Ozzfest Funny and Scary

PB&J and popsicles -- not bats -- on menu at fourteen-hour metal fest

There wasn't much in the way of heavy-metal depravity at the 2002 edition of Ozzfest. And certainly not on the tour bus of P.O.D., parked behind the main stage at the Montage Mountain ski resort in Scranton, Pennsylvania. There were, however, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

"You want one?" asked guitarist Marcos Curiel. "No? You said no, but you had to think about it. That means you really wanted one." Before any further decisions (or sandwiches) could be made, a roadie got on the bus and announced that the band was due onstage in five minutes.

"I thought we had twenty minutes!" said singer Sonny Sandoval. The band had just encountered that rarest of rock & roll occurrences: A festival running ahead of schedule.

Ozzfest 2002 had a genial mood -- as much as any fourteen-hour heavy-metal marathon could. Maybe it was because of its patron saint's transformation from a Black Sabbath boogeyman to the nation's favorite doddering dad. Most bands were available to sign albums in an autograph tent. Other tents included the tapestry tent, with the sign "Buy a fucking tapestry now," and "Pain and Pleasure," where, for twenty dollars, two dominatrixes tied patrons up, gave them a flogging and took a photo. Ozzfest ran smoothly on July 10th, its opening originally intended to be the third date, before Sharon Osbourne's cancer surgery.

Many of the day's best groups -- System of a Down, Drowning Pool, P.O.D. and the Apex Theory -- hopscotched between genres. The worst acts (including Sweden's Meshuggah) were just dull specimens of Bandus Ozzfestus genericus, with the usual jackhammer rhythms and a singer howling like a wounded animal. At 11:30 a.m., Ill Nino became the first band to inspire moshing. For the rest of the afternoon, the pit was intense enough to kick up clouds of dust -- the budget version of a smoke machine.

Backstage, performers were hanging out in the catering area; the hot tip of the day among bands was the availability of Itzakadoozie popsicles. And musicians visited each other, but generally not in dressing rooms. "We invade people's buses," said Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins, marvelling at the luxury of Adema's tour bus. "Everyone's up early, everyone's ready to get it on," said Adema singer Mark Chavez. "It's not a competition, but everyone's throwing down."

"Ozzfest always seems cool," Rob Zombie said later. "Maybe it's because everybody's like-minded with the metal. I always heard horror stories about ego trips from other festivals." Asked about The Osbournes, Zombie said, "I knew the family before the show. It's funny in real life, too."

At 4:30 p.m. the action shifted to the main stage. The production values gradually increased, with pyrotechnics, lights and a video screen. Around 9:30 p.m. that screen began showing a montage of scenes from The Osbournes. Osbourne himself then scampered onstage to an outpouring of "Oz-zy!" chanting from the crowd -- so he mooned them. After a few songs, he announced, "Sharon's doing fucking great," to loud cheers. He played all the crowd pleasers -- "Crazy Train," "Bark at the Moon" and "Iron Man" -- while roaming around the stage the same way he shuffles around his living room.

Osbourne is more comical than scary now, but being in on the joke seems to make his fans love him all the more. He played well on a night when he probably would rather have been home with his wife -- even if his music couldn't possibly be as entertaining as the video footage of him haplessly throwing knives at a block of wood.