The acrid smell of urine just about sears every hair out of my nostrils as I struggle to keep my balance, squatting to piss into the chemical-blue hole below me. I’m trying my best not to touch anything, as I whip my foot around to dislodge a sopping piece of toilet paper from my leather boot.
“Ugggh…Yum.” I roll my eyes laughing, not having expected anything less from a metal festival port-o-potty, that will undoubtedly see tens of thousands of sloppy visitors seeking relief before the day is done. As I fret to pull up my tight black jeans in the blue shadows of the port-o-potty, the sun perforates blindingly through the ventilation holes, dotting my face. The afternoon heat has begun to slow-cook the contents of this plastic waste-box like a light bulb over an easy bake oven. The portion of my personality that feeds off of the unique quirks of life experiences sees some small, souvenir-like charm to the filth that surrounds me. I’m getting the full experience just like I wanted, messy and memorable.
Luckily, I’m too drunk to care. The Gentleman Jack Jesse and I downed in the parking lot fifteen long minutes ago is arriving just on time, sweet and smoky. That familiar burn courses from my throat to my toes with stimulating ease. Before I kick open the flimsy hatch of the toilet, I pull my red aviator shades over my eyes, adjust my bulky cross necklaces, and tighten the knot of my bandana.
I saunter out into the dirt and white sunshine, like an alien stepping foot onto the soil of her home planet to greet her tribe. I don’t know anybody else here other than Jesse, but I know each and every one of these festival-heads from a place in my heart that knows how it feels to be an anomaly. Going against the grain feels like moving with the current. Being disliked and judged by a majority of upper-middle class conservatives comes as a sign that our maverick souls are on the true path to freedom. I feel that same heartbeat in every long-haired rebel I see. We’re all beaming like a bunch of teenagers who skipped class to take a joyride for the day. We’re home.
Festivals, especially heavy metal communions like Ozzfest, aren’t only about the music. It’s the people, the vendors, the flavors, the smells, the dirt, the bliss, the mob, the intensity, and the blisters on your feet. It’s the consensual discomfort of it all that makes it so epic. For people like me, Jesse, and all the fans around us, life has been a hard road. Life has hardened us in a way that we can appreciate and savor life’s intensities. We crave the loud, the distorted, the wickedness, and the organized cacophony, for it reminds us of our strengths. This is our power.
I strut with Jesse across the open lawns of the festival grounds, our long hair waving down to our asses like flags of war. My buzz accelerates nicely, allowing me to agree to the sweaty lack of shade wherever we pause. We see a man that looks to be around his mid-sixties lying flat on his back in the grass, shirtless. As he lies there carelessly perfecting his rotisserie tan, passersby step over him just shy of his most prized organs.
Jesse and I park nearby to nurse our tall cans of Bud Light. Though the beer is warm and underwhelming, I grin and giggle into the can as I watch the procession. I’m witnessing a symbiotic ecosystem of outcast organisms in their natural state, and I’m one of them. We coexist and thrive in these extreme habitats. We belong here together, because we don’t feel like we belong anywhere else.
As I walk toward the taco tent, a man wearing a “Black Label Society: L.A. Chapter” t-shirt smiles at me. I’m wearing a Black Label Society tank top. We acknowledge one another with a nod, for unacknowledged souls wear the same colors.
BAM! A sweaty drunk in his early twenties hurls into me with the inertia of a runaway train, knocking me off my feet. The corpses are flying. Megadeth rages into “Tornado of Souls”, a fast-tempo track blazing with mind-twisting guitar licks, driving riffs, and Dave Mustaine’s rabble-rousing vocals. The combination of the band’s face-melting musicianship and the adolescent growl of Mustaine’s leads is having incendiary effects on the fans. Mosh pits burn open throughout the crowd, creating vortexes of insanity in all directions. Garbage, plastic cups dripping with beer, and other random objects fly through the air as Megadeth commands their screaming troop into oblivion.
