The Devil made me do it. Or maybe it was the music. Whatever the case, that sure as hell wasn't Fats Pompano running around Ozzfest with a "borrowed" all-access pass, going places he shouldn't have gone and witnessing things he shouldn't have seen. It was my body, maybe, but someone (or something) else was steering the wheels of my conscious mind. I had every intention of playing it straight with my media pass, going only where I was supposed to go and keeping my curiosity in check. But something happened while I waited in line for my pass. I heard a strange voice coming from the second stage, where Unearth was finishing its set. It was vocalist Trevor Phipps, who issued a command to the audience.
"Don't just stand there... destroy this fucking pit!" Phipps' bellowing voice growled. Now, I hear that kind of talk from bands all the time. It's as common as "Hello, South Florida!" or "You motherfuckers in the back, move up front!" But somehow, Phipps' words triggered something in the back of my brain, a free-wheeling, nomadic urge and it took over. So when an all-access pass was later offered to me (by a guy we'll call Dëëp Thröte), whatever was in control of my conscious eagerly accepted.
"Come with me. I'll get you backstage," DT said, handing me the sticker. "Don't put this on. Put it in your pocket, and flash it only if you need to. Just act like you're supposed to be there and you should be OK. And keep your media pass on."
Within a matter of minutes, I was in the field behind the second stage, where the band trailers were located. It looked like Roswell, New Mexico a chainlink fence surrounding a barren, sun-beaten landscape. The hustle and bustle of the golf carts (transporting band members from trailer to stage) added to the military-compound vibe. The uniforms, however, were far from standard government issue well, maybe in a Black Label Society.
"That's where Black Label Society is, in there," DT said, pointing to the long white trailer a few yards in front of us. Black Label Society is the band fronted by Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde. "They'll probably be going on soon, so let me show you around some more before we head to the stage."
So it was off to Sound Advice concession area, AKA the Village of the Damned. It was mostly set up for vendors, who sold everything from weed-flavored lollipops (Chronic Candy) to body art (read: breast-painting) and a chance to kick a soccer ball at a guy's head ("Kick me in the f@#king head, bitch," the sign read). There was even a booth full of clothing with the word Decriminalize emblazoned for all to see (which, I'm sure, comes in handy when you get pulled over at 2 in the morning).
And then there was the human merch booth and one-man band known as Harry Perry. Dressed like an Arabian knight complete with turban and unkempt beard Perry wandered through the crowd soloing on his electric guitar (with a small, portable amplifier clipped to his belt loop) and singing into a microphone that wasn't there. Strapped to his shoulders were a couple of black leather bags full of CDs and posters. Aside from the obvious question of how Perry was allowed in with all that gear (he was touring with System of a Down, he said), I wondered how he managed to endure the heat for so long.
"You're not hot in that outfit?" I asked.
"Who cares?" he replied in a blasé tone before starting the next song and moving on. Gotta make that sale, you know? And that's fine with me DT was heading back to the compound to get a backstage look at Black Label Society's set.
Again, I put on my poker face and followed, walking straight up the back of the stage. I stood about ten feet from the band, gazing out at the thousands of metalheads waving their sunburned arms to the music. Wylde, like the rest of the band (and their entourage), was sporting a biker gang look. My roadie's-eye view lasted a minute. I turned to look for DT and saw that he had slipped into the sound booth. Again, my conscious started to surface, and my poker face disappeared. I nervously tried to join Dëëp but was stopped in my tracks by a tall, official-looking dude who saw the media pass on my shirt and, without uttering a word, motioned me off the stage. It was back to hanging out with the commoners but that proved to be more interesting anyway.
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After waiting for DT to get the hell out of the sound booth, we went back to the Village of the Damned, which, I soon found out, had its own off-limits places.
"Hey! You can't come through here without paying the toll!" a female voice shouted to me. I turned to see a heavily tattooed brunet working one of the vending tables. I didn't know what she meant by "paying the toll," but both of us stopped as soon as we heard the announcement coming from the breast-painting tent.
"If you like titties, let's hear it!" the barker said. "Big titties, small titties we don't discriminate!"
My conscious came back from vacation, awakened by the sight of two naked breasts awaiting the airbrush. I knew it was something I wasn't supposed to see. Surrounding the tent, a crowd of curious onlookers (read: horny dudes) gathered, probably frustrated that they could see only the woman's back. It was an amusing sight, overall, and it made me realize something, now that my consciousness had returned: The real action at Ozzfest (or any all-day concert) is where the people are not backstage, not outside some band's trailer, and certainly not in the sound booth. And no special-access pass or boob-watching toll can beat that.