The Last Wacken, Chapter III: Dusty Sunset and a Stairway to Heaven.

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This is Part III of my Wacken Open Air 2014 diary. Chapter I is here, Chapter II is here.

THURSDAY, JULY 31, 2014. 

7:00 AM. It’s hard to sleep very late at Wacken, at least for me. You hear a lot of voices from the campgrounds all around you, and as people stir it gets harder and harder to sleep; if it’s a hot day the heat inside your tent will wake you up too. This morning, Thursday, isn’t too bad temperature-wise, but I hear people chattering in German all around me. I slept reasonably well, as good as can be expected for sleeping on a thin bedroll in the middle of a field.

8:00 AM. A few in our camp are up this early, including Karl and one or two of the Norwegians. We sit beneath our pavilion, drinking water from the very handy folding water bottles that came in the “Full Metal Bag” sets with our festival admission ribbons. We’re waiting for the others to get up; the plan is to go into the village to get something to eat. We talk about the weather, and the Norwegians (and Karl) chide me for expressing temperatures in Fahrenheit. To be sure I suppose the term “72 degrees” doesn’t mean much to a European, but “21 degrees” sounds awfully cold to me. As usual, this is a chance for Europeans to carp about how silly the Imperial measurement systems are.

Our fears of the day being too hot seem unfounded, as there are lots of clouds in the sky. In fact, as time goes on, there are too many. Then it begins to rain. And rain. And rain. The intermittent cloudbursts seldom last more than a few minutes, but there are an awfully lot of them. Those in our camp who were present in 2012, undoubtedly the rainiest and most foul-weather festival in Wacken history (I wasn’t there), hope openly that this isn’t the start of something like that. It probably isn’t, but we decide to wait until the rain seems finished to go up to the village.

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The flagpole for our camp, bearing the flags of the three nations of its residents, is visible far in the distance across the Wacken campground.

At one point there’s a curious quivering in the long grass near my tent. It moves, and obviously it’s a creature of some kind. John says he sees it briefly—a field mouse. Because I’ve been throwing around the word “hosenbügler,” the word I learned in my hotel room in Hamburg, we name it Maus Hosenbügler. The first serious suggestion for the name of our camp is “Camp Maus Hosenbügler,” but it’s too early to solidify it.

9:45 AM. The rain is now really coming down—still a bit worrisome. However, we have a visitor to our camp: Derek, one of the Canadians, who saw our instantly recognizable flagpole from where he’s camping in one of the rent-a-tent rigs. Actually there are lots of Canadians around us. One of our neighboring camps is populated by Canadians, all of whom seem to be named Josh; at least two Canadian Joshes came over and introduced themselves to us at various times yesterday. Derek says he’s happy to join us for breakfast…once the rain finally lets up.

10:45 AM. The rain is only sort-of letting up, but we decide it’s good enough. The village still isn’t too crowded at this time. I recall one of the better “garden bars” along the Hauptstrasse was a place nestled away in a front yard hidden mostly by hedges, and that they, unlike most of the places serving breakfast at Wacken, actually served real eggs (as opposed to powdered or liquid artificial eggs) and other generally real food, which they called the “Hangover Breakfast.”  Breakfasts in Germany, and especially Wacken, tend to consist of a cold cut meat, a pickle slice and a thin layer of cheese over half a baguette. Call me picky, but I’m really sick of this and after 12 years I don’t think I can force down another baguette with a piece of cheese on it. Thus as we walk through the village, raindrops pattering on our hats and plastic ponchos, I insist on real food. No more cheese and cold cuts on baguettes! No more, damn you!

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The residents of (maybe) “Camp Maus Hosenbügler” pose during their Hangover Breakfast. Left side, top to bottom: Morten, Hobbes, Joacim. Right side: Guro (face hidden), John, me.

