The twelfth annual Maryland Deathfest was held in Baltimore May 22-25, luring thousands of black t-shirt wearing metal heads into standing in a parking lot (and in other indoor venues) over Memorial Day. This year's event began at The Ottobar on May 21 with a pre-fest and then continued through Sunday at locations in downtown Baltimore, including a parking lot under I-83 (Edison Lot), Baltimore Soundstage (for the punk and hardcore bands), Rams Head Live and The Sidebar. I think nearly 100 bands performed over these five days.
In this article, I want to focus more on the logistics of the fest, rather than the performances. There were many astounding performances, but I will address the music in another post.
In a way, Maryland Deathfest is starting to seem like another large city music fest, South By South West. Traveling between venues was not new this year --it started in 2013--but this year it included a total of five official MDF locations. There was also an unofficial music event taking place in the Paparazzi Night Club (the former Sonar where MDF had been held for years). But this event, dubbed Deathscape, met with a lot of scorn from local MDF attendees. I am unclear on many details of Deathscape but I do know of a few local bands that played.
That this was, by far, the most fun I have had at MDF. I saw 37 bands! That's amazing because in the past (I have attended since 2011) I would be lucky to get to 20 different bands. This was likely due to many factors unrelated to how MDF was organized. However, I thought the set up at 545 High Street worked really well and made getting around much more efficient for me.
Even if I was not actually watching a band with my eyeballs, I could hear them clearly from anywhere on the Edison Lot grounds. The sight lines were good at the outdoor space if you stood further back. Or you could perch on one of the shaded picnic tables and still hear and see OK.
As far as the indoor venues went, both the sound at Baltimore SoundStage and Rams Head Live was pretty good and the sight lines decent for a short person like me. I was very happy that the entire Rams Head was opened up on every level. Sitting in the bleachers at the tip-top of Rams Head was kind of a cop out but if your feet were killing you from all the standing, it was some welcome relief.
Walking between venues was not a problem. It took about 7-10 minutes for me to walk from Edison lot to Soundstage if I walked briskly and caught the lights. Mother Nature cooperated by keeping the rain away and not letting it get too hot.
Nice changes this year were shorter lines to get in, for vendors, and for bathrooms. The wait time between bands at Edison lot was negligible. I really appreciated being able to get my four-day pass at the Ottobar pre-fest, which featured several of the band that played later in the fest.
There were a few things I wished they had been done differently.
- Water should have been free. I saw several people passing out from dehydration. $2-$3 for water, depending on who you were buying it from, was too much to keep yourself hydrated. Alternatively, people should have been allowed to bring in a couple of sealed water bottles.
- Misting tents would have been nice if it had been a any hotter.
- Sunscreen samples would have helped. I had plenty of sunscreen on, but I am sure a sunscreen company would be happy to pass out coupons and free samples. Let's not get skin cancer just because we like outdoor music fests.
- I wish the entrance to Edison Lot had been at the south end and not the north, but it wasn't a huge hassle to walk all the way to the other side to enter. Still, when trucking over to the other venues, minutes sometimes counted.
- The Edison Lot layout was set up like a V. It would have been nicer if it had been more of a circle so that you didn't have to walk back up out of the vendor spaces to get to the stages. But again, you could really hear pretty well anywhere in the lot.
- I would like to see one very obvious and centralized place for bands to display their merchandize. Several had theirs at the MDF merch tent, but others were scattered throughout the vendor area at their relative labels. As far as I could tell, there was only one table for short-term merch display. Finding merch was like a scavenger hunt. Merch was better displayed at Rams Head and Soundstage.
- Rams Head and Soundstage charge way too much for drinks and food. But this was easy to rectify, just don't buy anything from them.
My plans to attend MDF in 2015 are already set. If they maintain this arrangement, I will certainly go again.