Sammy Hagar, Zakk Wylde & More Have a Heavy Metal 'High School Reunion' at 2017 Loudwire Music Awards

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Matt Stasi
Sammy Hagar accepting the humanitarian award at the 2017 Loudwire Music Awards on Oct. 24, 2017, at the The Novo in Los Angeles. 

Hard rock and metal's biggest names celebrated their genre at the inaugural event in Los Angeles.

There's a good chance the Denny's in Downtown Los Angeles was a bit more lively than usual on Tuesday night. Backstage at the Novo Theater during the 2017 Loudwire Music Awards, the show's host, pro wrestler and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho, and its producer Josh Bernstein made plans to roll over after the show while speaking with Zakk Wylde, the iconic heavy metal guitarist, who was headed to the 24-hour restaurant chain posthaste. Aside from a late, greasy breakfast-anytime dinner, the diner's alcohol menu offered great appeal. 

"I've got a date with Denny's," Wylde announced, making small talk following a segment where he walloped wrestler The Miz onstage playing the WWE 2K18 video game. 

Wylde went on, paraphrasing some comedian at first, "'You know you may have a drinking problem when you ask the waitress what wine goes best with the Grand Slam breakfast?' Dude, think about that. Denny's now has Crown [Royale], Jack [Daniels], vodka, schnapps... A bunch of Denny's now have full liquor licenses."

"That would have fucked everything up for us," said Jericho, regarding his touring days as a wrestler. 

"Not red wine and white wine and beer -- booze," said Wylde, driving home the point. 

"Well I know where we're going after this," added Bernstein. 

From there, conversation turned to another restaurant company, Waffle House, and this one time on tour when WWE minority owner and on-screen commissioner Shane McMahon had offered to buy Jericho and his fellow wrestlers' meals after a match, only to find out the restaurant didn't accept credit cards and leaving the athletes scrounging to pool together cash for the bill. ("'I got three bucks, I got seven bucks, I got two dollars and five cents,'" Jericho recalled.) Meanwhile, the band Starset performed onstage and the crew navigated loading and unloading different acts' drums and amplifiers, working around mingling artists and guests, many of whom were decked out in face paint and black costumes that gave the hallway the feel of a Halloween party but had little to do with the approaching holiday. 

"It really is a great night," said Bernstein, who is also director of live events for Townsquare Media. "You see how much it means to all these artists. They they love each other, they love the genre, they're fans of each other, they support each other, showing this kind of support is so needed.... It's like a heavy metal high school reunion."

After Bernstein and Jericho previously worked together for four years on the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, this marked the first-ever Loudwire Music Awards with the intent it will be hard rock and heavy metal's premier award show. Building off the relationships formed with that previous event and their careers in entertainment, Bernstein and Jericho noted their positions in this community were key to the night's success and would be essential to its longevity. 

"Rebranding and coming back, I realize how much I miss this," said Jericho. "We've got it down to a science now. It's not hard to do the show with us steering the ship, but if we're not here try and do an award show -- I dare you. Try to get a producer like him, try and get a host like me,that have the experience, the knowledge, the rapport with the acts, because it's not easy now."

Meanwhile, Bernstein also noted the importance of hosting something like this for the hard rock and heavy metal community -- specifically since it's typically left out of the Grammy Awards and other mainstream events. 

"We as a genre don't get invited to those parties, so why be part of a club that doesn't want us?" he said. "Let's just make our own party. And if you build it, they will come. You see everybody in this world is here celebrating."

Among them were Avenged Sevenfold, Ice-T's heavy metal band Body Count, Power Trip and more performers, as well as Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer, Vinnie Paul of Pantera and Steve Vai, who all made appearances. Halestorm's Lizzie Hale delivered a touching tribute to Linkin Park's Chester Bennington after he won best vocalist of the year and, later, her band honored Chris Cornell with a cover of Soundgarden's "Fell on Black Days." Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford teamed up with In This Moment for the band's twist on Billy Idol, "Black Wedding," and Anthrax even covered Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son." Meanwhile, the night's big winners were metal artist of the year Avenged Sevenfold, hard rock artist of the year Stone Sour and best live band Iron Maiden

"Rock and roll isn't dead," proclaimed Kramer onstage at one point. "Rock is about real music played by real musicians playing real instruments... This is rock." 

