The Metallica Orion Music + More festival debuts in Atlantic City June 23-24 at Bader Field, one of several music fests slated for the summer at the former airfield.
ATLANTIC CITY — Metallica, the rock band celebrating 30 years together, recently announced that the inaugural Orion Music + More music festival will hit Atlantic City for two days — June 23-24 — at Bader Field, the site of last year's multi-day Dave Matthews Band Caravan festival. The band's drummer Lars Ulrich spoke to Atlantic City Weekly on Thursday, Feb. 16, and had quite a bit to say about the festival, why they chose Atlantic City, the band's former members, and how they will plan for the big festival "the last couple of days [beforehand] we [will] start frantically trying to figure it all out."
Here is the entire interview.
What made you choose Atlantic City for the upcoming summer festival?
Well, obviously we’ve got a lot of friends in Philadelphia, in Jersey and New York, you know, D.C. and Baltimore and that whole area, so we knew we wanted the event to be on the East Coast. And we knew we wanted this event to be kind of central to that Northeastern pocket up where you guys are. A lot of the things we do, we kind of look at it as we have so many friends in Europe and Canada and all over the States and you guys are kind of in the middle, so if you’re coming over from Europe you can fly into Philadelphia, you can fly into New York. If people want to come down from Toronto and Montreal and Quebec and such it’s not too far. [Atlantic City's] location was really central. You’ve got good facilities, it’s not, you know, like 39 miles on some two-lane country road — that kind of vibe, you know, so it’s just the fact that it’s practical, there’s a lot of facilities and since we’re not doing like a camping thing we thought it would be good to be close to infrastructure so the fans do have like the backbone of a place like Atlantic City at their disposal.
An old-school Metallica fan maybe wouldn't expect to see you tour with bands like Gaslight Anthem and Modest Mouse, but that's really cool. What made you go in that direction since the line-up is not typically what we would expect?
We’ve been playing festivals in Europe since basically the mid-'80s and so most of these festivals, you know, your Rothskilde and the Readings and the Rocket Wings and all these huge established groups having really, really varied line-ups on it, and, you know, to now obviously in America with Bonnaroo, etc. But we played those festivals in Europe for basically almost every year the last 25 years. The first festival we ever played was in Europe in 1986. Eric Clapton and Phil Collins were [among] the three headline bands so it’s always been about variety and it's always been about diversity and kind of a musical experience that offers a different kind of thing for the fans, where it becomes kind of that people of all different ilks and passions kind of get together and experience lots of stuff that’s different. ... That was kind of the spirit of what we wanted to do, that type of thing together instead of you know, here’s Metallica with, you know, nine hardcore Norwegian metal bands, which may be cool in a different scenario, but this type of thing we wanted to do was more about variety and giving people a sense of discovery — where people might walk away and think something’s really cool, you know?
Does the idea of the outdoor Atlantic City festival, at a former airfield, bring up any memories of the show you headlined at the Air-Force base in Russia in the early 1990s before the collapse of the Soviet Union? 20 years later, does the political climate have any sort of similarity between the energy at that show and the energy expected at this show?
Haha, wow! Well, what happened in Russia in Moscow in 1991 was obviously a very unique situation. There was a student uprising and there was a political shift that was happening, kind of in the underbelly of the Soviet Empire at the time and we were brought in actually. I believe that what happened was there was a deal between the students and the government to bring in a music festival because that was what they wanted and so us and ACDC went up to Moscow and played a giant free gig for anyone that wanted to come. There was about 500,000 people that showed up. You’ve probably seen the footage, and it was an unbelievable experience because there was at least 25,000 soldiers, there were helicopters that were hovering over the audience and it was totally unlike anything that had ever happened in Moscow at the time. Obviously Atlantic City in 2012 will be a little bit of a different experience, not to my knowledge will there be any student uprisings, maybe there will be, but obviously it will have a little bit of a different flavor. But, you know, I don’t know if there will be 25,000 soldiers there, but they probably wouldn't be in uniform, so it obviously will be a different thing. But speaking about that Moscow gig, when I look back over our last 30 years, obviously that was the most unique and total over the top experiences we’ve ever had.
Your buddy Dave Mustaine caused a bit of a stir the last few days coming out in support of [GOP presidential candidate hopeful] Rick Santorum. Do you guys want to publicly come out in support of a candidate? Do you think politics has any place in heavy metal or should they be kept separate like church and state?
We’ll leave our peers to do that. I don’t even follow what they’ve done. I know Dave speaks passionately and he speaks always kind of what he’s thinking and feeling and I admire that, but I don’t pay all that much attention to it.
Recently, you have taken the stage with guests, could the Atlantic City crowd expect any surprises to show up at the June festival?
