The greatest metal band of all time? Metallica? The most popular metal band of all time? Metallica. The band that will be headlining a two-day music festival at Bader Field in Atlantic City with 35 other bands this weekend? Metallica.
It took 31 years, but the California based quartet known for changing the metal scene forever is finally hosting its own music festival, and they decided to have it in Atlantic City.
The Orion Music + More Festival features Metallica playing full sets each night, including two albums in their entirety, “Ride the Lightning” on Saturday night, and the “Black” album on Sunday. And before they take the stage each night, a diverse lineup including Cage the Elephant, Arctic Monkeys, Modest Mouse, Eric Church, Avenged Sevenfold and even comedian Jim Breuer will entertain the masses while special events hosted by Metallica members (see sidebar) will be offered all day.
Lead singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo are metal revolutionaries still creating some of the greatest hard rock and metal on the planet. Now, they want to change how people look at festivals.
Ulrich took the time to talk about Metallica’s first festival, and what tens of thousands of fans can expect this weekend.
Q: Why did you pick Atlantic City as a site for your first music festival?
A: We always knew we wanted to be in that zip code — right around your neighborhood — between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. We wanted to do it in a place where it would be convenient for people to come from the West Coast or Europe in terms of airport access. Music history is loaded with horror stories about music festivals and events taking place on somebody’s farm 90 minutes from a freeway and you have to fight cattle on a one-way road.
So we didn’t want that. When. A.C. came up, we jumped on it because we wanted the experience to be pleasant. There’s access. There’s hotel rooms. It’s a logical place to do it.
Q: Metallica has been around for more than 30 years. Why now?
A: We’ve wanted to do it for years. Call us ignorant or crazy or dreamers or whatever but it’s an idea we’ve been floating around for about four years. Since we did Bonnaroo in 2008, we felt like we’ve been doing these things in Europe and all over with diverse lineups for 25 years … and we felt we could do something like that here by ourselves and that we could make it fun.
So when we decided to do it, we looked for people we can trust and work with to protect our vision and keep it pure and about the music and experience and the musician’s lifestyle. It’s not about commerce and $9 water bottles and all that other bulls-t.
Q: So are you happy the way it came together?
A: We’re not particularly careful. We like to jump in and make the most of it. I think one of many fun elements is not knowing what will happen. We are all in this together, and we think it has the potential to be something pretty cool that can hopefully become a yearly event.
All of the fan club tickets sold out quick, so it’s buzzing. Any time you venture outside of the ordinary, you never really know. We don’t want to take it for granted that 40,000 people will show up and we can keep doing this. But if they do some and have a cool experience and are psyched about what we put together … if we can find a way to keep doing it, we will.
Q; You have some non-metal acts such as Jim Breuer, Eric Church. Was that to create diversity?
A: A lot of the big European festivals are institutions. They sell out before they even announce the full lineup because they are amazing experiences. But a big part of their success is that they offer a complete cross-section of musical experiences and options. So we’re trying to find that balance. We never wanted it to be just about Metallica. We want it to be diverse and awesome musically, but also offer lifestyle things that are inspired by what the bands are into, especially what we are into. (See sidebar.)
There will be things that show all of our passions. James Hetfield is pretty into cars. The drummer is pretty into film and movies and that type of thing. Kirk and Rob are manic surfers, and Kirk loves horror movies and posters. There are endless possibilities. We just didn’t want it to become too much and in a situation where we overpromised and under delivered. We’re sort of figuring it all out.
Q: So what will your sets be like this weekend?
A: Well, we are doing “Ride the Lightning” (Saturday) and the “Black” album (Sunday), and we rarely play full albums. We did “Master of Puppets” a couple of years ago in Europe, and that was fun. But we’re always cautious about doing stuff like that. We don’t want to turn into a nostalgic act. But with an anniversary lurking under every stone you turn with us, it seemed cool to do it.
We never did “Ride the Lightning” before. So that’s a first go-around. And we play long enough so that the set is not totally dominated by one album.
Q: It’s amazing you still play with the intensity that you do.
A: We do what we can. Playing at that energy, you have to keep in shape and not eat too many s---y cheeseburgers before you go on stage. We tend to clock in at the two-hour mark — that seems to be our groove.
Q: What will be the best part of this whole weekend for you?
A: Since we are the hosts of this thing, we are all hanging around. It’s not like we are rolling in a stretch limo 20 minutes before we go on. We are going to be there and partake and hang and listen to music and take in the whole thing. I look forward to that side of it. We are so used to going from one place to another to show up and play and leave. I look to loitering. There are going to be a f-k load of cool people in A.C. that weekend. That’s the cool part.