It's been a while! I didn't realize how long until I logged in this evening. Hope you missed me!
Before I even get started, let me make one thing very clear regarding the content of this post with a disclaimer so that there are no misinterpretations or false expectations before you go any further: This post has nothing to do with sports, a concert, a festival, a vacation or weekend trip. This is about family. Metallica's family. And if you don't know what that is about or why it is so important to me, I strongly encourage you to keep reading. If you're looking for my rants on scUM, hatred of all things Pittsburgh (though it will be mentioned further down the post) or how badly I feel the Indians front office and ownership are short changing their fans, this isn't the post. I hope you continue on.
Back in February, the seventh to be exact, a huge announcement from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and all around super-group Metallica was being waited on with anxious energy. The rumors flew about what the announcement would be, where it would take place and who it would involve. Still fresh of the heels of their 30th Anniversary Met Club (Metallica's fan-club) only shows at the Fillmore in December that featured guests of all varieties that had either been a part of or directly impacted the career of the metal juggernauts, nobody had any idea what to expect next. All that we knew and had to go on was Lars Ulrich's comments at the end of night 4, Saturday, December 10th in the Fillmore of "Put a big f*cking pair of red x's on the calendar for June 23rd and 24th on the east coast of America, because you know what we're gonna do? We're gonna take this thing into a big assed f*ckin place, and you know what, there's gonna be an announcement in the middle of January!" So he was off by a few weeks...
As it would be, on February 7th the announcement came via a live stream of the band interviewed by legendary long time rock journalist and editor of the Met Club magazine "So What!", Steffan Chirazi. It was unveiled that Metallica's first festival would fill the dates of June 23 and June 24 and it would take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey at Bader Airfield. Appropriately, the festival was to be named after the bands original bass player, the late Cliff Burton, and be called "Orion Music and More". The song Orion on the album "Master of Puppets" being a masterpiece, largely penned by Burton and included unheard of bass solo's in a thrash metal song. It was a great choice for the title.
Once this announcement was made, the buzz began immediately amongst the members of the Met Club and the metal/hard rock public in general. Who else would be involved? Will Metallica play both nights? What surprises will be in store in the same vein as the Fillmore guests? Some details were revealed instantly: Yes, Metallica would be playing full shows both nights and as a bonus they will play the album "Ride the Lightning" in its entirety for the first time ever and also play the self titled "Metallica" aka "The Black Album" in its entirety. Other acts were announced: Modest Mouse, Arctic Monkey's, Sepultura, Suicidal Tendencies, Avenged Sevenfold, Eric Church, comedian Jim Breuer, The Gaslight Anthem and Cage The Elephant to name a few. It was also announced that there would be fan interactive setups that focused on the "off the stage" interests of the members of the band. For example: A "Custom Hot Rod" car show put on by James Hetfield. "Kirk's Crypt", a large sample of Kirk Hammett's massive horror movie collection. The Van's half pipe skating demo's and a surf shop ran by Robert Trujillo. Lars Ulrich had his own movie theater for independent films that he would be sitting in on and having question and answer segments with the directors. ESP Guitars and many other rock memorabilia vendors set up booths. Not to mention a private "lounge" exclusively for Met Club members to get out of the sun, sip lower priced drinks and meet the people who run the Metallica fan club. And more, as the name suggests.
Now that I have you all filled in on the event, let me let you in on the worst part of it: I couldn't go. Financially I couldn't swing it and I doubted that I'd be able to get the time off from work, with it still being a relatively new position. Having been to the Fillmore in December, at first it didn't bother me. "There will be plenty more shows" I said to my self. "They'll do this again next year, you watch" I convinced myself. But as the date drew closer, the more (literally) depressed I felt myself getting.
