It used to be fairly easy to survive the summer concert season mostly intact. Wear sunscreen, remember where you parked your car, don't eat the brown acid ….
Though all that advice still holds true, there are new pitfalls to be avoided in the current crop of warm-weather music fests. Here are a few strategies for making it through some of the summer's larger events, happily and healthfully.
Saturday, July 2, at Pier 30/32
The average punk rock song is two minutes long, so there's some irony to the fact that Warped is America's longest-running traveling festival tour. It's also the Baskin-Robbins of music fests, with the 11th edition of “The Tour That Won't Die” offering 31 flavors of punk (emo, screamo, pop, hardcore, goth, '77, metal, etc.), plus skating, BMXing, and a nonstop parade of Hot Topic fashions.
Highlights: My Chemical Romance, The Transplants, The Offspring, Dropkick Murphys, Strike Anywhere, Mike Watt.
Plan early, plan well. There are 82 bands on 10 stages, with each act given 30 minutes to play. So when you arrive, figure out which bands you really want to see, exactly where and when they're playing, and if you can realistically catch their sets. Otherwise you'll spend nine hours scampering between stages and only 13 minutes actually enjoying the music, the spectating equivalent of the dopey college freshman who schedules back-to-back classes on opposite ends of a sprawling campus.
It's hot, dress smart. Hey, Mr. Goth: You might look cool in those black PVC pants and overcoat, but after five minutes in the MyChem pit under the blazing sun, you'll be carted off to the first aid tent with heatstroke, no matter how many $14 bottles of Aquafina water you've chugged.
Beware the half-pipe: Pro skaters can easily pull off awe-inspiring Nollie Heelflip Indy 540s about 90 feet in the air. The vert competitors at this year's Amateur Skate Jam … mmm, not so well, probably. Special spectator warning: Enjoy from a distance, or you might come home with a deck lodged in your skull.
Saturday, July 9, at the Chronicle Pavilion
Surreal Life alumnus, PAX-TV preacher, legendary money-squanderer, wearer-of-shiny-genie-pants, and, oh yes, rapper MC Hammer headlines this year's celebration of all things old and funky (except your grandmother).
Highlights: MC Hammer, Cameo, Morris Day & the Time, S.O.S. Band, Ohio Players.
Selective memory: To keep from ruining your own good time, it's probably best if you avoid remembering MC Hammer proudly sporting his Speedo-wrapped boner in the “Pumps and a Bump” video; Cameo singer Larry Blackmon's bright-red codpiece (unless he pulls it out of mothballs for this show); or Morris Day being such a prick to poor Prince in Purple Rain.
No requests: Jerome Benton is Morris Day's onstage valet, not yours. So if you see him in the parking lot after the gig, don't ask him to bring you a mirror, fetch your dry cleaning, or bring your car around.
Leave the catchphrases at home: Sorry, but “I'm Rick James, bitch” isn't funny anymore, not even at a funk fest.
Tuesday, July 19, at HP Pavilion
Believe it or not, the third installment of the Anger Management Tour marks the first time that close pals and fellow Dr. Dre protégés Eminem and 50 Cent are hitting the road together. Eminem, of course, is a veteran of the 2000 and 2002 AM tours, which also featured such nü-metal acts as Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach. This time out, however, it's all hip hop, with Lil' Jon (“Yeeeahhhhhhhh!!! Wut??!?!”) onboard to make things extra crunky.
Highlights: Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil' Jon & the East Side Boyz, D12, G-Unit.
Know your beef: Last we heard, the “truce” between 50 and former G-Unit member the Game is off after the latter mocked the former onstage at a New York radio station festival last month and threw his old G-Unit chain into the crowd. Meanwhile, Eminem's DJ Green Lantern recently got caught up in the ongoing battle between 50 and Jadakiss and had to split from Em to help keep the peace between the two superstars. Confused? Well, just be sure not to show off any Game, Jadakiss, or (we think) Ja Rule gear, especially around the crews and posses, and check the wires for any fresh beef the day of the show and dress accordingly.
