Twelfth anniversaries are supposed to be celebrated with pearls, a priceless item that takes years of hard work and grit to make. Likewise, it has taken years of determination and musical grit to keep Stoner Hands of Doom (otherwise known as SHoD) festival on track for so long.
SHoD 12 takes over the El 'n' Gee Club in New London, CT from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. Bigger and doomier than ever, this year's festival features heavy metal hitters such as Earthride, The Skull and Iron Man, along with 37 others. I was able to chat with festival creators Cheryl Williams Levey and Rob Levey about their annul destination event for fans of doom and stoner metal that they created out of pure love for the genre. Rob and Cheryl, former husband and wife, remain bonded by a mutual love of doom. This interview was conducted via email on two separate occasions. Responses have been edited for length.
How and why did the festival begin?
CWL: The first SHoD was in August 1999. Rob and I had been talking about it for a number of years and it was one of those "why don't we just do it?" sorts of things. He had been thinking about doing something big to promote the doom scene ever since the Hellhound heyday when he fronted Iron Man and that band along with other DC doom bands were on the German Hellhound record label (Wretched, Revelation, Internal Void, Unorthodox). At that time, I was doing a DC-Balt area hard rock newsletter called Word of Mouth, and that is how Rob and I met. Anyway, in 1999, Hellhound was no more, he wasn't in Iron Man any more, and I hadn't done Word of Mouth in years, but we both still wanted to promote the music in some way, and SHoD was born.
RL: The festival was something I had talked about and actually worked on with others for maybe 15 years before SHoD happened. For me I wanted to highlight the scene in DC with so many great bands for so many years. It evolved into the whole scene from all parts of the the US and even parts of the world.
How do you go about selecting the bands that will play?
CWL: We do it in two ways, primarily. The first is that we both make a list of our first choices, and then we invite those bands to play. These are bands we wanted on previous SHoDs but couldn't for whatever reason, bands we've discovered since the last SHoD, bands who've played before that blew us (and everyone else) away, etc. As we fill the bill with the bands we invite, the gaps are closed with other bands who contact us who have the right sound. We do try to stick to a doom or stoner sound, though we have had some interesting offshoots in sound. Sometimes really good bands contact us that sound great but just aren't the right sound for the blend of bands we have. If you look back through our history, you'll see that SHoDs done in the east tend to have a much more Doom sounds, while SHoDs done further west were more influenced by the stoner-fuzz sounds.
RL: Partly it is bands I know I contact to see if they are interested in doing it. From there we receive tons of requests especially after we announce where and when it will happen in that particular year. I usually will add bands that I dig, ones that are different and unique. Sometimes there are regional reasons. They need to have some melody and if I hear or see them live, they have to give it all they got, whether playing in front of five or 500.
Why do you hold the festival in different locations each year?
CWL: So that we can attract different bands to play. Different areas of the country have different scenes and different sounds. If you look at the history, doom is concentrated here around DC, like grunge was concentrated in Seattle, psychedelic concentrated in San Francisco, glam in Los Angeles, the southeast has a heavy southern rock flavor, southwest has the fuzz, etc etc. And every one of those genres has a sub-genre/sub-culture that injects the heavy sound. We want to keep it heavy, but promote these different sounds around the country.
RL: In the beginning it was out of necessity. When we were doing the second one we needed somewhere to have it and Nyabinghi (former club in Youngstown, Ohio) was the bar closest to where we lived that would do it with reasonable terms. From there though we wanted to start having it in different locations to see and hear more variety and energy from different locations. Now we are trying to do it in places we haven't before. Hopefully it is appreciated.
What is is that you like specifically about doom metal?
CWL: Wow, this is a very hard question. This is a better question for Rob, really. As for me, the first doom band I ever heard was Internal Void. And the thing is, it just grabs you. There is something about the sound, the way it vibrates up your legs from the floor, the way everyone who is part of this scene is just so cool. People talk about mosh pits and stuff like that, but at a doom show, mostly what you see is the entire audience headbanging in unison. No violence, no pits. Every now and then someone gets too drunk, but for the most part it's very cool when you think about it.