I would hope so. I mean, listen, these types of things are things we kind of have the tendency to do by the seat of our pants. It’s February and we’re four months away so probably the last couple of days we start frantically trying to figure it all out, you know, and I think that kind of energy is always more fun when it’s a little more compulsive and a little more spontaneous and a little more momentary. We had an incredible week at the Fillmore [in San Francisco, in celebration of the band's 30th anniversary] and we had a lot of fun and I’m sure that the spirit of the Fillmore is definitely related to what we hope to accomplish in Atlantic City, [but] on a bigger scale where it becomes about an interactive experience and it’s really about the music and the fans together. Something we share together and becomes an interactive thing rather than the two separate entities and I think that’s why the Fillmore [shows] worked so well and I think that kind of spirit is what we’re gonna try to bring to Atlantic City. I’m sure there will be plenty of special moments. There will certainly be special people there and usually in the wake of special people follow special moments.
Your bassist Jason Newsted left the band in 2001 after 15 years, but has performed with the band for special occasions. It's rewarding for fans to see that there's no bad blood. Can we expect to see guest appearances from him or other members of the band in the future?
Again, we’ll probably figure it out like a week before. We had a lot of fun with Jason. I love Jason dearly and, you know, it’s always fun when he shows up. You want to find the right balance between having him show up when it's special and not showing up so much that it becomes predictable and so I’m sure we will play with Jason again and it was a lot of fun at the Fillmore to have him up there at the show.
Are you planning any sort of tribute to Cliff Burton?
Well, I mean you could argue that Orion, the name [of the Atlantic City festival], is in some way related to the song that kind of became his signature song on Master of Puppets. Cliff will always be a part of the spirit of this band and our hearts and the fans' hearts. You got to be careful that you don’t drag every element of the past with you so it becomes sort of a nostalgic trip all the time and so I’m sure that Cliff will feature somehow in this festival, but I don’t know if it’s going to be: “And now you go to the Cliff Burton tent where you can see pictures of his childhood,” you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’ll be quite that specific, but Cliff will always be a part of this band and when we play "Orion," which we have a lot in the last couple of years because it’s a special moment, he certainly holds a big place in everybody’s hearts.
The Orion Festival is said to feature a lifestyle element. Could you tell us some more about that?
People that know about the members of Metallica kind of know our passions. We’re very into different members going to different things, but obviously if I say people are into cars or people are into surfing or people are into films or art or whatever, I mean, the idea is that there's kind of an element to Metallica members that we’ll share. It’s a different experience so you can go in and kind of experience other stuff and we’re still trying to figure all of that out because we [have] a very vivid imagination, but we also want to make sure it’s not too over the top. You know like" “Go and surf with Kirk after Rob Trujillo in a giant wave pool!” We’ll take it one step at a time, but it’s going to be a bunch of really fun stuff. Exactly what it’s going to be yet [we don't know]. People who know Metallica kind of know that we always step up on that kind of fun and it will be a lot of fun, but I can’t sit down and tell you exactly that at 2pm on Saturday magicians are going to come out with fire up their asses. It’ll be lots of really fun stuff and we’ve got a little bit of time to figure that out and also you don’t want to necessarily — I don’t want to have to get into a situation where I kind of have to sell everybody on this stuff. It's more like people who know us know it's going to be fun and cool and unique and kind of out there and so it should be really fun. I think that we’re going to put together a festival experience that’s going to be really special, but part of what we do is make it up as we go along so it’s difficult to sit down and say let me tell you four months out exactly what’s going to happen because that’s not our forte.
Can we really expect to hear Ride the Lightning in its entirety?
Well, that’s certainly what’s planned. We’ve played seven of those eight songs so I think the odds of it happening in the entirely are pretty good. The eighth song that we haven’t played is not because it’s too difficult to play so I think that the chances of all eight songs happening are pretty strong. There’s a lot that can happen between now and June 23, but we’ll see what happens. I say the odds are pretty good.
Could Orion become an annual event?
If enough people show up and enough people give a shit and enough people have a good time then obviously we would love to do it every year. These types of things have a tendency to take a few years to get off the ground, you know, and with anything you go out there you have fun with it, you do the best you can, and then you do better the second year. I think it looks promising. We’ve got a lot cool bands, a lot of cool lifestyle things we’re gonna do and I think it should have the potential to be something that happens every year. That’s certainly the idea, but if no fucker shows up, obviously we’re not gonna have a festival for our friends. So if people show up and are into it maybe we can make it happen every year.
*One of our Facebook fans and AC Weekly readers, Marc, wants to know that if this year is a success would you come back next year and play ...And Justice For All in its entirety?
I think that we love to do any of that type of stuff. We don’t want to do it so much that it becomes predictable, but, you know, we did Master of Puppets in its entirety about five years ago and I think we’d definitely come back and play Justice. I mean, when you’ve been around as long as Metallica has there's always an anniversary to be found somewhere, you know, and I think there's a good chance to continue to play, if people dig it, on a yearly basis if people are psyched about it and we feel good about it.
How’s your tennis game these days?
My game is not good enough! What we should do is put a tennis court on this festival and maybe some people can go over and give me some tennis lessons. I don’t play as much as I should, but I definitely try to and I try to do as much as I can. It just doesn’t quite work out, but I’ll bring my tennis racket to Atlantic City and if anybody wants to hit some balls they can find me behind the third empty hangar over there.
• Tickets went on sale to the public on Feb. 11 at 10am ($150 early bird; $175 advanced; both for two-day passes.)
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