Metallica Eyes Annual Detroit Fest as Cash Is Secondary

What do you do if you’re one of the world’s best-selling bands and your first foray into the festival business loses money? You sign up for three more years, of course.

Hard rock band Metallica headlines the two-day “Orion Music + More” festival this weekend on Detroit’s Belle Isle. The band created the festival last year in Atlantic City, N.J., and it was a hit with fans, if not with the band’s accountants.

“I wish we broke even last year,” Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer and co-founder said with a laugh in a phone interview. “I’d obviously like to get into a situation where it’s not costing us, but that will probably be another couple of years away. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”

It’s a festival custom-made for Metallica’s loyal fans, with so many opportunities to meet and interact with Ulrich and his fellow bandmates James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo that it can feel like a backyard barbecue with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

“What worked last year was a sense of intimacy and a sense of connection that we made with the fans,” said the 49-year-old Danish native. “There was a very cozy family spirit significantly different than other festivals we’ve played. If we treat this right over the next couple of years, maybe we’ll be able to establish a long-term type of thing.”

New Location

The festival moved to Detroit after Metallica, a band known for its work ethic and explosive live shows, thought traffic was too heavy in Atlantic City and the hotel infrastructure inadequate for a good fan experience.

“We’re very excited about the new location,” Ulrich said. “Detroit doesn’t really have a yearly festival and we have a lot of history there. Detroit as a city itself has an incredible musical legacy. We feel this really has a shot at turning into something permanent here.”

The city of Detroit is preparing for a possible Chapter 9 bankruptcy if it can’t restructure $15.7 billion in long-term debt. The city will get a total of $450,000 from festival producers for use of the 1,000-acre Belle Isle park through 2015 plus a percentage of the festival’s concession sales, according to the Detroit News newspaper.

Five Stages

Metallica, which has sold more than 100 million albums and won nine Grammy Awards, closes the five-stage festival on Sunday, while Red Hot Chili Peppers headline Saturday. Other performers include Deftones, Gogol Bordello, Rise Against, Dropkick Murphys and Bassnectar. There will even be a stage dedicated to electronic dance music, as Orion aims for the eclectic sensibility of European music festivals.

The 20,000 fans expected to attend each day will be able to mingle with Metallica singer and guitarist Hetfield as he hosts a classic car show or listen to guitarist Hammett present horror movie memorabilia from his private collection.

Bassist Trujillo will have skateboard professionals showcase their skills off a 30-foot ramp, while Ulrich will host a fan question-and-answer session with director Nimrod Antal and others involved in the making of Metallica’s 3D film, “Metallica Through the Never,” which is scheduled for release in IMAX theaters Sept. 27 and regular theaters Oct. 4.

If the festival is successful, Metallica may eventually consider offers it has received to replicate it in Europe and Latin America, Ulrich said. In the meantime, after the film’s release the band will start working on a new album.

“We’re sifting through riffs and putting them into very rough song skeletons,” Ulrich said. “We’re probably looking at getting back to writing and thinking about the next record sometime in October or November.”

Don’t wait for the drummer to follow so many of his peers and write a tell-all rock memoir any time soon though.

“Something has to remain just what it was,” he said. “I don’t know if the world needs another 50-year-old rock musician talking about what he did when he was 25. There’s nobody in this band that’s in any hurry to write that kind of book.”