A more aggressive pit than I’ve ever seen has exploded into being right where Jesse and I are standing. Suddenly random people are careening into us with a pressure that crushes us into the cold, steel railings at our waists. I can feel my skeleton bruising with every collision that leaves a clammy layer of some stranger’s perspiration on my clothes. With a reflex of survival, my eyes dart over to Jesse to see if he’s still alive. The hilarious look of shock and terror on his face tells me all I need to know. I laugh at his expression as the pandemonium intensifies all around us. We struggle to keep our balance. Standing on the tip-toes of one foot, my boots are sliding off of the narrow concrete curb beneath my feet that ends in a five-foot drop off to the pavement below. With bodies closing in all around us, we have been rendered to six square inches of space as standing room. With 40,000 fans pushing in from behind, there is no escape.
An overwhelmed kid has hopped the railing to abandon the madness. He drops to the pavement below and scales the chain-link fence that closes off the general admission section from the VIP section, with pathetic effort. At the apex of the chain-link, the fan struggles and gets caught, his chubby, bare ass exposed to every fan in our section. Everybody roars into laughter as they watch him stress to make the climb. To enhance the comedy of the moment, many unscrupulous fans make the tasteful decision to throw empty beer cans at his naked hindquarters, in all of the glory of its full-moon phase.
Usually at metal shows I prefer to stand right outside of the mosh pit, on the fringe of the chaos just where I like it. But this is Ozzfest, the nucleus of the heavy metal element in its purest form. If you don’t want to be in the thick of it, you don’t buy a ticket. Ozzfest takes no prisoners. Willing or not, we have become the eye of the tornado of adrenaline pumped fans in their choreographed scrap. Every time we look back to keep guard, elbows, shoulders, and filthy shoe soles stamp our face and threaten to fracture bones.
I resist my urge to join in the moshing, even though Dave Mustaine is strong in his musical persuasion. Last time I surrendered to the violent tradition, I couldn’t feel my right leg from the knee down for over two weeks. Moshing trash-compacts a human body, especially a petite female frame like mine. The pit kicks. It slugs. It knocks the wind out of you. It compresses and stretches. It’s a total body whirlwind that pushes you into and sends you out of your body simultaneously. For us metal-heads, it’s addictive.
All around me people are crashing into one another and hitting the dirt, only to get pulled back upright by a helping hand in an instant. What looks, at the surface, like all-out combat, is in reality a big, fraternal ritual. In the abstract maelstrom of body ink and tank tops, there is a strong code of respect. The men and women that kick up dust in the pit, riled up like tigers in a cage, pile-driving into each other with looks of animalism in their eyes, have long-awaited their primal release. They need this.
My feet are killing me, my bladder is about to burst, and my throat feels drier than the Martian surface, but I have been waiting twenty-one years for this moment. Jesse and I have been smashed up against this railing for eight hours, trapped by 40,000 screaming hellions behind us. All of us rocker delinquents are caged in, screeching like monkeys at the zoo, and it’s all for one reason: Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath has herded this crowd of fans from all corners of the world like it’s a holy communion. The purple, undulating words “Black Sabbath” canvas the backdrop of the mainstage. Jesse squeezes through zombie-like drunks to stand next to me against the railing. I can tell he’s exhausted, and so am I, but we’re mostly exhilarated. The pirate smiles we’re donning exude the thrills we’ve carried in our souls as musicians and concert-goers for years. All I can feel is an anxious rush through my body, like the flight of razor-winged butterflies. The air is thick with an excitement that seeps from the pores of every single fan in the audience.
“Man…I remember when my dad showed me Sabbath’s Paranoid album when I was just a little kid”, Jesse reminisces with sentimental awe. I can see that little kid in his eyes as he stares toward the roadies on stage tweaking mics. I’m thrilled I gave him my extra ticket.
“I know it”, I join his flashback trip. “I never had siblings, but I always had music. I remember the moment Sabbath pried open my world. I was eleven, on a business trip with my mom in Europe. Paranoid was one of the legendary albums I took along for the ride. We were driving through France on our way to England. The night was black and the highway lights beamed into the sky, making the fog smolder thick and golden. I sat in the back corner of the van in a trance, as every song on the album serenaded me into a new person.”
