"Wow, look at all the beautiful faces!" declared Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine as he paused to take in the vast landscape of metal fans gathered on the first day of the Ozzfest Meets Knotfest heavy-metal summit last weekend in San Bernardino, California. About 60,000 fans assembled each day at the weekend festival, and many began with some quality time in the parking lots, singing, partying, headbanging, drinking, barbecuing and passing out.
"It's an escape from everyday life, definitely," said fan and musician Harley Mace of the scene. "It's kind of transporting you to another world where metal rules everything. All the fans are in the same mindset. They're here for music and nothing else. It's an escape from your regular life."
Some fans craved as wild a time as possible. Standing in the shade alongside the parking lot, a group of five friends and roommates happily announced they were all on acid. "Nothing right in the left side of my brain, nothing left in the right side of my brain. Wheeeeee!" announced one dude with a shaved head and mirrored aviator shades: "We would all drink Ozzy's bath water!"
Also among the metal masses were young fans new to the genre, immersing themselves at the biggest metal event of the year. A trio of high school girls from San Diego mingled in the lot before walking toward the venue. "I wouldn't call us metalheads, but we're really into music," said Skye, 17. "We're really into oldies. ... I just got a ticket today so I'm freaking stoked."
Once inside, fans got what they came for. On opening night, Ozzy Osbourne complained about a cold but was in great voice as Black Sabbath delivered an epic set of grinding hypnotic riffs in what was likely the band's last-ever West Coast performance. On the second night headlined by Slipknot, Slayer roared amid pillars of fire, and Amon Amarth singer Johan Hegg noted the day's triple-digit temperatures to the crowd: "You guys are fucking legends. You guys are tough."
In the final moments of the two-night gathering, Slipknot's Corey Taylor paused during the band's celebratory performance of their 2001 album Iowa to thank fans. "This is an important fucking weekend, not only for us but for our genre. We are keeping our music alive," he shouted proudly. "We were able to make this the biggest heavy-metal festival North America has seen in 35 fucking years."