Jefferson’s Parker Willis (right), who graduated in May from Greene County High School, is a member of Green Death, a Des Moines band tapped to play Slipknot’s Knotfest in the fall.

School’s out forever: New grad on bill with Slipknot, Korn

By ANDREW MCGINN
a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Last October, Parker Willis was in rehearsals with his classmates at Greene County High School for their production of “The Music Man.”

Willis had the starring role of con man Professor Harold Hill.

This October, he’ll find himself on a stage with a slightly better mosh pit.

Barely 60 days after receiving his diploma at commencement, Willis is now trying to wrap his head around the fact that his band, the Des Moines-based thrash-metal quintet Green Death, will be playing Knotfest Oct. 24-25 in Southern California.

The lineup at San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheater boasts such blockbuster metal acts as Slipknot (fellow Iowans for whom the festival is named), Korn and Mastodon, along with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Helmet, Clutch, Trivium, Corrosion of Conformity and even the rap acts Ghostface Killah and Mobb Deep.

And then there’s Judas Priest — one of the earliest and most influential of ’em all.

Not bad company to keep for last year’s teenage Harold Hill.

“This is pretty much the show of our lives,” said Willis, who plays bass in Green Death. “And at 19? I’m playing Knotfest? All I can say is it’s mind blowing.”

Last August, I wrote about Willis as he started his senior year at Greene County High, and about him trying to balance school with a promising metal career.

That wasn’t just a bunch of Harold Hill-esque BS.

The fact alone that Green Death’s second album this spring made it as high as No. 17 on the iTunes metal chart — Willis recorded his bass parts the same day as All-State Speech — suggests he’s headed in the right direction.

“It’s exactly what I want to do with my life,” Willis explained. “I feel like I’m getting that much closer to living my dream.”

He’s hoping to get by in the short term with a job at Trader Joe’s or Jimmy John’s in the Des Moines area. Until then, he’ll continue to work when he can at Bett & Bev’s, where he’s worked since high school.

“I put an application in to DMACC, but I’m not going to school right away,” he added, his eyes growing larger by the second.

“I gotta do this.”

Arguably, Knotfest itself will be like the equivalent of a four-year, liberal arts education crunched into two days.

Willis will be exposed to such subjects as Theater Arts (Slipknot’s new masks never fail to generate buzz); Economics (Korn’s brand of “nu-metal” sold millions in the late ’90s and early ’00s); Mortuary Science (the one and only Cannibal Corpse is on the bill); Pre-Med (Disgorge, Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus are on the bill, too); African-American Studies (Ice-T’s Body Count rode the wave of pre-Ferguson police brutality and gang violence to infamy in 1992); Ancient Civilization (Priest frontman Rob Halford is my dad’s age); and even Psychology (does anybody really like Gwar for their music?).

“When I think about it,” Willis said, “I can’t decide if I’m more excited to be playing such a phenomenal festival or the fact I’m going to be able to watch the bands that got me into metal.”

When he says he’s wanted to do this since he was 13, it doesn’t immediately dawn on you — wait a second — that was only like a few years ago for him.

The other guys in Green Death — vocalist Sol Bales, lead guitarist Erich Tran, rhythm guitarist Mark “Sparky” Reinking and drummer Ryan Berrier — are all older, but they obviously found the right chemistry by taking a chance on a high schooler.

Willis notes that Green Death charted on iTunes this spring and got on Knotfest largely on their own. They have no record label or management.

There’s “no team of people,” Willis said. “It’s just us.”

Berrier played drums in Junk Beer Kidnap Band, one of Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor’s side projects, but there’s presumably no shortage of Des Moines bands who would love to be on the Knotfest bill, too.

“A lot of it had to do with the success of our last album,” Willis said. “That definitely dictated the decision-making process.”

If nothing else, Zombie Burger in Des Moines is squarely behind them, featuring a basket named in their honor and even a “Manufacturing Evil” shake this past spring to promote the album of the same name.

“Once school ended, it was such a huge weight off my shoulders,” Willis confessed. “Not that I didn’t like going to school, but it made it hard to accomplish what we’re trying to do with this band.”

“We want to take it to the next level,” he added. “We want to be that band.”

Green Death will play Full Terror Assault — touted as the first open-air metal festival in the U.S. — at Cave-In-Rock, Ill., Sept. 10-12.

Yes. A festival called “Full Terror Assault” on 9/11.

Metal, baby.

Headliners include Obituary and Napalm Death.

Green Death also plans a “Road to Knotfest” tour via van in the days leading up to Knotfest, Willis said.

“I’m excited to see the mountains,” he said.

Of course, ’twas AC/DC who warned, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ’n’ roll.”

Two years ago, Green Death tried their hand at a first-ever out-of-state show, appearing in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

“That was the worst show ever,” Willis recalled. “There was two people watching us.”

The road to Knotfest could be equally bumpy — but it won’t deter them from reaching Knotfest.

“Granted,” Willis said, “we’re the last name on the poster before ‘And more,’ but it’s awesome.”

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