“And here we are”, Jesse declares, thrusting the magnitude of this moment into focus.
The mob of fans surrounding us is growing aggressively restless. The godfathers of metal are coming, and we’re all here for it, like a crawling swarm of anticipation. The air smells of dirt, cheap smokes, and burnt plastic. Fans have started garbage fires, punching glowing orange pits into the sea of miscreants.
“Sabbath! Sabbath! Sabbath! Sabbath!” All of the fans chant, summoning the entity to emerge from their backstage dungeon. Jesse and I join the incantation. Tens of thousands of fists drive high into the air as the horde pins us tighter against the railing.
Multiple spots are bruising on my body from the onslaught, but I don’t care one bit. I live for this hellish heaven. My love for music anesthetizes the discomfort attacking us from all fronts. All of the bodies bulldozing punches with an oomph that makes my inner animal roar back to life. I laugh like a child as the pressure hugs me like thousands of brothers and sisters.
The lights go black. The low register of cinematic sound effects rumbles through the festival grounds as we are greeted with Black Sabbath’s demonic opening montage. The rowdy crowd of 40,000 fans immediately puts an end to their unrefined shenanigans. Every fan, including Jesse and I, stands at full attention to witness the magical moment when Black Sabbath will grace the stage with their heavy presence. The image of a satanic creature bursting from its hellish womb roars at us with unapologetic force. I am filled with a neon joy that makes this moment sacred. A mischievous grin splits my face in two as I think to myself: “Here we go”.
“Wow this is a lot of people!” Ozzy Osbourne swaggers onto stage, his over-seasoned body taking as much time as it needs, slouching with the gravity of decades of substance abuse.
The tolling of funeral bells and the rushing of rainfall grows louder as the rest of the band takes their places on stage. Ozzy stands front and center with his arms outstretched as if on a crucifix, as he has stood on stages around the world for nearly fifty years. The crowd is as silent as they are deafening. A twinkling sea of iPhones illuminates the foreground of my view of the stage, as fans throughout the audience hurry to record the majestic moment. Jesse and I laugh because the view is ironically modern. Not only did all of us come to Ozzfest to see Black Sabbath face-to-face, but the song they’re all filming came out in 1970.
Guitarist Tony Iommi and his iconic Gibson SG have claimed the right side of the stage while, Geezer Butler, the genius bassist and founder of the band, stands tall on the left. The three original members of Black Sabbath bob their heads simultaneously as they pound out “Black Sabbath” the first track of their set list. The song bangs to life as Iommi strikes the doom-conjuring tones of the Devil’s Triad, an infamous series of musical notes that has scared visions of evil into the minds of superstitious audiences since the 9th century. This fan-favorite rouses the audience into a communal headbang. We’re all here together in this eerie, beautiful trance. We follow Ozzy’s every command. We worship him as our heavy metal idol; as a legend; as some estranged father figure. He claps and we all hoist our hands into the air. If he tells us to get crazy we will gladly lose our minds.
The crowd roars like a horde of mad Vikings as the first track fades out and grooves into the second track: “Fairies Wear Boots”. The stage has become an undulating stew of orange and purple that swirls in time with the music. Overlapping the psychedelic graphics is that creeping, bluesy guitar riff. This was the first Sabbath song I ever heard as a little, searching girl.
“We made it!” I tell that little girl I used to be. “Everything turned out just fine my love.”
Usually I would whip out my iPhone to record a moment like this, but I can’t. I can’t experience this through the compressed dimensionality of a camera lens. I came here to experience this in the flesh, beyond the barrier of voyeuristic mobile devices. I have to be here, now.
I look over at Jesse and he’s smiling on all cylinders. He looks right at me with the same mist of pride in his eyes. We’re tearing up. We’re at a metal festival, and we’re crying. The inner light that began to shine so long ago when it discovered the eternal home of music, that inner child that grew up in a broken home, that inner child that just wanted to be heard and wanted to play forever, is living and breathing what it has always longed to feel.
