Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
The popular and rapidly growing one-day showcase spotlighting some of the finest bands from within the underground has news to share with the masses.
Yes, for the fourth straight year, the STEEL & STONE Fest (2019 edition) is set to take place at The Odditorium in Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday, November 9th. It seems as if the event’s roster of acts gets better each year and this one is no exception.
As this article was going to press, word came in on a late addition to the showcase – Maryland’s metallic doom trio YATRA will also appear. We believe the plan is they will play in the direct support slot after Temptation’s Wings, prior to headliner Howling Giant.
Since 2015, the STEEL & STONE Fest has provided an all ages, single-day event celebrating many of the bands based in the vicinity of The Carolinas and Tennessee (although not exclusively). Each prior year successfully helped to bolster widespread interest from bands desiring to bring their brand of noise to beautiful Asheville, nestled in the embrace of The Great Smoky Mountains.
Several of this year’s bands will be making a first time appearance at STEEL & STONE Fest, with a couple making their live debuts in Asheville altogether. In preparing today’s event announcement, I was able to throw some inquiries in the direction of STEEL & STONE Fest‘s founder and organizer, Jason Gardner. Perhaps you know Jason in his role as the bash-master drummer for Temptation’s Wings, alongside his bandmates Micah Nix, Chad Barnwell, and Ryan Fox.
Read on as Jason and I briefly discuss the upcoming fourth edition of STEEL & STONE Fest…
RIFF RELEVANT (via Pat Riot): Year 4! How do you personally feel about that… are you surprised by it? In those four years, what changes, or differences, can you observe having come about?
JASON GARDNER: I remember when I sent the text to Micah (Nix – Temptation’s Wings’ guitarist / vocalist) about doing it, pretty much on a whim. The original mission statement was local bands and regional bands we were fans of and respected, coming together to network and celebrate underground music in an intimate setting. It was way more than I expected once I got going on it. Finding a headliner was the hardest part, a lot of bands were interested and would have been an awesome name to have on top of the poster lineup. Ultimately, we got Cloak from Atlanta to come up and play that first year and they have certainly moved up the ladder since.
Now that we have repetition with the event each year, I can concentrate on looking for bands. It’s pretty fun and we all (band members) look forward to it. Bands reach out to me now and its flattering, but also disappointing I cannot accommodate them all. It’s very low budget and touring schedules pretty much have to align so it’s worth the payday on a tour stop rather than a one-off appearance.
RIFF RELEVANT: As an independent organizer, what are some of the biggest challenges to making Steel & Stone happen each year?
JASON GARDNER: It’s not too bad now really. The venue helps a lot and I book it 8 months in advance so the date is usually open. I would say the biggest challenge is not repeating what local bands play too often… except mine of course! It’s pretty limited in this area, trying to stick to more traditional stoner and doom type bands.
One issue that has been a challenge in the past has been finding an opening band. Not to be too critical, but there are some big egos in this area, ones who really don’t do too much around here. Temptation’s Wings got the chance to play the Maryland Doom Fest this past summer and I met JB Matson, who in my opinion was the coolest guy I’ve met in this business. We were nobody compared to a lot of bands in the lineup, at the bottom of the list, and he talked to us like we were the biggest band there. I liked his demeanor and his fandom in putting that event together, and I learned a few things he did that I then applied to my process booking bands this year. This has been the easiest year yet, logistics wise.
RIFF RELEVANT: If you had to make an argument to convince someone unfamiliar with Steel & Stone to attend, what would your case consist of?
JASON GARDNER: My argument is $10.00 for 7 diverse bands who are probably better than any mainstream garbage pushed down your throat by radio. No Five Finger Death Punch wannabes on this fest!
RIFF RELEVANT: I know firsthand that many bands reach out to Steel & Stone with an interest in playing it… what has been one of the more shocking or surprising bands to have done such?
Hypothetical: Keeping it realistic of course, selecting from bands in the current underground, what would your dream lineup for Steel & Stone be?
JASON GARDNER: I think the biggest band we tried to get, but ultimately just didn’t work out, was Valkyrie. Pete Adams was in Baroness at the time and it just didn’t happen due to scheduling, but it was close. To be honest, a dream lineup changes all the time as new bands come up that are ripe for the picking, while other bands you tried to book previously get too big to play smaller venues. Or some of them break up before you get a chance to ask.
