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August 19, 2005

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Hellfest 2K5

When: Today through Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. each day

Where: Sovereign Bank Arena, 81 Hamilton Ave. at Route 129, Trenton

Cost: $45 per day

Info: For directions, visit or call (888) 722-8499 (SBA-TIXX)

How much does it cost to reunite one groundbreaking but bitterly divided band for one night only?

More than $50,000.

That's how much money the promoters of HellFest, New Jersey's annual three-day hardcore and punk music festival, are paying the members of Lifetime, a New Brunswick band, to play a 45-minute set Saturday night.

"It's the biggest paid band in HellFest history," says HellFest co-producer Shawn Vanderpoel, 29, of Mount Holly.

And it's all for a charitable cause. According to Vanderpoel and Lifetime guitarist Dan Yemin, the band members have pledged to donate the bulk of their money to a variety of activist groups. These include the OUT Fund, a grantwriting foundation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups; New Labor, which monitors the treatment of low-wage immigrant workers in New Brunswick; The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental group; and Linda Ann's Greyhound Rescue Inc. of Allentown, Pa., an animal welfare group.

Reuniting for charity seems to be the theme of this year's HellFest. Of the 187 bands scheduled to play over the weekend, about a dozen are reunions (including, curiously, the rap group Public Enemy) and several of these bands are playing for charitable causes. But few are as eagerly anticipated as Lifetime.

That may be because Lifetime has a nearly tragic story, at least by rock standards. Most bands hit their peak, break up and are quickly replaced by another. The opposite happened to Lifetime. It formed in 1990 in New Brunswick to play a relatively young rock genre called emo, or emotional, hardcore music. Because it was at odds with the "tough guy" music popular at the time, Lifetime was heckled or disregarded by the local scene.

The band toured relentlessly and recorded three albums over the next seven years. But it could never break out of its niche. Much of this was due to internal strife, which ate away at the band throughout its existence.

But much more seems due to the fact that Lifetime was a proverbial band before its time. In 1997, it released its most critically acclaimed album, "Jersey's Best Dancers," and called it quits, pledging never to play again.

Word spread about Lifetime. Its music, especially on its final album, was so catchy it seemed viral. It was a rhythmically complex and highly melodic strain of emo. Tinges of this can be heard in many of today's bigger bands. When emo started to hit the commercial charts in 2004, bands like Taking Back Sunday, which now headline arena tours, cited Lifetime as their primary influence. "I think maybe by persevering that we were able to open the door for something," says Yemin, 37, a Westfield native who now lives outside Philadelphia.

Every year since 2001, the HellFest producers approached the members of Lifetime to play a reunion show. Every year, they offered a bigger sack of money. "It was almost like a joke. It was like, 'Oh, send an offer to Lifetime," Vanderpoel says.

That is because that every year, Lifetime said no. The wounds had never healed.

Yemin seemed especially averse to the suggestion. "Artists, they are born and they die for a reason," he says.

Reunions seem to ignore that for the sake of self-serving nostalgia. "One of the primary reasons" for a reunion, Yemin says, "is, 'Hey dude, none of these kids saw us back in the day. Wouldn't it be awesome ... ?'"

He echoed this sentiment earlier this year when he pledged in the magazine Alternative Press that he would never reunite Lifetime without "a really good reason."

A few months later, the HellFest folks scrounged one up. "I would have to be extremely selfish and stubborn to say no," Yemin says. "Especially in punk rock, where there is a lot of lip service to 'making a change.'

"For this time, I will happily eat my words," he says.

Expecting biggest Hellfest yet

The ninth annual Hellfest is proving a force to be reckoned with. This independently produced three-day festival is expected to have its biggest year yet. More than 180 hardcore, punk and heavy metal bands are slated to play across five stages and before more than 7,000 concertgoers per day.

Highlights include sets by Chimaera, Converge and The Misfits (today); The Bouncing Souls (Saturday); and Killswitch Engage (Sunday). Several bands are having reunion concerts as well, including the hardcore rap group Public Enemy.

In addition to music, Hellfest features a 10,000-square-foot skate and BMX bike park, designed by Tim Glomb of MTV's "Viva La Bam." Makers of the energy drink Red Bull will also bring their 13-foot tall, 60-foot wide vertical ramp. These areas will be open for amateur riders, except during professional demos. More than a dozen pro riders like Colin McKay and Jason Ellis have been flown in to show off their moves.

Concertgoers can top off the weekend with a tattoo. For the second year, Hellfest has set up booths for regional tattoo artists. Enter if ye dare.


Ed Beeson