By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In early April, Bruce Corbitt awoke from a late sleep to find a voicemail awaiting him.
It was a stranger, a woman who had seen his band, Texas Metal Alliance, perform a gig earlier in the year. She said she worked for the local branch of national concert booking conglomerate AEG Live. She said it had taken her forever to find his number, and now that she finally had it, she wanted to ask Corbitt a question: Was his old band, Rigor Mortis, available to play Ozzfest?
It had been some time since Rigor Mortis had been in the national spotlight. In 1987, it became the first metal act from the region to sign to a major label—Capitol Records—back when a major-label signing meant something. But, by the mid-'90s, Rigor Mortis had all but faded into oblivion. Remained there, too, despite a 2005 reunion tour that saw the band's original lineup taking its show around Texas and to the East Coast. It wasn't the old days, no, but the tour found the band some renewed fanfare.
So when the call came, Corbitt balked. "I thought it was an April Fool's joke," Corbitt remembers.
Could Ozzfest really be interested in having Rigor Mortis on its bill?
He called the woman back. Her response: Yes, really. His: Shock.
"This band is like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies," Corbitt says with an excited laugh. "We get killed every which way, in every movie, but we just won't die. Ten years ago, I did an Internet search on our band, and I only found one link. One! We were a forgotten band."
A few phone calls to his equally surprised Rigor Mortis band mates and Rigor Mortis was back from the dead again, this time to play Ozzfest.
"This is probably the biggest show we've ever done as Rigor Mortis," Corbitt says.
So, with what he understood as the booking agent's permission, Corbitt giddily announced the upcoming show on the band's MySpace page.
Only one problem: No other band had yet announced its participation. Turns out Corbitt wasn't supposed to have either. And with his MySpace post, Corbitt inadvertently unveiled the metal world's biggest secret of the summer:
This year's Ozzfest, the biggest annual metal festival in the country, was going to become a one-day, one-city, one-off show. And it was set to happen in, of all places, Frisco, Texas.
Since launching in 1996, Ozzfest has sat proudly atop the summer metal touring circuit.
Created by metal legend Ozzy Osbourne and his wife, Sharon—right between the 1995 launch of the punk-inclined Warped Tour and the 1997 debut of the female-oriented Lilith Fair—Ozzfest, following the same Lollapalooza-tested model as the other touring fests, offered audiences a decidedly heavier take on the idea and gave fans the chance to see the heavyweights of the genre on a single bill. Over the years, Ozzfest lineups have included the likes of Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Megadeth, Motörhead, Tool, Slipknot, Disturbed, Korn, Iron Maiden1, Lamb of God, Judas Priest—acts that could fill arenas, or at least come close, on their own. And every year, at every show, Ozzy, the Prince of Darkness himself, headlined, like the cherry on top.
Since early in 2008, though, it became clear: This year, Ozzfest would face some competition.
As early as January, regular Ozzfest standbys started popping up on other bills. Slipknot and Disturbed signed up to tour in the inaugural Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. Motörhead and Judas Priest later announced they would be touring as part of the Masters of Metal tour. Others defected as well—enough for metal fansites and blogs to erupt with open-ended speculation about Ozzfest's fate. In fact, things looked so bleak that, by April, when Osbourne announced that he would be headlining Canada's one-day, late July Monsters of Rock festival, metal news sites—and even MTV News—bemoaned Ozzfest's demise.
Then came new rumors and talks of a rebirth for the metal fest.
First, speculation was that there would be an Ozzfest—but this year it would only hit a couple of cities. London was likely, maybe a date or two in the States, as well. Second, to make up for the diminished muscle on the bill, word had it that Osbourne's camp had convinced metal juggernaut Metallica to hop on board. Nothing was confirmed, though. And, amongst these rumors, for reasons no one could really explain, Dallas kept popping up as a possible host site for Ozzfest.
In late April, though, Corbitt's MySpace note went live.
Almost immediately, metal news site Blabbermouth.com caught wind of it—a post that not only announced that Ozzfest would be playing Dallas, but also that Metallica would be co-headlining the gig. The site used Corbitt's word to confirm it all.
Today, Corbitt shrugs the whole thing off: "I was told I could say it," he maintains. "But the bass player for Ozzy called us and was like, 'Man, you gotta take that down.'"
Corbitt did, and the big, revealing MySpace post was lost in the annals of the Internet. For the next two weeks, not a peep came from the Osbournes—just a teasing note on the Ozzfest.com blog saying, "Announcement coming soon!"
It left metal fans hungry for more info. And with just three names in lights surrounding Ozzfest—Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica and Rigor Mortis—Rigor Mortis' stock skyrocketed.
