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Orion festival represents "the spirit of Metallica"

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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The Orion Music + More festival wasn't exactly a rash idea for the members of Metallica. The group actually started thinking about doing it "a few years ago," according to drummer Lars Ulrich.

But they figured if any band was going to host a weekend of music and "lifestyle" attractions, it might as well be theirs.

"I think the spirit of Metallica is very much about throwing these things out there and seeing what happens," says Ulrich. "So this is not part of some sort of long-range business plan or any of that kind of bull***. It's just more like, 'This would be really fun to do.' "

Metallica's first Orion took place nearly a year ago in Atlantic City, drawing 60,000 fans over two days of rock and other activities. Though deemed a success, this year the bash moves to Detroit's Belle Isle Park on Friday and Saturday, where Metallica and its partners will take lessons they learned in year one for what they hope will be a bigger, better and smoother festival.

"I think the location wasn't optimal in Atlantic City," says Metallica frontman James Hetfield. And, indeed, Charlie Walker of Austin, Texas-based C3 Presents -- which producers Orion as well as Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Austin City Limits Festival in Texas -- adds that hotel rooms in the casino-dominated town in particular "were much higher than we wanted our customers to have to pay" and may have discouraged some of those who wanted to come ot Orion.

And, as it turns out, Walker says C3 has "always had Belle Isle on the list; we just never had quite the right show to go there. We thought the (Orion) concept had proven itself, and Detroit, with that rich musical history, plus a great rock history and the fact that there's this gorgeous island in the middle of the river, it seemed like a good place to go."

Hetfield -- who co-founded the group with Ulrich during 1981 in Los Angeles, subsequently relocating to San Francisco -- says he and his bandmates concurred. "We always had a vision of (Orion) finding its home, eventually, somewhere. Detroit and Belle Isle seems like a really, really great location right now. It's a hard workin', hard rockin' city, and there's been some very, very strong Metallica family love there over the years."

Another change for this year; rather than Metallica playing both nights, as it did in Atlantic City, the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- who share a management company (Q Prime) with Metallica -- will close Saturday's show, with Metallica playing on Sunday only. "I think the Metallica guys were really quite busy through the weekend with all the side projects going on," says C3's Walker, who's hoping to draw 40,000 per day to Belle Isle. "For them to play both nights and do the other stuff they're involved in got to be a bit much, I think.

"So it's a great opportunity to put another big headliner on, and the Chili Peppers were kind of a no-brainer for us. They can hold their own with Metallica but have a slightly different audience than Metallica, which plays to the variety that's part of the festival."

Metallica's members were active in choosing the 39 bands that will play Orion's five stages, a lineup that ranges from electronic DJs to an eclectic array of hard-hitting bands, including Detroit-bred groups such as the Dirtbombs, Battlecross and Death, a reunion of Infectious Grooves (one of three bands Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo will perform with at Orion) and the rollout of the Kyuss alumni group Visto Chino.

"We ARE pretty hands-on," says Hetfield. "Most of us tried to do all our homework with these bands. The common theme or the thread that connects them all is they've got passion, they've got attitude, they've got edge, they've got uniqueness to them.

"We're trying to help create the next generation of arena bands. There's lots of bands that are great that just need to get in front of people, simple as that."

Orion's real defining features, however, are the Metallica-curated sideshows that run throughout the festival. Hetfield says the Metallica Museum will be expanded to include more of the group's classic guitars, including the last bass the late Cliff Burton played, stage props, amplifiers, lyrics, vintage merchandise and more. Hetfield is again hosting a Custom Car + Motorcycle Show, which he predicts will benefit from being "the hub" of American automobile making. Guitarist Kirk Hammett plans to expand his Kirk's Crypt horror memorabilia exhibition while Ulrich's Hit The Lights film festival will return.

And Trujillo will ride herd over the professional skateboarders at the Vans Damage Inc. Stage + Vert Ramp, where he'll be playing in the Trujillo trio with rider Tony Trujillo (no relation) and his wife Ashley.

"It's the vibe of all things Metallica, an extension of who we are as a band and who we are as people away from the band," Ulrich explains. "It's kind of an interactive type of spirit between the band and the fans, a collaborative experience, a little bit of a kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience.

"It's kind of like, 'Come join us. We don't know exactly what's going to happen but we know it's gonna be unique, we know it's gonna be fun and we know it's gonna definitely have a flavor to it that you've never experienced before and we've never experienced before, and we're kind of all in it together."

And the Metallica members -- who are also in the midst of finishing up a new 3D film, "Metallica Into the Never," for Sept. 27 IMAX release -- are serious about that "together" part. The quartet was certainly busy and visible last year in Atlantic City; Trujillo even notes that save for a chance encounter with Ulrich while both were making sandwiches backstage, he barely saw his bandmates during last year's Orion except for the time they were on stage together.

"That was my favorite part of the whole thing," Hetfield recalls, "being able to get out there, everywhere, and just kind of show up and say 'Hey' and not have everyone mob you. It was actually fun to get out there and putt around on your own hepped-up golf cart and drive by a line and slap some hands and not have it be a ridiculous scene.

"It was more like, 'Hey, there's James. He's hosting this party. Let's go say 'hi' and that was that. It was really comfortable. It felt relaxed. It felt very respectful. I'm sure it will be the same way this year."

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, pre-parties, afterparties and other information.


You'll be seeing Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You'll check out the Metallica Museum, Kirk's Crypt and all the other cool sideshows, and maybe que up to meet a few of the groups at the autograph tent. But there are 37 other bands playing this weekend's Orion Music + More festival on Detroit's Belle Isle, all bringing their own kind of noise to the two-day festival. Here's five not to miss:

* Battlecross: Orion will be one of the first places to hear material from the buzzed-about Canton-based headbangers' upcoming sophomore national release "War of Will," due out July 9. (2:30 p.m. Saturday, Frantic Stage)

* Dead Sara: If you didn't see this charismatic, mixed-gender Los Angeles quartet open for Muse earlier this year, make sure to catch 'em at Orion, where frontwoman Emily Armstrong will remind us again that metal isn't just a man's world. (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Vans Damage Inc. Stage)

* Infectious Grooves: The reunion of this funk-metal all-star group's first lineup is genuine Event, with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo hooking up again with Suicidal Tendencies bandmate Mike Muir, guitarist Dean Plesants and Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, while Faith No More's Jim Martin will fill in on second guitar. (7 p.m. Saturday, Fuel Stage).

* Visto Chino: Former members of the stoner rock group Kyuss were playing as Kyuss Lives! before legalities with old band members forced a change. The songs, however, retain the same fierce appeal. (4:30 p.m. Sunday, Frantic Stage).

* Death: The Detroit-formed sibling group, now based out of Vermont, returns home as this year's Rodriguez story, with a documentary coming out June ?? and a new album planned for later this year. (7 p.m. Sunday, Vans Damage Inc. Stage)

Web Site: www.orionmusicandmore.com

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