You see, when there's one thing in your life that always makes you feel better, always lifts you up, always provides a release and never lets you down, it's hard to see it having one of its potentially finest hours and not be a part of it. Through every turn of my life, good or bad, happy or sad, this band has been there for me. People talk about "the heeling power of music" and I believe in it. And when you connect with a group, relate to their feelings and actually feel moved by what they are saying and playing, it is a beautiful thing. You can laugh or snicker, and for that I feel sorry for you. To not know the power that music can hold, any band or solo artist too, it doesn't have to specifically be Metallica, is a true crime to yourself. Don't be afraid to express yourself and let art be a part of your life.
Through an absolutely unthinkable circumstance, the other thing in my life that has always made me feel better, always lifted me up and never let me down, my family, pulled out all the stops and decided that I could not miss this event. A mere two weeks prior to Orion opening its gates for the masses to enjoy, my sister called to ask me if I had plans on June 23rd. When I said "no" begrudgingly and in a I'm sure not too pleasant tone, she asked if I'd like to be in Atlantic City for Orion. I told her of course, but there was no way. She then dropped that the bomb that my parents wanted to foot the bill for the entire trip and would take it as an insult if I didn't go. Who the hell am I to insult my parents?! What kind of son would I be if I turned them down on this heartfelt gift? As if they really had to twist my arm...
Skip ahead a few days and reservations for hotels are made, a two day "Met Club Ultra Pass" ticket is bought, work cooperates and generously allows me the vacation time and suddenly I'm a part of the "countdown to Orion." It happened so fast and was so unexpected and so ridiculously generous I don't think I comprehended I was actually going until Thursday afternoon when I put Peanut (my dog) in the car and set out for Atlantic City.
Let me take one quick second before I get to the "good stuff" to once again tell my parents (and sister who I'm told originally had the idea) how much I appreciate and love them for doing this for me. They know what 2011 was like for me, they know what this band means to me... they are the best friends and people I will ever know. I love you guys!
I said this was about family, and now to discuss the other family involved: The Metallica Family. What former bassist Jason Newsted famously described some fifteen years ago as an "army", the hardcore Metallica fans have morphed into a family. As Met Club members (affectionately known as "Clubbers") we are privileged to enter drawings for chances to meet the band, have exclusive seating at shows, chat amongst ourselves on "Poor Posting Me" (the Met Club message board) and we even get the quarterly magazine that is more like a quarterly yearbook put out by Steffan and the Met Club staff entitled So What!, amongst many other perks. However, the best perk or privilege is the times spent together and the friendships made. To be brutally honest, my best friends, the people I text or talk to nearly daily, all are friends I met through the Met Club.
Upon arriving in Atlantic City and getting checked in and settled into the Sheraton Convention Center, the number one priority was heading over to the Hard Rock Cafe in the Taj Mahal for the "Unofficial Met Club Orion Pre-show Party" to see all my friends. Scratch that... to see the family! I walk in and am instantly greeted by Clubbers from all over America and the world. The Scottish guys wearing their kilts and Metallica t-shirts. "Guatemallica" the Guatemalan chapter of the Met Club is having a go of it at the center of the bar. Buffalo, New York is in the house. So is northern and southern Caifornia, South Dakota, Cleveland, Texas, Mexico, Canada, the list goes on and on. Some I've met, others I know from the message boards or Facebook, others I'm meeting for the very first time. Even the people you're just meeting at that very moment, they feel like old friends. Beers and drinks are passed along, with guys and girls insisting the group they are with at the moment have a sip of whatever their customary beverage may be. Literally a group of well over 100 people from all parts of the globe are converged on the bar area of the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City, all wearing Metallica t-shirts, living in the moment and smiling at the thoughts of the weekend ahead. And when "For Whom The Bell Tolls" comes on the Hard Rock satellite video channel, the lyrics are sung at a deafening volume. A "blackened roar, massive roar" so exciting and not before seen that the management of the Hard Rock Atlantic City calls their corporate office and asks to have the video the played again so they can tape the sing-along for future promotional use. Or maybe because nobody would believe them if they didn't see it themselves. For the balance of the evening, the satellite video channel goes all metal with Metallica videos in heavy double shot rotation. The family is pleased.
