Not many can say that they learned a lesson in love and acceptance by bathing in the blood of a recently decapitated Jeb Bush. I pride myself on being one of the few. We will get to that, though, it is probably best to take this GWAR-themed journey from some semblance of a beginning.
I left New Jersey for Richmond,VA, around 6:30 am on Friday, heading to the sixth annual GWAR-B-Q with two of my very good friends who would be covering the event for other publications. It was a couple of hours into the trip, that I started to realize that, despite having grown up with heavy metal in my life, I hadn’t been to a an actual metal concert in several years, and wasn’t entirely sure what I should be expecting from event based exclusively on the grotesquely costumed band GWAR. Probably because virtually everyone had uniquely outlandish speculations about what I would assuredly encounter: a Burning Man-esque platform for drug and sexual experimentation, perhaps a daylong satanic ritual, a prosthetic playground. Were any of this true, I had a lot to look forward to.
Pretending to threaten their fans is truly GWAR’s idea of equality.
But I knew that wasn’t how it was going to be. GWAR may use the veil of monstrous alien creatures who murder characters on stage, spray blood at the crowd, and use sex and horror as theatrics, but I wasn’t convinced that meant their festival was just going to be a bloody, drug-fueled orgy (not unless they had become an EDM group). However, GWAR wasn’t just going to hold a concert; there had to be some spectacle.
After close to eight hours in a car, and some ludicrous traffic on I-95, we arrived in Richmond after their Friday event, The B4BQ, had already started. So after a quick lunch at the GWAR Bar to get ourselves in the right headspace, we headed over to the festival at Hadad’s Lake.
Yes, that is me in the GL shirt and sandals. I know how to blend into a crowd of metal heads.
As we arrived at the GWAR-B-Q on Saturday, it seemed like any other major music festival I had seen or been to. Two big stages, a pavilion as a third stage, and a large number of vendors who helped sponsor the event. I was starting to fear this was just going to be any other sponsored performance. That is when I found the haunted house. Technically, they referred to it as an “interactive museum,” but I’m no dummy–I know a haunted house when I see one. Inside was a dark, maze that included past characters from GWAR’s history, fake bodies on meat hooks, and a lot of fake blood spraying people as they walked thorough. This was the shock and gore I was expecting, and being the last guy in a line of people walking through, I became the main target of every blood cannon in America.
I did not just wake up like this.
Told you. Now that I was covered in glittery, magenta, blood water, I had to consider several things: would any band GWAR offer that sort of experience; how much would the rest of this event would resemble just an average music festival, and also was this synthetic mystery blood going to wash out? I got my answer to some of these questions when I went to rinse some of the blood off and found that they were giving water away for free. It wasn’t just any water either; it was GWATER.
Before The Slaughter, Drink Their Water
GWAR has been bottling their own water for a few years it seems, and it was being given away for free all day. Additionally, the price of food at the festival was surprisingly reasonable. This GWAR-B-Q wasn’t entirely like all the other music festivals out there. It wasn’t the same kind of cash-grab event as Warped Tour or Mayhem Fest who charge a crazy amount for tickets, then go charging double digit prices on everything from lunch to beer to bottled water.
GWAR doesn’t care about your gender, race, or ethnicity. You’re all just fodder for the slaughter.
The irony of this concept is not lost on me: GWAR loves to play up how much they “hate” their fans. Even when speaking to the band a bit before they performed there was constant mention of how little they would care if their fans died, or how much planning goes into killing their fans themselves. Hell, lead singer Blothar rode to the stage on the back of a golf cart, giving everyone the finger as he went. This is how GWAR shows love to their fans, through tongue-in-cheek abuse. I mean, this is the band that shoots blood and who-knows-what else at their crowds for a majority of their shows.
Some may call it a gimmick, sure, but they earnestly want the crowd to be a part of the performance. They want to be deemed offensive for flirting with sex, violence, and politics, to defy expectations about what should be seen as threatening and mundane. In GWAR’s eyes, battling against the hyper-sensitivity that plagues the world , and pretending to threaten their fans, is truly their idea of equality. Very morbid equality. “I don’t care who you are, I’ll kill you all anyway,” said guitarist Beefcake The Mighty.
GWAR would not have been able to celebrate 30 years of moderate success without their fans, and they know this. As much as they play characters, the men behind the masks obviously love what they do, and love the people who let them do it over and over again. So it was at this point, waiting for the band to start their show that I knew I was becoming part of something special. The festival may not have been the horror carnival I had hoped for, or the over-the-top satanic cult some feared it would be, but it showed me what it meant to find a DIY band that truly did what they loved and appreciated the people who loved it as well. In a cynical world of corporate-willed music, there is still at least one group that is willing to put their fans before the finances, and treat them all as equals in a time where that is needed most. GWAR doesn’t care if you are black, white, brown, yellow, gay, straight, male, female, transgender or anything else. You’re just more fodder for the slaughter, and as they pulled the head off of Jeb Bush and dowsed the crowd in his blood, I knew that it was out of love.
Featured image courtesy of deviantART // ShadowCrypt
Images provided by Matt Delhauer and Garrett Geary Photography