• Laura Fox - Llfoxphotos

Knotfest Roadshow Feeds Starving Maggots Ruoff Music Center

If you’re asking yourself, “WTF is a Knotfest Roadshow and why did they have to feed Maggots,” you’re clearly not a golfer...or into metal. The Knotfest Roadshow is a touring mini festival headlined by Slipknot, and their fans are affectionately called Maggots. They weren’t literally starving, of course, but after a two-year Knotfest famine, they were ravenous for the live music that feeds their souls.

I was really looking forward to covering this show at Ruoff Music Center. The lineup was great, with Code Orange, Fever 333, and Killswitch Engage performing in support of Slipknot. Unfortunately, no photo passes were issued for this show (stupid COVID), but I had great seats in the Pavilion and watched as Grammy-nominated Code Orange took the stage with incredible energy. Their metalcore/punk/nu-metal/industrial originals punched the crowd in the face throughout their 8-song set. Frontman Jami Morgan did an outstanding job of getting the audience to their feet. I would have liked to see guitarist/vocalist Reba Meyers be at the center mic more, but I imagine the jam-packed stage made those logistics difficult. Guitarist Dominic Landolina and Eric Balderose, along with bassist Joe Goldman, played with blistering speed. I was absolutely mesmerized by Max Portnoy, who was furiously windmill-headbanging while blasting beats. I have no idea what their lyrics were, but I loved their synth-y breaks and fresh sounds. They’re definitely a band to watch.

I was pretty geeked to see Fever 333 again. When they came through town in support of Korn in 2018, these three guys had so much energy they just couldn’t seem to contain it. Drummer Aric Improta did amazing leaps from his drumset, guitarist Stephen Harrison rarely stood still, and frontman Jason Aalon Butler bounded off the stage, ran up the aisle, grabbed an empty cardboard box, and stuck it on his head. (Photos of that are on my LLFoxphotos Instagram and Facebook pages.) This time around there was no running up the aisle, but there was incredible passion from the California-based trio as they leaped and head-banged and completely amped up the audience. And Butler did have a few antics up his sleeve, much to delight of the crowd. Fever 333’s rap-core/punk/metal set was punctuated by heartfelt appeals to enact social change. Although many of their lyrics were angry, their core message was one of empathy, compassion, and change.

Metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage showcased the depth and breadth of their 22-year career with a diverse, 14-song setlist. From the super-heavy “My Last Serenade” from “Alive or Just Breathing” to the more mainstream “I am Broken Too,” the five-piece from Massachusetts had something for everyone. I personally preferred the more melodic pieces, but the intense live show put on by Jesse Leach on vocals, Adam Dutkiewicz on lead guitar, Joel Stroetzel on rhythm guitar, Mike D'Antonio on bass, and Justin Foley on drums made me appreciate all their music more. I especially liked “Us Against the World,” which happens to be their latest video release. Leach was great at getting the audience fired up, and by the time they broke into their last song, a cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver,” a whole lot of faces were melted and the Maggots were more than ready to feast.

And feast they did. Because Slipknot did what they do best – put on an absolutely thrilling show. Frontman Corey Taylor, the face (or mask) of Slipknot, was simply amazing. Despite his ultra-creepy visage, his vocals were clean and clear. Between songs, he was friendly and affable, even while urging the crowd to“Jump the F*** Up.” My favorite line of his was, “We love you M*****-F*****s.” He seemed to be truly grateful for the adoration he and the rest of the band received.

But with seven other extremely talented and hyperkinetic bandmates on stage, not all the attention was on Taylor. Although drummer Jay Weinberg was fixed in his spot, the rest of the band (Jim Root and Mick Thomson on guitars, Michael “Tortilla Man” Pfaff on percussion and vocals, Alessandro Venturella on bass & keyboards, Jay Weinberg on drums, Sid Wilson on turntables and keyboards, Craig “133” Jones on samples, media and keyboards, and Shawn “Clown” Crahan on percussion and vocals) were in constant motion. Above the stage, Venturella’s flame-thrower bass and Wilson’s sick dance moves, 133’s signature spiky-mask head-banging, and dramatic, animalistic performances by Clown and Tortilla Man were not only fascinating, but also succeeded in also drawing attention to Weinberg.

I’m finding it hard to adequately describe the experience. In addition to the incredibly powerful, primal, yet sophisticated 13-song regular set, which was nu metal at its absolute finest and featured the most iconic Slipknot songs, there were huge LED screens, strobes, and pyro, which are pretty typical for a big-production rock show. I think what made it different were the nearly 25,000 Maggots (many of whom came in Slipknot masks and garb) singing, screaming, head banging and throwing devil horns and middle fingers. The result was compelling, cacophonous, brutal, grotesque, synchronous, masterfully orchestrated chaos. The three-song encore was somehow even more intense, ending in Slipknot’s anthem, “Surfacing.” I couldn’tsee if there was any moshing, but there was a whole lot of jumping, head banging, and thousands of sideways middle fingers in the air. It was truly a sight to behold.

After experiencing first-hand what a Slipknot show is all about, I think I get the whole Maggot thing. Maggots are a community. All the people jammed into the pit and elsewhere at Ruoff were connected to each other by their love for this band. They were also connected by what Slipknot’s music represents, which is rebellion, loneliness, anger, pain, disenchantment, and believe it or not, hope. Although Slipknot’s music is very dark, it’s not about despair; it’s about taking back control and being true to one’s self. It’s also about loyalty, as evidenced by Taylor’s repeated references to the crowd as his family, the beautiful tribute to former band members drummer Joey Jordison and bassist Paul Gray, and by Taylor’s final words of the night: “Take care of yourselves! Take care of each other!”

The Knotfest Roadshow continues through November 5 in the United States; for more information, check out https://knotfest.com/roadshow/

For a video recap of the first 2021 Knotfest Roadshow in Tinley Park, Illinois, click here: https://knotfest.com/videos/

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