I traveled on Friday, June 25th with a friend.to Keokuk, Iowa where the festival was being held, and met up with Bombworks Records owners Matthew Hunt and Doug George, and met several of the bands. Three of those bands I had previously seen a week and a half earlier in Omaha on the "Droppin' the Bomb" tour. The bands all recognized my friend and I and we were welcomed warmly. After a short stop for a bite to eat, we were on our way to a place called L-Treyns to see the Rex Carroll Band. The venue was nice - it's an outdoor setup with a covered stage, and a decent sound system. Rex & bassist Antonio N Avocedo took the stage with Bombworks Records man Doug George filling in on drums. The band sounded great, and Rex was in fine form, cranking out the guitar parts like it was an extension of himself - he's one of those seasoned professionals that just make it look effortless. Antonio is a monster bassist, all over the neck, moving around on stage & keeping things interesting. He was a highlight of the show because he's so animated when he plays, and he interplays with Rex very well. Doug did a great job on the drums, keeping up with Rex and Antonio and improvising well - he apparently only had about a week to prepare, and only a few hours one day earlier that week to actually practice with Rex and Antonio up in Chicago, so hats off to Doug for doing such a great job! Overall the set was fantastic, with Rex even doing a nice solo himself that encompassed bits & pieces from several guitar solo tracks he had recorded with Whitecross.
After that, things got interesting. My friend and I were sitting down at a table at the venue with Doug, Rex, and Antonio just making conversation. It's kind of surreal sitting and talking with one of your heroes about music & various other topics. Doug had said his local cover band was playing down the street at another venue (sans him, of course) and asked if we all wanted to check it out, so we all walked down the street several blocks to the other venue where this other duo were playing. After some prompting from one of the members of Doug's band, Rex got up and went to the stage & fired off several songs off-the-cuff on the acoustic guitar! It was like something out of a movie. After playing 3 songs, Rex asked if we wanted to hear some Duane Allman, another guitarist I wasn't familiar with, or Stevie Ray Vaughn. I yelled "Stevie Ray!!!" at the top of my lungs, and he ripped right into a fantastic acoustic rendition of "Pride & Joy". After 2 or 3 more songs (this time his Rex Carroll Band originals, including a rousing acoustic version of "Delta Memories"), he sat back down with us. It was nothing short of magical. After that, we helped Doug secure some amps and turned in for the night.
Saturday was a fantastic experience. We got up early & headed out to the venue around 9 AM. Unfortunately, I was unable to help with much of the setup due to being called away by the office, and I had to take a few phone calls related to that. However, once the event was near ready to go, I was mingling with bands, checking out merch tables, and hanging out in the green room with other "staff" and folks who had all access passes. The venue is called The Haven (formerly Music @ the Mall) in the Keokuk mall, and it's a nice large room with a decent sized stage setup. The green room was across the hall in a large, open room that was open for bands to bring in gear, set up and relax, and had a nice setup of food that was brought in to take care of the bands. Kudos to Matt and Doug for providing healthy food for the bands to eat.
First on the stage was And the Greatest Of These from Sioux City, IA. I had seen 3 of the members of this band in a previous band called Pagans on Wagons about a year and a half earlier, when they opened a show with Wrench in the Works and For Today. I was impressed with them at that point, but their female-guitarist and female vocalist impressed me even more this time. The guitarist (Kate) shredded out solos with authority, and I don't think I've ever heard a woman (Nichole) growl that low before - it was awesome. Next up was SKIES from Kansas. They had a pretty typical metalcore sound, but did a good job reflecting that sound. They played well, overall. They did have some technical difficulties with their bass rig, which shortened their set, but otherwise, they did a nice job. Switching gears, next up was Leper, a gothic rock band that is part of the Jesus People USA (JPUSA) group out of Chicago. They had quite a few technical difficulties during their set, primarily because there was no drummer, so they had a laptop with a sequencer that provided both keyboards/atmospherics and drums. Part of the time the drums were inaudible, part of the time the keyboards were inaudible. This actually worked well on the last song, as the keyboards weren't present (but drums were), and it gave a real stark, haunting atmosphere to the closing track of their set. They had a really passionate set, and they sounded good, despite the acoustics in the venue not quite being right for their brand of atmospheric, reverb & echo-heavy sound.
During the break in sets, I took the opportunity to go check out the merch tables again, and I ran into none other than Jarek (Fire) from Elgibbor! He had come out to check out the bands and see the event, since he only lives an hour or so away from Keokuk. He and I had a good chance to talk about Elgibbor and the various projects he had been involved in. I also got an opportunity to talk to more of the bands and get some merch, which I always try to do when attending these shows - I know how frustrating it is when the door money you take home isn't even enough to pay for gas sometimes. I also got the chance to meet another one of my heroes - vocalist Nancyjo Mann, formerly of Barnabas. Matt Hunt (RetroActive/Bombworks) had set up a couple tables with classic Barnabas LPs all over them. Apparently, he had brought his own set of records for Nancyjo to sign. He had also brought her copies of all the Barnabas albums released to give to her, because apparently her personal copies had been destroyed via a flood in her home several years earlier. This was a wonderful thing Matt did for her, and she was very appreciative. Her eyes welled up with tears, and you could just see how overwhelmed she was with the gesture. She composed herself and shared some fun stories about Barnabas, and even an interesting bit about the cover art for "Approaching Light Speed" that none of us knew about. My friend took my picture with Nancyjo, and it was an honor to meet such a legend in the scene. After a spot of lunch, I ventured back into The Haven for the next set.
