When Metallica announced their first-ever music festival, it's safe to say there was a healthy dose of skepticism from fans and press alike when they discovered the lineup was far from metal-centric.
Boasting a two-day schedule that included indie rock, comedians, metal bands of all stripes, alternative rock, blues and even a brass ensemble, many balked at the band's attempt to bring a "European style" festival to the States.
Walking between stages only a few hours into Day 1 of the inaugural Orion Music + More festival, Suicidal Tendencies' manic skate-punk behind me slowly melding into the dulcet, Northwestern indie-rock of Modest Mouse, it was clear they had pulled it off. (Among the first things I saw walking into the festival was two guys in Ride the Lightning T-shirts arguing over the merits of their favorite Modest Mouse records.)
"Metalheads need to broader their horizons a lot of times," said The Sword's Bryan Richie after their Saturday set on the festival's Fuel stage. "People who listen to metal all the time could maybe stand to hear a Best Coast song once in a while."
It's hard to understate how much Metallica put their stamp on the entire weekend. Not just in the stage names and the lifestyle tents — which were resounding success and featured hundreds-deep lines all weekend long — but most of all in the spirit of camaraderie throughout the weekend.
Lars Ulrich started the weekend off by personally introducing Baroness on the Orion stage Saturday afternoon, the first of many introductions by Metallica members throughout the weekend. It was clear Metallica truly were fans of the bands on the bill, and it was equally clear that the bands asked to perform, no matter how diverse, all had a healthy respect for Metallica.
"My first reaction was, 'Holy shit,'" said The Gaslight Anthem guitarist Alex Rosamilia. "The first song my first band ever tried to cover was 'Creeping Death.'"
Even Best Coast's laid-back set featured a shout out to the festival's hosts, with songstress Bethany Cosentino pumping up the crowd by saying, "I remember a live Metallica video where James said, 'Make some noise if you give a shit!'"
Highlights of the first day included the rare aforementioned set from a stoic Modest Mouse, Robert Trujillo introducing, then jamming with, Suicidal Tendencies and a well-attended afternoon performance from New Jersey's the Gaslight Anthem, who may have had the highest T-shirt count of the fist day outside of Metallica and Iron Maiden (This was a metal crowd, after all).
The second day featured a massive Johnny Cash singalong led by Denmark's Volbeat, country singer Eric Church lending a Southern twang to the event and an exuberant performance from Austin's Gary Clark Jr., which was watched by a smiling Kirk Hammett from stage-side. Sweden's Ghost proved a massive success, even in an unusual daytime setting, and were the most-cited act by the other bands in attendance when asked who they were most excited to see. Since James Hetfield introduced them, it might be safe to say he agreed.)
Avenged Sevenfold brought pyro and enough fireworks for a small 4th of July parade to their set Sunday night, which, combined with the band's trademark high-intensity live performance, made their set easily the most well-attended non-Metallica set of Orion.
The comedy portion of the festival was a resounding success, with Lars promising more comedy next year before introducing Jim Florentine to a packed tent at the Frantic stage. The comedians themselves — which included Florentine, Don Jameison, Shuli Egar and Jim Breuer — played the black-clad crowd to a T, cracking jokes about everyone from Lemmy to Dave Mustaine.
"It's crazy to think in a few hours I'm going to be on the Frantic stage doing comedy for a bunch of crazy, sweaty metal heads," said Florentine's That Metal Show co-host Don Jameison before his set, "but somehow it feels right."
Whether they were playing to an audience of rabid fans or a field of crossed arms and "impress me" looks, every act on the Orion bill made the most of their sets. Even Arctic Monkeys, who drew the deceptively unfortunate second-to-last time slot on Saturday night, playing a high-energy show until the last song, even as festival goers streamed away with each passing minute to make sure they got a good spot for Metallica's first set of the weekend, during which they would play 1984's Ride the Lightning in its entirety.
"This is groundbreaking right here," said James Hetfield as the band prepared to launch into "Escape." "This is historical."
"Escape," the sixth track on Ride the Lightning, has never once appeared on Metallica's setlist, with Hetfield calling it a track the band "never wanted to play live ever."
Before taking the plunge and hitting that first power chord, Hetfield would add a few words that not only represented how the band felt about "Escape," but likely the entire weekend. "We're not afraid," he said. "We're just hoping it's good."
And it was good.