Though the booming of Black Sabbath and their heavy metal caravan is no longer sailing into the sky, the Ozzfest experience is far from over. Jesse and I must now make the grand exodus out of this swarm of fans that is now a dangerous cocktail of exhausted, irritable, and disorderly bodies. With all thanks to the project managers here at the lovely Glen Helen Pavilion, only one exit passage has been provided for this directionless herd of 40,000 fans. As we shove onward with people cramming against us on all sides I pass by a handful of rockers that lie dazed in the dirt. They have that blown-out look like they’re still peaking on the LSD they dropped at moonrise. Bits of burning garbage sit smoldering in the dust, making the scene appear like the medieval aftermath of a barbaric pillaging.
Like a highly viscous mud that fights to slip down a backed-up drain, the fans struggle to move forward at a rate that fails to promise our timely liberation. Bodies stumble pathetically down small flights of concrete stairs stamped yellow with the forgotten suggestion “WATCH YOUR STEP.” At the mercy of our bladders and murderous dehydration we grow impatient.
“Screw this. Come on.”
I grab Jesse by the forearm and we charge toward the sharp thicket of juniper bushes off to the right. A small posse of equally fed-up hellions follows our lead. Through stabbing twigs and spider webs that otherwise would spook me away, we trailblaze our way out like pirates machete-whacking their way into a densely-jungled shoreline. Our maverick exit strategy finds its redemption when the vista of the women’s restroom and concession area glows fluorescently into view. We stumble faster over thick tree roots until the foliage, tangy with the scent of sap, spits us out onto the asphalt.
“I’ll meet you RIGHT HERE!” I shout to Jesse, pointing toward a light post, not even looking back at him in my pursuit of the ladies room.
In what is undoubtedly the most ecstatic urination session of my youth I laugh at the extremities I’ve forced my body to endure for the sake of a music festival. Why? I ponder the absurdity as I struggle to unroll the tattered toilet tissue. Waiting their turn to relieve themselves of the same perseverance, I see the metal sisters I never thought I had lined up against the bathroom’s grey brick wall once I swing open the door. I exchange tired smiles with a girl in her Disturbed band tee as I grant her the rightful possession of my stall. Between us there is a silent bond that pulses with the undeniable sense of community.
Jesse and I utilize every last bit of adrenaline in our systems to inch back toward his car through what feels like twenty more miles of dirt lots. At irregular intervals we find ourselves having to duck toward the ground when rowdy fans in the tailgating lot, far from through with the spirit of celebration, decide to launch unsettlingly large fireworks that explode way too close to our heads. This entire day has felt like some twisted rock ‘n’ roll warzone. Finally we recognize Jesse’s Chrysler 300 in a distant, dark corner of the dirt lot. The image seems to appear hazy, like a fleeting mirage would appear to a stranded desert wanderer. We both make exaggerated sounds of distress as we yank open the car doors like our life depends on it.
All that is left in the cup holders is an abject-looking bottle with hardly an inch of water left inside, and an unnaturally orange-colored Gatorade, full to the brim and still ice cold from being left wrapped in tin foil all day.
“OH MY GOD,” Undeterminable groaning sounds of agony and ecstasy mixed with hysterical laughter fill the car as we desperately quench our dirt-lined throats. It is the ultimate flavor of victory. We made it. We survived Ozzfest and all of its devilish ways. We came in excited; searching and curious for a crazy experience, and we came out with an exhausted sense of reward. Our battle wounds left us hardened and wiser than before.
Ozzfest has taught me not only about the survival of a crazy festival, but survival on a larger scale. All of us fans need music to survive. We find inspiration in music to keep growing into who we truly wish to be, in a fast-paced, confusing world that tries to repress our creative freedom. That freedom is more important than anything; it is worth every challenge, every bit of loneliness, every ounce of frustration, every judgment cast down upon our heads. In a society that squeezes the people dry with its wicked system, it’s sticking together with like-minded individuals, and taking time to party in life; taking time to let loose and get wild, that gives us the strength to press on. To have the experiences we want, and to let our souls shine in being who we want to be, we will endure anything. We will swim upstream, against the rushing monotony of society at all costs, if it means we will reach our rightful place in the end.