Manhattan Metalfest moves, Mel’s hosts event after PJ’s closes

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In one fell swoop, Mel’s Tavern absorbed the last niche audience wrung from PJ’s Bar by playing host to the ninth annual Manhattan Metalfest over Halloween weekend.

Until this year, Metalfest was held at PJ’s, where local metal bands went to cut their gnashing teeth.

With 14 bands and 10 sponsors, Mel’s was able to extend the two-day festival, which always falls on Halloween, to three days. Owner Brett Henry said it was no accident that attendance was neither lower nor higher than in past years, despite having moved Metalfest eight blocks out of Aggieville and not competing for attention with PJ’s.

“Ever since the first of this year, we’ve worked so close with PJ’s doing live music and making sure we have good bands that compliment each other and don’t steal each other’s crowds,” Henry said.

Using shredded guitar strings, Metalfest stitched up the fresh wound left in Manhattan’s music scene after losing PJ’s, and provided a reassuring head count of how many people care about keeping it intact. In other words, heads banged not just for the metal, but for all local music.

One can trace the evolution of the Manhattan Music Coalition back to the shaggy hair and swinging arms that showed up at Mel’s by the hundreds.

Clint McAllister, lead singer for Terror Tractor, said area metal bands were left out of the lineup for years before Jamie Tucker and his mother Dot opened PJ’s for the sole purpose of uniting local musicians. Together the family started booking bands on the stage they had created.

“My goal was to get the musicians to support the other musicians. If they aren’t willing to support each, then who will?” McAllister said. “So we tried to get the bands to help each other bring bigger crowds in and make the music seem better in Manhattan. Within nights and weeks it worked – and ultimately became the MMC.”

Talent scouts have taken notice of the growls rolling out of Metalfest every year. Apex Sound Labs in Lawrence, Kansas produced the first Manhattan Metalfest CD in 2007 and a combined 2008-2009 CD will be released in a few months. Owner Steve Aschenbrenner said he was so impressed with the talent at Metalfest that he agreed to produce the CDs free of charge.

“Giving these bands venues to play in ultimately makes their music better,” Aschenbrenner said. “Name recognition is huge and Metalfest has given a podium for the bands to get their names out there.”

Metalfest CD’s are available at Sisters of Sound Music in Aggieville.

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