It was the summer of 2012, and it should have been an unmitigated disaster.
A small metal festival in the heart of Ohio made even smaller by record-setting temperatures and a tornado that ripped half the roof off the outdoor stage. Power was lost in the entire town, too, which clearly didn’t bode well for the coming events.
Five dedicated Last Rites crewmen were a few paltry steps away from being mauled by that damned tornado. We’d decided to converge on that small town right outside of Columbus because of a seemingly impossible line-up of underground traditional metal champions, and we were in the midst of gathering our cooler of booze and about to descend a small outdoor stairway that lead to the stage when we very suddenly and unexpectedly experienced the weight of nature’s destructive power.
With that twister came rains—torrential rains so heavy that the earth had trouble drinking it down. And thunder and violent lightning and, of course, doubts as to whether or not order could possibly be restored in time for the bands to hit the stage. The already smallish crowd continued to dwindle with each passing minute, and a very logical level of panic dawned on the faces of the festival crew scrambling about in an attempt to salvage what probably couldn’t or shouldn’t be salvaged. We’d already committed to the weekend, though, so we decided to stick it out until the bitter end.
More time passed, quite slowly, and more storms rumbled. And with that, more and more people folded up their tents and hit the highway. It was mid afternoon, I think—time has a weird way of halting when you’re in the midst of calamity. We were standing in the middle of a huge open field next to the stage, the five of us completely by ourselves, greeting the absolutely soaking downpour and all that thunder the only way we could think to greet it: with booze and laughter and skittish exchanges about how we were somehow lucky enough to survive after having literally watched a tornado rip past us. It was—truly and precisely—a textbook definition of a disaster.
And then Mark “The Shark” Shelton arrived…
He was the real reason we were there. He was the reason everyone was there, including those who’d traveled from other countries to this otherwise sleepy Ohio outpost. Sure, there were a handful of other bands that spiced the brew—Argus, Twisted Tower Dire, and Borrowed Time, mostly—but Manilla Road had recently and abruptly caught a fresh wind, and the possibility of finally seeing them, slight as it had just suddenly become, was the reason people stayed. And their carriage had just arrived…
The five of us watched idly as their vehicles pulled through the deluge and eventually parked. And then, just as sure as rain is wet, up marched Mark Shelton to join our tiny brigade. “Holy shit, it’s Mark the Shark! You’re fucking HERE,” we cried in disbelief, mostly because of the storm, but also because… You know… Holy shit, Mark The Shark just walked up and greeted us as if we’d been friends for twenty years. That’s the sort of guy Mark was—a friend to anyone who knew of him—and there he stood, just beaming and immediately accepting of an early afternoon beer, curious as a cat about what the hell was unfolding.
After he’d heard the full explanation as to the lack of, well…everything, and about how people were bolting because of the unrelenting rains, he ROARED with the laughter of an ancient Greek God who routinely ate lightning for dinner. “This right here?? A storm? I’m from fucking Wichita, this isn’t a storm!!”
He was just so honest and entertaining with his mockery of it, and he seemed genuinely thrilled to be standing with us right then and there in the wake of all the turmoil. My Lord, we’d just become friends with one of metal’s most elite champions.
A generator the size of a tank eventually fell from the Heavens, and with it, a semblance of order was finally restored by nightfall. Many of the bands slated to perform that night had accepted the loss and split, but not Manilla Road. No, friends, The Road stayed and played an absolutely ripping set as if the very Earth depended on it, and the weekend quickly pushed itself into something that was nothing short of spellbinding.
Those of us at LR who were lucky enough to be at that event still talk about the weekend as if it happened yesterday. It brought us closer together, it afforded us an exceptional opportunity to see Manilla Road in the flesh, and most importantly, it started our friendship with Mark Shelton.
People sometimes say they’re “friends” with musicians simply because they’ve had a couple conversations and shared a few drinks, but with Mark Shelton, that was actually the case. If you met the man, shared a couple beers and a few stories with him, he became an actual buddy. At some point, perhaps you figured he might not remember that night you and he laughed together in some rickety old club, but he always remembered, because Mark Shelton was about as genuine and kind and thoughtful as the day is long—familiar to the very end. He was a true wizard of his craft, a master storyteller, and above all else, a great and willing ally. The coming days will show endless evidence of this fact—unlimited photos of continuous people having a blast while in the presence of The Shark and his relentless smile.
Now, this remarkable man has left us, and the only thing more painful than the thought of metal no longer being gifted with new music from him is the heartbreaking truth that a great, great many of us just lost a treasured friend.
To the rest of the band, past and present, and to Mark’s family—we are all thinking of you. And to Mark, the man who will forever be known as the Shark: We will never, ever stop Upping the Hammers and Downing the Nails.
“Rest in peace, my king
Heroic were your deeds”
Below is a gofundme campaign set up by Sherry Patrick, the mother of vocalist Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick, to help with the exorbitant expenses involved in getting Mark home to Wichita from Germany. If you have the means, please consider a donation. Thank you.