"It's pretty rad that it was just our three names up there for so long," Corbitt says. "It's already had a positive effect on us. As soon as it happened, we saw more friend requests and more plays on our MySpace page. In the end, that was probably the best publicity we've ever had. Currently, more people know about Rigor Mortis than ever before."
Finally, on May 13, the full announcement came. For the most part, the bloggers had it right. There would be an Ozzfest. Metallica would be co-headlining. Somehow the Osbournes had patched together a respectable supporting bill featuring the likes of System of a Down's Serj Tankian, Korn's Jonathan Davis, Hellyeah, Devildriver, Sevendust and others. And, yes, it would all take place in a suburb of Dallas, as a destination festival.
That's the what—but why?
Ozzy doesn't mind saying it: He's tired.
In April, the 59-year-old metal frontman wrapped up his most recent world tour. If he had his druthers, he'd be relaxing right now, focusing on his music, finally getting to finish work on the new record he's been planning. The constant touring, the TV appearances—last month came the announcement that the Osbournes have a variety show in the works2—it's all starting to get to him.
So, he told wife Sharon how he felt. Now it sounds like he wishes he hadn't.
"You've got to be careful what you say to Sharon," Ozzy says with a laugh.
Ozzy likes bringing his self-titled tour to metal fans across the country. If it were up to him, he says, Ozzfest would've remained a touring festival this year. But he knows it's not his call.
"It's called the Ozzfest," he says over the phone from his Los Angeles home. "But it should be called the Sharonfest. She does all that negotiating."
With the bands, with the venues, with the fans, with the media.
Most of all, with him.
"I looked at my wife and said, 'Every year I'm on TV, and every year I'm doing Ozzfest. How long do you think this will be going on for?'"
What he meant to ask was why he keeps being asked to do television shows. Those, he says, he can live without. Touring, he can't.
But Sharon, it seems, misinterpreted him.
"When I tell her I need time off," he says, "it doesn't mean not necessarily doing Ozzfest. It means not doing some other work. There's got to be a time when you go, 'OK, let's pull back a bit.'"
The TV stuff, he means.
"When it's going well—the Ozzfest—I love it," Osbourne says. "People ask me, 'How many nights a week can you keep going with a set from 9 to 10:30?' And of course, it's a tough going. I get strained vocal cords. But that's what my life is about, you know?"
Sharon Osbourne is a woman in charge, at once confident, professional, to the point and careful with her word choices. She explains the change in format for Ozzfest simply enough: It's about what's best for Ozzy, she says.
"He toured for 11 months," she says. "He didn't finish until April. I'm not gonna saturate the market with Ozzy. I'm not gonna send him out for another 27 dates across the country. That's milking it for Ozzy, and that's not fair.
"So you think, let's tone it down for a year. That's all it is. We're only human, and we can only do the best that we can do...It's really nice, just once, to be able to do what we want to do through the summer. It's been a yearly event for years, and a lot of people plan on it for their summer, but obviously we're people too, and it's nice not to have to do this huge thing for one summer."
She's done her research, having traveled alongside a touring festival and having attended her share of destination festivals. Financially, she says, a destination festival just makes more sense than a touring one.
"You can actually, over a three-day event, make the same amount of money as you would in a 25-date event because of the touring costs," she says.
In recent years, destination festivals have been popping up everywhere—mostly because they're such big moneymakers. Even Lollapalooza, the alt-rock event that proved the touring festival a viable, profit-making option, is now a weekend-long event in Chicago.
As more and more destination festivals keep popping up across the country, the profits continue to increase. Concert industry trade publication Pollstar reports that in 2007 U.S. concert ticket sales totaled $3.9 billion, up 8 percent from the previous year. With dwindling CD sales profits, the touring circuit stands as the music industry's beacon of hope.
Dallas, meanwhile, is one of the few major cities in the United States to not be the annual host to a major summer destination festival. And Dallas has supported an annual metal festival in the past. From 1978 to 1988, the Cotton Bowl played host to the annual Texxas Jam—a show that Ozzy even performed at once, in 1984, alongside Rush, Bryan Adams, .38 Special and Gary Moore.
This year's Ozzfest stands as yet just another attempt to keep the festival ahead of the times3—kind of like last year, when it toured the country performing shows for free.
"Year after year, you can't just blindly go and do what you did last year," Sharon says. "You've got to keep changing things up to see what works better. Times are changing. The country is changing. You can't just do the same old, same old without taking into consideration the economy and what's going on over here. You have to take all these things into consideration and do the best that you can."
