By shrugging off pneumonia-baiting conditions, metal fans prove their toughness.

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By shrugging off pneumonia-baiting conditions, metal fans prove their toughness.

The catch phrase at this year's OZZfest was "Give yourselves a hand" -- as performer after performer saluted the tired troopers in the audience. (The actual quote was more like "Fucking give your fucking selves a fucking hand!" For the remainder of this article, however, gratituitous profanity will be eliminated from reports of stage banter -- for brevity's sake). It's a tired, applause-mongering tactic, one that ranks along with repeating a city's name and throwing out rhetorical questions such as "Do you like the weed?"

But given these circumstances, even the musicians must have taken their meaning to heart. Even though it was a sixty-degree day, the temperature seemed to have dipped below freezing thanks to the ceaseless downpour that deposited roughly an inch of chilly water on metalheads throughout the twelve-hour festival. Yet nearly all of these fans, ludicrously attired in summer gear and carefully covered in sunscreen, braved conditions that included hail, projectile mud clumps and cringe-inducing T-shirt slogans until the last group played.

For anyone who wonders how Kansas City can support so many hard-rock bands, one look at the OZZfest crowd -- headbanging, whooping, shouting unprovoked obscenities, all without any noticeable acknowledgement of their near-arctic surroundings -- could explain it all. Give these people loud guitars, gruff vocals and a rhythm section capable of mimicking the real-life thunder that rumbled throughout the concert, and they'll go anywhere, and endure anything, to be part of it. Their willingness to stay until the end of the evening wasn't a thrifty one -- granted, tickets ranged from $50 upward, but patrons willing to pay $5 for beer despite the fact that the incessant rain soon rendered it as potent as O'Doul's can't be considered pennywise -- but rather one based on loyalty and respect. After all, the headliner was Black Sabbath, creator of mighty epics such as "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" and undisputed king of all things heavy, and leaving before its set was complete would be first-rate blasphemy in the Metal Church.

Sacrilegious or not, I departed before Sabbath took the stage. My chattering teeth had long since overpowered the music and my numbing ears couldn't have appreciated its majestic offerings anyway. Still, I was there long enough to see and hear plenty of priceless material, so here it is: OZZfest, by the numbers.

· $14.99: The sum one overjoyed fellow claimed to have paid for pot in the parking lot. "That's a great price," he raved to his friends, who merely agreed instead of asking follow-up questions as: Did they give you back your penny? Was shipping and handling included? Is this a free trial offer? Did it come with a Ginsu knife?

· Hundreds and hundreds: Number of OZZfest 2001 T-shirts worn at said event, besting its closest competitors (Slipknot, marijuana leaves, faux inmate attire) for the most popular design. Emblazoned with the words "The Best Fucking Show on Earth" (inserting profanity into established slogans apparently helps skirt copyright laws), this handsome black shirt, decorated with a demon raising a bony middle finger, summed up the event.

But if wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see is geeky, what does that make purchasing, and then immediately wearing, a shirt that lists dozens of groups you're about to see? Well, in this case, it was probably just a health decision, as shivering fans clad only in tank or bikini tops sought warmth at the merchandise booth. And it was likely an upgrade as well, since people who opted against the OZZfest shirt instead sported slogans such as "You say psycho like it's a bad thing," "My mom said I could be anything when I grew up, so I became an asshole," and the ever-witty "FBI: Female Body Inspector."

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