Any aspiring metalhead who doesn't know Jack is shit out of luck. That's because the cherub-faced teenager with the spiked hair named Jack Osbourne has become, merely by his bloodline, a big wheel in the music industry. His mommy happens to be Sharon Osbourne, the woman whose summer rock tour, Ozzfest, is arguably the most successful venture of its kind. His daddy is the guy after whom the tour is named, Ozzy Osbourne.
If Jack gives Mom the word about a hot new band like Incubus (his current fave), and Mom checks out the band's live show, fame is apparently only a phone call away from her Hollywood office.
Okay, so some especially naive musicians think it sucks that one kid can wield so much power in the business without having to pay any dues. But the fact remains that the bands at Ozzfest represent the cutting edge of metal (and its multiple subgenres). They appeal to thousands of kids Jack's age around the world who are ready, willing and able to plunk down $50 apiece for the pleasure.
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The result is a festival that will have grossed almost $60 million over the past three years by the time it winds down. Sharon Osbourne keeps an iron grip on the proceedings, which is perhaps the main reason for Ozzfest's longevity in a time when other festivals, like Lollapalooza, are torn apart by infighting and indifference. That and the world's endless supply of testosterone, the fuel that keeps 'em coming back for more.
This year's crop of bands proves yet again that there is no such thing as strict "metal." In the modern era of heavy rock, genres blend together and mutate so quickly that the most kick-ass mook rockers of the minute may be old news by the time you've downloaded them off Napster. On the main stage at the Houston show, the early-afternoon slots feature three competent acts: Disturbed, Queens of the Stone Age and P.O.D. The fact that P.O.D. (Payable on Death) is MTV's darling of the moment is a little odd, considering that being a big deal on TRL hasn't always equated to having actual talent. The San Diego band is the true infidel here: The thrash-funk act picks up where Bad Brains left off and sings about Christian values, a notion that occasionally brings boos from the pit.
In the late afternoon, when White Zombie wanna-bes Static-X and the incredibly boring Godsmack hit the main stage, those in the know will be checking out Kittie and Soulfly, the final two acts on the second stage. The paradoxical thing about this daylong testament to testosterone is that one of the heaviest bands on the bill is Kittie, an all-girl group.
These four youngsters from Canada -- the youngest was a high school sophomore when she quit to become a full-time musician -- have just seen their debut album, Spit, reach gold status on the momentum generated by Ozzfest. We can almost guarantee that record companies worldwide are searching for female teen metal bands even as we write.
Kittie vocalist Morgan Lander admits that Ozzfest audiences are curious to see if these chicks can cut it. Lander's guttural wailing and fierce guitar usually silence any doubters. And even with all the evidence of mosh-pit misogyny at Woodstock '99, Lander says it's unfair to suggest that Kittie is doing some kind of disservice to women by singing songs with titles such as "Suck" and "Do You Think I'm a Whore."
After all, the band does have to endure some catcalls from the pit and gets some pretty creepy e-mails from guys suggesting they get together and do a heck of a lot more than discuss how to down-tune a guitar.
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"There was one guy in Canada who showed us his Kittie tattoo who had been following us all over the place to see our shows," Lander says. "But he wasn't looking for some thrill. He was really into the music. Sure, sometimes the stuff we get off the Internet freaks me out, coming from some faceless person hiding behind a keyboard. But I'll jump into the pit anytime. I'm comfortable with it."
Ozzfest wouldn't be anything without a fresh supply of hormone-laden boys eager to body-slam each other and perhaps catch their first look at a real live pair of female breasts. It's both amusing and fitting that the carnival and second-stage area at Ozzfest is named Never Neverland, after the fantasy world in Walt Disney's animated classic Peter Pan in which kids never grow old. In the Ozzfest version, there's a slight twist to the story line: Kids never grow up. Ole Walt would do a couple 360s in his grave if he knew Never Neverland was now the summer playground of dorky teenagers, shirtless, tongue-pierced skinheads and old-school headbangers who perk up when they hear the amplified words "You motherfuckers rock."
At Ozzfest, after extensive frisking by a phalanx of security guards, you check your inhibitions at the door. Inside, when not watching bands or standing in the beer lines with a fake ID, you can stroll through the Ozzfest dreamworld, line up for hours to play the newest video games or throw rolls of toilet paper through commode seats to win Ozzfest trinkets.
Of course the real winner in all of this is the Ozzster himself, who caps off each festival performance by spraying the crowd with a water cannon and playing "War Pigs" for the zillionth time, finding a way to stretch his career into its fifth decade merely by following his wife's advice. If Ozzy toured strictly with old-fogy metal bands, the whole thing would be so 1980s and uncool, but at the festival, the Ozzman sops up the hip youth spillover, while playing the role of grand old man. The second-stage lineup, after all, isn't reserved for a few just-happy-to-be-here local acts. Some kids hang out there all day because most of the bands are pretty decent. The fact that Limp Bizkit and Slipknot, two of the top five metal acts of the moment, owe a huge part of their status to previous Ozzfest appearances speaks for itself.