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Rock raising the bar in Southwest Florida

By Staff | Jan 23, 2020

A heavy bass “thump-thump” can be heard off in the distance, but as one listens to it a little more intently, it is noticeably picking up momentum, and it’s coming to a music venue near you.

Although the heavy metal rock scene is still brewing as an underground movement, it’s picking up steam in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area. Over the course of the last two years, more and more bands are popping up playing the heavy metal genre, and they are starting to gain more attention from fans and venues alike.

The argument can be had that rock was never dead, but it certainly was frozen in a coma in Southwest Florida. As other genres of music thrive on the national charts, the heavy metal scene in the area is looking to take root and be resurrected after climaxing in the late 1980s and ’90s.

But as the heavy metal genre’s breathing was shallow and was declared on life support, along came Fort Rock.

National rock acts such as Slipknot, Five Finger Death Punch, Godsmack and dozens of other popular bands played the festival from 2013 to 2017. It put Fort Myers on the national rock stage and with a first-year sellout of 13,000 (Fort Rock was a one-day festival then), that sparked a revitalization of heavy metal in the area.

But all good things must come to an end.

“Fort Rock put the national attention on Fort Myers, and all sudden the area was hosting big rock concerts,” said Matt Mangas, who is the midday host at 96 K-Rock and a longtime radio DJ in Southwest Florida. “But in the end, there were not enough ticket sales, and I believe Fort Rock would have stayed forever and ever, but people didn’t go.”

The four-year reign of Fort Rock did inspire young musicians to pursue the heavy metal genre in the area, and it’s a movement which is blossoming – albeit slowly but surely.

* Battling the stereotypes

With every movement, there must be leaders who are willing to help push the agenda and break the stereotypical molds to build support in the community.

In the music community, convincing venues to host bands is a big step in getting a movement going.

Rock music has always been alive in the area, with clubs such as The Buddha and Dixie Roadhouse – and most recently Nice Guys Pizza and Beer, along with HOWL Tattoo Piercing – hosting heavier music acts. Some area cover bands kept the rock torch lit during the dry times, which has helped keep the paths open for the current bands, as well.

But the heavier brand of rock music is now trying to crack into area venue lineups. Those heavy metal sub-genres are sometimes known as grind core, metal core, black metal and death metal, just to name a few.

When Lester and Jade Rojas moved to the Cape Coral area from Colorado, they were surprised at the lack of live heavy metal music being played in the venues.

“I’ve always been around music in one way or another all my life,” Lester said. “I grew up in Cuba and there was a good metal scene there, and I played in a band at 15 years old.”

“My dad was a musician in Colorado so I grew up around it all my life,” Jade said. “Any night of the week in Colorado, you could go to a show near you. Here, we have to drive two to three hours to see a show, stay the night, buy dinner and gas. What was a $40 show, quickly turned into a $200 or $300 show. So we really were looking to start something in the area.”

Enter Crashland Presents, Lester and Jade’s brainchild. Instead of having to go to the music, the Rojas’ planned on bringing the music here.

The duo started attending heavier rock shows at such venues as Nice Guys and HOWL Tattoo. They started networking with upstart heavy metal bands and decided to start their own promotional business.

“Our main goal was to bring music from the outside to here,” Lester said. “We started to work with bands like Swamp Gas and Hellfrost, who have been around for many years in the area.”

Crashland Presents has been promoting heavy metal shows for the last year and is building success with each show. Their second show they set up at Old Soul Brewing in Fort Myers sold 117 tickets. They held another show benefitting Gulf Coast Humane Society called “Rockin’ 4 Paws” this past July which also drew a good crowd at Old Soul.

“It’s been an evolutionary process, we are learning as we go,” Jade said.

The uptick in shows have given a podium to upstart bands as well, giving them their first taste of performing live on stage.

Local bands such as For the Struggle, Dead Ritual, Nausratep and Silhouettes on Screen can credit Crashland Presents for giving them a shot during a live gig.

For Cape Coral’s Silhouettes on Screen, their first show was under the umbrella of Crashland Presents during their Metal and Soul series, which was held at Old Soul Brewing. Since then, the band has played a total of 10 shows.

“I have been both very happy and satisfied with the rock and metal scene lately and Crashland has been super helpful and supportive to us,” said Silhouettes on Screen lead guitarist Zander Snow. “I feel like a few years ago the scene died out a bit, especially when a band called Nine Mile Drive came to an end with the passing of their vocalist (JC Edwards).

“There have been a few bands who have really been helping bring it back. I think a way it can be improved on is just getting more bands out here to help the scene keep growing.”

Heavy metal shows are becoming more prevalent in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, simply because of more promotion, and venues are slowly starting to open their doors to bands.

* Opening doors

But venue doors which are still closed to heavy metal bands is still the biggest challenge. One business owner is welcoming the bands with open arms though, and it’s paying off well.

Sean Dunnigan recently opened Ollie’s Pub Records and Beer on Cape Coral Parkway. He has already hosted several heavy metal shows, as well as other bands which play different genres of music.

So far the heavy metal shows have brought in good numbers, Dunnigan said.

“Specifically with the metal shows, I’ve had some of the best turnouts,” Dunnigan said. “I am very impressed with how the metal fans are dedicated and show up to the shows. Hats off to them supporting the bands and the bands supporting each other, as well.”

Dunnigan was well aware of the negative stereotypes which can come with a rock show, such as “moshing,” which is a kind of slam dancing fans do in during a concert.

Those negative stereotypes have proven to be false.

“I feel there is a lot of bad stereotypes on the heavier scene here, and I want an opportunity to break those,” Dunnigan said. “I witnessed it firsthand with every single show we’ve had. The people who come out are great and take care of each other. It’s like a brotherhood, they take care of each other and help each other.”

Dunnigan hopes his positive experiences with the metal crowd inspires other venues to open their doors to the local bands. So far, it’s been a good start.

“Local music should be the number one reason why venues should support these bands,” the Ollie’s owner said. “These are good people who do good things. Give them a chance and support local music.”

Snow agrees, the more feet which can get into the door, the better for the local heavy metal scene.

“Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is there are only a handful of venues which really do a good job of supporting metal and rock bands who play original music,” Snow said. “There are great bands around here, and people want to hear them. I think it helps to get our foot in the door at new venues if the owners and promoters see footage of shows at the other places and see good crowds turning out. If they see that, there’s a movement, and then they are more likely to want to get involved.”

The high energy, raw emotion and stage shows which a heavy metal gig brings is fueling a movement which is picking up momentum and reaching new fans. It’s one which may still be on the ground level, but is crescendoing into a buildup locally.

“I see the genre picking up, and I think there are many young kids getting into it more and more,” Lester Rojas said. “We are seeing a lot of younger kids and a good mix of every demographic at our shows. People are seeing a need for a variety of music, and I think if you are a business, you should try and grab a piece of the pie.”

And if you are just a music fan who loves live music, heed the advice of Mangas, who is a veteran of attending live rock shows.

“There is nothing more exciting than seeing live rock n’ roll. You never know who or what you are going to see.”