When Ozzfest first started in 1996, the touring festival was hailed as a breath of fresh air for metal fans looking for an alternative to more mainstream rock festivals. But as time progressed, the stench of $80-plus admission, overpriced watered-down beer and a roster of bands (typically, nearly identical-sounding nü-metal bands) who paid to play the festival turned off many followers who saw the event turn into a capitalist entity.
Now, the promoters of the first Sounds of the Underground tour, slated for 26 cities, are looking to draw some of the lost metal legion with ticket prices at just under $30. (Gigantour, formed by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, is another newcomer to this summer's touring rock festivals.) Organized by band manager Larry Mazer, Ferret Music and House of Blues, SOTU will present a lineup of hardcore and old-school metal acts, both established underground artists (Clutch, Madball), up-and-comers (Every Time I Die, Norma Jean) and those in between.
"It's not going to compete with the `Ozzfest` main stage when you have bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, but I think it's going to be a better version of the second stage of Ozzfest," says Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud. "I think `with SOTU`, people are going to see bands that are doing something in the underground, whereas in Ozzfest, if you have the money, you play the second stage."
Like any other festival, big-name sponsors are involved (House of Blues and Jägermeister, among others). Even PETA is offering free tickets to each of the shows. Perhaps the organization was unaware of GWAR's blood-smeared "halftime" performance, and the fact that metal and meat go together like organic fare and Lilith Fair.
While it's the first tour for what SOTU organizers hope to turn into a yearly event, for bands like Sweden's Opeth, it marks the first time playing a touring festival not just abroad but in America. For Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt, one aspect that will take getting used to is playing a relatively short set. "Thirty-five to 45 minutes is way too short," he says. "After four songs, we're just getting started."
On the other hand, Randy Blythe, frontman for the festival-headlining Lamb of God, isn't particularly looking forward to playing a lengthy set. "I hate the fact that we're playing so long," Blythe says. "I really do. I don't feel limited `with a short set`. When you have 30 minutes to play, you have your game on. When you're out there playing for two hours, it gets boring. I don't even like watching bands play for two hours."
However, there's at least one activity in which Blythe can partake for more than a couple of hours: "We're just going to barbecue a lot and drink beer," he says. "We know all the bands that are on tour; it's going to be a party all summer long."
For fans, all-day festivals typically involve drinking heavily during the day, getting slammed by the fourth or fifth band and trying to crowd-surf (unsuccessfully, sometimes), later sobering up enough to wonder why gravity was not your friend. "It's not just a gig; it's the whole atmosphere," Akerfeldt says. "I think it's going to be complete chaos."
For some bands, touring festivals can be both a blessing and a curse. "I think in a lot of ways, these tours hurt touring bands because you give kids an option to not go see bands play on their own when they can pay one cover and see all the bands they want," Stroud says. "But it's also better for bands like Strapping Young Lad, who don't usually get to play in front of large audiences."
Says Blythe, "I don't think `Ozzfest` will ever top last year. This tour is the real deal, and it's more affordable. I don't know how people can afford going to Ozzfest."
SOUNDS OF THE UNDERGROUND
with Lamb of God, Clutch, Opeth, Poison the Well, From Autumn to Ashes, Unearth, Chimaira, Gwar, Norma Jean, Every Time I Die, Strapping Young Lad, Throwdown, High on Fire, All That Remains, Devildriver, A Life Once Lost, Madball, Fear Before the March of Flames, Terror, The Red Chord, Full Blown Chaos
11 a.m. Wednesday July 13