Looking at the lineup, some might assume the 2018 All Underground Rock All Day (AURA) Fest is just another throwback show, but they'd be wrong.
Make no mistake, this year's AURA Fest will be a formidable heavy metal festival with stalwarts and neophytes of the genre headlining a full-day assault of head-banging glory.
Timothy Walls hosts the all-day, all-ages festival meant to highlight local and regional metal bands. This year, Darkest Hour, in their 23rd year as a band and behind a critically acclaimed new album, will headline AURA Fest along with Florida hardcore punks Evergreen Terrace and metalcore legends Bury Your Dead. It will also mark a reunion of AURA Fest alum. In 2002, Darkest Hour and Evergreen Terrace played the festival, which also featured Goatwhore and Kylesa.
"You see a lot of comments, 'Oh, this is a big throwback show,' or 'What year is this?" Walls said. "But people love these bands. Joking aside, they're still putting out music and are good live. It's not the Papa Roach cover band at the carnival. They might be getting up into their 30s and 40s, but they're still kicking ass. Darkest Hour, metalsucks said they must be aging in reverse, because they're putting out some of the best music of their career right now."
"It's crazy the bands [Walls] has on this bill," Bury Your Dead frontman Mat Bruso said. "He could have 100 percent booked this show a decade ago. It's a great lineup. When we go and play festivals like this, we play shows with Through the Eyes of the Dead, people come out and they go super hard. It's throwback in the way that we've been doing it for a while, but it's not throwback in the energy of the crowd."
Darkest Hour guitarist Mike Schleibaum added that his band is skilled at shape-shifting.
"It's funny, Darkest Hour is doing a tour right after this festival with Whores and Excitation AD," Schleibaum said. "They're both brand-new bands. Then we're going out on another tour with Havok and Cephalic Carnage. We're just shape-shifters. We'll go play with young bands. We'll play with old bands â€¦ One thing we've always been proud of, is that we don't belong in one scene. We're not going to be stuck or pigeon-holed to '90s metalcore."
In addition to the 14 bands, featured on two stages at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, the festival will again incorporate ideas Wall's borrowed from larger music festivals but was only able to initiate last year, in his most ambitious festival to date. A professional chair massage provided by Virginia College, dubbed the Revive in Five booth, will return. Pabst Blue Ribbon will be onsite again with Pabsketball and the AURA-CADE with arcade games provided Graveface Records & Curiosities, and The Portal will return as well.
Dark Shark Tacos will have a food truck on hand. Savannah Square Pops, Big Boy Cookies and The Sentient Bean will also provide food to hungry metal heads. Two bars will be on hand for the of-age patrons who wish to imbibe.
Last year, Walls and his promotional company Coastal Rock Productions decided to limit the overall amount of shows produced in a single year to focus attention completely on AURA Fest. Although he did produce a couple of smaller shows, overall he has spent the last year completely focused on AURA Fest. For the first time this year, he offered up a VIP package, which sold out.
"I've spent nearly the whole year working on this," Walls said. "I've never done that before. I've never put that much focus and effort into one event. For me, there's an electricity in the air about it. People are excited and reacting on social media. Tickets are selling. All this effort and energy I've put into this is turning into something real. All these forces are happening that are getting ready to come down here. They've put tours together around the thing. There's a band from Australia playing their first U.S. tour and they're coming here."
The new model for his promotional company has paid off as he grew sponsorship and booked arguably the biggest band he's been able to snag in Darkest Hour. The bands seemed stoked as well, according to Walls.
"The bands have been very supportive in promoting," Walls said. "There's always an obligation for that. But they've gone above and beyond with interviews and hosting and commenting and tagging me and the festival. Darkest Hour's label sent me some posters. They didn't have to do that."
In addition to the festival, Walls has booked a pre-show, the first of its kind for Coastal Rock Productions. For a measly $5 the Friday night before AURA Fest, you can catch the great Asheville metal band Bask with local support from Hotplate and Sins of Godless Men at El-Rocko Lounge. It's was a chance for Walls to promote AURA Fest, but also a chance to get Bask back to Savannah.
"I was looking for an excuse to book Bask," Walls said. "I really like them. I think that was it â€¦ Maybe we can sell a few more AURA Fest tickets that night."
IF YOU GO
What: 2018 AURA Fest
When: 12:30 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $25; all ages
Also: AURA Fest pre-show with Bask, Hotplate, Sins of Godless Men and Dead Hand is at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 at El-Rocko Lounge, 117 Whitaker St. Admission is $5, ages 21 and older.