The terrain at Bader Field in Atlantic City reached sodden levels on Friday as Metallica made their final preparations for their Orion Music + More festival. The strains of the band sound-checking to “Creeping Death” blasted across the festival grounds as rain continued to pour, although forecasts project a much sunnier weekend to come. Frontman James Hetfield, when asked about why the band chose Atlantic City for the festival, tersely replied, “The weather.”
But to a band that appeared at the notoriously disgusting Woodstock ’94, a little rain and mud never hurt anybody, and the members of Metallica exuded a high level of confidence in facing Saturday’s task: performing 1984’s Ride the Lightning in its entirety, a feat the band has never pulled off. Drummer Lars Ulrich joked during the press conference that because so many of the songs from the album were constants in the band’s live set, it really only took 30 minutes of loose rehearsal to whip the 47-minute album into shape, but he later admitted to Rolling Stone that the band was actually taking things far more seriously.
“It may have been 45 minutes,” Ulrich said after the press conference. “But it wasn’t much more than that. On the Death Magnetic tour, we were rotating around 70 songs, so every night, I would put a setlist together from a pool of about 70 songs. And out of the other albums we’ve played, the Lightning experience is the one that’s been the most effortless, and I’m not being glib about that. Most of the songs are live staples that we can play more or less at any time.”
The members of Metallica will personally introduce the bands throughout the festival, ranging from the heavy, like Georgia’s Baroness, (a personal favorite of Ulrich’s, who promises to be there to introduce them for their 1 p.m. set) to perpetual indie powerhouse Modest Mouse. The band members will also be individually hosting various themed areas, such as a collection of guitarist Kirk Hammett’s horror movie memorabilia and an array of vintage hot rods, a passion of Hetfield’s. The band members are bracing for some of the longest days they’ve ever spent at their own performances.
“We’re going to be running around all day, so we’re not going to be rolling in 30 minutes before we go onstage with a wall of security people around,” Ulrich said. “We’ve never really hung out for nine hours at a gig when we have to play a two-hour-plus set at the end of the day, so maybe at some point we’re going to have to go and take a fucking nap.”
The two-day festival model holds a strong appeal for Metallica, who have modeled Orion’s duration and diversity on the European festivals the band has performed at throughout their career. Ultimately, if Orion proves successful, the event could become annual and eliminate the need for Metallica’s original festival, the five-band Summer Sanitarium tours that crossed America in 2000 and 2003.
“I think that the Summer Sanitarium was a lot of fun for those two go-arounds,” Ulrich said. “But I think doing a full U.S. stadium tour is a very ambitious thing to do. I’m not saying we will never do it again, but that type of stuff is something that is probably best saved for very special occasions, so I would love for this to be a yearly event. Hopefully next week we’ll have a better idea of whether that’s possible.”
While it remains to be seen if bands like Best Coast and the Arctic Monkeys will win over fans of a band that was once heckled as sell-outs for including even the slightest bit of melody in its early days, Ulrich hopes that Orion audiences will give everything a taste and be respectful. But he knows it won’t be easy for everyone.
“I always think that our fans are as open-minded as I am, as Metallica is, and sometimes in the past we’ve been proven wrong,” Ulrich said, “And that’s OK, I’m not going to sit and tell people what they should or shouldn’t embrace. I don’t walk around and think they’re all Metallica fans, I think they’re all festival fans, music fans, people out for the experience. I hope our fans are going to be open and supportive of everybody that’s here, and if they’re not, I’m going to find them and kick their ass.”