You can check out our full photo gallery from the show including Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel byclicking here.
Deep in the Mississippi Delta on a Friday night, only a few miles north of the fabled crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil and less than an hour from Graceland, legendary mansion of the king of rock and roll, in a casino, I'm laughing with a bachelorette party about why they love thrash metal, all while Anthrax plays on a pentagram-covered stage in the background...it was a pretty interesting night.
So just who comes to see a thrash metal show in the Mississippi Delta? That was the question I asked myself on the way to Tunica to see Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel play the Horseshoe Casino. In a land where radio is dominated by Country, Christian and Classic Rock, can a metal show actually bring out fans?
At the show I talked to Patrick and Jaimie, a couple from Tupelo. Patrick’s been a fan of Slayer since before he was old enough to buy their music.
"When Decade of Aggression came out I went to the record store to buy it. The guy behind the counter wouldn't sell it to me because I was only about 12 years old," Patrick said. "So I stole it! I had to have that album and he wouldn't let me, so I did what I had to do."
Patrick went on to tell me about how easy it is to connect with other metal fans. "When you are at a show there's this camaraderie. You meet another metal-head and suddenly you have a friend for life."
Jaimie said that in contrast to the frantic beat and loud guitars, metal actually has a calming effect on her. "My dad first got me into metal when I was a kid," she said. "Now it calms me. I put on some metal everyday and it just gets me going, y'know?"
I spotted a white-haired lady in a red polo who looked a bit out of place. I introduced myself and asked her if she was a Slayer fan. She wasn’t. Her name was Nancy, she's from Tahoe, and she comes out to visit her boyfriend Lowell in Memphis. They mostly stick to classic rock. I told her I’d come back later to see what she thought of the bands.
Soon the lights went down and Death Angel opened the show with a solid set of heavy thrash metal. After they finished, I wandered over to Nancy and asked what she thought. She told me "You can't be bald and be in that band! Lotta hair! It was interesting, but not my thing." Fair enough. I told her not to worry, both of the other bands tonight did in fact have bald guys on the roster!
I saw a guy wearing a homemade Slayer shirt and introduced myself. His name was Joey and his wife, Anna, made the shirt with pictures of him meeting Slayer at previous shows. He loves metal "because it gets your blood moving."
They've been together for a year and both enjoy live metal. When they first started dating Joey gave Anna's son Kelly some metal CDs. Kelly is autistic, and Anna says the metal helps him focus and calm down sometimes. They took him to Voodoo Fest in 2015, and Kelly's been to many shows since.
Later, during the Anthrax set, I saw a small bachelorette party come in! The bride-to-be, Kat, was flanked by bridesmaids Leah and Heather. It was Kat's idea to see Slayer. She's been a fan for 20 years, but this was her first Slayer concert.
I asked what her fiancé thought about her seeing Slayer. "Well, our musical tastes don't really match up," Kat told me laughing. "He likes country, so..."
Anthrax wrapped up and I struck up a conversation with a family: Christine, Adam, Meghan (Adam’s girlfriend), and Shawn.
I asked whose idea it was to come see Slayer together and Christine let me know right away, "This was Shawn's idea! Although metal is growing on me."
Meghan said a metal show is different from other concerts.
"It sorta has this feel like we're all in this together," she told me. "There's an understanding. It's hard core, but there's respect."
I head back over to Nancy to see what she thought of Anthrax. She said, "I don't think you need a totally foul mouth to be a good musician, but they are talented." Oh, Nancy.
Slayer finally came on and delivered a show filled with loud riffs and hammering metal. In the crowd there was a bit of moshing going on, but nothing really wild or out of control, just earnest and energetic. The crowd was just reacting to the music...and to life.
Almost everyone there was basking in the release of being in a place where it was ok to be themselves. Everyone was a part of the same group: metal fans. They could jump around, bang their head, throw some horns, whatever, and it's all good. And that, friends, is a rare commodity. When you can find that space, you have to relish and enjoy it because it won't last forever.
The crowd was moving together; a sea of people with a rotating swirl where the kids continued to mosh. Fans were shoving and bouncing and running in a sort of communal catharsis.
Metal brings people from every walk of life together under one big tent and says, "Tonight we are all family! Tonight we are brothers and sisters in metal!"
When the lights came up, I looked for Nancy, but she and Lowell were gone. I waved goodnight to some of my new friends, and then I saw Shawn and company. Shawn's glasses broke in the pit, while Adam ended up with a bit of a shiner. I guess metal is as metal does...even in the Delta.
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