Welcome to GWAR B-Q” rattled a ticket taker some sixty years of age wearing a questioning smile, attempting not to stare too hard at a group of twenty something’s, their faces filled with piercings, bodies covered with tattoos. Such is the setting for yet another summer gathering of counter cultural hooligans, hordes of GWAR fanatics enjoying a day replete with extreme music in a family centered water park. Usually reserved for Richmond Virginia’s suburban parents and children, for one day each August Haddad’s Lake transforms into the epicenter of artistic debauchery and anti-establishment merriment.
The event known as GWAR B-Q grows yearly, as thousands of loyal GWAR followers from around the world make the pilgrimage to an off the beaten area on the outskirts of Richmond, the Virginia capitol, a small city which itself harkens back to old-time southern America in its architecture. Richmond is a microcosm of American society, populated with liberal college students intermingled among gun-toting conservatives and Bible belt morality. One block is home to a Baptist Church, the next block rents to tattoo shops and blue-collar saloons.
Headquartered in Richmond since their inception, GWAR’s now-annual event evolved from taking part in similar functions headed by other artists. Lead vocalist and main spokes-alien Oderus Urungus remarks, “We have played at the Gathering Of The Juggalos and Bonnaroo, and like always GWAR destroyed, so if a bunch of hippies and clowns can do it there’s no reason why your lords and masters can’t do it either, besides, why travel to kill humans when they will come to you willingly.”
And once again, this year’s event features GWAR trademarked food products GWAR Beer and GWAR B-Q sauce. Fit for human consumption, they are becoming staples of GWAR loving households everywhere. Beaming like a proud father Oderus boisterously continues, “Once again we have lowered ourselves with GWAR B-Q sauce and GWAR Beer. The GWAR B-Q sauce is sweet yet tangy, and GWAR Beer is great.” Then motioning to a fan with a can in hand, shyly standing off to the side, gaining witness to the Oderus press spectacle, Urungus asks, “Are you getting a buzz?” The now smiling man nods a nervous yes before the GWAR front man launches into a beer commercial tirade, “You see? Gwar beer is good shit! It gets you drunk! Have two, then have two more, then get in your car and drive it into a cop car, or better yet, drive it into a police station like Arnold did in Total Recall.” Then, seemingly influenced by a few GWAR beers himself, Oderus wonders aloud, “Why did he even make that stupid movie?”
Despite the drinking and fun, the work that goes into an event like GWAR B-Q, and even the GWAR stage show, does not go unnoticed by other bands appearing at the GWAR festivities. Richmond counterparts and traditional trash metal enthusiasts Municipal Waste are not only friends with members of GWAR, they have a professional admiration for the labor and attention to detail that goes into any GWAR event. Guitarist Philip “Landphil” Hall declares, “We’ve toured with GWAR a bunch of times now and we are friends with them, but they are also mentors. When you go on the road and see everything they do to prepare, just the logistics of all the stage props and blood, playing their instruments with those costumes on, you see how much work it takes to not only be successful but to stay working. It’s not all a party, if you want to have the loyal following they have you have to put in the man hours. They’ve been at it for like 25 years or something. What they do has substance. That’s a testament to their work ethic.”
Besides beer and GWAR B-Q sandwiches, this year’s activities featured 12 other bands on two stages, and ran impeccably according to schedule, while fans frolicked on the various water attractions or formed circle pits in front of the stage. From 11 AM, when wildly entertaining newcomers Wilson hit the stage, until the namesake Scumdogs commanded their legions at 5:45, a diverse crowd watched a varied line up of metal, grindcore, stoner rock, punk and thrash bands with inspired enthusiasm. In the overwhelmingly good-natured spirit of the entire afternoon, punks and metalheads, young and old, united in the name of musical revelry, distinctly revealed to even the most casual of onlookers that Haddad’s family oriented water park was indeed the perfect place. On this day a multitude of pierced, tattooed, and fake blood splattered GWAR fans undoubtedly formed a family.
As for Oderus and his alien counterparts, GWAR B-Q remains but the beginning of a busy touring and press schedule in support of their latest opus, Battle Maximus. Continuing in a metal direction since they returned to Metal Blade Records in 2009 with Lust In Space, (after a few records with a more punk/experimental flair) the new album is the band’s first since the passing of guitar player Flattus Maximus (Corey Smoot). Oderus often credits Flattus for the band’s return to a more metal sound, and the atmosphere of the new album harkens to his influence.
With a heavy heart Oderus explains, “He was the Scumdog that brought us back in to the metal pantheon of supremacy. When we lost him and he returned to the stars to fulfill his glorious destiny, we didn’t want to just replace him with a guitar player that sounded like him. Nobody could fill Flattus’s shoes. So we got Pustulus Maximus, Flattus’s cousin… all the Maximus’s play guitar by the way, and we went in a new direction. It’s probably more of what you would call a thrash Metal record. It’s fast, it’s heavy, it’s definitely not eight string tuned down like Bloody Pit Of Horror (2010) was, but it tells the next chapter of the GWAR story and pays respectful homage to our dear departed Scumdog brother Flattus Maximus. It’s up to the fans to decide if they like it. I saw one of our fans eating some of my turds earlier so I think they’re going to like the album.”
By the time GWAR took the stage promptly at 5:45, no one remained in the water, all the GWAR Beer and GWAR B-Q sauce thoroughly consumed. Attention was squarely on the band as the entire conglomerate whipped into a dervish while being splashed with the blood of GWAR’s victims. Though GWAR is at its heart a satirical and comedic group, for someone not privy to the GWAR story, the gore may seem to be a bit of overkill, but there is an artistic message, a vision that has kept them going since 1988’s gold certified classic Hell-O. Many bands wear the masks or dress up as ghoulish creatures. For the most part they come and go, yet GWAR survives. And their fans keep showing up year after year, draped in bloodstained attire from concerts past.
Mr. Urungus unabashedly proclaims, “Well first of all, those bands suck. You got guys that prance around in orange jumpsuits or others that put on monster suits, but it doesn’t mean anything. I think we do have a message. When we get the Pope and we bring him out on stage and chop his head off and leave him lying there like a stump, we’re talking about the Catholic Church and all its brutality. I mean, it’s fucking simple, look at this fucking religion! It’s a man nailed to a fucking cross! That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.”
Thus the comic book mythology of GWAR carries on. Year after year these crack addicted alien musicians kill world leaders, religious figureheads, and pop culture icons on stages around the globe. Hidden amongst the mock violence and blood splattered stages, a critique of all going on in the world. That’s why the fans keep showing up. That is why GWAR B-Q 2013 was the biggest yet. GWAR and the rest of the bands at GWAR B-Q have something to say, and whether you agree with their ideas or not, in the end, unlike that guy with nails in his hands and feet, GWAR and their GWAR B-Q festivities are most definitely a lot of fun.
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