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Metal with a cause, next Friday night at Hot Shots

Astral Space will be one of three bands performing on Friday, Dec. 14 at Hot Shots Billiards in Charles City at part of the Metal X-Mas fundraiser. (Photo submitted.)
Astral Space will be one of three bands performing on Friday, Dec. 14 at Hot Shots Billiards in Charles City at part of the Metal X-Mas fundraiser. (Photo submitted.)
By James Grob,

The Christmas Carols might seem a little bit loud next Friday, but they’ll still be full of holiday spirit.

The Christmas season is all about giving, celebration and charity — and that message is clear at any volume.

“I always believe in giving back,” Jesse Miller said. “I’ve had my own ups and downs, and right now I’m in a good spot in life, so now is a good time to give back.”

Miller is the drummer and a founding member of the local metal band, Astral Space, which will be one of three high-decibel, high energy musical groups performing Friday, Dec. 14 at Hot Shots Billiards in Charles City. Dubbed the “Metal X-Mas Fundraiser,” Astral Space will be joined by metal bands Anger Incarnate and Guilty of Treason on the local stage. Proceeds from this event will be donated to the local Holiday Cheer program. The Charles City Chamber of Commerce facilitates the program, which is designed to link up families in need with businesses, groups, families or individuals who wish to give to others this holiday season.

“Everything directly goes back to everyone in Charles City,” Miller said.

The metal starts at 9 p.m. and the price of admission is a $10 donation — or a toy of equal value. All the money goes to the charity, and none of the bands are taking a cut.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this here,” said Miller, who bounced ideas for the fundraiser off Joe Hull. “I wanted to do a toy drive, and Joe kind of said, ‘what about the chamber of commerce here in Charles City?’”

Hull is the owner of Hot Shots, which is a pool hall that he opened as a bar on the bank of the river in September of last year. The establishment added a kitchen and a food menu last spring, and has been an accommodating venue for live music of all genres — as well as other live entertainment — on weekends.

“Joe Hull here at Hot Shots is always more than welcoming to have us back,” Miller said. “He’s a super out-going guy, and is really easy to work with. He actually participated a lot in organizing this event as well. We bounced ideas off each other until we found a happy center.”

Miller said it’s great to have a place like Hot Shots to play, in the town where his band formed 15 years ago.

Miller is from Greene, but he said Astral Space was founded in Charles City, by Jesse and his brother Shane Miller, with Shane being a vocalist and Jesse serving as a drummer.

“Astral Space started in about 2003,” Miller said. “My brother started off writing acoustic stuff and we kind of translated it into more metal — it just grew from there.”

Bass guitar player Randy McFarland joined the brothers about a year after the band was formed, and three years ago, Andrew Hammang — who goes by “AJ” — joined and plays guitar and does synth production. Chase Dubiel is the newest member of the band, and plays synth, samples and turntables.

“Charles City is definitely an anchor place for this band,” AJ said in September, before the band played at the Space Jam Music Festival held out the Floyd County Fairgrounds. All three bands playing at Metal X-Mas next Friday were among the 14 bands which played Space Jam. The members of Astral Space were the driving force behind locating the annual multi-band local music festival in Charles City.

Anger Incarnate is also based in Charles City. Members are vocalist Michael Mallory, drummer Neil Larson, bassist Matt Schepp and guitarist Nick Weipert. Guilty of Treason is a heavy metal band out of the Cedar Falls/Waterloo Area.

Miller said the connection that forms between members of regional rock and metal bands is like “a big, close-knit family.”

“That’s what it really breaks down to, common ground to relate to people,” Miller said. “A lot of people, you can call them cast-outs or whatever, they feel left out — and the music and the people give them a place to come and enjoy. It’s always a positive vibe, and there’s always benefits — charities, fundraisers — everybody’s always on the same page.”

Miller said that despite the reputation that metal music has for being over the top, his fellow rockers always remained grounded.

“Even when things get a little crazy, everybody stops and looks out for everybody else,” he said.

That’s what the Metal X-Mas fundraiser is all about, he said, looking out for others.

“It will be a good environment, a good vibe, and a lot of people enjoying themselves,” Miller said, and added that those who aren’t into the thrashing sounds of metal can still contribute to the cause. “If this kind of music isn’t to your taste, it can just be a place to drop off a toy for charity.”