The All Underground Rock All Day (A.U.R.A.) Fest returns Feb. 18 with one of its most ambitious lineups to date.
A.U.R.A. Fest was the concept of Savannahian Timothy Walls, who in 2000 began Coastal Rock Productions and the subsequent festival to showcase to an all-ages crowd local and regional rock and metal bands.
Originally, Walls was hoping to mirror such large festivals as Vans Warped Tour, Ozz Fest, Bonnaroo and Coachella with multiple stages, an array of bands, vendors and activities. For the 2017 incarnation, Walls is finally seeing his initial vision come to fruition.
A.U.R.A. Fest has had about 10 all-day festivals over the last 17 years, in three different cities. The official number of festivals is lost to history, Walls said. This year, A.U.R.A. Fest found the right venue to host its assemblage of music and activities in the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.
“The venue is just perfect for all of these things,” Walls said. “There’s room for the food trucks and room for these activities. The main difference about this festival, compared to other A.U.R.A. Fests, is I’ve always wanted to have activities and vendors but never had a venue to implement those things. This is my chance to do that. Those other big festivals have so many great activities; things to check out and do all day long. I love that kind of thing.”
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as Savannah City Council passed a food truck ordinance last year that opened the city up to the popular dining carts, which have been showing up at events ever since.
Along with the festival’s most ambitious musical lineup to date, A.U.R.A. Fest will feature food trucks as well as vendors selling T-shirts and art. Several of the major sponsors will be on hand with their products.
Graveface Records & Curiosities will have vinyl and arcade games. Pabst Blue Ribbon is bringing a Pabsketball game, and most notably, students from Virginia College will be giving chair back massages.
“You’re on your feet all day, so it wears on me,” Walls said. “I’ll be in that massage chair. If people are looking for me, I’ll be up there.”
In the early days, Walls was a young, eager promoter with a simple vision to establish an all-ages rock-show promotional vehicle. Shortly after the city of Savannah prevented the under-21 crowd from entering the bars — a law that was reversed last year — the rock and metal scene in Savannah was forced underground.
Walls, himself a minor at the time, could not get into shows to see his favorite bands, and so ventured out to support the local scene with all-ages concerts.
“The name underground, I think it used to mean independent, under-the-radar, not mainstream — that’s the big thing,” Walls said. “Bands that are on independent labels or unsigned.
“When I started doing this, I was a kid,” Walls recalled. “I couldn’t get in to see shows. I’ve never forgotten that. The shows are way more fun when these kids come out. They have way more energy. They love to dance. They love to sing along. Nothing against the older guys. Even me, when I get to a show, I don’t have the energy to do anything.
“Part of the fun of these concerts is not only watching the band perform, but I love seeing the crowd’s reaction. These kids are just the best thing in the world and I love seeing them light up. It’s almost as important as anything else.”
Back in 2001, A.U.R.A. Fest boasted a 10-plus band lineup with two stages, but since then, they’ve yet to return to that number. This year is different. With 15 bands, two stages and all of the additional activities, it’s the largest A.U.R.A. Fest to date.
Another prime difference from the 2001 festival is this year’s will feature prominent national acts.
Coastal Rock Productions has been a mainstay over the years in supporting Savannah and regional rock and metal acts. With the help of sponsors and years of experience, Walls was able to bring a variety of national acts in for this fest. The 2017 lineup consists of seven national bands, five regional acts and two local outfits, including bands from as far away as Buffalo, Boston and Fort Worth.
The headliners, Unearth and ZAO — two bands Walls booked years ago — are helming a healthy mix of rock genres and styles.
Boston’s near-legendary metalcore band Unearth began their career in 1998. Nineteen years, six studio albums and several lineup changes later, Unearth is still churning out raw, explosive metal with blazing solos and high-energy vocals.
Hailing from West Virginia, ZAO has undergone a host of changes in lineup and sound shifts since its founding in 1993. Originally envisioned as a Christian metalcore band, because of the vast array of lineup shifts (no original member remains), ZAO took a considerable turn away from its original leanings. They released their 11th studio album, “The Well-Intentioned Virus,” in 2016.
“I Set My Friends On Fire,” Walls said, “they look like they are going to have a really fun live show. Their music is really fun. I’ve never seen them live. I think they might be my personal favorite. ZAO is tied with them. I booked them a few times a long time ago. Those were two of my favorite shows ever.”
Walls issues a caveat, though. With music starting at 1 p.m., he warns crowds not to sleep on the openers.
“If people decided to come out early, the quality of the bands is going to be as a good as the bands playing later on in the day,” Walls said. “All of those bands opening are amazing.”
IF YOU GO
What: A.U.R.A. Fest
When: 1-11:30 p.m. Feb. 18
Where: The Gardens at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $23, all ages
Unearth: Boston, metalcore
ZAO: Richmond, Va., metalcore
SycAmour: Ypsilanti, Mich., experimental/post-hardcore
Oh, Sleeper: Fort Worth, Texas, metal
The Bunny The Bear: Buffalo, N.Y., experimental/hardcore rock
He Is Legend: Wilmington, N.C., rock
Me and The Trinity: Savannah, Southern metalcore
I Set My Friends On Fire: Miami, experimental/post-hardcore/funk
Vatican: Savannah, straight-edge hardcore
Microwave: Atlanta, rock
Tides of Man: Tampa, Fla., instrumental rock
The Funeral Portrait: Atlanta, rock
Attalus:Raleigh, N.C., rock
Native Suns: Atlanta, alternative rock