Zombie time.

My wife, my best friend and I went to the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at Fiddler’s Green this year. Headlining this year’s Mayhem Festival was Rob Zombie with Five Finger Death Punch, Mastodon, and Amon Amarth supporting. Lawn tickets were reasonably priced, concessions were outrageously overpriced, and the metal was face melting.

I love heavy metal music, and heavy metal fans in particular, because metal is simultaneously the perfect subversion and reinforcement of perception and expectation.

At Mayhem Festival one of the first t-shirts I saw read “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck.” I’m almost certain I added the punctuation, but the words were all there, and in that order. A lot of people sported pot leaf designs somewhere on their person, and Five Finger Death Punch shirts won in a landslide in terms of representation at the show. Their logo is of a set of brass knuckles with the band initials in each finger hole, and some sort of uber-masculine message on the shirt’s back like “One Two Fuck You” or “War Is the Answer” (the name of one of their songs and albums).

People had all manner of ridiculously affected hair ranging from bright neon green mohawks to full-on mullets with shaved sides to braids that emanated from four different spots on the head. Vendors sold pot pipes, one company was dedicated entirely to clothing that indicated how much they loved pot, and it seemed like damn near everyone was smoking cigarettes (and/or pot) and drinking.

In short, it was exactly the nightmare that your average Conservative senator from the Bible Belt in 1985 pictured when you uttered the words “heavy metal” to him.

I grew up one subculture over in punk rock, so none of this was terribly dissimilar from what I saw at Warped Tour or any other punk show I attended in high school or college. It looked like a parade of freaks and criminals when you looked from the outside in, but once you got inside, all you found was a bunch of super polite dorks who happened to like their music loud as shit.

This was simply a way to cut loose. I saw one guy walk in front of us wearing pants that looked more or less like this. From the waist up, he looked like a normal, country-raised dude. If I were put on the spot, I’d guess he worked in some sort of machine shop or as an auto tech at a car dealership.

There’s no way he gets away with wearing those pants at work, or most anywhere else. Those pants sit in his closet just waiting to be worn. He probably looks at them every day and thinks, “Man, just four more days until Mayhem Fest.” Those pants represent everything he wanted to be, but couldn’t. Maybe he plays guitar and never got further than the opening few notes of “Enter Sandman.” Maybe he fucked up his leg on a four-wheeler, got hit with a bunch of medical bills, and had to get a job to pay them off. Whatever. Life’s hard.

When Mayhem Fest comes, he not only gets to wear those pants, he gets to wear them all day. He gets to walk around as the person he sees himself as – the badass in the cool pants who goes to awesome heavy metal shows with his buddies and gets fucked up and parties all day – and no one tells him not to wear those ridiculous pants. That’s fucking great, and it does my heart good to see people comfortable in their element.

I saw a different guy wearing a shirt that said only “I worship the devil and I’m going to kill you” which is probably my favorite shirt of all time. It’s the perfect distillation of every trite fear of heavy metal fans you’ve ever heard emblazoned without additional comment right on a dude’s chest. He’s either commenting ironically on the expectations of those who don’t understand his music or his fandom, or he’s just flatly declaring something that sounds awesome, but that no one would utter in real life, ever. I have no idea to what level he had thought about his own shirt, but I didn’t care because whatever amount it was, it was the correct amount since I loved the shit out of it irrespective of his analysis.

Ivan Moody being all awesome.

I loved two things most about Mayhem Fest. The first was the music. Five Finger Death Punch was surprisingly excellent and reminds me of Pantera crossed with early Metallica. Most metal bands don’t understand that singing isn’t a liability, but the quality which endears you most to the greatest amount of fans. Lead singer Ivan Moody was both great as a hyper-masculine front man of a kickass band, and as a party host and crowd banterer. And Rob Zombie’s show has to be seen to be believed. He’s got crazy video, giant rolling two story stage props, giant robots and monsters and shit, and a backing band all in horror movie makeup. It’s wild. He’s fantastic.

The other thing I loved most was that we grabbed a spot on the lawn just above the main cement thoroughfare running through the amphitheatre. Behind us was a lot more lawn, and then the upper concourse. So to get from the main walkway to the upper concourse, you had to meander your way through the people.

In the six or so hours we were there, every single person that passed by us made the effort not to step on our blanket, and no one did. It was a simple act of basic courtesy that everyone, no matter how they were dressed, how much they had had to drink, how they looked, or what awful thing they jokingly said to their friends on the way by, afforded us. No one stepped on our blanket all day.

The overwhelming courtesy administered to you drip by drip by drip will gradually just make you smile wider and wider. Humanity, no matter how it presents itself, is going to be okay.

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