Illustration by Dustin Goebel

Heavy Metal Bummer

June 17, 1997. Polaris Amphitheater. Ozzfest. Some 18,000 fans taking in a gazillion bands on two stages. Columbus Dispatch Music Critic, Bill Eichenberger has assigned me, apprentice concert reporter, to cover the metal scrubs on stage two so he can focus on headliners.

By 8 p.m. I’ve filed my impressions of Vision of Disorder, et al., and I’m kicking back with a $900 beer, ready to provide Eich proper Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath song titles. (Eich’s a Jackson/Browne guy.)

Hmmm. Something’s off. It’s almost 9 and the festival namesake isn’t on stage, where he should be. No trembling Ozzy barking at the moon. No Ozzy white-knuckling the mic stand like the last man alive in a tsunami. No Ozzy shouting: “I love you all, man!” No Ozzy pit-a-patting around like a giddy toddler, soaking front row fans with water hoses. No “Go crazy, you (expletives)! A ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Instead, up there is a who’s-who of who’d already performed, bashing through I Don’t Know, Crazy Train, and other Ozzy chestnuts: Marilyn Manson (the man from Canton, not the whole band), Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, and members of Fear Factory, Type O Negative, and Ozzy’s band.

Oh, okay, it’s a super loose jam to clear the palate after this daylong heavy metal buffet? A preamble to ready the filthy throng for a killer set by the Prince of Darkness? Cool. But as the “Where’s Ozzy?” Band hootenanny rollicks past the half-hour mark, fans begin catching one another’s glances. What’s up, man? Dude, where’s my Ozzy?

After all the filibustering, the music stops and Pantera mouthpiece Phil Anselmo lays it on us. I’m paraphrasing greatly, but it went something like, “Look, Ozzy ain’t gonna be able to be here tonight. He’s really sick and … ”

A bottle of Mountain Dew whizzes past Anselmo before he could even finish the explanation. Award-winning cursing by Anselmo ensues. Behind us, fans in the lawn seats muster energy and strength to rip up impressive patches of recently planted sod and heave them impressively far. Brush fires are burning. Anselmo stomps away. A man with a golf shirt tucked into shorts appears. He is not in Black Sabbath. He’s a Polaris spokesman who swears far less into the microphone but reiterates the same crazy news Anselmo shared.

The barrage of bottles and full beers continues. Projectiles are whizzing everywhere between the amphitheater roof and our scalps. Sections of the wooden fence surrounding the lawn are being destroyed. Eich and I retreat to the confines of the administration offices and begin to clackety-clack at our Dispatch laptops.

In the end, Eich reported that: “Fans smashed the box office windows and attempted to climb in, threw objects at employees (who quickly exchanged their uniforms for street clothes), tore down the wooden fence around the facility, destroyed neighbors’ fences and trees, and heavily damaged at least one car in the parking lot. Columbus police called in reinforcements, including a helicopter to get people to leave. Parking lots were thinning out by 11 p.m. No serious injuries were reported. Police issued 12 citations and arrested one person.”

As for Ozzy? I never found out if he covered the tab for damage suffered by the amphitheater (now forever buried under an Ikea). But the following month, he made up for his no-show, playing the hits for a packed house.

“I’m sorry I let you down,” Ozzy said early on in the gig. “But I’m here now. Let’s rock ‘n’ roll!”