum amount of music over the course of the weekend?
Yes and yes. The Woods Stage is a large deck placed at the bottom of a natural amphitheater surrounded by trees. Bands like Lotus Thief and Wino with Faith in Jane will sound and look nice in that setting. Our Hall Stage is inside a large log cabin style building where bands play at floor level where bands such as Mantar can interact with the audience. The Field Stage is four feet off the ground and is for bands that have dynamic stage performances. Ghost Bath, Tombs, and Blood Storm will perform there. No set times overlap, so even with 41 bands, most people could logistically see all of them.
What, if any, are the differences between the first year of the fest and this year's edition?
We have six more bands than we did last year, and we also have music on Thursday night, which is new. We have more workshops and more vendors. Also, we are no longer BYOB. Apparently we broke some local laws last year doing that. But never fear, we have a liquor license and cold beer will be for sale. Just don’t bring your own in, please.
There is more than just music offered at Shadow Woods this year. There will also be workshops on meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and even runes. Why did you choose to include these workshops at the fest?
I want to really stress the grassroots nature of Shadow Woods Metal Fest, which really sets it apart from other music fests. Whatever happens at the fest happens because people put forth the interest and the effort. We have no corporate sponsors. We are not making money. We are just having fun. Workshops were a whimsical notion we tossed out as a poll on the Facebook page last year, and people indicated they were really interested. People volunteered to teach these workshops. Last year our yoga sessions and runes workshops were hugely popular. I was stunned to see 40 people out on the basketball court doing yoga every morning last year, but there they were! People just decided themselves to create these side activities, and we support that. Likewise, the fest will only continue to happen if people continue to show interest and put effort into it.