Metallica's Orion Music + More: More Than A Festival, But A Family
When the artist line-up for Orion Music + More was announced a few months back, those who were closely dissecting the wide and vast array of artists noticed a band called "dehaan". No one could find anything out about the band, but the band revealed little tiny clues over the weeks leading up to the festival so at 4:30 on a perfect summer afternoon, the crowd around the Vans Damage Inc stage was full of fans anticipating a potential surprise from Metallica. The banner of "dehaan" was crossed over and replaced with "Metal Up Your A**", an infamous Metallica t-shirt and what was originally supposed to be the title of their debut 1983 LP which eventually became Kill 'Em All.
Shortly after 4:30, fans excitement went up a notch with the appearance of Ray Burton to the right side of the stage. His appearance elicited a chant of "Cliff-Cliff-Cliff", honoring the late Metallica bass player who helped take Metallica to another level musically. Ray went to a microphone and told the crowd to have a great time before James Hetfield appeared telling the crowd that "dehaan" was a mystery band from Baltimore before a shot of distortion paired with Lars Ulrich's crashing symbols initiated "Hit the Lights", the lead cut from Kill 'Em All. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the band decided it would be a good time to tear through the speed metal masterpiece in full. What followed over the next fifty-five minutes was a blistering joy ride of not just nostalgia, but peak into a world that most of the attendees could only imagine in their dreams. Something Metallica has done better than any other band (possibly aside from Iron Maiden) over the last decade if shifting between the present and the past. They are an ever evolving band who continues to reinvent themselves but are acutely aware of the fervent fan following they have and with every opportunity they get, they give the fans what they want. In 2006 when they toured Europe, they played Master of Puppets nightly in its entirety. At last year's Orion festival they performed Ride the Lightning in full the first night and Metallica aka The Black Album the following night. This is not because they have lost their creative mojo, but because it is what the fans want. Due to the speed with which these songs were written and recorded, they may not fit into the mold of an arena show, but at Orion, the songs were a reminder that Metallica was and still is the very best at what they do. When Hetfield told the crowd "This is like a festival, but a club as well", everyone understood completely what he meant. There was a communal and familial atmosphere to their set, with several life long fans holding their children on their shoulders from a distance so they can see, grasp and understand what this band means to so many people.
No sooner did Metallica launch into their set than a spirited and intense mosh pit open up. This was clearly Christmas for many as no one had envisioned Metallica ever performing Kill 'Em All top-to-bottom just for what it would take physically to make it a reality, but they didn't disappoint. Guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet was aligned as their guitars slashed and swayed the crowd into further hysteria on the metal roar of "The Four Horsemen", the ruthless swing of "Jump in the Fire" and astonishingly ferocious "Phantom Lord". Lars Ulrich delivered unconventional power behind the drum kit from the machine gun drum opening of "Motorbreath" and the quick-footed precision of "Whiplash" which required breakneck force that rippled throughout the crowd. Bassist Robert Trujillo was on another plane with his performing during the set. Of the four members, he has the toughest job as he has to live in the shadow of a ghost, the late Cliff Burton. Despite this, Trujillo captured Burton's spirit and on the bass solo "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" he managed to deliver an emotional wallop to the crowd as his bass provided an emotional wallop to the crowd's heart. His fingers glided across the neck of his bass he was merciless and meticulously underpinning the band as they rallied around him taking the shred fest into a spiritual space. Metallica is a band who locks in on their musical mission every time they lift their instruments. Few bands can replicate this bond even if they tried. Closing out the set "Seek & Destroy" and "Metal Militia", not a single fan was disappointed. The band made their way off the stage but not before Lars Ulrich stepped behind a microphone with a wry smile telling the crowd "Next upůReLoad". I've always believe the key to life is humor and as much grief Metallica received post-1991, I think they have carried themselves and respected their fans better than any touring band on the planet over the last decade.
