An Unforgettable Halloweekend with HalloWolfbat

That night, the House of Vans skate park was transformed into a chilling home for monsters there to daunt and dance.


Lainey Gregory

In front of the neon Goose Island sign, we bumped into a Little Red Riding Hood and a neo-wolf with a light-up LED mask.

By Sofia Hrycyszyn and Lainey Gregory

The warehouse-like building was mostly black-painted brick, but the exterior wall facing the back parking lot depicted a yellow-orange Chicago skyline. In the clouds above the Willis Tower, the mural affirms that there is “Strength in Community,” a mantra that arose out of the pandemic. Around the corner, the thick doors of the venue vibrated with bass as music spilled into the street. Although the only shredding that night was on the guitar, the House of Vans fully lived up to its name. Rows of scuffed skateboards hung behind the bar, and the crowd was all long hair and bloodshot eyes (similarities shared by skater dudes and heavy metal fans alike). Fittingly, most of the audience clutched cans of Liquid Death, a drink that looks like some crazy new IPA but is actually a water brand from the Alps.

Heavy, intricate guitar riffs reverberated through the room as we entered. Arriving slightly late, we managed to catch the end of the opening set by Pelican. The Chicago-based post-metal band consists of guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Lebec, bassist Bryan Herweg, and his drummer brother Larry Herweg. Even this early in the night, the crowd was already excited, nodding along to the beat and seemingly ready for more.

Walking into the House of Vans, you’re initially struck by the size. The room’s high ceilings are supported by wooden rafters that create an open feel that contrasts with the constriction typically associated with concert venues. As you walk deeper inside, pushing your way through drapes of black cloth that form a series of entrance archways, you quickly notice that every pocket of open space is filled with art. Along the walls stand various sculptures of ten-foot-tall monsters, and their smaller counterparts hang from the ceiling. In what he calls a “visual conjuring,” Dennis McNett of Wolfbat Studios uses beasts of prey as a baseline for his work. He builds upon skeletons, foxes, and birds, adding color, texture, and intricate patterns. In endowing these ordinary creatures with unfamiliar elements, McNett makes them captivating and unsettling. HalloWolfbat is a free event held annually over Halloween weekend, during which McNett transforms the House of Vans—whose upcoming events are mostly under-18 skate nights—into a lair crawling with monsters and music. As McNett’s art alters the venue, the crowd changes too, dressing up as ghosts, ghost-cats, and even a Spartan whose below-average height was evened out by the towering red crest on his helmet.

Before the night’s second act, we settled into the VIP lounge, a lofted room decorated with tasteful fake plants and stripes of neon light. Leaning over the balcony railing with our own cans of Liquid Death, we watched metal band Windhand from above. Most eye-catching of the Richmond-based doom metal group was lead singer Dorthia Cottrell, whose chin and shirt had been soaked in faux blood. Cottrell was flanked by bassist Parker Chandler and guitarist Garrett Morris and backed by drummer Ryan Wolfe. The frequency and intensity of the crowd’s headbanging increased as Windhand moved into “Orchard,” one of their best songs. Cottrell’s rich vocals floated above the heavy guitar riffs and crashing drums. As the last notes of the song rang out, the audience cheered and raised their hands in the classic metal sign of the horns.

After Windhand stepped off stage, we wandered around the venue again, at one point exiting through a garage door to discover a smoking area and food truck in a fenced-off section of the parking lot. In front of the neon Goose Island sign, we bumped into a Little Red Riding Hood and a neo-wolf with a light-up LED mask. While waiting for Red Fang, the headliner, we pushed our way through the crowd. In front of the stage, a giant man wearing with one-and-a-half–foot platform space boots and tinfoil antler-like things strapped to his head tripped over a cord. He landed with a heavy thud, almost taking Lainey down with him.

When Red Fang stepped onstage, the crowd went wild for the final set of the night. Lead singer Aaron Beam greeted the audience, strapping on his glasses in preparation for their performance. Drummer John Sherman set the tone with a percussive barrage providing a beat for Bryan Giles and David Sullivan to show off their skills on the guitar. The aggressive riffs of the guitars and Aaron’s harsh vocal belting embodied the spirit of Red Fang’s punk and classic rock influences. The crowd rocked in sync with Beam and Giles as they headbanged to the beat.

In the middle of Red Fang’s set, the garage door creaked open, unveiling more of McNett’s monsters. The colossal beasts moved from either side of the venue and joined the crowd. The monsters shoved their way through the crowd, making their way toward each other. Once they made their way to the center of the crowd, a hellish battle broke loose. A fox pummeled a skeleton while another skeleton flipped off the audience. From a distance, the monsters towered above the crowd, their faces catching and reflecting the lights, their shapes overlapping into a blur of color to match the sound echoing through the venue. Up close, the monsters were more terrifying than captivating. They bared their teeth at the people below, daring them to stand in their way. As the monsters crept back to their hiding places, the energy of the crowd rose to an all-time high.

When Red Fang played the first chord of their most popular song, “Prehistoric Dog,” the crowd went feral. The audience thrashed in tune with the song until an all-out mosh pit erupted, featuring zombies, ghouls, and stoners alike. That night, the skate park was transformed into a chilling home for monsters there to daunt and dance. At the end of Red Fang’s set, Beam threw a copy of their set list into the crowd and bid all humans and monsters in attendance a happy Halloween.