Out Of The Black - Ozzfest: From One Weekender To Global Phenomenon

Ozzy live in 1996
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer Presents: Ozzfest.

It’s all thanks to Lollapalooza that Ozzfest happened at all. In 1995, Sharon Osbourne had tried to persuade the alt-rock shindig’s organisers to put Ozzy on the bill of their travelling festival. They rejected the idea, believing the Prince Of Darkness lacked the necessary cool to be part of their bill. Undeterred, Sharon determined that if Ozzy wasn’t to be part of Lollapalooza, then the pair of them would create their own version instead.

And so Ozzfest was born. Said Sharon at the time: “I just thought, ‘Fuck them’. If Lollapalooza wasn’t able to see what Ozzy could give them, then we’d come up with our own metal version, only better.”

But Ozzfest wasn’t just about giving Ozzy his own platform; the festival would also position him in his rightful place as the Godfather of Metal, at a time when a whole new generation of metal bands were coming through. Nu metal was emerging and ready to explode, and for the first time since the late 1980s, there was a genuine belief that the genre was about to enjoy another electrifying phase of creativity. Cue Ozzfest 1996…

Ozzfest 1996 - In The Beginning…

With just two stages, one dedicated to newer acts just beginning to making their name, and the main stage headlined by Ozzy and bands like Slayer, Danzig and Sepultura, it was a portent of things to come

“Just to be asked to be part of this event was a huge honour,” said Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera back in 1996. “We are all huge fans of Ozzy, and to share the stage with him is a dream. But we understand how important Ozzfest could be. There’s Lollapalooza, which caters for the alternative scene. But this is about giving metal a voice and a stage.”

Let me hear you scream, Ozzy and guitarist Joe Holmes fire up Ozzfest in 1996

Let me hear you scream, Ozzy and guitarist Joe Holmes fire up Ozzfest in 1996 (Image credit: Getty Images)



Ozzy Osbourne • Slayer • Danzig

Biohazard • Sepultura • Fear Factory

Narcotic Gypsy


Neurosis • Earth Crisis • Powerman 5000

Coal Chamber • Cellophane

Perhaps more than any other group on the bill, Coal Chamber represented the coming storm. Nu metal was definitely reinventing the wheel, and Dez Fafara and the band were right at the cutting edge of it all.

“That was such a huge breakthrough for us,” recalled vocalist Fafara a few years later. “You don’t get many chances to be make history. So we were privileged to be part of the very first Ozzfest.”

The inaugural Ozzfest wasn’t yet the roving circus it would later become: on October 25, Ozzfest debuted in Phoenix, Arizona, and the next day relocated to Devore in California. There was an extra Halloween show tagged on the following weekend the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage and that was it. The Osbournes were clearly testing the waters, seeing whether there was enough demand for such an extravaganza.

The response was overwhelmingly positive: the fans loved it, the bands loved it.

For Ozzy, it was a turning point in his career. No longer just the legend, now he was the guiding light for the next generation. As America clamoured for more, Ozzfest was up and running.

Flying High Again - The Return Of Ozzfest

After a hiatus of a few years, the rolling Ozzfest circus was reduced to just one show with Metallica in 2008, in 2009, there was no Ozzfest at all and then in 2010, the festival was brought back to life with shows in the US, UK and Israel


“I needed a break! I just wanted to jump off the wheel for a while. So I took the whole of last year of from touring. It was the first time in my whole career that I’ve afforded myself a bit of time off. I’ve been doing it now for 42 years one way or another. Fucking hell, 42 years has gone past in a flash…”

Hello, London! Ozzfest hits the 02 Arena

Hello, London! Ozzfest hits the 02 Arena (Image credit: Getty Images)


“I’m a bit of a couch potato, you know? I could just watch fucking documentaries all day about the war in fucking wherever. I do little sketches. I listen to music and just potter around. To wake up and not have to work is a big luxury to have – for anybody to have. People go to work every day regardless of whether they like it or not, that’s what they do. But I’m self-destructive. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do dope anymore. And when you’ve got a lot of time on your hands – at least, when I’ve got a lot of time on my hands – it’s a dangerous fucking thing. I start thinking… I wonder if I had one of them with one of them, what would happen? It’s all self-destructive… So when Sharon said, ‘What are you gonna do about the Ozzfest?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna give it another go!’ Since we did that Texas show with Metallica, a few more festivals have popped up, so when we first agreed to do another Ozzfest I said, ‘Don’t put too many shows out in case we end up with three fucking cows and a drunk in a field!’ So if it takes off, it takes off. And if it doesn’t, well, the whole thing has been a phenomenal experience.”


“What I’m really happy about is the fact that we’ve given a lot of bands a chance to be successful – bands that wouldn’t necessarily have done it. It’s kept the ball rolling for heavy metal, you know?”


“You tell me! All I know is we’re doing the O2. But I’m not doing 50 shows, ‘cause Michael Jackson fucking died when he said that!”

The Ozzy Osbourne Quiz