The Orion Festival Experience
New music festivals are appearing everywhere ad with every passing year, it is becoming more and more difficult to choose which ones you should attend. While the acts that perform at these shows play a huge part in the decision-making, there is also Lollapalooza and Coachella which sell-out based solely on the experience and name recognition. Is Orion Music + More worth your time, energy and money? After one day, my answer would be a resounding "yes". Despite some minor hiccups at will call (which can be resolved easily with more windows next year), I felt the festival provided a top tier experience for the fans. Throughout day one, never did I feel famished, exhausted or disheveled and it was mostly due to the amenities provided throughout. You are allowed to bring in an empty water bottle and can receive all the free water you want at select watering stations. Bathrooms were plentiful and for the most part clean. However, what was most impressive was the actual grounds the festival took place on. When Metallica announced the second Orion Music + More, they switched the location from Atlantic City to Belle Isle, a wonderful 982-acre park situated between downtown Detroit and Canada. Belle Isle is spacious enough to hold the festival, but unlike many other festivals, I found it cozier and easier to navigate. Shuttle (in the form of yellow school buses) were provided for all attendees of the festival and were organized with military-like precision and execution. The stages were all close together and it only took minutes to navigate between them. At other festivals, it sometimes takes upwards of fifteen or twenty minutes to get from one stage to another. At Orion, I never had to sacrifice a set for fear of missing the beginning of another.
The food was surprisingly superb with a wide variety of choices from standard fare as pizza and hot dogs to more custom offerings of Polish pierogi served up in a variety of ways. The best part is that there were seven unique stations offering food, only three items were over ten dollars, and several were in the five-dollar range. Merchandise was available from the bands, for the festival and several local vendors got in on the action as well. Once again, the prices felt appropriate. A new feature I hope other festivals embrace is the option of lockers, which fans can store their backpacks in, or their exclusively signed merchandise from bands that appeared at the F.Y.E autograph tent. They had a superb selection of cd's and vinyl available.
Metallica also brought a museum with them featuring instruments, stage props and memorabilia from their entire career. The most viewed item was the last bass Cliff Burton ever played. Instruments used to record their first few records, Justice tour props, the white suits from the Garage Inc. photo shoot and a amplifier from James Hetfield which had the infamous "Kill Bon Jovi" sticker on it (with an "ed" added to the end of kill"). James Hetfield stopped by the Custom Car + Motorcycle show that was open to all ticketholders. Besides being a hobby for Hetfield, cars are an integral part of the history of Detroit, so to see all of these custom automotives at one place was something the crowd ate up. I will cover the Hit the Lights film tent and Kirk's Crypt in my day-two reporting.
The Music of Orion
While seeing Metallica was and always will be the main attraction of Orion, the festival really stands apart from all others in its diversity, which is another item that makes Orion stand apart from its counterparts. While there was a healthy dose of fist-pumping riffs, the collective whole of Orion covers more genres than any other music festival on North American soil. Metal music fans are a loyal and devoutly intense bunch, so to see the Sanitarium stage dedicated to DJ's and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) was not something I had imagined could ever work, but it did and based on feedback from people, it was the aspect of the festival they did not expect to enjoy but did. I was able to catch portions of sets by Dillon Francis and Bassnectar and the rejoinder from the crowd was elated euphoria. Just like punk, metal and alternative music before, EDM is riding a wave of popularity that only appears to be increasing and sprinkling over into the mainstream. The covered stage was full for both sets with fans taking part in the festivities with hula-hoops, fuzzy dance boots, feather boas and more costumes than I could shake a stick at. I applaud Metallica for acknowledging and embracing other genres of music. I have always believed that it is a big world out there and the more you try, the richer your life will be. It does not mean you have to love everything you see or experience but you can appreciate and through these experiences have a better understand of what makes us all tick.
For the rock-minded attendees of the festival, day one featured several artists who took their respective stages by storm. The Dropkick Murphys opened their feisty set with "For Boston" and "The Boys Are Back", providing an emotional wallop right from the start. They sprinted through their hour set with the same ravaged passion they are known for. I sadly missed the second half of the set due to the "dehaan" set.
