Punctuality is not Rihanna's strength. Loud boos greeted the pop temptress before she stepped on stage last week at Roskilde 2013, Northern Europe's largest music festival. So far during her "Diamonds World Tour," Rihanna had been trashed several times for arriving late -- three hours in Boston and two hours in Birmingham, England. She was a half hour late to Roskilde.
Falling towards Redemption
Debate had already tarnished the appearance of the naughty Pop Queen simply because critics argue that top-of-the-chart pop music violates the spirit of the Roskilde Music Festival. Since its founding in 1971, the festival has promoted just about every other musical genre. This year, 195 concerts rocked eight stages for 130,000 fans, volunteers and workers. In years past, Aerosmith, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Cold Play, Kanye West and Prince have hit center stage.
Even louder shouts signaled that all was forgiven the moment Rihanna appeared. Fans had waited up to 17 hours to enter the pit and dote on their idol close-up. Over 60,000 gathered for the concert. There are at least four reasons why they came: to hear Rihanna's smoky and metallic voice, to gaze at her x-rated but classy body, to watch her crotch-slapping yet homey dancing and to catch her teflon-encrusted, bouncy attitude.
Not all was on display at Roskilde. Rihanna, who is currently the best-selling digital artist of all time, was criticized for relying too much on playback. Throughout the concert, recorded tracks of her own voice provided accompanying vocals in harmony. At least once, she released her golden mike during the last two lines of a verse and let her recorded voice pick up the slack. Such technological antics made the Bajan beauty seem over-produced and virtual.
RiRi's enormous pinstripe baseball jersey and matching legionnaires hat did not help. Noting that it was the first time that Rihanna was wearing too much, the New York Daily News dubbed the getup "a nightdress gone horribly awry." With her baggy gown reaching down to her white high tops, the star's undulations appeared less graceful and her crotch-grabs looked like scratching. She may have redeemed herself to some, however, when her jersey shortened significantly and the 25-year-old diva teasingly bent over to flash the backs of her thighs.
After a less-than vibrant first half, the six-time Grammy-award winner broke into a series of hits that had the entire audience singing. Beginning with "Umbrella," and winding down with a medley of "We Found Love," "S&M," "Only Girl (in the World)," and "Don't Stop the Music," the star captured the Roskilde spirit. With only her attitude to pull her through, RiRi repeatedly called to the festival-goers, "I love you, Denmark." Caught up in Rihanna's allure, a combination of over-sexed precociousness and genuine love, and perhaps aware of the singer's fragile humanity, the crowd surrendered and believed her. The encore, "Diamonds," was merely icing on the cake.
The Roskilde Spirit
Rihanna had invigorated the Roskilde spirit which radiates love, tolerance, inclusiveness and responsibility. This atmosphere is also cultivated by the fact that the festival is not-for-profit. Last year, approximately $2,250,000 was donated to humanitarian and cultural work. Simply by attending the event, festival-goers better the world. Rihanna's success, against a chatter of skepticism, was that she fostered that spirit by not only getting everyone to sing along but by attracting a new breed of festival-goers. According to the Danish press, Roskilde Music Director Rikke Oexner hopes that Lady GaGa or Justin Timberlake will play someday.
From the moment they blasted on stage, it was clear that Metallica had a blood relationship with Denmark, the home of Roskilde madness. The dark gods of heavy metal have battered the country 23 times. One reason is that the heart-poundingly agile drummer, Lars Ulrich, is Danish born. Co-founding 'Tallica with lead singer James Hetfield in 1981, the ferocious drummer may have helped breath European fire into the band.
Glam metal imprisoned American attention at that time, but Metallica raised the tempo, the distrust and the aggression, thus helping to birth thrash metal. The band's second album, "Ride the Lightning (1984)," personifies death and was recorded in Denmark with Danish producer and engineer, Flemming Rasmussen. Metallica tightened its grip on Rasmussen to record its next two efforts, the six-times platinum album "Master of Puppets," (1986) and the eight-times platinum album "...And Justice for All," (1988). Still smoldering with European influence, Metallica's recent Orion Music + More Festival loosely patterns events such as Roskilde.
Back for the fourth time, the guardians of old-style heavy metal exploded on stage with the dramatic anthem, "Blackened." Death, destruction and despair were on the menu as the quartet paid homage to its thrash-metal origins. Heads-banged and metal horns gestured as the band delivered "From Whom the Bell Tolls," "Disposable Heroes" and "Harvester of Sorrow."
Lead singer James Hetfield stood with his legs apart and his guitar low, growling and roaring his way through the music in pure, testosterone-drenched form. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett bobbed his head while pulling frenetic riffs as sweating Ulrich pounded like a machine gun.
Unfortunately, with over 30 years and nine albums from which to extract, the band drained the audiences' focus by playing three ballads and some heavy rock. Whether to pace the aging band members, all of whom are a scream away from 50, or to allure non-metal enthusiasts, the result made hard core fans slightly comatose.
But the seventh biggest selling band in American history thundered right back with "Battery." Prepped for the ride, the audience began singing during the instrumental build-up. Guitars screamed thickly and Hetfield bellowed encouragingly, "Roskilde, are you alive? Are you alive? How does it feel to be alive? Then show me!"
Mutual love held its grip through "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman" until the very end. Fireworks blasted and black balls fell during the final encore as the entire festival yelled "Seek and Destroy." With the smoke still lingering, the nine-time Grammy winners hung out longer than usual. Hetfield smiled and bassist Robert Trujillo spun around and around with his guitar. Then Ulrich snarled, "see you," in his native tongue, and promptly sent everyone back to never, never land.
We All Contribute
It is not only musical acts like Rihanna and Metallica that fuel the Roskilde spirit. As one of the festival's 35,000 volunteers, I also worked to spread tolerance, inclusiveness and love by joining a crew of 120 volunteers. Camp J is a genuinely silent and clean camp. We pick up trash, secure the fire pit, monitor the toilets and answer questions.
Although the required 32 hours over nine days dragged at times, particularly during an obligatory all-nighter, the chance to meet new people was worth it. But, let's face it, an eight-hour shift is a combination of fun and of boredom, especially if one is sleep deprived. It is at these slow times that one must go deep into the Roskilde spirit. We did this by lying down in the sun to take a break and to talk with our volunteer neighbors. We also succeeded by dancing in the early morning hours to stay awake and keep warm.
When I look back at Roskilde 2013, it is these times, along with the performances of Rihanna, Metallica and others, on which my memory will linger.