Speedfreak is one of the local bands scheduled to open up for Corrosion of Conformity at the Heavy Chicago festival on Nov. 4. Credit: Provided


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AVONDALE — Chicago has no shortage of major music festivals, but how many of them go heavy on heavy metal? Even Riot Fest caters more to punks than heshers.

The good news for fans of blast beats and power chords is that Chicago is about to get a little more headbanger-friendly, just in time for Halloween.

Starting Saturday, the first Heavy Chicago festival will bring an eclectic lineup of metal and hardcore bands to Avondale Music Hall, the midsized concert venue at 3336 N. Milwaukee Ave. Headliners of the inaugural event include Chicago’s own doom pioneers Trouble, bluesy metal lifers Corrosion of Conformity and thrash legends Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (or D.R.I.), currently touring in celebration of their 40th anniversary. 

The stacked bill of local and national acts has been stretched across three nights and two weekends, with bands scheduled to play this Saturday, as well as Nov. 4 and Nov. 5. Many of the featured artists haven’t performed in Chicago in years — or, in the case of Repulsion, decades. Heavy Chicago will be the only live appearance by the “grandfathers of grindcore” in 2023.

From left: Heavy Chicago organizers Dave Hornyak and Sean Duffy. Credit: Provided

Formerly a mambo club, Avondale Music Hall seemed like the perfect place to put together a multi-night celebration of metal, said music manager Sean Duffy. He and fellow Heavy Chicago founder Dave Hornyak saw “an opening” for a different kind of “walkable” neighborhood music festival in Chicago, and for a way to shine a light on a stretch of businesses still recovering from COVID-19.

Duffy drew the lineup from a long list of personal favorite bands and acts he’s booked before.

“Almost everyone [performing] has a connection to the city in one way or another,” he added.

That includes Lori S., who grew up in the Chicago area and worked with Duffy at a local record store before moving to San Francisco in 1993 to form Acid King. Her seminal stoner metal outfit is playing with Trouble, Bongzilla and Novembers Doom Saturday.

On albums like this year’s “Beyond Vision,” Acid King sounds downright cosmic. It’s a style much different than the doom, death and thrash acts at Heavy Chicago. But that’s part of the fun of a big festival.

“It’s a chance to expose yourself to a different audience,” said Lori S. “You can expand your fanbase. Or not, if they hate you!”

Local band Novembers Doom opens the fest on Friday night. Credit: Provided

The wide range of sounds represented is a draw for adventurous metalheads on stage and off.

“Some of the best shows I’ve played lately in the city have had diverse lineups,” said Garry Naples, who drums for Novembers Doom, another iconic local band performing at Heavy Chicago.

Naples has played metal in the city for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s seen some of the once-rigid walls separating various subgenres crumble — an aftershock of increased access.

“All the music is available to everyone now,” he said. “People’s tastes evolve quicker because of that.”

Duffy agrees that the internet has opened up Chicago’s once-more-insular metal scene.

“If you wanted to see or meet people [in the ’80s], you had to go to shows or record stores,” Duffy said. “The community is much more digital now.”

But has that made the scene bigger or smaller?

“It’s a tight-knit community,” said Kevin Kelly, guitarist for Speedfreak, one of the faster bands at the festival. “Everybody knows each other. It’s a fun city to play metal in.”

Like Naples, Kelly has two decades of experience on the Chicago stage. And both men are excited to see one particular band at the festival: Corrosion of Conformity.

“It’s still kind of unreal that we’re going to be playing with them,” Kelly said.

Hornyak, who’s known Duffy since the ’80s, is founder and managing partner of LiveWire Lounge, another venue down the street. As part of the fest, the smaller club will host aftershows, a battle of the bands and the tribute band Phat Kiss on Halloween.

There will be a burger release party at Kuma’s Corner, the Avondale bar famous for serving burgers named after metal bands at 2900 W. Belmont Ave. Kuma’s cooks will also flip patties from a pop-up booth inside Avondale Music Hall. 

By involving businesses like Kuma’s and goth-apparel institution The Alley, Duffy and Hornyak committed to making Heavy Chicago a specifically Avondale festival — and an inherently DIY venture. The independent aspect of the festival is important to both organizers, who said they see it as a blue-collar event for a blue-collar town and a blue-collar genre.

“When you think of metal and punk, that’s what you think about,” Duffy said. “Hard-working guys who work all day and then come out to slam dance or pump their fists.”

Hornyak said Heavy Chicago only has a few sponsors. And there are, of course, challenges to putting on a festival without the corporate infrastructure of something like Lollapalooza.

“When you’re flying in bands for a one-off appearance when they’re not on tour, it costs a lot more,” Hornyak said.

But what’s the tradeoff? “Metal or punk were always better done by indie people,” Duffy said. “It was never meant to be a corporate soundtrack.” On the big-promotion alternative, he is unequivocal: “Live Nation is hurting metal.”

“We don’t have tons of money,” said Hornyak, who said he’s not expecting to make a fortune off of the festival. “We’re doing this for the love of doing this.”

As far as Hornyak’s concerned, Heavy Chicago is already successful because they were “able to get everybody on board and get all these bands together to play.” Duffy shares a similar sentiment: “It was like herding cats for a while, but it’s all come together.”

Both organizers hope to make the festival an annual event, and they’re already looking ahead.

“I do wish we could have gotten a metalcore band, or a punk band with a metal influence,” Duffy said. “Maybe next year.”

Heavy Chicago kicks off Saturday at Avondale Music Hall and also runs Nov. 4-5. Tickets are $35-$45 for a single-day ticket or $100 for a three-day pass. For more information, visit the event website

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