DJ Mick Boogie greeted the crowd with chest-pounding hip-hop as bands and fans filtered in. The best part about music-awards shows is seeing all the different cliques and crews of the local music community rub elbows for an evening. Men in bright, multihued dashikis mingled with longhairs in Incantation tees. Willowy popsters worked the crowd while Omar Vizquel, in an Ozzy T-shirt emblazoned with the Union Jack, drank beer. Everyone bonded over rock and roll and free drink tickets.
Heightening the communal vibe were Carlos Jones and the P.L.U.S. Band, who turned in a short, sharp set of limber roots reggae. With well-toned arms jutting out of a sleeveless shirt, Jones brightened the day just as the sun began to fade. Leisurely rhythms and Jones's honeyed voice made for ideal happy-hour accompaniment. Afterward, he took pictures with fans and never seemed to stop smiling.
Then along came Abdullah, to replace the grins with grimaces. The band lunged at the crowd with burly, Cro-Magnon metal. Frontman Jeff Shirilla screamed at the sky, while guitarist Aaron Seibert pulled out finger-splaying leads. Scattered fans played air guitar and pumped their fists, though the band was too in-your-face for much of the crowd. "You're right, the acoustics are much better up there," Shirilla goaded the passive audience, who mostly retreated to the bleachers rather than come up close to the stage. Their loss: Abdullah's calorie-burning set was an early highlight. When the band later won the award for Best Metal Act, Shirilla thanked Satan.
Abdullah was the last of the locals, and the show quickly headed south -- we're talking somewhere around the Tropic of Capricorn -- as soon as they left the stage. Rote rockers Travisty Theory proved that Trent Lott isn't the only thing from Mississippi that totally sucks. "You're like a bad dream," the disconsolate singer wailed. Funny, we were thinking the same thing. "This next song is called 'Shitty Development Deal With a Major Label,'" a guy next to us chided as the band launched into another faceless tune.
And then there was Skindred. A guttural reggae metal outfit, it's fronted by a large, boisterous dude who looks like a grizzly bear with hair extensions. His vocals consisted mostly of loud whooping noises and rapping like a discount Chuck D. Next.
Florida's Nonpoint garnered the first mosh-pit action of the evening. They shook their shaggy manes like wet poodles and seemed real angry about something or other. "Are you guys fuckin' bored or what?" their frontman asked. Pretty much, dude, though bored may be an understatement -- half the crowd looked as if they needed their vital signs checked.
Rain began to pour as the muscular Sevendust took the stage, looking more like a rugby squad than a metal band. The Atlanta quintet has practically lived on the road for the eight years it's been together, and it showed in a performance that radiated enough heat to deepen tans. They bounded about the stage, flexing oversized biceps and hooks. At times, the band seemed to be trying too hard, compensating for vanilla songwriting with breathless headbanging. But it was hard not to be at least a little moved by a group that left so much of itself onstage.
As the night came to an end and people began filing past the empty second stage and out of the pavilion, one couldn't help but think back to the words of Mushroomhead singer J. Mann after accepting the inaugural Cleveland Icon Award, which pays tribute to artists who have made a lasting contribution to the local music scene.
"Cleveland is capable of anything, as long as we stand by each other," he said. Who knows, maybe if everyone follows Mann's advice, Cleveland can get on the main stage next year.