It was Metallica's turn to transform Bader Field and Atlantic City into a music festival venue this weekend, following last summer's Dave Matthews Band Caravan and last weekend's Phish takeover. Once again, good old Bader - an old municipal airport located just a short walk over the now-iconic Albany Avenue bridge from the Boardwalk - proved to be a fetching and roomy backdrop.
Metallica's Orion Music and More festival seemed to go off smoothly enough, with crowd estimates varying but mostly settling into the 22,500 the first day, fewer the second day. A little lower than predicted, and smaller than either Phish or the DMB Caravan last summer. Hopefully strong enough to keep the festivals coming. The rituals of a festival at Bader have their charms: walking over the Albany Avenue bridge before and after, when the ACPD close the span to cars and allow the amazed crowds to exit the venue on a street all their own. There was not as much singing on the bridge as during the DMB Caravan last summer, and I didn't see anybody sucking on nitrous oxygen tanks on the way down, but seeing all those happy campers fill the street from the Monument to the top of the bridge is a great sight and a happy end to a day of music.
To their credit, Metallica band members James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Robert Trujillo and Kirk Hammett tried to make the festival about more than just music, and about more than just Metal Music. They succeeded in both areas. Hetfield brought 170 custom cars to Bader for fans to check out.
Lars Ulrich staged a mini movie festival with hand picked movies. Kirk set up "Kirk's Crypt" with a collection of horror memorabilia and a star turn inside by Linda Blair, late of the Exorcist. "She was wearing a nice sunhat," one fan observed approvingly. Long lines stretched outside all of these little sideshows on both days of the festival, as Metallica fans seem to have endless patience to wait for the chance to check out the minutia to be found in the Metallica museum and other stuff. As Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca observed, in their own way, these metal heads were more than a little geeky for their band.
The best move, though, was on Sunday afternoon by Kirk and Trujillo, who took their love of (West Coast) surfing and staged a surfing contest with local and pro surfers, the Billabong Seek and Destroy Atlantic City Air Assault, a jet ski assisted display of aerial surfing, in which, alas, the Atlantic Ocean came to the party dressed as a lake. Hammett and Trujillo made the best of it, and fulfilled their promise of surfing themselves, which reminded me of the day after dip in the Atlantic Ocean by the newly crowned Miss America. And, honestly, if you can remember Miss America's taking that little jump in the ocean, it would not be wrong to say that those contestants got more air than Trujillo and Hammett and their jet ski surfing. "We're not good jet skiers and that's what's going on today," Trujillo said before the event. "Sorry we didn't have better waves for you bro," one fan told them. Hopefully, they won't hold it against us. I thought it was cool and classy for them to go beyond what so many celebrity visitors and the casinos themselves do in Atlantic City, which is to ignore the ocean and Boardwalk and just huddle in their own bubble. These guys embraced Bader, the city and the beach.
That's Hammett, above, and, below, Trujillo. They deserved better.
Overall, the festival lacked the cool food and craft beer vibe of Dave Matthews, and vendors said it seemed that Metallica fans had done their eating and drinking before they got there (and really, who's gonna go out of their way to pay $7 for a Budweiser). The mix of music was interesting, with British Indie band the Arctic Monkeys and country star Eric Church - who was ticked to be in Jersey to play his No. 1 hit Springsteen - making the most non-metal mark. But walking around the festival, you could catch Danish heavy metal group Volbeat covering Johnny Cash, New Orleans brass band Soul Revels covering Metallica, comedian Shuli Egar playing to a full house in the Frantic Stage with jokes about going in a deli, stoned, and asking for "a half a pound of parmesan cheese, sliced thin," then getting enraged when they couldn't meet his order, driving a half hour to dry another deli. He also made maybe the first official Jerry Sandusky joke, saying that when his wife called to ask where he was, heard what he was doing with the Parmesan order and then asked, "are you high?" He said he answered, "Why" - an answer you should never give to that question or in a trial. "Sandusky tried it and it didn't work out too well," he said.
But we digress.
All in all, I thought Atlantic City was a lovely backdrop, especially at dusk, and especially against a nice version of crowd surf into the hands of security, as played out here. Revel Ball, way to represent.
Metallica brought pyrotechnics, a laser show, balls of fire, and some excellent vibes. People came from Mexico, Russia, Sweden and Staten Island. Out on the beach on Sunday, fans Joe Stern, 21, Nicole Stern, 23, and Mike Viaccaro, 21, said they couldn't have been happier with their weekend. "I think it's awesome," said Joe. Viaccaro observed that Trujillo and Hammett were "probably underwhelmed" by the waves (we do get them in Jersey, just not this weekend.) "I think they were hoping for better waves," Viaccaro said. "It's great that they would come out here before they go out and kill themselves for us on stage." All in all, a good weekend. Thanks Metallica. Sorry we couldn't have better waves for you.
And look, where else could you rhyme Damage (as in the stage) with Claridge (as in the casino in the background)?
So long Orion. Let's hope Bader Field finds a long life as home to any music festival you can shake at it. (And maybe also become the cool waterside municipal recreation field with runways as bike paths, boating and green grass that it's crying out to be.) Good ideas shouldn't go up in smoke.