MANSFIELD — A lady in a tank top with a red flannel tied around her waist was hovering around the port-o-pots near the entrance to the Inkcarceration Tattoo and Music Festival.
“You’re better than what’s in there,” she told every person around her, through slurred speech, as they entered the bathroom box of doom.
It was going to be a long night — better go see what’s up with law enforcement.
The Mansfield Police [mobile] Command Unit was stationed behind the main Ink stage, and as I meandered up a few officers were on break, smoking cigars.
“Is he smoking a blunt?” I asked the first officer about his co-worker.
They didn’t find me amusing so I switched gears and said I needed a real quote about all “the mud and the blood and the beer.”
Eventually, I was directed towards Sgt. Joseph Gladden #278, who wasn’t exactly thrilled about my interview request, but he was a good sport.
Question 1: Have you seen anything crazy? Like anyone fall into the pond? Anyone like puke into their own pants?
“No. Last night somebody ran over some barriers leading to an OVI. Nothing too crazy has happened,” Sgt. Gladden said.
Megadeth was due up soon and it was hard to not consider Mansfield, Ohio, to be the metal and hardcore capital of the U.S. — for one night, anyway.
Pantera was to follow and even the local kids were hosting a thrashcore event at the Renaissance Theatre.
Before we dive into those performances, let’s chat for a moment about the infrastructure behind Inkcareraction. Security, ticket checkers, food vendors, all the roadies and equipment haulers for the bands — it’s a thankless grind all day in the melting sun and dealing with all the somewhat good-intentioned wastoids that ask all the same obvious questions.
Last year’s fest saw a job influx of 500 positions and an estimate from Destination Mansfield of $10.5 million in local economic impact, with similar stats expected in 2023. The Ohio State Reformatory, aka Shawshank Prison, was to see around 75,000 people over this weekend and the crowd sure showed that.
A giant thank-you for every event staff worker, especially those around the stage that watched endlessly for crowdsurfers — who at the end of their ride, would get chucked over the barrier and instead of cracking skulls and arms on the concrete below, were bear-hug caught and gently lowered down.
OK fine, let’s talk music. If you had a time machine and went back to any high school weight-lifting gym in the mid-to-late ‘90s, you’d hear plenty of Pantera and the infamous Megadeth track, “Symphony of Destruction.”
Lead singer Dave Mustaine had some added wrinkles since the turn of the century, but he was still bringing the energy, long hair still floating and looking like a Pantene Pro V commercial as the industrial fans blew mist and fog across the stage.
Symphony came halfway through the set and there was a collective headbang across thousands of people, shoulder-smashed together in the post-rain wetness and sweat and joy.
The first time I saw Pantera was one of the first concerts I ever attended, little 13-year-old Adam at the then-Polaris Amphitheater in Columbus in August of ‘94.
I remember thinking, there must be a skunk problem at Polaris. And why do so many people have trouble walking and why isn’t that lady wearing any clothes and most importantly, how did my parents let me and my friends attend this alone!?
Decades later, Pantera still brought the fire, energy, and that smug smirk from frontman Phil Anselmo that said, “You can ‘eff with us, but it won’t do you any good and we don’t care, hope you die.”
Basically, just the tracks off Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven would be enough to tour until the end of time.
Fortunately, even though the intensity continued to increase, the displays of power were music-based and there wasn’t a riot like in ‘97.
Pantera returned to Columbus in 1997 for “Ozz Fest,” the Ozzy Osborne-created festival that helped paved the roads Ink drives on today.
Ozzy ended up getting sick, couldn’t play and halfway through Pantera’s set, that fact was announced, and fires started, chairs were ripped out and thrown, fences smashed and I was running so scared as a 16-year-old fan, separated from my group, lost and sightless through the smoke.
“I wish that they [the fans] would come up with a meeting point when they get separated because their phones don’t work when you get here,” Sgt. Gladden said.
“Your phones are not gonna work and there’s 20,000 people here and you’re probably gonna get separated and you have no way to contact each other. So come up with a meeting point so that you can both go there rather than come to the police and say, so-and-so is missing.”
Even after surviving OzzFest, Pantera’s legendary guitarist Dimebag Darrell came back to Ohio in Dec. 2004, but this time the trip turned fatal. Darrell was shot while performing in Columbus and later died. His name and impact has lived on, as the Dimebag Hardware store was onsite at Ink, where fans could get merch and guitar straps honoring the late musician.
The main reason rock-and-roll in all its forms plays so well here in north central Ohio is because it’s who we are. Hardened yet not defeated by factory shut downs and economic issues, isolated from the metropolis, on our own to survive and thrive, and with each scar our cities smile harder.
We are the tattoo process, coping with intense pain and after, having an amazing life mark that we carry with us wherever we go.
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