The first incarnation of Rob Mason's Indianapolis Metal Fest in 2007 was a hit.
About 30 acts, including legends Obituary and Brazil's Shadowside (playing their first U.S. show), crowded into Birdy's and the Knights of Columbus building across the street.
The following year, Indianapolis Metal Fest II, didn't go quite as well. Bands such as Divine Heresy, Kittie and Sweden's Mustasch (again making their U.S. debut) were slated to play at the Madame Walker Theatre. But city officials got nervous, and Mason had to make a last-minute venue change. While the new location had adequate space, it didn't have the proper occupancy license. The fire marshal shut the event down before everyone could perform.
"I think I still have a little post-traumatic stress disorder from that night," Mason says.
Five years later, he's got a better feeling about the outcome of Indianapolis Metal Fest III.
Slated for Sept. 21, it will be housed in the cavernous confines of the Old National Centre - specifically in the basement venues Deluxe and Deco. Dan Kemer, vice president of music for Live Nation and talent buyer for Old National Centre, offered to host Mason's event.
"We've got a great building here," he says while seated in ONC's Grand Ballroom with Mason and Mason's wife and promotion partner Sarah.
Before moving to Indy five years, Kemer organized metal festivals in Cleveland, where he lived previously, and promoted metal shows in Cincinnati.
"It's such a good market here for metal, but the outlets aren't there," he says. "It's one of the most loyal fan bases if you take care of them. I just think in Indianapolis, there really hasn't been the right situation for these fans."
Indeed, venues the size of Old National Centre rarely host artists like Incantation, Acheron and Funerus, who are some of the headliners for IMF III along with late additions Chimaira and The Browning. Such underground acts are usually relegated to 21-and-older venues, or they'll play somewhere like a VFW hall that's not used to hosting such entertainment. Sarah thinks local metal fans are starved for a combination like IMF III.
"At a certain point you have a cap of where you can play or bring your family," she says. "Under 21 shows here are almost nonexistent."
Mason says ticket response for IMF III has been strong so far. With dozens of bands scheduled to perform, the current plan is to have two stages. A third could be added upstairs in the Grand Ballroom if demand exceeds expectations.
"We've got the space," Kemer says. "It's just a function of the number of people coming."
Given the proliferation of musical styles emanating from metal in recent generations, Mason says the IMF bill won't be a litany of monolithic music.
"The coolest thing is there's a little something for everybody," he says. "I think we've got something from just about every subgenre of metal going, out of 43 bands."
He's also excited about the number of area acts playing at the festival, including Devil To Pay and Eyes On Fire. Mason's own band, Betrayed With A Kiss, in which he plays guitar, was originally slotted to play but was recently removed from the lineup.
"Locals don't get a chance to play here much," Mason says of Old National Centre. "Dan agreeing to let that happen was a huge thing. Not to mention the nationals coming in gives our local guys an opportunity to play for fans they otherwise wouldn't."
A similar opportunity for Mason's previous band, Thundercore (a name he takes no ownership of), is what got him into the promotion side. They got to open for Soilwork at an arena show in Milwaukee.
"I fell in love with the whole atmosphere," Mason says. "It was like a family reunion for metalheads."
After that he sought out a local promoter who agreed to mentor him. Mason's been involved in that side of the business for over a decade now. He also produced and hosted the TV show "Metal Fest" on Indy's Music Channel from 2008 until the beginning of this year.
At least six months of planning have already gone into IMF III.
"As soon as this one's over, this is the next one I'll be working on for a year," Mason says.
Kemer shares his optimism. In fact he sees no reason why Indianapolis Metal Fest couldn't take over all of Old National Centre in the future.
"I can picture having headlining acts in the theater," Kemer says. "But right now we've got a great footprint downstairs. I think it's important that it's all under one roof."