Sunday, September 19, 2004

Ozzfest 2004 - Pittsburgh

Submitted by Sonny:

"South Side: a neighborhood known for steel mills, warehouses and tough kids." - From Pittsburghese: How to Speak Like a Pittsburgher by Sam McCool

On the way to Ozzfest, my brother and I made a detour to the South Side of Pittsburgh. Knowing that we'd get nothing decent to eat at the concert, we needed to fortify ourselves with a heavy lunch. We were seeking the famed South Side Slopes, a monstrous sandwich tailor-made for men of enormous appetites: steel mill workers, coal miners and others who need a ton of calories to get through a day of hard physical labor.

And that's what brought Mark and I to Fat Head's Saloon on delightfully run-down East Carson Street. At the bar we encountered a stranger named Buddy, a heavily tattooed house painter in a torn-up tank top. He looked like a guy who knew the way to Ozzfest. We'd never been to a concert in Pittsburgh before, and Pennsylvania liquor laws are strange and puritanical. So I asked Buddy if they sold beer at the concert. "Yeah, but it's six bucks a glass," he said. "You should get drunk here with me instead!"

This was the beginning of a long downhill slide that lasted until the wee hours of the following day. Fat Head's had Iron City beer on tap. Buddy quickly became drunker and friendlier. Soon he was treating me like I was his oldest and dearest friend. He announced that he was going to Ozzfest too, just as soon as his friend showed up to drive him there. He offered us a ride to the concert (in his friend's car) and took it for granted that we'd take him up on his offer.

As the afternoon wore on, Buddy laid out plans for what we'd do before and after the concert. He also asked me repeatedly if I wanted an Imp and Iron (a shot of Imperial chased with an Iron City beer). This offer made me uneasy, mainly because I suspected that what he really wanted was for me to pay for both of us. I became more uneasy when his friend appeared -- a menacing guy with a battered face and long hair, like an aging Pink Floyd roadie.

In the midst of this, the famed South Side Slopes sandwich arrived. Men who are about to spend hours standing up at heavy metal concerts need serious food. This monstrosity met our needs admirably. It consisted of kielbasa, fried pierogies (they put pierogies on everything in Pittsburgh, including pizza), grilled onions and grilled peppers, topped off with a big squirt of Cheez Whiz. This artery-clogger recently earned a place on Maxim magazine's "Top 10 list of America's best meat hog sandwiches". It was, as my wife says, "so much food that it's disgusting."

I ate it all. So did my brother.

Then it was off to the Sleep Inn motel for a pre-concert booze-up. Not wanting to get arrested for drunken driving, we had a taxi take us to and from the show. This only made things worse, as I will explain shortly.

The crowd at the show was more blue-collar, more tattooed and definitely fatter than I'm accustomed to after years in south Florida. Wearing my Ozzfest 1998 t-shirt, I couldn't decide if I fit in or not. Goths in black fishnet stockings mingled with college kids in West Virginia University clothing and guys my age who could remember when Paranoid was a new vinyl release… it was all slightly surreal.

Curiously, there were signs everywhere strictly prohibiting "lawn fires." I found out why during Slayer's set. By this time, my brain was spinning from Iron City and bourbon. We stumbled into a section of the lawn that we hadn't been to before. There we found a bunch of greasers standing in a circle, gazing at a small fire. They'd made it from popcorn bags and other garbage.

This seemed really perverse and pointless. It was hot enough already, and they were all shirtless and sweaty. Apparently a Pittsburgh tradition, the lawn fire seems to be a close cousin of the Detroit practice of setting fires on the night before Halloween or when their team loses (or wins) a big game.

But it didn't last long. A couple of event staffers rushed up with fire extinguishers, doused the fire and moved on with bored expressions as if this was just another dreary day at the office.

Now, it's confession time: I can't remember much more about the concert. To my shame, both of us were staggering around like drunken sailors run amok on leave by the time Judas Priest hit the stage. Mark claims he was staggering only because of a sore knee, but I know better. Of course, there was no safety issue to worry about... no date rape danger, like there would have been for a teenage girl, and we had the taxi to take us back to the Sleep Inn. But still, this is no way for grown men to behave. Oh, the horror.

I can say with confidence that Priest played a hotter set than Sabbath. My brother, who's not much of a metal fan, didn't say much about the music. But when Slayer came on, he asked "Who's this band? They're good." He said the same thing when Priest's set started with Hellion/Electric Eye, and Halford appeared in the middle of the eye-shaped stage set. Sabbath opened their set with War Pigs and the same video they showed during their last tour.

By the time we reeled back to our hotel, there was no food to be had. Even the local pizza place was closed. It was at this point that I realized I'd have to endure a crushing hangover the next day. But men like us are made for these adventures. My first concert in Pittsburgh was a rite of passage. I was honor-bound to see it through to the bitter end.