Mark your goods: If you're planning to bring a pimp cup to the festivities, and you didn't bother to get it personalized, be sure to etch your name and phone number on the bottom in case you lose it. Untold numbers of pimp cups go missing every year; don't become a statistic.
Saturday, July 23, at the Shoreline Amphitheatre
Warped and Ozzfest too corporate for ya? Not keepin' it real enough? Too many prima donna MTV bands on those bills? The inaugural Sounds of the Underground festival was conceived as a super-aggro alternative to those other tours, where hardcore and extreme metal bands usually found on the small-club circuit can link their cult followings together for one big molten throwdown (or at least make up for the fact that they didn't get selected for Warped or Ozzfest).
Highlights: High on Fire, Clutch, Poison the Well, Lamb of God, From Autumn to Ashes, GWAR.
Pits can be the pits: These pits promise to be the most violent of any this summer. Be sure to check the lengths of your chain wallet and wristband spikes so you don't strangle or impale anyone while you're crowd-surfing.
What? Whaaaat?: Sure, earplugs look lame. So does wearing a hearing aid at 22 because you planted your naked ears next to speakers louder than an air raid siren for seven hours straight. Concerts rarely get louder than this one, so be sure to invest in a pair of those $5 foam plugs. Or maybe shove some of your buddy's well-chewed gum in there.
Support your rawk troops: If you see a new band you really dig, make sure you buy an album or a T-shirt directly from the merch table instead of getting them from the mall the next day. The bands might charge you a couple bucks less, they might throw in some free stickers and stuff, and this way the artist gets a bigger cut. Remember, “underground” = “broke.”
Saturday, August 13, at the Shoreline Amphitheatre
No one dreamed Ozzy Osbourne would actually make it past 40 (he's just a couple years shy of 60 at this point). And when Ozzfest — devised by Sharon Osbourne, who was angry that her hubby'd been denied a Lollapalooza slot — launched modestly in 1996, few thought it had the staying power to make it to this year's 10th anniversary edition. But millions of rabid metalheads have made Ozzfest the biggest, best attended, most leather- and tattoo-laden summer festival in the U.S.
Highlights: The 87th and possibly final reunion of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Rob Zombie, Mastodon, Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, Wicked Wisdom (fronted, we shit you negative, by Jada Pinkett-Smith, actress and wife of actor/candy rapper Will Smith).
Pick your battles wisely: Unlike, say, audiences for the Warped Tour, Ozzfest crowds are comprised of more than just weenie high schoolers easily stomped should you get into a shoving match. Here, you'll find some serious bad-ass metal lifers (not to mention some dudes who came this close to getting 20-to-life). They won't take too kindly to your lip; they've wasted guys at the Sturgis motorcycle rally for less. So think twice before mouthing off to the guy who elbows you during the Maiden set or cuts in front of you at the Jaeger tent.
Keep your hands to yourself: OK, let's be honest here — it's no secret that metal draws its share of male misfits and miscreants. It's also no secret that between the chicks flashing their goods at the stage, getting their T-shirts watered down by “concerned” security guards, and lining up at the breast-painting booth, there's probably more boobage on display at Ozzfest than at the AVN Awards in Vegas. So for all you skeezy dudes out there, remember: Look, but don't touch. Not only is touching sexual assault, but it often means you'll get your ass kicked by a big, jealous boyfriend or, more likely, a really pissed-off chick.
Bang thy head … carefully: Many thousands of people arrive in emergency rooms each year suffering from whiplash, a soft tissue injury that commonly occurs during automobile crashes or heavy metal concerts. In addition to severe neck pain, symptoms may include memory loss (“Dude, I swear, I was never into hair metal”); irritability (“Sixty bucks for a Mudvayne T-shirt, what the fuck?!”); and depression (“Aww man, now that Ozzfest's over the rest of the year is all downhill …”). If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a doctor immediately.