For the past couple of years, Oktstonerfest has been a personal high point of my October. Held in Tolono’s Loose Cobra bar, owned and operated by the legendary Matt Talbott, Oktstonerfest features a line-up of killer stoner, punk, and metal bands. However, the real star of the fest is the shopping cart bonfire in the parking lot, where folks can get some air while staying cozy in between sets. This year’s fest was held this past weekend on October 14th. The day brought with it a distinct chill, with cold winds blowing and clouds in the sky — the perfect kind of autumnal day for Oktstonerfest.
I arrived at Loose Cobra right as Gonzo Diablo was finishing their set, which had fittingly begun at 4:20 p.m. I’m glad I got to see them play their last song, at least! Next up were local self-professed “doom rippers” Edna. I’d been lucky enough to see Edna play before, almost a year ago at Rail Fest. I was thoroughly impressed by their loud, relentless, and utterly ferocious sound, so it was a real joy to get to see them again. They didn’t disappoint. They jumped right into it, and hardly stopped the music during their whole set. It was loud and powerful, as well as deeply cathartic. When I chatted with them later, they mentioned that they hadn’t played a show since Rail Fest, but I hope they start playing more regularly. A random local band from Central Illinois has no business being this good. They play like veterans who have been around for decades, yet they only have one EP and one album. I’m glad they’re here.
Next up was RedLeg, followed by Power of Dusk. These two local bands played excellently. Vince, Power of Dusk’s frontman, spent the entire set jumping and bouncing around. His energy was intense and compelling, bringing a distinctly punk je ne sais quois to the evening’s stoner-laced doom sounds.
Following the local bands was Void King, from Muncie, IN. Seeing these guys play is an exceptional experience that defies expectations every time. As one person said, “I know I want to be front and center for a band like that.” From the bright lights, the smoke machine, and the preacher’s podium — where do I even begin? Frontman Jason ramped up the camp with his epic beard, and distinguished white suit. This is the second time I’ve seen Void King play, and both times I’ve found myself oddly captivated by Jason’s tattoos. Is that a Ouija board on his stomach? The alphabet? Who knows. The point is these guys have an idiosyncratic charm and wonderfully kitschy Midwestern showmanship that makes for an entertaining and unforgettable performance. Seeing them play always brings me joy.
As the evening continued, Druids (Des Moines) took the stage. I hadn’t heard of this band prior to seeing them this weekend, but after seeing them play I’ll definitely be listening more and keeping an eye on them. Hearing them live is like hurtling into a pounding wall of unrelenting noise. Which is to say, it was incredible. I felt their music overtake me, loudly crushing me from the inside out. Drenched in sweat and fueled with adrenaline, the crowd reveled in this symphony of chaos and noise. Their performance ended just as abruptly as it began, and for me, it was over much too soon.
Chicago’s Sweet Cobra was up next. This crew is a bit of a mainstay at Loose Cobra, and they were present for last year’s Oktstonerfest as well. Their performances are always tightly played and beautiful, and it’s a real pleasure to see them again. Here’s hoping they’ll be back soon for another show, and I can finally buy one of their albums.
Lastly, we were treated to Young Widows from Louisville. Their music was also new to me, spanning a wide range from post-hardcore to gothic folk. It was an incredible way to close the evening. I sat on the sidelines as they played, wiped out early from this incredible roster of bands. Despite my fatigue, the crowd’s energy remained infectious as the music wound us all in the ebb and flow of aural brutality as the band played on.
There are many things to love about Oktstonerfest, but my favorite is the sense of camaraderie and community that I always feel at this event. These characteristics are a mainstay of most shows at Loose Cobra; Matt Talbott really has a knack for bringing people together. But with the bonfire and parking lot margaritas, something truly special emerges during Oktstonerfest. In between bands, I went outside and sat by the fire to rest and enjoy the company of others. I asked people how they felt about the evening’s festivities, and one person said that their favorite part was “the variety of bands that performed. I really liked seeing each band’s performance style, having never seen any of these bands play before. I didn’t know what to expect from set to set, which made it very exciting!” And I can’t help but agree. It was a great mix of bands, and the vibe was impeccable.
As I was leaving I asked a friend of mine what he thought. He agreed that the music was great, but that “the iconic shopping cart fire brings everything together.” Indeed it does, and it wouldn’t be Oktstonerfest without it. Here’s looking forward to next year, when there’ll be more interesting bands to discover, more people to meet, and another wonderful, autumnal evening listening to metal in the cornfields.