"I know how lucky I am," Ozzy says. "I ain't complaining about anything. I've always said that I'll be touring as long as they want me and as long as I can keep doing it. [But] I'm not living any illusion. I'm 60 years of age this year, and for more than 40 years, I've been doing music."
Ozzy knows this year, though, will be a challenge. "This is kind of the testing of the water," he says—and he keeps coming back to that phrase as he discusses the new format. He seems worried; metal fans are fickle people. As much as Ozzy's name recognition improved because of his television gigs, they might've hurt his credibility a bit. No doubt he's heard the rumbles of doubt coming from his fans about this year's Ozzfest, and more than anything else, he doesn't want to disappoint them.
"Before I go onstage, I still get stage fright," he says. "I still get nervous right up until I cross that invisible line onto the stage. People ask me how I can still get stage fright after all these years, and I go, 'If I didn't get stage fright, that would mean I didn't care.' And if I didn't care, it would be no challenge. And if I didn't have a challenge, it would get boring real quick."
He asks how the ticket sales are going and wavers between wholeheartedly trying to support the revamped festival and openly wishing it still followed its old touring schedule.
"Everyone's going, 'Oh, this is the end of Ozzfest,'" he says. "And if it is—I'm not planning that, but eventually, it has to come to the end, I'm aware of that—I'm not going to just start doing the one gig in Dallas. I'm gonna tour. But I'm also going to take a break now and then. I can tell you now: This is not the end of Ozzfest. I'm sure that next year, it will be the same as last year, with the full tour."
He has his doubts about this year's setup for Ozzfest.
"If I start worrying about it, I'm gonna get upset," he says, "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed, and I hope it's going to be OK.
Still, he leaves himself an out clause. Ozzy knows what he's doing—like he said, he's been at this for more than 40 years. And despite his reputations as both a performer who bites the heads off bats and as a bumbling television father who can't string a sentence together, he's smarter than you realize. Sly too. He doesn't want Sharon to know he's publicly expressing concern about the festival.
"People always ask me things like, 'Is it true that you once snorted a line of ants, Ozzy?' Maybe," he says. "I mean, it might be true, but I can't remember it. My memory's fucking terrible."
He laughs again.
"I'm sure that at the end of this interview, my wife's gonna go, 'Did you say this?' And I just won't be able to remember."
But like Ozzy, Sharon, too, has heard the backlash. She has seen the comments that littered Ozzfest.com's blog just moments after it announced the one-off Dallas date—the ones that called her out for making things too tough on the fans, the vitriolic ones, too, that accused her of killing Ozzfest. She's just trying to be practical about it all, she says. Trying to improve upon the model.
In late April, Sharon went on something of a reconnaissance mission. She visited Frisco to see Pizza Hut Park firsthand and attended the annual Edgefest concert thrown by The Edge, KDGE-102.1 FM. She liked what she saw in the space, liked how the stages were arranged, liked the fact that, geographically, Dallas is right smack dab in the middle of her festival's nationwide audience.
Check, check, check.
Deciding to move Ozzfest to Dallas, as opposed to a location on the East or West coasts, was that easy.
"It was just, really, the location and facility," she says. "And that was it, really."
But other than to say that there will be an Ozzfest 2009 ("Oh, God, yes—come on"), Sharon remains noncommittal about the event's future. Will it return to a touring festival ("If it's left up to Ozzy, it will"), or will it remain a destination affair?
At the very least, she says, Pizza Hut Park makes the latter possible.
"I saw that it would work [for this year] and that it would also work for taking it two or three days as a camping site," she says. "It's a facility that we can expand because of all the soccer pitches attached. If we do want to make it a destination festival, we've got the facility and we can grow into that and, if not, we can go back out and do the touring festival. If we were to make it a destination, we could do three shows, and we would have all the room in the world to expand and do what we want to do.
"We want to leave our options open."
But let's not kid ourselves.
Sure, Ozzy is quick to dole out praise to Texas metal bands and fans ("It's a real rough crowd down there," he says, positively), but let it be known: Were it not for the central location and the expansion possibilities Pizza Hut Park offers, this festival would not be taking place in Dallas.
The third stage of the festival would not be dubbed the Texas stage; Drowning Pool and Austin's The Sword might still perform, but Rigor Mortis and the two other DFW bands on the bill, The Destro and Within Chaos4, would almost certainly have never received an invite; there would also be no all-star tribute (with special guests Vinnie Paul Abbot of Pantera, Bob Zilla of Hellyeah, Kerry King of Slayer, Scott Ian of Anthrax and many, many more) held in memory of metal legend and local product "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott of Pantera, who was killed in an Ohio club in 2004. Other than Metallica's surprise inclusion, the tribute may be the most anticipated moment of this year's Ozzfest, even for the organizers.