At the Hard Rock, I am awaiting the arrival of "Dave from Cleveland" who from here on will just be called Dave. I met Dave in 2009 at the World Magnetic Tour date at Quicken Loans Arena. We both were fortunate enough to win the coveted "meet and greet" pass to meet the band. Thank God for Dave making me laugh while we waited or I may have seriously threw up my lunch due to the nerves I had waiting on my chance to shake the hand of and have a conversation with one James Alen Hetfield. I hadn't seen Dave since that night but we'd kept in touch through social media. He finally arrives and brought along another 'tallica die-hard, his good friend Josh. Later on we are introduced to Jeremiah, a dude who works in the oil fields in California and served in the United States Army. We drink some more, we get loud, we talk to everybody, we sing along with everyone, we close the Hard Rock and venture out into the Taj Mahal to create havoc. I didn't realize then that we'd become a "wolf-pack" and would pal around all weekend. Good stuff! You want more details? So much "high school" nonsense...
The first day of Orion arrives in a hurry after the long Friday night. I board a shuttle, head over to Bader Airfield and am completely in awe of what Metallica has done. They truly have outdone themselves again. The field is set up in almost a diamond shape with the four stages all at the points, each named after Metallica songs: "Damage Inc.", "Fuel", "Frantic" and the main stage aptly titled "Orion". Bands have already begun, the huge variety of food smells fill the air, I've already ran into four people from the Hard Rock and haven't even gotten 100 yards past the entrance. The merchandise booths are huge, the t-shirts are commemorative and very bad ass!
Almost instantly as I get by the "Custom Hot Rod" car show, I see a golf cart racing towards me and people staring as it fly's by. It stops directly to my left, almost 10 or so feet away. In the back is James Hetfield. He hops out, walks around the tent where they are actually restoring an old car into a hot rod, shakes some hands, mingles with the people... You must be kidding me right? How am I in that exact right place at the exact right time...
The afternoon goes on and I wonder around. I don't see much of Dave and Josh since they won passes to be in the Snake Pit on Saturday night. If you're unaware, the Snake Pit was a hole in the center of the stage filled with Met Club members on the original Black Album tour. Since the Black Album is being played in its entirety this summer, the Snake Pit has been brought back for one last go around. Every Clubber is dying to win a pass to get in. I am not so lucky. But, how can I be upset when two weeks ago I wasn't supposed to be there anyway. I do strike a deal with a Clubber: If I win, I'll be his "+1" into the pit and vice versa if he wins. Amazingly, he wins and we are set to meet up Saturday afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, I get a text from Jeremiah telling me to meet him in the Met Club lounge. I do, we bum around checking out some bands and grabbing something to eat. I'm still waiting for my cohort with the pit pass to text or call, but he's not responding. Finally, around 5:30 I decide this is it, last time I'm checking my phone to see if my cohort is going to contact me for the "pit swap". Nothing. I tell Jeremiah "Well, it would have been cool, but oh well." To which he responds "That's alright, just come in the Snake Pit with me on Sunday night." I can't believe it. I should because that's the type of thing the Metallica Family does, but I can't believe it.
To be fair: My original Snake Pit cohort did contact me on Tuesday and apologized like crazy. Turns out his phone was stolen on Friday night.
Did I mention that Metallica is headlining both of these nights?
As dusk falls on Saturday, we make our way to the Met Club Ultra Pass area (first twenty rows from the stage, gated off from all the "regular" festival attendees lol). "A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)" blasts through the PA system, followed by the haunting bars of Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" signifying that it's Metallica time! The boys blast through a powerhouse of a set, play the album Ride The Lightning backwards and close the show with the customary closer "Seek and Destroy". Ears are bleeding, physical exhaustion is setting in, sweaty as can be, filthy, dying of thirst, starving... and we get to do it all again on Sunday!