Copernicus was up next to bring the heavy, as their brand of breakdown-laden deathcore was not lost on the young crowd at the venue. I missed the first part of their set due to being out in the foyer talking with Nancyjo, but when I came in they were in full force, firing on all cylinders. Their set was fun, though their music wasn't quite as memorable as I would have hoped. But they played well and had good energy, so it was enjoyable. Next on the stage was punk rockers FBS. They played a great set, including the title song to their latest release, the 7" vinyl "Live Grenade". The band quickly ripped through a bunch of songs, barely stopping to take a breath more than once or twice. They had great energy, sounded awesome, and really impressed me with their set. Having not acquired any of their material yet, I was sold, and bought both the CD and the 7" release. Last in the 2nd set was Boarders, all the way from Italy! They flew to the US to play Unrest, and 3 or 4 other gigs they had booked. This was quite the honor, being at the front of the stage to hear this band, particularly because they came all this way, but also because they played absolutely brilliantly. My biggest beef here was that all the "hardcore kids" left before Boarders took the stage, which was both unnecessary and a touch disrespectful. I understand that old-school heavy metal isn't the thing of a lot of the younger listeners, but as far as this band came, the least they could have done was to stick around and check it out. Nevertheless, Boarders came on and played a spirited set as if they were in an arena in front of thousands. They ripped through several cuts from "The World Hates Me", including their cover version of Megadeth's "In My Darkest Hour", and also played a new song not included on the CD. The band sounded fantastic, and Egidio was on-point vocally, nearly replicating his vocal performance on CD as best he could in a live setting. It was a fantastic set.
There was a meal break between this set and the next, so we took a little downtime & went to get some food. Earlier in the day, Doug George had asked me if I would emcee a portion of the event, which I was humbled and honored to do. I hurried back to The Haven after waiting a bit too long for my food at the local Chinese restaurant, and made my way to the back room beside the stage to get ready to introduce the next groups. I had the privilege of announcing A Hero Remains, who I had seen in Omaha just a few days before. They played a great set, and sounded even better/tighter at Unrest than they did in the little Omaha venue. They played great, and their brand of metalcore sounded great live, especially with all the little audio clips and quotes they use to intro and segue songs. I then got to introduce Divulgence, who play a progressive/technical form of blackened thrash. These guys sounded better than in Omaha as well, ripping through their short set with fire and authority. These guys are so tight, I'm looking VERY forward to their album later this year. They ended their set with a cover of Megadeth's "Peace Sells" which sounded great. I was then lucky enough to introduce A Hill To Die Upon, one of the premier melodic black/death metal bands in the scene right now. They had a few microphone issues, where you couldn't hear Adam's vocals because the mic cut out. The sound man was on it, though, and eventually got that issue resolved. Otherwise, they played a blistering set that seemed to please fans in the audience.
Another short break and it was back to the stage to introduce newcomers Kidnap the Sun (just signed to the new Bombworks sister label Increase/Decrease). They changed things up a bit, playing a sort of melodic screamo rock that was heavy on the fun. While I think the band relies a bit too much on the autotuner in their set, they played well, had loads of energy, and gave the crowd of kids a real fun time. They did several songs from their previous EP's, and also some new material they hadn't recorded yet. I was also privileged to then introduce the Rex Carroll Band, which was a great experience. As if it were even possible, Rex, Antonio and Doug sounded even tighter at Unrest than they had the evening before, ripping through several great tracks. The setlist was basically the same, with Rex performing an awesome guitar solo version of "The Star Spangled Banner" along with several album cuts. He was in fine form again that night, and was all smiles, seeming to enjoy the good response he got from the crowd. After that, there was a late entry into the show - Crush the Enemy, who was on tour with FBS, got a chance to play a short set of songs. Someone earlier had told me they sounded like Stormtroopers of Death (hardcore "super group" featuring members of Anthrax and MOD), and while I wouldn't agree with that statement entirely, they did have a great old-school hardcore punk sound to them with a bit of the thrash attitude. They played several songs off their CD in short order and had tons of energy, sounding pretty tight. They were fun and enjoyable. Last but certainly not least, Grave Robber took the stage. I missed my chance to introduce them, having been out of the room a bit too long, so Matt introduced them instead. They came in from the back of the venue, plodding around like the zombie's they're dressed as, with Wretched carrying his shovel and thumping it on the floor with every ghoulish step. It was quite a sight, and prepared everyone for the fun that was about to ensue. Unfortunately, Grave Robber's set was riddled with mic and sound issues, through the sound man was on tap to try & resolve those quickly. Once that got ironed out, it was a fun show with the crowd singing along to every "woah-oh-oh" and chorus in the songs. I got to the front of the stage and was belting out every word I knew, having listened to both Grave Robber discs a number of times. They included their cover of "Love Hurts", which was a fun treat. Wretched talked in between each song, sort of taking the audience through a bit of a story, which was a nice touch. After their set was over, and several of us repeatedly yelled "Encore!", the band treated us to one more song, and then the show was over. I was glad they played "Burn Witch, Burn", my favorite Grave Robber tune.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. I hope Doug and Matt have the ability to put this on again next year, and I hope attendance improves, because it was a great day with lots of great music, and unforgettable experiences. For those that planned on coming but didn't make it, you guys truly missed out on a marvelous concert event that catered to many tastes and styles, but delivered in spades all across the board.