MMA's Toughest Music Fest

The Rockstar Mayhem Festival is the summer’s hardest music tour. Fans can listen to bands on three stages, mosh to their favorite tunes, watch the guys from Metal Mulisha put on a BMX demonstration, and drink while they bask in the sun.


When the metal and hard rock artists aren’t partying or signing autographs for fans, many of them work out and spar with one another in the parking lot. “It’s funny because behind the busses, everyone always has their gear out and it looks like a prison yard back there,” says Brian Fair, vocalist of Shadows Fall. “It’s a bunch of tattooed dudes lifting weights and throwing down.”


Many rockers who performed in the festival in previous years have been addicted to MMA and training, but the 2010 installment is the most adrenaline-induced edition yet.


Kevin Lyman, creator of Warped Tour—the mega successful alternative music festival—was originally approached by Rockstar Energy Drink about doing a summer concert series that catered toward heavier sounding artists. At the same time, he was also getting calls from music labels like Metal Blade and Roadrunner about having their bands appear on Warped Tour. Looking to merge the two ideas together and provide metal and hard rock musicians an avenue to perform strictly to their own demographic, Lyman launched and produced the inaugural Rockstar Mayhem Festival in 2008, with Disturbed and Slipknot serving as the head-lining acts. The following year, Marilyn Manson and Slayer took top billing, and, for 2010, KoRn, Rob Zombie, Lamb of God, and Five Finger Death Punch grace the main stage.


It also gave Lyman the chance to showcase up-and-coming artists on side stages so they could earn an income as well. “At a lot of music festivals, band shave to pay to play on the second stages,”he says. “They had to buy spots on those, and I’ve always been about paying the bands and trying to find the best talent.” This year’s secondary stages are sponsored by Jägermeister and Silver Star, and playing on those stages are Atreyu, Chimaira, Hate breed, In This Moment,Norma Jean, Shadows Fall, Winds of Plague, and 3 Inches of Blood.


With mixed martial art’s constant attraction to cutting-edge hard music, this has become a fight fan’s dream tour. “That type of aggressive music will definitely appeal to them and there’s no soft spots in this lineup,” Fair says. “From the beginning of the day all the way to the headliners, it’s nonstop, and it’s also a cool mix of metal styles. It’s got something for everybody.”


Mark Hunter, front man for Chimaira, echoes those sentiments. “This music and the lifestyle go together,” Hunter says.“ The music is high energy, fast paced, and delivers gut wrenching blows, so to me, it sounds like MMA would definitely go hand-in-hand. That’s always a good thing, especially with how popular the sport has become.”


The association between MMA and the artists on the festival goes even deeper. Bands tend to have a lot of free time during tours, and this year many of them will be lifting weights and training in the backstage area or parking lot. Perhaps the most dedicated individual to the craft is Zoltan Bathory, guitarist for Five Finger Death Punch and co-owner of Alpha dog Combat Gear. This summer, the “Judo Machine” will be training with his road crew, which includes an Army Ranger skilled in hand-to-hand combat, a member of the Special Forces, and Gracie black belt Chris Robinson.


The six-string juggernaut usually brings a few mats with him to train. “Jägermeister used to have this big tent,” says Bathory.“It’s air conditioned and they gave it to us to train in 2008, so I’m hoping to get that again. And if they’re not bringing it, I’m gonna talk to the Mayhem guys to see if they will let us have some sort of fucking tent we can train in.”


Other artists who train regularly are Hunter and Atreyu vocalist Alex Varkatzas.Then, there are guys like Fair and Hatebreed kingpin Jamey Jasta who not only plan to improve their cardio, but learn a few moves themselves.


Jasta, in particular, is proud his music brethren are embracing the martial arts.“Coming from punk and hardcore scene, back in the day, I always looked up to the bands that were badass dudes who could defend themselves and that’s what hardcore was all about,” he says. “There was always some level of combat, whether it was Agnostic Front, Cro-mags, or Madball.Bands like that were street level bands where the guys who trained hard were monsters and just these intense guys. Now, that has trickled down in the new wave of bands and it’s great to see more of the metal style bands being fit and healthy and interested in combat sports.”


It might be only a matter of time before MMA fights become part of the festival as well. Lyman bridged the sport’s culture with the music when he invited the guys from Metal Mulisha—whose CEOs Brian Deegan and Larry Linkogle also train in MMA—to display their dynamic BMX skills, and he’s been in discussions to have sanctioned bouts take place on Mayhem in the future.


For Bathory, he believes it’s a natural progression. “I wouldn’t be surprised if sooner or later, Mayhem Festival will carry fucking cages and will hold actual fights,”he says. “In fact, that’s the next logical step. It’s the same kind of audience and alot of people are into it.”


While the idea sounds good in theory, it could have some consequences. Rowdy crowds, metal bands, and alcohol could  be a recipe for disaster, especially when fights could pop off at any second in the mosh pit. “I think whenever you involve beer or booze and a hot sun for 10 hours at a time, you’re gonna get some people who are gonna get crazy,” Jasta says. “I don’t know if you can throw cage fighting in there. I don’t know what the crowd is gonna do. But hey, as long as Hatebreed is not implicated in any trouble, I wanna see it.”


Perhaps it will happen next year, as long as everybody—from the fans to the athletic commissions—behave.

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