“We’re not afraid, we’re just hoping it’s good!”
So said James Hetfield from the stage of Metallica’s first-ever Orion Music + More Festival. He was referring to the song the band was about to perform, “Escape,” for the first time ever. From their 1984 classic Ride The Lightning, it was part of Metallica’s full performance of that album.
But he could have been referring to the festival itself, held at Bader Field in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was an ambitious event that reflected not only the band’s musical tastes, but also their extra-curricular passions. The two-day festival featured four stages with over thirty bands and a handful of comedians, a film festival, a half-pipe, a surfing competition, a monster car show, and two museums (one dedicated to Kirk Hammett’s horror film memorabilia collection, the other dedicated to Metallica’s history).
Metallica headlined both nights (Sunday featured 1991′s Metallica, also known as the “Black Album”). But their presence was felt throughout the festival, as band members introduced their favorite artists from the stage, and appeared at the events that they curated.
At a press conference Friday, Hetfield joked, “People probably think I’ve lost my hearing because of music,” saying that the high decibels of monster cars and motorcycles are just as responsible. The car show that he curated – featuring vehicles from 1972 and earlier – was packed all day, with awestruck fans admiring the unique machinery. Some cars were seriously tricked out, equipped with anything from beer kegs to machine guns. Others were simply remarkably well-preserved classics (including Hetfield’s own 1937 Lincoln Zephyr).
Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett appeared at a panel discussion each day at “Kirk’s Crypt,” where he put his extensive collection of horror memorabilia on display. Hammett told CBS Local that his collection was the impetus for his upcoming book, Too Much Horror Business, due out in the fall.
Drummer Lars Ulrich appeared at the “Hit The Lights” film tent, which screened HBO’s Hemingway and Gellhorn (in which Ulrich had a supporting role), Before The Wall: Body & Being (directed by Ulrich’s father, Torben Ulrich) and Mission To Lars (a documentary about a man with a learning disability on a quest to meet the drummer).
Bassist Robert Trujillo meanwhile, oversaw a surfing competition and a skateboarding demonstration. He also joined his former band, Suicidal Tendencies, during their set Saturday evening.
The non-musical attractions (which also included a graffiti wall with artists creating Metallica murals, and “Ktulu’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Emporium,” a flea market of top rock merchandise vendors) would have be enough to occupy hours of time. But, of course, there was the music.
The band supported various eras of metal, by including some of their peers (Suicidal Tendencies, Sepultura) and much newer groups (Baroness, The Sword). But it wasn’t all about metal, with blues-rock (Gary Clark Jr.), country (Eric Church), punk rock (Gaslight Anthem) and even ’60s psychedelic rock (former 13th Floor Elevators leader Roky Erikson) among the many performers over two days. There were also a number of comedians, including VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show co-hosts Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, and former Saturday Night Live cast member Jim Breuer.
Ultimately, though, it was all about Metallica, and they didn’t disappoint. They played classics both nights: “Hit The Lights” opened each show, with “Master Of Puppets,” following, and each night ended with “One” (accompanied by a huge fireworks display) and “Seek And Destroy” (with black Metallica beach balls raining down on the audience as the song kicked off). Each night, they played the featured album in reverse order, which turned out to be a great idea, particularly with “The Black Album.” That album, thanks to hit singles including “Enter Sandman” and the ballad “Nothing Else Matters,” catapulted Metallica to superstar status, and is often cited as a point where their music got more commercial. But listening to it in reverse order gave more emphasis to lesser known songs like “My Friend Of Misery,” “The Struggle Within” and “The God That Failed,” that, in retrospect, sound more like their earlier material than their more familiar hits from that album.
The performance of Ride The Lightning, including classics like “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Fade To Black” and “Creeping Death” showed that they haven’t lost any of their intensity, even as they’ve become one of the biggest bands in the world, and one of the few with the vision, drawing power and prestige to host an event of this caliber.
They threw in a few other choice nuggets as well, including “Blackened” and “Shortest Straw,” both from 1988′s …and Justice For All, and “Hell And Back” from their Beyond Magnetic EP, released earlier this year. The only grumblings heard from fans was over the band’s apparent “separation anxiety” from staples like “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters,” both of which were played each night. But single day passes were sold – so not everyone was there both nights. And Metallica know that any show might be someone’s first – and they want to serve up their biggest hits to any first-time customers.
Before their performance of 1991′s “Sad But True” Sunday night, Hetfield asked the audience, “Do you want ‘heavy?’” As exhausted fans left the grounds at the end of day two, it was obvious that the answer was a big “yes.” There has been no announcement as to whether or not Orion will return in 2013, but judging by the great time had by Metallica, the other artists and, most importantly, those who paid for the tickets, it’s a solid bet that America has it’s latest heavy hitter on the summer festival circuit.
– Brian Ives, CBS Local