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News:
Livonia audio company brings the Thunder for Metallica, Orion festival
 

By GARY GRAFF
For Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Thirty-four years ago, Tony Villarreal started Thunder Audio with a $1,500 income tax return check, a rudimentary sound system and enough moxie to talk his way into a job with the Rockets.

For the past 14 years the Livonia-based company has been handling Metallica's sound -- and will be on hand at the group's Orion Music + More Festival on Detroit's Belle Isle, powering its five stages with six semi-trucks filled with gear.

"It's been a great association for a long time," says Villarreal. Thunder won the Metallica job in 1999 when a British sound company the San Francisco-based band was using at the time wasn't able to provide the gear needed for a concert at Madison Square Garden. "They called us at the 11th hour and we bought the P.A. and did the gig and took over the account," Villarreal recalls.

Thunder did have an in, however; vice-president Bob Owen also mixed Metallica's stage monitors for 23 years, retiring from the road after the group's Jan. 13, 2009 show at Joe Louis Arena -- where frontman James Hetfield paid tribute to him before the sold-out crowd. Since then, says Thunder's Orion site manager Greg Snyder, "it's been a family relationship. (Metallica) is a family, and they brought us into the family. And as a family member you have good days with the family and bad days, but longevity, I think, is created by being able to accept the good and the bad days instead of just taking a bad attitude every time you have a bad day."

Thunder handled last year's inaugural Orion in Atlantic City, and Snyder says the Belle Isle set-up -- which he describes as "the whole kitchen, not just the sink" -- is fundamentally the same, save that the company's 30 workers will be able to sleep in their own beds rather than hotels. Most impressive will be Orion's main stage, which according to Snyder will packs 1.2 million watts of power.

Orion is hardly the only thing on Thunder's plate this summer, either. The company recently pumped the jams at the Movement Electronic Festival and is providing systems for tours by Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson, Bad Company and Robert Plant, and will stock stages at the Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza festivals, as well as at the Boy Scouts of America's 100th anniversary jamboree in West Virginia.

Thunder is just one of a number of local companies participating in Orion. The food offerings are being curated by Phil Cooley of Detroit's Slows Bar BQ and in addition to the Slows To Go tailor will also feature fare from El Guapo (Madison Heights), Five Star Lemonade (Ferndale), Master of Sammiches (St. Clair Shores), Mercury Bar & Burger (Detroit), Srodek's Polish Deli (Hamtramck), The Grindhouse By Corridor Sausage Co. (Detroit) and the Trenton Ice Cream Shoppe (Trenton).

The Art Market roster, meanwhile, will include Detroit Manufacturing (Detroit), Crafts N Lots (Allegan), FyouNK Clothing (Detroit), Gary Grimshaw (Detroit) Outerspaceways Handmade Apparel (Ferndale), Slight Return LLC General Store (West Bloomfield), Start Gallery (Detroit). And Detroit-based Hart Medical will provide EMS and First Aid services.

Metallica's Orion Music + More festival takes place June 8-9 on Detroit's Belle Isle. Single day tickets are $90. Two-day passes are $150, and VIP packages are $750. Visit www.orionmusicandmore.com for schedules, afterparties and other information. Watch the Oakland Press and www.theoaklandpress.com throughout the weekend for full Orion festival coverage.

Web Site: www.orionmusicnadmore.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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