"It's a little late, but nobody has forgotten Dimebag," Sharon says.
Of course not. Not in the incredibly loyal metal scene.
But if Ozzfest was taking place elsewhere, would this tribute still take place? "No," Sharon says. "It's because we're in Texas." She makes no bones about it. She is a businesswoman, aiming to find a way to cater to both the local audiences and the potential out-of-towners.
So far, she's succeeded with the latter. Late last month, AEG Live Senior Vice President Danny Eaton confirmed that tickets had been purchased by buyers in all 50 states. And, of the tickets sold, only 60 percent were to buyers in Dallas. That's the good news.
The bad? With about a week left before the festival, only a little more than 80 percent of the 29,000 tickets available for this year's Ozzfest had been purchased. And although Eaton says those numbers are right where he projected them to be at the time, with Ozzy preferring a touring schedule for Ozzfest, and Sharon keeping an eye on the bottom line, that doesn't necessarily bode too well for the Ozzfest's future as a destination event. And certainly not as one in Frisco.
At the very least, though, Ozzfest should make for an interesting spectacle. At his home in southern Dallas, Bruce Corbitt's Rigor Mortis band mate, drummer Harden Harrison laughs.
"The people in Frisco are in for a shock," he says. "There's gonna be some freaks in that little uptown suburb. I dunno how Frisco's gonna take it."
Actually, quite well: "We're expecting lots and lots of people, and that's always a good thing for the city," says Denise Stokes, head of public relations and communications for Frisco's Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "They'll not only be here for the concert, but they'll be spending their hard-earned money in our restaurants and stores. I just wish we could open more hotels sooner."
And while Frisco expects to face a spike in its economy, it can also expect a brief moment in the national media spotlight. Vince Richards, operations manager for Clear Channel Communications' Dallas radio entities—which include the rock-formatted The Eagle KEGL-97.1 FM and alterative-tinged The Edge—says Clear Channel stations throughout the country have been promoting Ozzfest with ticket giveaways and prize packages. And he expects there to be more coverage on the day of the show.
"Every broadcast company in the country is probably going to have someone down here broadcasting live," he says.
With so much about Ozzfest's future still up in the air, all eyes will be on Texas.
Ben Falgoust, who this year will be vocalist for both Goatwhore and Soilent, becoming only the second singer to ever pull double-duty at an Ozzfest show5, says the transition into a destination festival makes sense, especially given the competition in the touring festival circuit.
"The only reason people are hating on Dallas is because they're the only ones who got it," he says. "Destination festivals are really big in Europe, and that's where all these U.S. festivals got their idea. In Europe, they don't do touring festivals. After a while, all these touring festivals start hurting one another.
"I think it's gonna be awesome."
Relaxing on a pair of black leather couches at Harrison's home, Corbitt and Harrison's only concerns about the festival are the details. They'd be happier if, with a little more than two weeks to go before the show, someone had told his band the time and length of their set.
They know that will come, though.
For now, the band is working with a skeleton 30-minute set that they say they should be able to alter as needed. More difficult than that is the performance aspect: The band wants to put on a good show—but because of its members' involvements in other projects—bass player Casey Orr performs with GWAR, guitarist Mike Sciacca plays with Ministry—it's not like Rigor Mortis plays a thrash metal show every week anymore.
"We'll rehearse for four days straight the week before," Corbitt says. "That's the way we used to practice."
It'll be like getting back on an exercise routine, Harrison explains.
"You don't forget the songs," he says. "But you do forget how much endurance is involved. It hurts to play these songs. It's like going for a five-mile run after not running for a long time. You're gonna be sore."
When he walks, you can tell he knows what he's talking about; after years of performing as a metal drummer, there's a noticeable limp in Harrison's gait. "These songs are just so goddamn fast," he says, shaking his head.
Mentally, though, Corbitt and Harrison are prepared.
"As a band, you're always looking at these lineups and saying, 'Why the hell aren't we on there?'" Corbitt says. "Well, now we are, and we're excited."
Well, as excited as they'll allow themselves to be.
"We're on the third stage," Harrison says. "It's not like we're opening up for Metallica or anything. We're just gonna play."
"But it's Ozzfest," he reminds his band mate. "I've always seen it as a larger thing. I don't know why exactly, except for that it's Ozzfest."
"Yeah," Harrison responds after mulling over Corbitt's sentiment. "It's a pretty big deal. No matter where you're looking from, that lineup is a pretty big deal."
Then he laughs.
"That's just our luck, though," he says. "'Hey, you're on Ozzfest! But just for one day...''
"Yeah," he adds after another pause. "It'd be great if they made it a regular thing."