Some notable bands out right now that we would really love to get on a future edition are Hyborian for sure, or Druids is another kick-ass band coming up through the ranks that I really like. We played two shows with Conan this year and it would be amazing to have them on a future edition. Night Demon is another band we played with a couple times before they exploded in Europe, but are still relatively lesser known of in the U.S., especially the Southeast. I could go on and on but this answer would be a novel when I was done, ha!
RIFF RELEVANT: Give us some insight into this month’s Steel & Stone and, of course, anything you want to share with us before we wind down. Have at it!
JASON GARDNER: This year’s edition is probably the best we’ve had, from top to bottom. Howling Giant just released an acclaimed new album and they are by far the most established headliner we’ve had. Plus, they are super nice guys and easy to deal with. Also, besides my band, we have Ape Vermin who are building some steam, and a newer band named Wulfhound from over the mountain in Tennessee, who people should be hearing more of in the near future. We have two of the better local bands around in the lineup with Tombstone Highway and Electric Phantom who have been around awhile and promote themselves well. I am really stoked on this year’s lineup!
I would like to thank and commend Kyrre Bjurling for this year’s poster artwork, once again. It’s amazing and is probably his best yet. I would also like to thank our sponsors helping out this year too, and like always, you and Riff Relevant talk it up! Also, Shadebeast Records from Athens, GA. sent us some stuff to give away, so I wanna thank Joe Eldridge for the package. Of course the venue, The Odditorium, and Matt Evans for helping out with logistics on their end. We hope to see a lot of new faces November 9th!
Well now, that sounds like an invitation if there ever was one, at least to me. Jason is right though, if you live in the Asheville, N.C. area and like to support your regional music scene, you should attend the upcoming STEEL & STONE Fest. Here is a broad synopsis for each of the individual bands set to perform, beginning with the headline act:
HOWLING GIANT: From Nashville comes one of heavy music’s more promising bands, a unique one blending stoner metal and progressive rock laden with Sci-Fi themes. Having just released their first full-length album, ‘The Space Between Worlds‘ via Blues Funeral Recordings in late September, this trio are blowing minds with it and on stages both:
YATRA: Currently one of Maryland’s most active units, this trio meld a powerful blend of blackened sludge and more traditional heavy metal into their prolific doom. Debut album ‘Death Ritual‘ was unleashed through Grimoire Records in early 2019, and these three have been non-stop dooming the U.S.A. ever since:
TEMPTATION’S WINGS: Asheville’s very own already formidable, favorite sons expanded to a two-guitar lineup within the last year. Doing so has led to the band opening up new aural territories to explore since their epic 2017 conceptual opus, ‘Skulthor Ebonblade’, put their power doom abilities on the map:
APE VERMIN: These North Carolinians took the EyeHateGod template and thrust an abundance of progressive nuances and enhanced savagery into it. Off the chain brutality to be sure, but tempered with super cool grooves to boot… like those found on their critically acclaimed 2018 release, ‘Sonic Monolith‘:
TOMBSTONE HIGHWAY: These Ashevillian, southern metal outlaws took a name inspired by the classic song from The Obsessed. Rising from their mountain home and on the run, these guys have yet to lay down roots by means of recorded music, but you can see them performing via fan-filmed video here.
WULFHOUND: Out of eastern Tennessee and headed for great things, comes the fuzz enriched psych-doom of this trio. Heavy as a fit of depression and mind-blowing like the ingestion of too much LSD, one listen to this year’s self-titled EP release will have you howling at the moon and wanting more:
ELECTRIC PHANTOM: This regionally based, lit-up ghost of a band is something peculiar and unique, to be sure. Their amalgamation of progressive rock and metal is chock full of punk, funk, speed metal, and alt. country elements. Yet, this illuminated, incorporeal entity has only been captured on film so far… like this sighting right here.
As you see, the STEEL & STONE Fest 2019 promises to provide fantastic musical acts and is happening just a handful of days from now. It will be taking place at The Odditorium in Asheville this Saturday, November 9th, with the door opening at 3:00 PM. Entry at the door is $10.00, set times are listed below, and this is an all-ages event – find more info HERE.
Electric Phantom (6:50-7:20)
Wulfhound (7:35- 8:05)
Tombstone Highway (8:20-8:50)
Ape Vermin (9:05-9:40)
Temptation’s Wings (9:55-10:35)
Howling Giant (11:45- __)