Even though it grew into a music festival that features bands with big national followings, Locobazooka never strayed from its beginnings as a showcase for local talent.
In the past, that commitment was seen in the vast undercard of homegrown talent included as part of the festival. Now in its 14th year, Locobazooka is in a position to present bands that are both popular across the country and likewise claim roots to Central Mass.
The Dropkick Murphys, for instance, will be hitting Locobazooka next Sunday at Fitchburg Municipal Airport with a lineup that features a drummer from Leominster, one guitar player who grew up in Worcester and another from Grafton. And Bury Your Dead, a hit at this summer's Ozzfest shows, has a singer who not all that long ago was a Locobazooka audience member.
Bury Your Dead's Mat Bruso is a Worcester boy who remembers when Locobazooka was called Localpalooza and was held one year in Shore Park before moving to Green Hill Park. He remembered seeing Godsmack play the year that band was just another unknown commodity on the bill, and how the buzz band among his peer group was the now-defunct Eastcide.
"Growing up in Worcester, it was definitely something you wanted to go to and that your mom didn't want you to go to," Bruso said. "I think there was even a picture of me in the paper one year getting tossed in a blanket in the middle of the crowd."
Bruso said that he understands what it takes to capture the crowd at such an event.
"It's all about the energy. Every kid shows up that day knowing that school is coming and it's something to do to put a cap on the summer," he said. "What Bury Your Dead brings to the stage that day is the kind of chaos the crowd can get into."
If you need proof, simply check out "Alive," the recently released CD/DVD package Bury Your Dead released from a concert it performed in May. Early into the show, Bruso gets bonked in the head by a guitar and proceeds to give a performance that nearly renders him unconscious.
But Locobazooka being what it is, the job of creating organized chaos is not left to simply one band. The big names on the bill this year are Disturbed, Dropkick Murphys, Dope, Ill Nino, Smile Empty Soul, Clutch, Mushroomhead, Byzantine, Life of Agony, Seemless (another band formed locally and beginning to leave its mark nationally), Ten Years, Lost City Angels, Darkbuster, Danko Jones, American Minor, Since the Flood, Bloodsimple, and Genuflect.
Among the many regional acts on the bill are Jaded, Shortfuse, Blind By Noon, Trauma Concept and A Breed Apart. A full band lineup is online at www.locobazooka.com.
Admission to Locobazooka is $39.95, and the festival ticket is good for admission and discounts to shows happening Friday and Saturday at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester and the Compound in Fitchburg. A Locobazooka ticket can also be used for half-off admission to the New England Six Flags amusement park on Saturday. Locobazooka tickets are on sale at Strawberries record stores and through Next Ticketing.
Dropkick Murphys, which just wrapped up main stage duties along this year's Warped Tour, is most typically touted as the biggest band out of Boston since Aerosmith. The popularity of the punk band is not in dispute, but Boston is just one of the locales important to the birth of the band.
Drummer Matt Kelly grew up in Leominster and the first place he met Dropkick Murphys leader Ken Casey was in Fitchburg at the Club 490, a short-lived but vital link in the chain of music venues friendly to all-ages punk-rock shows.
In 1996, Casey tracked down Kelly's phone number through the punk-rock grapevine and asked if the drummer could gig with the band, which for a year had trouble securing a permanent drummer. Once Kelly sat in, the Dropkicks never needed another timekeeper.
Recently the band released its sixth full-length record, "The Warrior's Code," and Kelly and Casey remain the only Dropkicks left from the lineup that made the band's breakthrough "Do or Die" record nearly a decade ago.
As it adapted to members coming and going, the Dropkick Murphys grew, consistently sharpening a sound that Kelly described as fusing AC/DC, the Pogues and the Ramones.
"Everybody has input, which made the band grow and expand. But Kenny remains the guiding light, and we siphon everything through his brain for better or worse," Kelly said.
Listening to "The Warrior's Code" suggests all that is for the better. The band reveals a dark streak of irony on "Sunshine Highway," digs deeper into its folkier side with a cover of Eric Bogle's anti-war ballad "The Green Fields of France" and revs up its political punk fury on "Citizen C.I.A." The Dropkicks also strengthened its ties to the Woody Guthrie legacy by setting some of the folk troubadour's unrecorded lyrics to music for the resulting "I'm Shipping Up to Boston." On its previous album, the Dropkicks gave such treatment to the song "Blackout," which became that project's title track.
And the band's fascination with sports is heard on the new record's title track inspired by boxer Micky Ward, plus on a post-World-Series update of its Red Sox anthem "Tessie."
The umbrella over a Dropkick Murphys audience is so broad these days that nobody questions why these street punks are playing a festival tilted more to heavy metal and hard rock.
"There's no face or image to this band. When we started playing to people outside our circle of friends, people came with no apprehensions because we didn't have any one identity. We ended up attracting a lot of people from different subcultures," Kelly said.
Even the band members' parents and grandparents are prone to showing up at gigs, with Kelly saying he expects a bunch of his brood to make the short hop from Leominster to Fitchburg next week.
A posse of friends and relatives was seen by the stage of Ozzfest when Bury Your Dead played a thundering afternoon set at the tour's opening day at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. Bruso said the summerlong trek was a huge boost for the band (though since the interview Bury Your Dead got embroiled in a controversy concerning the impetus for audience members to pelt the band Iron Maiden with eggs when that band played its final performance of the tour; Bury Your Dead has since issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the incident.)
Bury Your Dead certainly beat the odds to get this far in its career. The earliest incarnation of the band broke up for a year before reforming with Bruso as its singer. Bass player Rich Casey, drummer Mark Castillo and guitar player Slim B started the band in 2001 as a side project and generated a buzz with its debut record "You Had Me at Hello." But before the end of 2002, Bury Your Dead disbanded. That is until Casey and Slim decided to revive the band, bringing Bruso on vocals and adding Eric Ellis on guitar.
Bruso, who used to sing in the band Changed by Force, had been a big fan of Bury Your Dead and at one of the band's comeback shows jumped on stage and sang the last two numbers of the set. Next thing he knew, he was the band's new singer.
Last year Bury Your Dead signed a deal with Victory Records and released "Cover Your Tracks," a great batch of uncomplicated and brutal songs that nicely balance hard-core punk and heavy-metal influences. The kicker came when every song was titled after a Tom Cruise movie, carrying on the vibe of the Cruise reference "You Had Me at Hello."
The band's powerful performance style and aggressive sound has quickly spread through the ranks of hard-rock fans. Bruso said the band has crisscrossed the country six times already since the release of "Cover Your Tracks" last fall.
"We are beyond grateful for what's happening," Bruso said. "I wouldn't say that surprised applies because we knew what a band has to invest and all the scheming that it takes to build a career. It has happened faster than we expected, but this is what we worked for."
And it's not a stretch to think that some of the kids watching Bury Your Dead and all the other acts at Locobazooka next week will start scheming bands of their own.