The sort of camaraderie Bernstein and Jericho had mentioned was not lost on Halford and Sammy Hagar, as the former Van Halen singer razzed his fellow frontman backstage, commenting on the Judas Priest singer's wardrobe change from the fringed leather getup he wore preforming into loose fitting black gym shorts and a T-shirt. 

Halford, who was being honored with the Lemmy Lifetime Achievement Award (named after the late Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister), explained he and Hagar haven't seen each other for about two decades, but it was "just like we saw each other yesterday." He said, "Because in that 20 years we've both been doing the same thing -- we've been in bands, we've been writing music, recording in the studio, touring the world -- and that's the real understanding and respect that we have for each other."

The class of 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee likened the event to the Oscars, as it's the one time a year when members of their community have a chance to reconnect. 

"There's this wonderful affection for each other and great respect and you don't really have to have that much of a conversation ... because we've all lived the life. We understand each other," he said. "There is a lifestyle to this experience that is very, very similar. It doesn't really matter what level you're coming in at -- whether you're playing a club for 20 people or you're on stage at some stadium playing 200,000 -- there are elements of what we do that are absolutely identical that connect us: don't get enough sleep, had nothing to eat yet, couldn't find a comfortable bed, the truck stop was closed -- all this crazy behind the scenes stuff builds this really special bond within what we call the 'metal community.'"

Hagar, "the Red Rocker," was in attendance to accept the night's Humanitarian Award for his extensive philanthropic work with the Hagar Family Foundation, which supports a variety of programs benefiting disadvantaged children and families, including local food banks and hospitals, as well as other charitable efforts. Hanging out in a conference room, he visited with Eddie Money -- who had made an appearance onstage earlier -- among other friends and well-wishers. 

Asked about his award, he said it was "out of sight," noting early in his career he may have dreamed of Grammys and musical fame but never a humanitarian honor like this -- giving it particular significance. 

"To me, making money is fun. And it's not about how rich you are, it's about what you do with your money and how you live your life," he said. "I try to tell people that all the time, you can't hate me because I'm rich, I do a lot of good.... There's nothing wrong with being rich. I've been poor. I grew up poor as a motha, had nothing, and I'll take being wealthy over that anyway, because of what you can do with it. It's really what you do with your money, it's not about how much money you have. It's about how you live your life and what you do with it. So, I think I'm doing a good job and am a good role model and I want to get some more rock stars on my food bank program where you play a city and you leave some money for the food bank behind -- don't just take the money and leave and go to your next town. We've been doing this our whole lives. If you got a little extra money, why don't you give a little bit back and it makes you feel good?" 

As one of heavy metal's leading pioneers, Black Sabbath founding guitarist Tony Iommi was getting plenty of attention backstage -- all of which he said was a "bit embarrassing." He said, "I don't know what to say about it all when people are saying nice things, it gets very emotional and I'm really grateful to them all. And I think events like this are brilliant, certainly to keep the music alive and the rock and metal needs to be more noticed."

Aside from receiving the night's courage award, Iommi also had the distinction of having the show's "Hand of Doom" award trophy molded in the likeness of his own hand making the "devil horns" hand gesture. 

"I'm very honored to have it, especially as it's my hand." he said of the award, noting the painful process of submitting his arm into a gel that hardened around him. As he waited, he recalled his hand cramping up and then getting stuck, and he had great difficulty removing it. When they finally got his arm out, the mold had come out crooked, so they had to do it all over again. "So it wasn't without its pain," he said. "But it was a really nice idea and I'm really honored that everybody's getting one."

While hard rock and heavy metal may still be relatively fringe, the genre's impact has definitely hit the mainstream -- something Iommi has been aware of "for quite a while," he said, "because some people have used our riffs." 

He added, "I'm really honored that they do. The more the merrier, really."