Man's connection to nature, his desire to simultaneously embrace, tame and succumb to the siren song of the wild, has been expressed through art for centuries. And there's no more fitting musical accompaniment to Mother Nature than metal and punk, two genres that place a premium on organic, unvarnished performances and visceral, atavistic live displays.
Unfortunately, festivals that combine an appreciation for both the outdoors and musical extremes are rare in our neck of the woods: Europe essentially claims a monopoly on them, particularly in the metal genre. But this weekend, for the eighth year in a row, the sleepy northeast Texas town of Emory will be home to No Thanks Fest, one of the U.S.'s few multi-day, outdoor metal and punk music festivals.
The idea for an outdoor metal and punk festival was conceived by Alec Rabb and Jason Barnett, then-members of Dallas band Vorvadoss. Thankfully, they already had access to the perfect site for such a gathering: the 1,200-acre Rabb Ranch, which previously was a working cattle ranch and is now a wildlife preserve. The good fortune of having such a pristine expanse of land at their disposal ensured that No Thanks Fest would be a unique festival-going experience. Camping out in the beautiful woods of Rabb Ranch is as much a part of attending No Thanks Fest as watching the bands.
For help fleshing out and executing their vision, Rabb and Barnett enlisted the help of friends and fellow bandmates. It was a DIY operation from the start; the tight-knight group handled everything from booking bands to clearing brush, and that credo of passion and self-reliance still exists today. No Thanks Fest lies in stark contrast to the corporate sponsorships and pervasive mood of disinterest common at most outdoor music festivals. Simply put, No Thanks Fest attendees are out to have a good time and actually watch the bands without any unnecessary bullshit.
At the outset, the idea was for No Thanks Fest to serve as a communal gathering point for DIY metal and punk fans from across Texas. "The first few years were more of a celebration of the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio scenes coming together," says current No Thanks Fest curator, and former Vorvadoss member, James Magruder. "We were all a bunch of young kids banging our heads against the wall trying to get music we had inside out. Eight years later and we have some really amazing acts, especially the Dallas scene. We have really blossomed."
No Thanks Fest is a rarity among music festivals in that it highlights, rather than whitewashes, its local music scene. This can be attributed to Magruder, a Dallas resident who regularly books and plays shows in the city. His band selections strike a fine balance between regional identity and national recognition, and this year is no exception. North Texas is heavily represented at this year's festival: Cleric, Steel Bearing Hand, Terminator 2 and Pissed Grave, among others, showcase the core of the area's formidable DIY metal and punk scene.
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Magruder credits the preponderance of DFW bands playing No Thanks Fest as much to the area's large roster of strong local acts as to its nearness to Emory. "The goal has been and will always be to showcase Texas bands, and due to the proximity that usually leans heavily on the DFW scene, which I must say has really become a force to be reckoned with," Magruder concedes. "It's an amazing time to be playing in North Texas."
No Thanks Fest's initial focus on Texas bands hasn't stopped Magruder from expanding the festival's scope, booking several notable national acts over the past few years. Considering the logistics of getting bands to an isolated patch of land in the heart of East Texas, it's no small feat that No Thanks Fest has hosted bands from as far away as Colorado, Idaho, and North Carolina. But again, just like in organizing and executing the festival, Magruder relies on that same communal spirit in selecting national acts.
"As far as booking nationals goes, I usually just ask friends we've met along the road," he states. "I had the pleasure of touring three times with Uzala [who are playing this year's event] in the last year or so. Amazing folks. I couldn't ask for better people to share the road with. After all, this is a very DIY festival. We all lean on each other a little to make this thing stand."
And that fraternal spirit, the feeling of oneness between bands, attendees, and their surroundings, is what makes each No Thanks Fest such an unforgettable, and unique, yearly event. "Nothing really compares to passing a bottle of whiskey around the bonfire while a great band plays beneath a sea of stars," says Magruder. "It's my favorite time of year. Nothing holds a candle to it."