News Segment


July 3, 2006

The Prince of Darkness played in the bright light of day Saturday at the 11th annual Ozzfest concert, and, while the reigning monarch of metal said he loved it, his fans weren’t all ready to get on that crazy train.

Ozzy Osbourne, 57, played on Ozzfest’s second stage, the general admission one in the dusty parking lot usually reserved for up-and-coming bands. His set started at 4:20 p.m. (the symbolic clock-stroke for potheads to light up joints) and ended about an hour later at Shoreline Amphitheatre.

“You kick . . . ” he said to the 15,000 or so people who crowded in to get a closer glimpse. “You know what, I’m going to do this every year.”

(Author’s note: to keep quotes accurate in the rest of this story, just add a profanity, usually one that begins with “f,” in between every pair of words from a performer from here on out.)

Some 2,500 early risers, who got to the venue well before 9 a.m., were given wristbands that let them into a roped-off section closest to the stage. For the rest, it was dog-eat-dog.

“I paid good money for reserved seats to see Ozzy,” said Charles Knauft, 36, of Santa Cruz, who expected Ozzy to play the main stage. “I don’t want to be fighting with a bunch of drunk 20-year-olds to see him.”

The wind had picked up right before Osbourne launched a set that included ballads “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and “Road to Nowhere,” as well as rockers “Suicide Solution,” “Crazy Train” and “Paranoid.” As a result, the sound, which had been perfect through seven hours of little-known metal bands, was suddenly way too soft.

“I couldn’t hear him or see him,” Knauft said. “And all the people around me were talking and drowning him out. If I had known he was on the second stage, I wouldn’t have paid 135 bucks a ticket. I won’t come back next year.”

This was a small glitch, though, in a festival that has defied the odds and outlasted Lilith, HORDE and the modern festival that spawned so many others, Lollapalooza. It will sell some $20 million of tickets, and probably more than that in merchandise and beverage sales.

Osbourne’s wife, Sharon, has become metal’s matriarch, keeping the fringe music in the spotlight long after mainstream radio has abandoned it. She is the wizard of Ozzfest.

Not only has she convinced legions of fans that her doddering aunt of a husband is still the “prince of darkness,” but she has found a way to have him fly a private jet to his shows and still be home in time for supper.

Bizarre scene

While county fairs are losing revenue, she has created a bizarro-world fair, called “Village of the Damned,” keeping the patrons at the venue from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. playing profanely named carnival games, getting tattoos and having their breasts painted. All this while being marketed to by cigarette and alcohol companies, and marijuana product suppliers.

It was a world turned upside-down, where more women then men walked around topless, and where one had to present identification inside a tent sponsored by a cigarette company to get a free T-shirt, but anyone could walk up to an open booth and buy dope pipes or “Chronic Candy” — lollipops made from the same plant as marijuana, but without its active ingredient.

It was a world where parents brought children to see the patriarch of real-life television’s version of the Addams Family, but they saw a lot more around them than expected.

“I could do without him seeing all of this,” said James Foley, 42, a San Jose Boy Scout troop leader, whose son, Dale, is a classic rock and metal fan.

“But I guess it’s better that he sees it with me, and we talk about it, than with his friends. And we are talking about it.”

And it is a world where entrepreneurs rented booths at $500 a day (or $400 a day for the whole tour) to launch new clothing lines named “Heathen” and “I love vagina,” with shirts selling for $20 apiece.

Musically, Osbourne has created what other rock has been lacking: a minor league to break in new bands and display them to a national audience on the 26-date tour.

On the second stage, bands from Boston and Philadelphia raged for 20 minutes at a time, some paying as much as $75,000, hoping to move up the ranks to the bigger stage, like current headliners Disturbed, and System of a Down (reportedly getting $325,000 a show, according to the New York Times).

And the idea of Ozzy finding his roots and being inspired by the smaller stage is a brilliant talking point to generate publicity for a guy who hasn’t had a radio hit in 15 years.

Whatever drugs Ozzy is on or off now, in blue jeans and a flowing black shirt, he looked healthier and more sprightly than he has in years. He shot a water cannon into the audience and Bellagio-like fountains sprung up from sides of the stage.

Tame in comparison

His once-threatening rock had a Victorian pomp, compared with the machine-gun-like double bass drum assault of the bands that preceded him. His off-key warbling was operatic in contrast to the earlier singers, whose range was limited to either yelling like they had a finger caught in a meat grinder, or growling like Cookie Monster.

When they weren’t “singing,” they were exhorting the crowd like those drill-sergeant high school gym teachers they must have hated growing up, to throw their middle fingers into the air, or to dance, scream, move to the front, wake the demons, show some life.

“We have a short set tonight,” screamed the clearly confused singer for New York City’s Full Blown Chaos, at 10 a.m. “All you in the back, come up to the front.”

The best of the new acts were on the bigger stage: Lacuna Coil, from Italy, mixed melody with their hard-core headbanging, even throwing a most un-metallic Depeche Mode cover into the mix. The group, with a promising future, was one of only two of the 22 for the day with a female singer, Cristina Scabbia. She and fellow singer Andrea Ferro wore white shirts and ties, and brought to mind a wonderfully hyped-up version of San Francisco’s old Jefferson Airplane.

The best bands were the ones that broke from the assembly line of 32-beat headbanging. System of a Down singer Serj Tankian threw operatic trills and Middle Eastern drones into his politically charged tunes.

Avenged Sevenfold had almost cartoonish guitar lines, like they were telling jokes, humor being almost forgotten in much of the wannabe satanic rituals of the rest of the day.

The young band Disturbed, with its bald-headed singer David Draiman, had more in common with Ozzy or Eddie Vedder than the many other young bands: his music was slower, and he actually sang, during an intriguing set.

He made fun of the other successful festival, Warped Tour, saying that he didn’t understand all those mopey songs about breaking up with their girlfriends and riding off on their skateboards.

“This festival,” he said, “is proof of the undying strength and power of hard rock and heavy metal.”

Don’t forget to add in the swear words.

Courtesy of