It’s not even the start of the Orion Fest yet, but I’ve already came within five feet of James Hetfield. Let me back up a little. I’m in Detroit for the second time ever, and still trying to get a feel for the city. I’m several blocks away from my hotel at the St. Andrews Hall for the the first ever Orion pre-show with Baroness and Coliseum. Last year’s inaugural in Atlantic City was a standalone event: Saturday and Sunday only. This year’s version has two shows the night before the Fest begins: the one we’ve chosen and the later one with The Bronx, The Orwells and Chevy Metal, a three piece cover band featuring Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins.
Coliseum, a three-piece of their own, opened our show. Blending punk intensity with a 90’s Dischord touch, the band played a career-encompassing high energy set that inspired a small mosh pit midway through. After their set, the crowd which was at about 80% capacity, got their first “oh shit!” moment of the Festival as all of Metallica walked out onstage to introduce Baroness. That was one thing that the band was known for last year: introducing the bands on their festival. For them to stop by the night before to do the same shows that they’re really taking the ‘family’ vibe of the festival seriously.
Baroness have always been a great live act. At last year’s festival, they played a set several weeks before their third album, Yellow and Green, was released, it was the first show of what was to be a long tour. Of course last year’s bus accident cut that short. We spoke to John Baizley before the show last night about the new lineup and making his way back from injury. He said that the accident has made him more expressive onstage. Having been on the road for just over a week, his new band sounds like they’ve been together a lot longer than they have (a few months), and hearing a lot of material from last year’s album played live for the first time is a great experience. Watching Baizley’s emotional acoustic performance at SXSW several months ago, he’s brought that vulnerability back to the full rock band they’ve become.
Oh yeah, about Het. A few songs into Baroness, and I head downstairs to the bathroom and am prevented from coming back up by someone. After being pushed back down the stairs, an entourage streams by me. Among them is James Hetfield, being spirited through the venue to disappear into the Detroit night. What’s exciting is that the actual festival hasn’t even begun yet.