The Chicago punk band Rise Against delivered an impassioned hour-long set full of punk zeal underlined with intrinsic melodies that differentiate them from other acts at Orion. Vocalist Tim McIlrath showed no inhibition as he gripped the crowd right from the start of "Chamber the Cartridge" to the set closer "Savior". If anything, they were warming up when they had to leave the stage. Guitarist Zach Blair wore a Metallica shirt and put forward haunting riffs that matched the emotive power of McIlrath's vocals.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who share management with Metallica) have been the de facto festival headliner as of late with them appearing at nearly every major festival over the last two years including Lollapalooza and Coachella. Their closing set on Saturday was spot-on and determined but many of the crowd viewed it as spectators rather than full participants. It may have been because of the disappointment of Metallica not headlining both nights (although those who saw the afternoon set would trade a two-hour set for all of Kill 'Em All) and it may simply have been that any festival is a long day and by this stage, people were tired. Despite not being the crowd they may be used to, the four members of the Peppers were swinging for the fences with a greatest hits set full of crowd pleasing moments. Despite the more laid-back crowd, there was not a soul within shouting distance of the stage who was not singing along to "Under the Bridge", which lead singer Anthony Kiedis did not even need to sing. "Higher Ground" found a mini mosh take place, "Snow ((Hey Oh))" found arms waving and "Can't Stop" found them teasing a bit of "Enter Sandmen".
One of the highlights of the 2013 edition or Orion was the reunion of Infectious Grooves, a super group of sorts who can be described as the bastard children of Black Sabbath and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They had equal amounts of funk and metal in their sound. The reason for the reunion is because Robert Trujillo was the original bass player. While Infectious Grooves is still a band that has toured and recorded in the last decade, this incarnation of the band has not performed in more than two decades. Original guitarist Adam Siegel was unable to make it and in a pleasant surprise, ex-Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin filled in for him. Infectious Grooves grew out of Suicidal Tendencies with singer Mike Muir being able to let his guard down a bit more than the brand of thrash metal they helped create. They performed an energetic hour set at Orion. It is also a testament to the talents of Robert Trujillo who earlier in the day had to channel the spirit of Cliff Burton was able to flex his other wide-ranging talents as a musician during this set. He did not just lay the foundation for the other band to build on, but was the key groove master and contributor this time around. The band focused on songs from their 1991 album The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move...It's the Infectious Grooves. Singer Mike Muir took to the stage in his trademark headband and gave the performance his all with a winking vitality. There was always a lighter feel to Infectious Grooves but none of that mattered at Orion; what mattered most was how easily these musicians gelled once they took the stage, it was as if the two decades had not occurred. When they started this band, I cannot imagine they ever envisioned radio airplay and this is why the show was so pure and persuasive. This music was created out of five immense talents who unleashed their inner artistry. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers were getting ready to take the stage on the other side of the park, Infectious Grooves gave them a run for their money in funkiness.
"You Lie...And Yo Breath Stank" and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" saw the walls between punk, funk and metal dissipate with Janes Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins hitting every groove with ease, the set went into overdrive. "Therapy" (which originally featured Ozzy Osborne) was a showcase for Jim Martin, who was not even part of the band but took part for Orion. With his facial hair groomed and graying, once his guitar pick hit those chords, it was as if you were back in 1991. While an integral piece of Faith No More history, Martin has sat on the sidelines for the last several years and to see him onstage was not just a pleasure but possibly the day's second biggest highlight after Metallica's surprise appearance. Martin dazzled and as the band went into "Infectious Grooves", Martin once again found a perfect balance of shred and funk as the audience watched on in awe. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet sat on the side of the stage and looked on with enormous smiles on their faces like proud parents watching their children exceed in ways unimaginable. How can someone this good, this in shape and this capable not be playing more? I hope this performance has wetted Martin's appetite because I will sign up for anything he chooses to lend his name to going forward.
Towards the end of the set, Mike Muir, went to the side of the stage and pulled the children of band members on stage before the final note wrung out. Before they left the stage, Trujillo thanked the crowd for coming out and talked about how the Orion festival was "all about unity". The children who watched the five musicians of Infectious Grooves may not have realized it, but as Muir delicately and metaphorically pointed out, they are all family. This is what makes the creation of bands so magical in the eyes of fans. We each have two sets of families; those we are born into and those we choose. As we wander in the world, we look to find our place and through the help of others, we often find ourselves. These five musicians had not performed in more than two decades but there was a history there and as those children looked on in wonder, they may not have realized it, but they will each be connected for life, not by blood but by the music. If there is any reason Orion exists, it is not for profit or furthering the name and image of Metallica, but to unite these different genres of music where it is more than a festival, but a family.
Please return to antiMusic later this week where we will report extensively on day two of Orion.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Metallica's Orion Music + More: More Than A Festival, But A Family
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