RL: I have listened to doom since late elementary school and just always have loved the almost gut feeling of the sound the tempo and the atmosphere. I loved early Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Then I was was lucky enough to hear bands like The Obsessed and Pentagram (previously known as Death Row), Legend, Angel Witch, Witchfynde and Witchfinder General, then lucky enough to be part of Hellhound Records with Internal Void, Unorthodox, and Blood Farmers. Anyone who has seen me at shows knows that it is in my blood and soul. I love it.
What is your most cherished memory about a past festival?
CWL: Again, a very hard question, because they all held special memories! Let's see... The first SHoD was held at an outdoor venue in August after an entire summer of drought, not a drop of rain. At the moment Bobby Liebling (singer of Pentagram) arrived, the storm clouds appeared out of nowhere so suddenly that no one could even prepare, and we got what felt like a hurricane. One of the memories of that one was Wino on stage desperately trying to hold tarps down over the amps and everyone crowded under the tent we had and then the incredible coolness of everyone as we moved the whole thing to a club in Wheaton (Phantasmagoria). SHoD Two in Ohio, Bottom did a mind-blowing set! SHoD Seven in Arizona, Golden Godz. Shirtless fur-wearing frontman and straight up San Fran fuzz/rock, wow. SHoD Eight in Arizona - this one had way too many, this one was incredible. Electric Magma, Against Nature, Supergiant, Sasquatch, Ol Scratch, oh yes. And then there was SHoD 10 in Maryland. Internal Void, 'nuff said there. The surprise set of the weekend for me was Elder. These young boys show up at my door to stay for the weekend and they were so sweet and respectful and then they got on stage and it was like Jekyll and Hyde and absolutely KILLER! They are a band to watch, definitely. SHoD 11 - the best memory of that one was just the feel-good feeling that prevailed the entire weekend. Before 11 was over, we were discussing doing SHoD 12 in New England. We had noticed a surge of doom sounds and bands coming out of that area, and wanted to focus the show there to give those bands some exposure. So that's where we are now! At each show, one band would just rock my world. I want to emphasize that at our SHoD shows, I think ALL of the bands are good - Rob and I do handpick them, and so many of them I love SO much, and the specialness of seeing some of them is not diminished by being able to see them more often than other bands because they are local. So please do not take that I mentioned specific bands above as meaning I think they are better than others - at the time of their set, they were just really ON and I had just the right mind frame, and all the stars aligned to make that particular set magic. For more info on the history, you can check out http://www.cherylsweb.com/shod/history/index.html.
RL: That's not fair. I have so many met so many great people so many great performances. Saw awesome cooperation from people. It's really an accumulation of moments that I have. Plus I think the best feeling or worst are on Sundays around dusk when I realize its only got a couple hours to go. I will leave it at that and look forward to making many great memories for years to go.
What are some important things that you want people to know about this year's festival?
CWL: Well, one of the biggest things is that this is the first SHoD that is ALL AGES. We really want to get the word out about that because we have always had to turn people away because of the age restraint.
RL: Just expect one awesome weekend with a ton of great performances.
Anything else you want people to know?
CWL: We love this music and we love the scene!
RL: As long as this is fun and the music fresh and exciting we will be here to be our tiny part of this awesome scene. We really appreciate every one's support and hope they will support their local scene go see some great music and just have a blast.
For more information about SHoD and to buy tickets for one or all days, visit the SHoD fest website. At just $60 for all four days, it is among the least expensive festivals you can attend. Below is a list of all bands play each day. The first band listed will likely play last (or headline) each day.
Thursday Aug 30thRoadSaw
Raw Radar War
Birch Hill Dam
Friday Aug 31stPilgrim
When the Deadbolt Breaks
Saturday Sept 1stThe Skull
Devil to Pay
One Inch Giant
Kin of Ettins
Curse the Son
Sunday Sept 2ndIron Man
Gypsy Chief Goliath
Devil to Pay
One Inch Giant
Kin of Ettins
Curse the Son
Sunday Sept 2ndIron Man
Gypsy Chief Goliath