Mosh pit marathon
Aftershock has its biggest year, with total attendance of 97,500
When Discovery Park’s gates opened at noon Friday, fans rushed to the main stage for a front-row view of Slipknot, the Grammy-winning band of costumed heavy metal freaks and Aftershock’s first-day headliner.
Now they just needed to wait eight hours for the show. That meant no bathroom breaks and skipping 12 other bands, but the biggest challenge was surviving “crowd crush,” when fans push closer toward the barrier. And crowd-surfers: If they don't get swallowed up and chomp dirt along the ride, it could be their bodies on your neck as they spill over the railing and into the arms of security.
If you ask, some will tell you the pain is well worth it. Why?
Heavy metal craze was pandemic at Discovery Park, where Aftershock returned for its eighth year last weekend. The Sacramento festival had its biggest turnout, with a combined attendance of about 97,500, up from an estimated 60,000 last year, according to organizers. The fest expanded to three days, featuring 52 hard rock, heavy metal, rap, ska, punk and electronic dance music artists across three stages. Slipknot, Blink 182 and Tool headlined.
Next year could be even bigger.
On Oct. 10—the day before the festival kicked off—Aftershock producer Danny Wimmer Presents announced that Metallica, the genre's most commercially successful band, will headline two nights in 2020.
Through events such as Aftershock—billed as one of the largest music festivals in Sacramento history—is hard rock experiencing a resurgence?
“We literally have been talking about this every day,” said Lzzy Hale, lead singer and guitarist for the band Halestorm, which played its third Aftershock. “But it's different. It's not something catching on with kids or a certain gender. It used to be 60-40 male-female [at shows], and now it's totally flipped. … We're kind of seeing the crest of the wave happening.”
By noon Friday, the park was invaded by fans wearing leather corsets, black band T-shirts, fishnet stockings, combat boots and patched denim spike-jackets.
The lion's share of heshers gathered for Phil Anselmo, former frontman of Pantera, whose band the Illegals performed a tribute to the late guitar god Dimebag Darrell. Relentlessly crass, chuggy and groovy, the group ended with Pantera's radio beatdown single, “Walk.”
At the corner Coors Capitol stage, the young Kentucky band Knocked Loose summoned a human torrent with its enraged hardcore tunes. This stage was a highlight throughout the weekend, with the Death Grips-style trap-punk of Ho99o9 on Saturday and the anti-artisanal beer singalongs of Fidlar coupled with The Hu's jam of rock and Mongolian throat singing on Sunday.
Friday culminated with Slipknot's big rock circus, opening with its anti-social anthem, “People=Shit.” The nine-piece band's music is tooth-snapping, and its visuals fit the theme: a gritty side-show of steel drummers and torched baseball bats slugging metal barrels on tempo. Lead singer Corey Taylor seemed to be wearing someone else's face.
Saturday brought more of 2000s rock's towering personas, including Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. Manson burned a bible and tossed it into the crowd during “Antichrist Superstar.” Doused in washed-up war paint and glitter, the shock rocker's Satanic songs, which were the bane of evangelicals 20 years ago, seemed to take on a new relevance.
Saturday's performances ended with Blink 182's pop-punk party, where the crowd reached peak rowdiness during the single, “First Date.” Confetti cannons, inflatable aliens and a song played completely in the dark made it one of the weekend's funnest sets.
On Sunday afternoon, the wildest crowds thrashed for Babymetal, the Japanese trio that performs cute, choreographed J-pop perverted by demonic breakdowns. A massive pit brawl imperiled the crowd during “Megitsune,” where a traditionally zen, Japanese folk-song called “Cherry Blossoms, Cherry Blossoms” morphed into heavy artillery for a stampede.
Aftershock ended with Korn and Tool. Korn brought chunky nu-metal grooves with scat and bagpipes, and Tool fans witnessed an extended prog-rock journey. Abstract images displayed on the stage's massive screens as the band debuted some tracks from its latest album, Fear Inoculum.
The global “heavy-metal family” was a common theme for onstage banter; shock rockers used their strongman characters to advocate for diversity and inclusion.
“You have family all over the world,” Slipknot's Taylor told the crowd. “It doesn't matter what color their skin is. It doesn't matter what f---ing language they speak, who they love, where they live.”
Backstage, the message resonated with performers such as Babymetal, who tour internationally.
“The passion that [we] receive from fans, some are crying and some are screaming,” Su-metal, Babymetal's frontwoman, told SN&R through a translator. “Seeing all of this within the performance, [I] realize that music is limitless … everyone becomes united through the power of music.”
Sacramento could become the movement's mecca. Fans such as Nick Tujfly traveled more than 2,500 miles from a part of Canada, where he said the metal scene is “nonexistent.” “We live in the bible belt,” he said.
Aftershock 2019 may have brought an estimated $30 million in tourism dollars to the region, according to a 2017 study that Visit Sacramento extrapolated to account for the third day and increased capacity at Discovery Park.
“It's the largest hard rock festival on the West Coast, and there's cache for Sacramento to host it,” said Mike Testa, Visit Sacramento's president. “The benefit for locals is we get to see a really great show in our backyard, but it also brings in a ton of outside dollars into the economy.”
With Metallica headlining next year, the festival is poised to grow.
“People primally need to be there, and they travel far and wide and save up and maybe miss a rent payment,” said Hale. “And you feel that from people.”