It’s become a common sight to Metallica fans: Before the show begins, frontman James Hetfield will appear alongside the stage, shake a few hands, exchange a few screams and then light up a cigar, getting ready for his bandmates to get the concert started while he leads the audience through the opening pre-show track “Ecstasy of Gold.”
While any number of singers will have a little hidey-hole to disappear into during other band members’ solos – partly because remaining onstage can distract from the effect of a guitarist at full throttle – Hetfield prefers a more prominent location. He wants to remain part of the atmosphere, so he spends his bench time among the fans. He reminds them, “We are Metallica, and so are you!”
A lifelong cigar fan, he became even more focused after he stopped drinking, going as far as to launch a brand, Blackened M81, in December. He recently told Cigar Aficionado that he no longer worried that smoking before a show would affect his performance, after seeing Billy Joel doing just that. “He was smoking a cigar backstage,” Hetfield recalled. “I said, Oh, this is OK. This is doable. His voice doesn’t suck.”
Back home, he’ll relax with friends in his smoking room. “I love a fat one if I have the buddies over for cigar fellowship on an afternoon. But I do prefer the smaller ones,” he said, noting that bandmate Kirk Hammett and some of Metallica’s crew are cigar fans, too. “Sometimes they’ll just keep an ashtray going for me.”
It’s a public indulgence for Hetfield, who said he can’t understand why it’s banned in so many places. So if you bring a cigar to a Metallica show on their M72 World Tour, you can regard yourself as a member of his club – and as the videos below show, he might even light it for you. “There are people who have [seen] 200-plus shows,” he reflected. “It’s a joy to see those familiar faces. It makes us feel at home kind of anywhere, really. They are dedicated – there is a family out there. And it feels good.”
Watch James Hetfield Lighting Fans’ Cigars
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There are moments of indecision when compiling this list. After all, we really could have had – for the first time ever – a three-way tie for first.