I wake up Sunday with pep in my step. The Snake Pit. The Black Album. I'm ready! I get over to the festival and met up with Jeremiah. We grab lunch and eat in the Met Club lounge were Steffan Chirazi is doing a question and answer with Metal Blade Records pioneer (and a close friend to Metallica who helped them get started way back in the day) Brian Slagel. I get a moment to speak to Steffan after the Q&A. I tell him that writing is something I do in my spare time, but something I'm passionate about. I'm not trying to suck up to him, but I have no restraint in telling him how much I enjoy his work and how much it meant to me when he mentioned my writing in an issue of So What!, calling my runner-up winning submission for Top Thirty Metallica Moments "Very well thought out and supremely presented". He encourages me to keep going and says there is no reason to ever be nervous about expressing how you feel... Family.
We leave the Met Club lounge, see a few songs from Ghost, then meet up with Dave and Josh. By the way, Ghost is really good. Just know ahead of time, the subject matter and the outfits are all for show, like Kiss in the 70's. Brian Slagel said they remind him of a heavier Blue Oyster Cult. Spot on.
The Wolf-pack is now running loose at Bader Field. To be honest, we mostly clown around, it's not really that interesting... or so I want you to think. We run into more Clubbers. Exchange hello's and pleasantries. We wait in the mile long line to get in to "Kirk's Crypt". As we get to the front of the line, we find out that The Ripper himself, Mr. Hammett is actually inside his crypt. While we aren't fortunate enough to get inside and grab an autograph or a hand shake, we do make life slightly difficult for the woman driving him away in a golf cart. She threatens us with "I will run you over!" Maybe it's fatigue from the sun, but nobody is willing to test her and Kirk is escorted away unscathed.
While inside Kirk's Crypt, I hear a familiar voice from the Fuel stage behind it. James is there introducing the next band.... VOLBEAT! We hustle out and rock with the boys from Denmark, who blister the crowd, as always! If you don't know Volbeat, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR LIFE?!
After Volbeat we grab a quick chicken taco dinner and it's time to find our spot for the evening in the Snake Pit. Eric Church does his he-haw routine, nobody cares when you're opening for the almighty. Then the lights go out and "A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)" blasts through the
PA system again, as always followed by Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy
of Gold" with the cemetery scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly playing on the big screens.
Moments later, our hero's burst out to their classic "Hit the Lights" and it is officially on! They are absolutely crushing tonight, even more than Saturday night. We get our full does of up close Metallica with the guys shredding their guitars and bass no more than mere inches from our face. The Black Album is incredible! James is at his best in front of large crowds and he doesn't disappoint tonight, leading the crowd to harmonize during "My Friend of Misery". What a moment. "Don't Tread on Me" can be felt in your chest. "Gimme Fuel, Gimme Fire, Gimme That Which I Desire"! My face is melted, my throat is raw... what a night!
The Snake Pit empties and we find Dave and Josh and head for the exits. On the way we pass even more Clubbers and exchange comments on the show or maybe just a fist bump. By now, after nearly three days, we recognize people from a far distance. I've taken so many small group photo's and been asked to give a "metal pose" so many times I think I've perfected it. We take more. You can genuinely feel people, despite the pile driver Metallica just gave them, almost a little sad that it's over and everyone is heading there own ways. I feel it too.
And so off we go, back to our jobs and homes. We'll remember the first Orion forever. We'll remember it for the performances that Metallica put on, the albums played straight through and some of the older gems that were brought out. But when people ask us about it, the first thing we'll talk about is the people we met and hung out with. The Metallica Family.
"The Metallica Family! Right here! Right now!" James Hetfield
Oh, and that comment earlier about my Pittsburgh hatred...
"When he's drinking, he's like the nicest guy on Earth. Sober, mention the Steelers and he wants to break things!" Jeremiah Malich