Two weeks from now, I’ll once again bang the drums in the annual event known as “Burke Metalfest.” Launched nine years ago by a small group of guys who’ve been friends for 30+ years, Metalfest is equal parts 80s heavy metal revue, high school reunion, and full-throttle neighborhood block party.
It’s a ton of head banging fun, but it’s also more meaningful than a night out with Jack Daniels and Wild Irish Rose. Because, at its heart, Metalfest isn’t just a show. It’s a group of friends coming together to make and share music–to participate in artistic expressions rather than just consuming them.
It’s 20+ musicians playing 40+ songs in dozens of different combinations and configurations–only some of which get rehearsed more than once or twice. It’s an event where the line between performers and audience is beautifully blurred. Where someone you know gets up to sing (or play) and everyone else sings along. Where people are genuinely playing for, and listening to, each other. Where we live out the basic existential truth that we’re all in this together, so we may as well make it rock.
It’s far from technically perfect. The mix of musicians includes weekend warriors like me as well as far more accomplished players whose abilities would seriously intimidate me if they weren’t such decent people.
And it isn’t without conflict. There’s a constant ongoing argument about what really counts as “metal” (writing a blog post like this, by the way, is definitely not metal). There are squabbles about the set list, logistics, rehearsals, and who spends too much time noodling at practice.
But at the end of the day we sort it out and rock on. We give each other grief, but cheer each other on. We roll our eyes at song choices but not (too much!) at each other.
Most importantly, we create something together. Not because we have to or because someone’s paying us. Not because we’re on our way to the top of the charts. Because we can. Because it’s fun. Because without really thinking about it, we know that creating together is crucial to actually being human beings.
Until 100 years ago, if you wanted to hear music, you basically had to make it yourself–or surround yourself with fellow humans who did. Nowadays, most of us are carrying massive music libraries in our pockets or our purses. But the sharing that happens through apps is just no match for what we do at Metalfest.
It’s no match for hugs, handshakes and high-fives. It’s no match for heads nodding in unison. And it’s certainly no match for finding a groove, feeling a beat, and making beautiful music together–the kind that make you scream while your bones rattle.
Or another kind, I guess, if that’s what you really prefer. The real lesson is that music and meaning and community aren’t things that just happen. They’re things we make together. And when we get the chance to make them, we should–by singing, strumming, sticking, plucking, and/or head-banging along.
P.S. – While I can’t invite you girls to Metalfest since you’re too young, all adults who read this blog are hearby heartily invited. We’ll be at Ned Divine’s in Herdon, Virginia, on October 7, starting at 8 pm. Come on out to eat, drink, and be merry (and metal!) and help us raise money for Special Olympics of Virginia! Find out more here.