Osbourne unveils plans for free Ozzfest

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British heavy metal pioneer Ozzy Osbourne surprised the music industry on Tuesday with plans to stage this year's Ozzfest, his annual U.S. summer hard-rock extravaganza, as a first-of-its kind free event.

The 12th annual rock festival headlined by the onetime reality TV star and self-described Prince of Darkness will kick off July 27 in the Los Angeles area and play 25 dates, Osbourne and his wife/manager, Sharon, told a news conference.

The announcement, which opened with Osbourne spray-painting the word "FREE" in black letters across an Ozzfest 2007 poster, came on the first day of the Concert Industry Consortium, an annual gathering of tour promoters and producers.

Experts said Ozzfest, one of the marquee summer rock events of the past decade, would be the first U.S. festival music tour to offer free admission.

"It's something that's never been done before," Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar, said of the announcement. "It's a phenomenal idea."

Asked to explain the economics of the event, which last year charged ticket prices averaging about $45 to $50 a day, Ozzfest's founder and namesake joked, "It's free to come in, but you're gonna have to pay to get out."

Ozzfest 2007, preceded by Osbourne's own European tour this spring, will be produced as it has been in the past by leading concert management company Live Nation, with overhead costs being borne by tour sponsors, organizers said.

Tickets will be made available to fans free of charge, mostly through online outlets, and all of the acts, including Osbourne's band, will play for free. But bands taking part will be permitted to sell their own merchandise and CDs.

"It's business as usual, except it's free. We want to encourage new music and new talent," Sharon Osbourne said, adding that Ozzfest would stick to its formula of all-day, outdoor performances by hard-rock bands on multiple stages.

"We're not about to have 20 chanting monks. We're not going to save the forest," she said. "We just rape and pillage and go home."

Asked whether this year's Ozzfest might be the last for Osbourne, who was rumored to be considering retirement, she and her husband -- sporting dark glasses and a cross around his neck -- both snapped in unison, "No way!"

"He's been touring 30, 35 years, and he's done very well, and it's time to give something back," she said. Escalating costs would otherwise have forced the tour to raise ticket prices again this year, she explained in press materials.

Osbourne, the longtime frontman for heavy metal group Black Sabbath, said he was nearly finished recording a new solo album due out the last week of June.

Sharon Osbourne, who co-starred with her husband and their children on the popular MTV reality show "The Osbournes," said they planned to unveil the talent line-up for the summer fest in about two weeks, along with a list of confirmed tour dates.
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