GWAR-B-Q 2016: RVA’s favorite shitshow reminded us metal runs on blood and heart

by | Aug 24, 2016 | METAL, PUNK, THRASH & HARDCORE

This year’s GWAR B-Q was a certified shit show, a sweaty, grimy gathering of filthy (but friendly) bohabs and metalheads all indulging in one thing or another during the most anticipated RVA Saturday of the summer.

It was a day where fans were drenched in fake blood, splattered by cosmic green jizz, and battered in the many mosh pits, and they loved every minute of it. In retrospect, what got me through that near-cloudless, 90 degree weather day wasn’t responsible hydration, but rather the collective energy and excitement that oozed from the pores of other GWAR B-Q goers… and alcohol. Lots of alcohol.

The morning started off like any normal day – I woke up early and hungover from B4BQ the night before, finished off a bottle of El Jimador with a friend and cracked a beer. It was a good, sensible start to what I knew would be a full day of drinking and debauchery. With my trusty smartphone and digital voice recorder, I had the tools to remember what the booze would make me forget. Good fortune had granted us a designated driver, and by 11:00 am we were in the muddy, overgrown field that was Hadad’s Lake parking lot, where surly looking people were crushing cheap beers before the clock had even struck noon. It was time to rage.

After wisely applying sunscreen, we took a bare-bones shuttle bus with no AC to the water park, got some drink tickets and started boozing. I started with a bloody mary, a truly awful concoction that the bartender had kindly (or mischievously) made overpowering, filling at least half of it with GWAR’s own vodka. Once we had our first drinks in hand, we were ready to face the music, mischief, and whatever else GWAR B-Q had in store for us.

The first thing we checked out was the very end of Eat The Turnbuckle’s set, where we found ourselves stuffed into a crowded little pavilion with other sweaty degenerates. The band was an intimidating sight: a bunch of large, tattooed and half-naked men with a penchant for real violence – only amongst themselves, thankfully. To give you an idea of their sound, they play a self-proclaimed brand of “ultra-violence” music, an interesting mix of violent death metal and professional wrestling. While I didn’t get to witness any onstage wrestling (which I’ve heard utilizes Mexican wrestling masks), their short, intense final songs inspired crowd surfing in the small enclosure, and by the end of their performance, the band had their own blood covering their faces. Yeah, they were some hardcore motherfuckers.

With the sun beaming down in full force by this point, we caught American Nightmare on the Scumdog Stage, an influential old school hardcore band formed in Boston in the 90’s. Their one-armed singer was a notable presence, with his high energy antics pumping up the crowd and his sharp screams evoking cheers. Though I was on the outskirts of the crowd, the dust cloud I saw in the middle of it (one of many that day) was a clear indicator that there was moshing going on. This should have been a premonition, but I was concentrated on getting down the hell juice they told me was a bloody mary.

When we realized it was almost 12:50, we hauled ass over to the beer tent to restock our booze. I had to take a photo with the gigantic PBR can man, as I generally only see normal-sized ones, and then we hauled ass over to August Burns Red (seen below), a band which I knew little about.

My friends were stoked to see them, but all I knew was that they were a metalcore band. We found ourselves situated near the side of the stage, next to a suspiciously open space in the middle of the crowd. Why would people knowingly leave all that room, instead of getting closer to the stage? I found out about five minutes later, when August Burns Red exploded into their first song, “Empire.” My god. The mosh pit never died down the entire forty minute set, and though I kept a watchful eye on the bodies that were being shoved around, my attention was focused on the music. They had an explosive, badass set, and the band members were all impressively technically proficient on their instruments. It was head banging inducing, with the sweat-soaked singer swinging his mic around like some kind of metalcore lasso.

The people near me were interesting to watch: One girl was missing at least three teeth, one guy got decked in the face and laughed about it, one dude had a “Legalize Murder” shirt; these were seasoned veterans of the mosh pit. By the end of the set, blood had been spilt, and I left with one clear impression: August Burns Red is fucking sick.

The Dillinger Escape Plan was next, and it held some very unexpected things for us. I found out from someone in the crowd that their singer’s flight was cancelled, and that he wouldn’t be present. Well, that sucks, I thought, but I’m sure they’ve got someone to fill his shoes. His replacement was not another vocalist, however, but a baritone saxophone player (seen below, left), imitating the singer’s growls with the sax the entire set.

I found this absolutely hilarious and insanely cool at the same time. It was those kinds of unpredictable moments on the road that likely inspired the writers for Spinal Tap, I thought.

The music was relentless and heavier than lead, and the band was amped up like they had snorted a pile of cocaine Scarface style. The guitarist climbed on the unstable equipment and incited the crowd to get even crazier. But the best part, and one of the most memorable moments of GWAR B-Q for me, happened during the last few songs.

The band brought up a long-haired guy from the crowd, and he screamed with them with such skill that the crowd went nuts. I thought they had surely planned beforehand for this guy to perform with them – but I found out that was not the case at all. It turns out that he was a diehard fan who couldn’t stand the fact that the singer wasn’t going to make it, and man did he make a great replacement.

I met up with the guy, Dylan Shane Lawson (seen below), after the set, fighting through the awed people surrounding him to have a chat.

“They’re one of my absolute favorite bands,” Lawson said, “and when I saw that they didn’t have Greg I was like, ‘What the fuck, man!’ I took my ticket and my sharpie marker, and wrote on it, ‘I know all your songs, please let me play.’ Next thing I know, Ben’s like, come on up here. I don’t want to sound like I had some sort of supernatural experience, but it’s not every day you get to sing for one of your favorite bands! I’ve never felt more alive in my life.”

