Ozzy Osbourne thought his wife and manager, Sharon, was ‚Äúinsane‚ÄĚ when she suggested making OZZFest tickets free this year.
But given the traveling festival‚Äôs success since 1996, he knew better than to dismiss the idea out of hand.
‚ÄúShe goes, ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt worry, it‚Äôs all under control,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ the 58-year-old hardrock icon recalls. ‚ÄúI always think of the bad thing that can happen, but she‚Äôs so clever at what she does ... so I just go, ‚ÄėOK, babe, I love you, and you haven‚Äôt let me down so far ... I‚Äôll do whatever you want me to do.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
In a period of declining concert ticket sales, the free OZZFest has been one of the biggest stories of the summer of ‚Äô07. There were skeptics and critics when the Osbournes first announced the plan in February, and Sharon Osbourne says some sponsors, including Camel cigarettes and Trojan condoms, even dropped out, accusing her of ‚Äúbelittling the music.‚ÄĚ
But all evidence so far is that OZZFest ‚Äô07 is working. Fans snapped up 428,000 tickets for the 24 dates when they were first offered through a variety of sources, including sponsor Web sites and to buyers of Ozzy‚Äôs new album, ‚ÄúBlack Rain,‚ÄĚ with more tickets distributed subsequently and about 3,000 tickets per date saved for on-site upgrades. The shows ‚ÄĒ headlined by Ozzy Osbourne and also featuring Lamb of God, Static-X, Hatebreed and a corps of up-and-coming headbangers ‚ÄĒ have gone well, save for the Aug. 16 date in Holmdel, N.J., where two men died of drug and alcohol overdoses and another 83 were arrested on a variety of charges.
‚ÄúHow could people not like it? It‚Äôs free,‚ÄĚ notes Rick Franks of concert promoter LiveNation‚Äôs Farmington Hills office. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a big rock show with a second stage, over the top, it‚Äôs a blast and it‚Äôs free. It‚Äôs pretty much the same show you got when we charged $30 to $80.‚ÄĚ
Last year‚Äôs OZZFest tickets ran $86.50 pavilion and $46.50 lawn.
Lamb of God frontman Randall Blythe confirms that the free ticket plan hasn‚Äôt made a significant impact on the way the OZZFest day pans out.
‚ÄúThere seems to be a lot of the same people,‚ÄĚ says Blythe, whose band played on OZZFest‚Äôs second stage in 2004. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure some people are coming because it‚Äôs free, and hopefully they‚Äôll be turned on to some new music. But overall it‚Äôs the same vibe.‚ÄĚ
Sharon Osbourne says that in its 12th year, OZZFest had reached a point where it needed to make a dramatic change in order to survive.
Created as a summer touring mechanism for Ozzy, OZZFest quickly became a perennial top draw, hosting headliners such as Slayer, Tool, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rob Zombie and Linkin Park, reuniting Osbourne‚Äôs first band, Black Sabbath, and introducing the mosh pits to early career appearances by Disturbed, System of a Down, Slipknot and others. But facing declining attendances and increasing band fees ‚ÄĒ System of a Down made $300,000 a show in 2006, according to Sharon Osbourne ‚ÄĒ OZZFest ‚Äúmade no profit‚ÄĚ in its last three years and, according to some reports, lost more than $1 million last year.
‚ÄúThe traditional way of doing it was outpricing itself,‚ÄĚ Sharon Osbourne explains. ‚ÄúThe cost of putting something like this on the road is mega, and that cost was going up. But we couldn‚Äôt put the ticket prices up higher.
‚ÄúBut we didn‚Äôt want to lose what Ozzy‚Äôs worked 12 years for. We had to put a cost (limit) to it but still save the festival.‚ÄĚ
OZZFest ‚Äô07 is financed by LiveNation, which is hosting most of the shows at venues it owns, and by remaining sponsors such as Jagermeister and Monster energy drink. The bands, meanwhile, are playing for free, a controversial move that‚Äôs earned Osbourne a considerable amount of criticism. Queens of the Stone Age‚Äôs Josh Homme, who once called OZZFest ‚Äúmy worst summer job,‚ÄĚ told a San Francisco radio station that ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know why her name is Sharon; she ain‚Äôt sharin‚Äô anything. To ask artists to play for free ... I might as well skip through the English countryside with a flute.‚ÄĚ
The lack of pay certainly affected this year‚Äôs lineup, which has demonstrably less commercial clout than its predecessors. ‚ÄúEvery agent just put their phone on busy when I called,‚ÄĚ Osbourne says. Ozzy, who played only about half the shows, agreed to put in a full summer in order to ‚Äúlegitimize‚ÄĚ the dates ‚ÄĒ as well as to promote ‚ÄúBlack Rain.‚ÄĚ
But Sharon Osbourne adds that many bands were ‚Äútoo happy to do it and be part of something groundbreaking,‚ÄĚ and she contends the current OZZFest arrangement is, in fact, good particularly for bands trying to build either an audience or a larger audience than they currently have.
‚ÄúSay you can play in front of 2,000 people on your own,‚ÄĚ she explains. ‚ÄúThat band would rather play in front of 20,000 and sell their merchandise and their music at the venue so they can come back and maybe play to 5,000 people the next time through.‚ÄĚ
To compensate, Osbourne has removed some previous restrictions for OZZFest bands. Once permitted to play off-day shows a certain distance from the festival stop, the groups can now play ‚Äúany time, anywhere they want‚ÄĚ according to Osbourne ‚ÄĒ even the same day in the same cities. The bands are also allowed to sell a wider variety of merchandise and keep more of their profits.
Lamb of God‚Äôs Blythe says it‚Äôs an equitable situation. ‚ÄúAs anyone who‚Äôs been in the business and in a touring band will tell you, money doesn‚Äôt come from the (fees), it comes from merchandise. That‚Äôs where you make your money. And our merch is going through the roof, so it balances out.‚ÄĚ
Whether OZZFest will remain a free festival in the future remains to be seen. Sharon Osbourne calls this year ‚Äúan experiment‚ÄĚ and says it‚Äôs being evaluated on a daily basis while the tour is on the road.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt honestly have a crystal ball,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI would love to keep it this way ... for the fans. If we can ensure it goes off without any hitches, then I know next year sponsors will want to come and more bands will be interested.
‚ÄúBut who knows? We‚Äôll have to wait to see how it goes this year.‚ÄĚ
OZZFest 2007 takes place at 12:30 p.m. Sunday (August 26th) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Ozzy Osbourne, Lamb of God, Static-X, Lordi and Black Tide perform on the main stage; Hatebreed, Behemoth, Devildriver, Chtonic, Ankla, Nile, the Showdown, 3 Inches of Blood, Daath and In This Moment play on the second stage. All of the tickets, which are free, have been distributed; WRIF-FM (101.1) will broadcast information about any ticket availabilities on the day of the show. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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