Festivals aren’t a new thing. People have been coming together to celebrate music, food, literature, and 101 other things since time immemorial. But it was in the second half of the 20th century that the music festivals of the kind we know today got their start. First, there was the Newport Jazz Festival. With its morning summits and evening sing songs, it was a far cry from the organized chaos of today’s festivals. Still, the counterculture kids loved it. They loved its sibling festival Newport Folk Festival even more. And then along came the 1960s and suddenly, the whole world and its dog were getting in on the action. Woodstock followed Monterey, transforming festivals from listening opportunities into cultural experiences. And so it continued. These days, over 32 million Americans attend festivals each year. The Mayhem Festival is one of them. The heaviest of heavy metal festivals began in 2008, ended in 2015, and is now set to make its big return this year. Here, we take a look at the history and evolution of the Mayhem Festival.
An Introduction to the Mayhem Festival
In case you’re not familiar with it, the Mayhem Festival is a heavy metal and extreme sports touring festival that took place every summer between 2008 and 2015. It’s not the kind of place you wear flowers in your hair and talk about yoga poses. This is where you go if you like your music hard and loud and of the kind to scare your grandmother. Kevin Lyman, the creator of Vans Warped Tour, came up with the idea of the festival alongside his partner on the Taste of Chaos tour, John Reese. After securing sponsorship from Rockstar Energy Company, they announced the first tour in 2008. For its inaugural tour (and in fact, every subsequent one), the festival played across various venues in both the US and Canada from June through August.
As wise-geek.com writes, the festival usually features three stages: the Main Stage, the Jägermeister Stage, and the third stage, whose name changes depending on that year’s sponsor. All of them are dedicated to heavy metal artists, with between four to five bands playing each stage per year. The Jägermeister Stage is always opened by a Battle of the Band winner. Proceedings typically kick off in the middle of the afternoon and carry on into the small hours. Music may the main event, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of Mayhem: this is a festival that believes in giving value for money, with the result that ticket holders are spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment. Sideshows to keep the energy going through intermissions are standard, with motocross jumping being one the most popular. There’s also scheduled meet and greets with the bands, multiple vendors, and the opportunity to play the latest video games.
The Inaugural Tour
The Mayhem festival’s first-ever tour kicked off in summer 2008. The headline acts included Slipknot, Disturbed, DragonForce, and Mastodon. Other acts to appear included 36 Crazyfists, Black Tide and Underoath, who stepped in to replace Sevendust after they pulled out at the 11th hour. Most of the attention that year centered on Slipknot, and not only because they were the biggest act performing. As Wikipedia writes, the band’s turntablist Sid Wilson broke both his heels on the first day after a stage dive went wrong. He ended up performing the rest of the tour in a wheelchair. Later on in the tour, drummer Joey Jordison also ended up breaking an ankle. To the band’s credit, they pushed on with the rest of the tour, despite having to then cancel appearances at European festivals that year because of the injuries.
The Subsequent Years
The 2009 Mayhem Festival was a less injury-prone event than the previous year. 2010’s festival went without a hitch, although it still managed to make plenty of headlines. Following a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that year, headline act Korn organized a boycott of BP along with various other bands on the lineup. Tour founder Kevin Lyman declared the entire festival would be free of BP oil and encouraged festival-goers to find an alternative way “to get down the road this summer.” In 2011, the festival organizers added a change to events by using multiple acts to open the Main Stage on different days. When one headliner opened the Main Stage, the others would open the Jägermeister Mobile Stage and Revolver Stage. 2012 saw Slipknot return to the Main Stage, but this time around, they managed to keep their bones in one piece. In 2013, the festival introduced a fourth stage to the existing three for the first time. In 2014, Korn returned to the Main Stage and the number of shows was increased to 28.
In 2015, co-founder John Reese announced that year’s festival would be the last ever. Over two Facebook posts, he thanked fans for their support and confirmed the festival would be signing out: “Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival 2015 comes to an end. All I know is we have all tried our hardest to make Mayhem a home for artists, a platform for bands to increase their fan base and a place where people feel welcomed.” It wasn’t a glorious way to go out. As metalinjection.net notes, ticket sales had been disappointing, the stages had been cut from 4 to 2, and Reese’s fellow co-founder, Kevin Lyman, had made the monumental PR mistake of calling metal “gray, bald and fat” and denouncing headlining acts for failing to nurture the scene by demanding such large fees. With just 8 years under its belt, the festival that had promised so much for the metal scene was over. Or so we thought.
Following a five-year absence, the Mayhem Festival teased its return in December 2019 with an Instagram post of a photo of Rocky Balboa captioned “don’t call it a comeback. #mayhem2020.” Comeback or no comeback, it didn’t happen. COVID did instead. Like most events from last year, it got pushed around, re-scheduled, and eventually landed a new spot for the fall. So far, things are looking promising for it to go ahead as planned. There’s already been plenty of rumors about who’ll be appearing on the lineup, but so far, the festival organizers are keeping mum. All we know for sure is that it’s going to be mayhem.