The Maryland Deathfest celebrates its tenth anniversary and takes place from Thursday, May 24 to Sunday, May 27 at Sonar on 407 E. Saratoga St. in Baltimore. Sixty-one bands will perform on three stages over those four days. Up to 1,700 people are expected for the Thursday night show and as many as 4,000 each day are anticipated for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Saratoga Street between Gay St. and Holliday will be completely blocked off. The event will include vendors and food tents.
In other words, if you are a metal head, it's a pretty big deal. Over the last 10 years the Maryland Deathfest has grown into the largest and most well known metal festival in the US and possibly the world.
How did such a large festival begin in downtown Baltimore? Well, think about all the bands you like to listen to. Now imagine bringing a few dozen of those groups together to perform for you and a few (thousand) of your friends. That, in a sense, is exactly what Ryan Taylor and Evan Harting created when they created the Maryland Deathfest in 2003.
Harting explained that he and Ryan take care of every detail of the festival pretty much by themselves, from booking to scheduling to ordering the MDF t-shirts and working with vendors to the fulfillment of each band’s concert contract rider. The project takes an entire year to plan and execute, Evan said, and has grown so much over the last decade that the two men don’t really have other full-time jobs.
“THIS is our main job,” Harting said.
Harting and Taylor began thinking about a festival when they were just 18 and 20-years old, respectively, and both working in the restaurant industry. It was after a trip to the now defunct Ohio Deathfest in about 2000 that the notion first occurred."
“That was the only festival we had been to, but I think that kind of stated the gears rolling,” Harting said. This was also around the time that the Milwaukee Metal Fest began to fall out of favor, which used to be popular in the 1990s. Apparently, Harting said, the organizer of that fest charged the bands to perform.
The team didn’t have a budget to work with, in fact, Harting said, even now they don’t have a budget set aside for the event. Instead, the money comes from ticket sales.
“We figure if we announce a lineup like this, and we get a minimum of this many people, then we will estimate that we will get this amount,” Harting explained. And so far, their formula has worked. “People appreciate the fact that we have done this for 10 years without any financial help.”
Of course, a little help from your friends does not hurt. Harting said that despite the fact that they have never organized a huge event before, they were not entirely unknown in the metal scene.
“We had both been in bands and had played out, especially Ryan,” Harting said. “The first Maryland Deathfest was initially only supposed to be a day-long fest with bands from the East coast. But as soon as we announced it, it went viral, and bands started writing to us from all other the place. It ended up being a 3-day fest the very first year,” Harting said. “I think people were just happy that someone was just giving it a shot.”
In addition to fulfilling an apparent hunger for live death metal, the team’s networking also led to a significant headlining act that first year.
“We ended up getting the reunion show of Suffocation, and that really helped things to start off. We had some other cool names on there, but having the reunion of Suffo really pushed it to the next level,” Harting said. (By the way Suffocation will play again this year on Sunday at 7:20 p.m.)
Over the years, the bands asked to play MDF have reflected the organizers’ somewhat obscure musical tastes. Essentially, they put together a lineup that does not mirror market trends but instead, demonstrates their deep knowledge of the genre and all its subgenres. The lineups at MDF over the last decade also seem to have become more diverse.
“As the festival grows, we still try to have an underground touch to it,” Harting said, “We listen to some obscure bands, so we like to keep that as part of it. And even before this current festival is over, we will already be talking about who we are going to have next year.”
Harting said that he has developed long lasting relationships with some of the groups that have played MDF. “It is really cool when we have bands come back and they aren’t even playing but they just come and hang out. We also know that we have friends all over the world; if we needed a place to stay, that would never a problem. For some of these big name bands, it has been cool to meet them on a personal level.”
Although they have been at it for 10 years, Harting said he and Taylor have no intention of calling it quits. “We will continue to do it for as long as people keep coming and without selling out and as long as we aren’t getting washed up bands.”
To read about every band playing at the Maryland Deathfest, go to this link.
For a survival guide to MDF, go to this link.