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Backwash

The scariest thing about Ozzfest isnít the music. Itís the price bands have to pay just to play in it.

Otep raised a prosthetic pig's head high in the air and commanded the crowd to worship her. "Soldiers, you have entered the church of Otep," she said, flipping her multi-hued hair around and grunting not so girlishly. The solitary female performer on the Ozzfest tour, Otep had exactly twenty minutes to suck in the audience, convert the cynics and, hopefully, inspire a chain reaction that would ultimately lead audience members to head over to the tour's merchandise booth, where Otep's debut for Capitol Records was on sale for twenty bucks. Following their set at the Pepsi Center on August 22, Otep and her band assembled in a special tent to meet fans and push, push, push that new album. 'Cause if no one buys Otep's record, she knows she's gonna be in trouble.

Along with the thirteen other second-stage bands traveling with the Ozzfest tour -- playing in a rotation-style lineup that changes with every date but that always kicks off at a very un-rock-and-roll 9:30 a.m. -- Otep is footing the bill for her Ozzfest adventure. She will not be paid for her performances, and she must make her own travel and housing arrangements. For a small "marketing" fee that ranges from $50,000 to $75,000 a pop, second-stage Ozzfest bands do get to be included in the tour program and the commemorative DVD that will be released sometime in late November.

They also reap the elusive benefit of participating in one of the concert industry's most successful and elaborate pay-to-play scenarios.

"This just seems to be the way things are working now," says Otep's tour manager, Chuck Orozco. "I don't agree with all of it -- the fee seems a little high to me -- but it's what you've got to do if you want to come along. For us, we're a baby band with a new album to promote. There's no other way to get this kind of exposure than to come on the Ozzfest tour."

(Yes, Chuck, but you can also die from exposure.)

Technically, Capitol is footing the bill by advancing Otep's band on its tour-support budget. They are eating well, getting to cop a quasi-rock-star lifestyle, traveling in a sweet tour bus and reaching potential new fans in every major city in the United States. But the summer-camp experience ain't cheap, and all of that money will have to be paid back to the record company eventually. Until Otep sells enough copies to move into the black, she'll be indebted to the accountants in that famous building on Hollywood and Vine. Which probably explains why the same woman who, a mere hour earlier, was telling fans to "shut the fuck up" and listen to what she had to say, seemed delighted to sign the bellies, shoes and bald heads of those who stopped by to ogle her. Though Otep's Web site overflows with rantings about the "show-me-your-tits" mentality of the Ozzfest male contingent, she smiled and high-fived guys wearing shirts that bore all manner of boob-centric sentiment.

That's her job, after all.

Ozzfest does have a good track record when it comes to breaking bands -- something that apparently revealed itself as an exploitable attribute too good to resist. Slipknot and Limp Bizkit are among those who blew up after toiling on the tour. From a pure advertising point of view, the marketing fee is a brilliant move that requires many of the artists on the bill to finance what is already a successful operation. (Considering the millions of viewers who tune in to watch Ozzy shuffle around in a neurotoxic haze and spit expletives at his children on The Osbournes, Ozzfest is poised to have its most commercially viable year yet; though the Denver crowd was largely composed of teenage kids skipping school for the day, there were noticeable pockets of presumed TV fans.)

Using the Ozzfest system, all participants in any kind of live performance could be charged some sort of fee for access and exposure; never mind that already insanely high ticket prices usually cover that kind of thing. (The producers of the Warped Tour, by contrast, do not require any performance-related fees from any bands and still manage to keep prices at around $30. That's merely one of the many, many ways in which Warped kicks Ozzfest's ass over the rainbow.)

Some fans who felt Ozzfest ticket prices -- which began at $50 and went up to $70 -- were excessive might take heart in the knowledge that the performers were being similarly gouged. At least everyone suffered the same humiliation together. (Well, not everyone: Main-stage acts, including Rob Zombie and Tommy Lee, were not required to cough up any cash and were -- shockingly! -- paid for their performances. Seems like a good deal for Lee, who filled Drowning Pool's slot after lead singer Dave Williams was found dead in a tour bus on August 14 and who's been bombing on a solo tour.) But fans might also question how well the pay-to-play aspect jibes with popular presentation of Ozzfest as a decidedly dark but family-generated phenomenon. Much has been made about the Osbourne famille's involvement in the tour, with little Jack supposedly handpicking bands and personally introducing them to the masses and, consequently, massive success. Wife Sharon is regarded as the one who gives the tour its organizational muscle and spirit. She received a number of shout-outs from second-stage performers who wished her well following recent colon-cancer-related surgery; Otep herself asked the crowd to raise a righteous "war sign" in her honor: "There's one fucking reason why we're all here today," she said. "And that's Sharon Osbourne."

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