Q&A: The organizer of Shadow Woods Metal Fest talks about pulling together a 'summer camp for metal heads'

Among the wide variety of festivals debuting in and around Baltimore this year is Shadow Woods Metal Festival, which promises to bring 350 metal fans together for a weekend-long BYOB retreat in the woods (not unlike last year's Fields Festival, but with a harder musical edge). Camping, hiking, yoga, and of course lots of great metal bands will be on the offer, a perfect way for an extreme music fan to celebrate the transition from summer to fall. I spoke with Mary Spiro, founder of Metallomusikum and organizer of the fest, over email about how the whole thing came together.

City Paper: Metal in Europe has a long history of outdoor fests with camping, but it hasn't caught on so much in the states. Was this the inspiration?

Mary Spiro: My inspiration for this fest was Stella Natura, a three-day camping and music fest held in the California's Tahoe National Forest in September 2013. The experience was magical and transformative for me. Strong bonds were created among attendees. I still talk to many of those people today and some of them are coming to Shadow Woods Metal Fest! I wanted to experience that euphoria of listening to metal in the deep woods again with my friends. I know that White Hall, Maryland is not the Tahoe National Forest, but there are trees and nature and Maryland is beautiful too. As for European fests, many of them are huge, and that is not what I wanted. A smaller more intimate fest that I discovered after the fact in Germany, called Under the Black Sun, turns out to be very similar to the scope and scale of what I am trying to create. Some friends attended that show this summer and are also coming to Shadow Woods, so I will be interested to hear their comparisons.

CP: How did the fest come together, logistically speaking? I see it is somewhat of a collaborative effort between promoters in different areas of the Mid-Atlantic.

MS: The concept for the fest is mine and I did the venue scouting and worked directly with booking the bands, coordinating backline for stages, and so forth. I am doing pretty much what I always do when I book a regular show, just on a much larger scale. However, there is no way I could have done this without the time and talents of many personal friends. I am working with promoters from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Richmond, Portland, Maine; and also Frederick, Maryland to get the word out. We worked together to curate the lineup and tried to draw from all those geographic areas, as well as pull in some of our favorites, such as Velnias, Falls of Rauros, Midnight, Iron Man, Occultation, and Wormreich. I have an incredible team coordinating sound, stage, and lights. I have folks organizing food vendors, merch vendors, hospitality, and catering. I have people who have donated countless hours of graphic design work. And, of course, I have members of the infamous Maryland Deathfest security team to keep everyone and everything safe and secure.

CP: What's it like managing an event like this? What are the biggest challenges?

MS: Some days I feel like I am planning 36 simultaneous weddings. Other days, I am pretty zen about the whole thing. Making the budget is always in the back of my mind, but I try not to let that get to me, because I believe in this project. It's exciting and challenging to work with lots of personalities and expectations. But everyone, most especially the bands, has been incredibly supportive of the idea. Many people have told me that this is an idea whose time has come, and they are glad to be a part of it. I know when the fest happens I am going to be fighting back tears that it's actually here. There are so many details, I hope I get to watch the bands!

CP: What's your personal goal for the fest?

MS: I guess my personal goal for the fest is that everyone comes away feeling really good that they experienced this. It may never happen again. Time will tell. But for those who invest in this moment in time, I hope it will be as transformative for them as Stella Natura was for me. Since we are only selling 350 tickets, I feel like I am making 350 new friends.

CP: Can you talk about a few of the artists performing that emphasize the diversity of music on offer?

MS: Shadow Woods Metal Fest should have been just called a "music fest" because not all the bands play metal. On one end of the spectrum, we have extreme black metal warriors like Alabama's Wormreich. This will be their first live performance since they tragically lost two members in a vehicle crash in April but who have not wavered in their commitment to perform. Midnight, one of our headliners, has been popular in the underground extreme metal scene for decades. Then we have avant-garde bands like New York's Psalm Zero (ex-Castevet) and the weird and wonderful Snakefeast from Baltimore, who blend saxophone with syncopated black metal. We have strong representatives of death metal, such as The Day of the Beast, Wrath of Typhon, and Existentium. And we have folk and pagan music from groups like Ashagal, Stone Breath, and Destroying Angel. There are also some ambient noise acts!

So, really, this fest is a music lover's fest. It's not going to be all corpse paint and spiked leather.

CP: How large of an area is the campsite? What features does it offer (hikes, swimming, etc.)?

MS: The venue is a children's summer camp. We are turning it into summer camp for metal heads. There are 200 acres of field and forest, skirted by a creek that you can swim or tube in. The weather looks like it will stay warm enough for that. The venue has several bunkhouse cabins. We will have three stages, one in the dining hall and two others, one out in the woods and one in the big open field. The event is 21 and up and it is BYOB. We will have food vendors, including options for vegans, so no one will go hungry. We will have bonfires at night, so bring marshmallows. After the bands play, we are hoping to have movies in the dining hall.

CP: I see there are activities planned like yoga and . . . runes? Tell me more about metal yoga and rune sessions! (or any other activities you might want to mention).

MS: We have three workshops. Yoga on Friday, Saturday, and maybe Sunday morning at 10 a.m. This particular yoga instructor does not use music but may discuss how metal music can be incorporated into yoga practice. On Friday at 1:30 p.m., James Healy of Old Town Lutherie will be conducting a workshop on guitar maintenance.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., Scandinavian history scholar Ann Humphrey will present a workshop on the meanings of runes. Based on the questions we asked people during event registration, there seems to be significant interest in all three topics. I am sure some other impromptu activities will crop up, such as tubing and late-night acoustic jam sessions around the campfire.

CP: Are there any considerations in place for those who might want to chill after the bands are done at night versus those who plan to be in "beast mode" till dawn?

MS: We won't have a specific "quiet zone" for those not in "beast mode." That kind of camping segregation might happen all on its own. Movies in the hall will shut down at 2 a.m. and campfires will probably die down around that time, too. If anyone gets too "beast" I am sure security will hear about it. I know we will have some partiers, but oddly enough, there are plenty of metal heads that are pretty chill.

CP: I see you have started offering day tickets as well, along with the weekend pass. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MS: We have had requests for day tickets from the beginning. We struggled with the decision to offer day tickets, simply because we just didn't want to have to police over 200 acres to figure out who was a day ticket holder versus a camper. Day tickets do not include camping. Music runs from noon to 10 p.m. each night, so once that's over, day ticket holders should be heading home. However, at this point, we have a good core of committed weekend campers, and we wanted to make sure this experience was as accessible to as many people as possible. The demand was just too great not to offer it.

Only 350 total tickets will be sold. Oh yeah, and carpool, carpool, carpool. Parking is limited.

The fest runs Sept. 25-27 in White Hall, Maryland. Tickets and weekend passes, along with more information, are available at: shadowwoodsmetalfest.com.

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