Spring is in the air and signs of its return abound. Flowers are popping up from the ground, trees are in bloom, and hordes of independent music fans are descending upon Harrisonburg for MACROCK, the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference. Now in its twentieth year, the storied music festival has hosted bands both relatively unknown and widely celebrated, the latter group including the likes of Fugazi, Anathallo, Sufjan Stevens, Elliot Smith, and The War on Drugs. With its dual focus on musical showcases and artistic networking, MACROCK offers the chance for up-and-coming DIY bands to rub elbows with more established acts.
One good example of a band that has benefitted from a bit of MACROCK magic is The Vomiting Dinosaurs, a Harrisonburg-based grind band now entering its tenth year of existence. “When we were younger, it always seemed like this mythical music festival,” said Wyatt Vaught, the band’s drummer. “Friends of mine would tell me about all the awesome bands they saw. I still have old flyers laying around with names like mewithoutYou and Converge on them. A lot of the bands that played the festival years ago have really blown up, and a lot of that music was hugely influential to us.”
The Vomiting Dinosaurs—whose name is a cheeky nod to creationists—are performing at the metal showcase this year, making it their second time at MACROCK. The festival is completely volunteer-based and run by students at James Madison University. Ryan Auvil, guitarist and vocalist for The Vomiting Dinosaurs, has volunteered and served on committees for past festivals, so he is intimately aware of the commitment it takes to make it all happen. “It was intense. I would be on campus for class around eight in the morning until five at night, and then I’d work as well. We’d have meetings every night, especially the couple months before April, it would be every day for hours.”
The metal showcase has been held at The Golden Pony for the past few years, but that venue has shifted to now hosting hip-hop and electronic acts like RP Boo and DJ Harum Instead, The Vomiting Dinosaurs will be joining Sire, Unsacred, and numerous other metal acts at Brothers Craft Brewing, the first year the brewery has served as a festival venue. It’s not an unexpected transition though, as Auvil and Vaught have recently had a hand in booking free monthly metal shows in the taproom. “Ryan and our good friend Mike Steele are directly involved with that, so the groundwork had already been laid,” said Vaught. “It’s really well suited for a big festival like this. They have a huge open area in the back, big enough for multiple bands to set up in. Since metal and beer tend to go hand and hand, it’s pretty much a perfect fit.”
Earlier this year, The Vomiting Dinosaurs released a new full length entitled Exoplanets. Produced by Baltimore’s Grimoire Records, it was their second collaboration with the label following on the success of 2015’s Worship the Porcelain God. Recorded by Noel Mueller, co-owner of Grimoire Records, Exoplanets is a nine-track concept album about the universe at large. Featuring song titles like “Ice Giant,” “Ganymede,” and “Lava Planet,” the mood is decisively intense. The galloping tempos, guttural vocals, and thrash guitar riffs permeate the playlist with few exceptions. In those rare moments of respite, like the first minute of the album closer “Jupiter,” abstract blips and high-pitched tones call to mind the chattering of satellites drifting through the void. The album is available on CD and limited edition cassette. Regarding the latter format, Auvil mentioned, “I’ve always loved cassettes and I think they’re making a comeback. They’re a lot cheaper than pressing vinyl. It’s a great option to have besides just CDs.”
As its members get older and the demands of life make extensive touring more prohibitive, the band is becoming increasingly particular about which gigs they take on. They find that the best events come from pairing up with like-minded bands, and over the years, MACROCK has provided fertile grounds for growing such relationships. While preparing for their performance at Brothers, Auvil reflected on how far they have come. “We’ve definitely changed a lot over the years, but we keep going in a great direction,” he said. “I never would have thought a band I was in would have reviews from Brazil in Portuguese or be on a radio show in the UK. That’s so cool! It’s almost like an enlightening thing, it puts everything in perspective.”
Given its smaller size and rural location, the fact that Harrisonburg has been an indie music destination for the past two decades is a testament to the vibrancy of its artistic community. The unlikeliness of that track record hasn’t escaped The Vomiting Dinosaurs and they feel grateful to be a part of it. “Harrisonburg is a really unique place,” said Vaught. “It has this tight knit community that supports all kinds of great music and art. Small towns don’t always have a thriving, extreme metal scene. We’re fortunate to share the stage with so many great bands who could just as easily book shows elsewhere. Most of the shows we play I’d be going to regardless, and seeing our name on a flyer next to a band I admire and respect keeps me motivated. I hope that never changes.”
The Vomiting Dinosaurs will be performing at MACROCK on Saturday, April 8 at Brothers Craft Brewing. Full schedule and tickets available at macrockva.org. Hear their latest album Exoplanets at Grimoire Records and the rest of their catalogue at thevomitingdinosaurs.bandcamp.com.
Photography by Jessica Sayers