It was a very touching moment, and it was still early in the day, barely 2:00 pm. Beneath all the sweat, grime, crushed PBR cans and joints, GWAR B-Q had a big heart. It wasn’t about getting fucked up from day drinking – though that was certainly an appeal – but about the music that people loved, music that was a very important part of their lives.

For many of the fans, the GWAR B-Q was responsible for memories they would never forget, some as unreal as getting onstage with one of your favorite bands and absolutely killing it. As I mused on this, I remembered day drinking was an appeal, and got another brew.

Eyehategod, featuring Phil Anselmo of Pantera fame, was one of the bands that were highly anticipated. Asking numerous people who they were excited to see, Eyehategod was on the list every time, so of course I was excited too.

Eyehategod had a very Sabbath-inspired sound, with slow, sludgy riff-driven songs that Anselmo meshed perfectly with. It was right up my alley, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anselmo harassed the crowd in good fun, asking, “You having a good time at this cocksuckin’ motherfucker?” And barely a half hour from the touching moment where a fan sang with one of his favorite bands, came another heartwarming moment: Phil gave Jesus a hug, and then told him to get the fuck out.

A fan dressed as J.C. came up onstage and headbanged to the music, filled with the spirit of sludge and clearly choosing to ignore the name of the band. It was a memorable moment for everyone in the crowd, drawing laughs, cheers and jeers. After a short time onstage, Jesus went back into the hellbound crowd to rock out. What a guy! Anselmo strapped on a guitar for the last song, told SJWs to fuck themselves, and that was that.

Another beer and I was feeling good, good enough to venture into the dark green waters that looked suspiciously like GWAR slime, waters I had sworn I would not enter. I had heard stories from past GWAR B-Qs – someone puked in it, a dude was bleeding out in it – but I had consumed enough alcohol to not give a shit. We took a break from the music to drink more, grab a bite, and hurl ourselves from the rope swing into a dangerously shallow part of the water that would have safety inspectors pulling their hair out.

The infamous Blob was present, but I didn’t feel like signing a waiver to experience it. I had a great time in that unnaturally dark green water, and I don’t want to know what was in it.

I met GWAR fans old an new that day. One such fan had been going every year since day one, when it was held at the Bike Lot seven years ago, and I was fortunate enough to speak with him before I became entrapped in the crowd of people surging to see the main attractions.

Justin Laughter, from Richmond, told me about the history of Gwar B-Q and how far the event had come since its early days.

“Gwar B-Q started out over a decade, fifteen years ago, as sort of a friends and family party,” Laughter said. “It’s amazing to see where the festival has gone from seven years ago at Bike Lot to here now, with the two stages. Hell, they filled in half the lake to make this happen. Hadad’s actually made structural improvements to host the festival.”

We met some cool people by the pool and were having so much fun, we didn’t realize how much time had flown by. GWAR was coming on in minutes, and I was out of drink tickets. We quickly hauled ass, pounded drinks (another bloody mary – why!?), and pushed into the crowd to get a good look at GWAR.

They were every bit as awesome as I had expected.

They were on point musically, and I still have no idea how they played so well in those bulky costumes. The saws came out and hacked off limbs, and blood spurted out into the crowd relentlessly.

Repeatedly, people from the crowd retreated with a hilariously traumatized look on their faces, covered in green slime and fake blood. The best moment was when GWAR pitted presidential candidates Hillary and Donald Trump against one another, their twisted version of a debate that was more akin to a deathmatch. Trump ended up getting his head cut off by Hillary, and drenched the crowd with his billionaire blood.

The final act of the evening, and the most anticipated, was Lamb of God. At long last they were taking the stage, and the drunk and high denizens of the GWAR B-Q shuffled and pushed as close as they could get to the stage. Most people there were without a doubt most excited to see Lamb of God, and had waited all day for this moment. They showed their appreciation by firing up another crazy mosh pit, one that I was once again dangerously close to.

Like August Burns Red, the moshing never ended during the 75-minute set, and expanded nearly all the way to the front of the stage. “Engage The Fear Machine” was responsible for plenty of injuries in the pit, and “Walk With Me in Hell” garnered a great crowd response, and I couldn’t help drunkenly air guitaring and banging my head. Everyone around me was suitably hammered – one woman gave me a funny, trying-to-be-coy sort of look and put my cigarette to her lips, still in my hand. I don’t speak gibberish, so I really have no idea what she said to me.

I thoroughly blew out my voice cheering for the most anticipated group of the festival, a group that, being from Richmond, were the prime candidates to end the night. Their melodic but heavy, speedy riffs were a perfect end to what had been a hell of a day. They ended with their classic, fan-favorite “Laid to Rest”, leaving the rabid fans cheering, screaming and circling violently in the mosh pit.

Was GWAR B-Q everything I expected? Yes, but it was more than that. There was a sense of community and oneness I hadn’t anticipated. We were all in it together, day drinking and hitting shitty joints, headbanging to the many great acts, catching new diseases in the lake and sharing in each other’s fun.

I had always known that the metal scene in Richmond was tight-knit and close, yet accepting of everyone and GWAR B-Q drove it home for me. Throughout the entire day, I saw no altercations or disagreements, no negativity, only people a great time at the festival they’d waited an entire year for. I’m one of those people now, and I’ll be waiting patiently until next summer, when I get to experience GWAR B-Q again.

James Miessler

James Miessler

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