We find the garden bar with the Hangover Breakfast, and it’s worth waiting (and hiking) for. I get real eggs on bread with bacon. The coffee isn’t so good, but hey, one can’t have everything. The place also has clean toilets, at least as clean as plastic porta-potties go. There is almost nothing more horrifying than looking down into the maw of a plastic porta-potty, and this isn’t exactly what I need to see right after breakfast, but I’ll survive.

12:00 PM. It seems that much of our afternoon—early afternoons are a bit awkward at Wacken—is going to be filled with logistical errands. Both Derek and I need to charge our cell phones, and there is a charging station, called the “Electric Hotel,” near the large Bullhead City tent. We go there. It only costs 2€ to charge your phone, but the forms you have to fill out are like applying for top-level security clearance. There’s also a small stage near the Electric Hotel, next to a smaller charging station which appears to be powered by a stationary bicycle. On this stage is some sort of bizarre game show. A girl with a microphone spins a wheel and metes out the results to contestants: sometimes they have to karaoke to various metal songs, other times they have to hold heavy objects with arms outstretched, or wrestle in latex Sumo body suits. While waiting in line Derek and I hear a halfway decent karaoke rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” Anyway, we charge our phones.

The “Nothing Else Matters” cover at the Electric Hotel stage.

The clouds that so troubled us in the morning are quickly gone, and soon the afternoon becomes quite hot. Somehow—not surprisingly—we end up back at the beer garden in the Wackinger Village. In between quaffing beers (or Cokes, in Karl’s case) we spend much of the time searching for shade. There are tables here with built-in wooden covers, but the shadows keep shifting and what’s a nice shady bench one minute becomes blazingly hot the next. Whenever I mention the temperature Karl keeps telling me to use metric. “Okay, okay, it must be…I don’t know, 24 degrees?” In 24 degrees I’m usually wearing three layers of clothes and a couple of pairs of socks, but that’s a different 24 degrees.

4:30 PM. Food is often a tricky proposition at Wacken. In the festival’s defense, food stands have gotten much better than they were 10 years ago, where nearly every booth seemed to indulge the Germans’ bizarre passion for undercooked meat. The Wackinger Village has several booths that sell “fleischspiers,” or bits of marinated pork on a long wooden skewer; nearly everywhere you look you see half-charred skewers lying on the ground. Karl, however, discovers a bakery that bakes old-fashioned medieval style bread on-site in a wood-fired oven. He’s gone for a few minutes and returns to our table with a huge round loaf of homemade bread, with a very tough crust but incredibly fluffy and tasty underneath. “It was only 4€!” he gushes, ripping off another piece. Eventually I get one too. The thing is so big I’ll be gnawing on it for hours, if not days. I put it in my little knapsack that my husband gave me to carry things at Wacken—camera, beer cups, sunscreen, etc.

5:45 PM. At last, the first “official” band of Wacken, HammerFall, is about to play. Karl and I go through the main festival area gates—which only opened a few hours ago—to try to find a suitable place to stand and watch them. The crowd is staggering. You just can’t step anywhere; there are so many thousands of people, occupying every inch of space on the field, that it’s hard to find a place to go where you’re seeing anything other than the back of people’s heads, and hats, and their hands as they clap and throw the horns. It’s actually getting kind of frustrating. I’ve never been one of those “I have to be right up front!” people at metal shows, and I’ve been getting less so as I’ve gotten older. I remember a very uncomfortable crowd crush during Iced Earth in 2007. This isn’t that bad, but it’s still pretty bad.

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The “Wackinger Village” beer garden, where I spent much time of the festival. Note the drunk guy struggling to stay awake at the bottom of the frame.

Ultimately we give up. There’s no place to stand and see HammerFall that isn’t so uncomfortable that it’s not worth it. “Movie field,” I say to Karl, and we head over there.

6:05 PM. The great thing about the movie field is that they usually stream the performances from the main stage. HammerFall is awesome. I remember seeing these guys for the first time opening for Death in 1998, and it was tremendous. A lot has happened since then. For one thing, vocalist Joacim Cans got old! But he still sounds the same, and the set is full of old crowd-pleasers I recall like “Legacy of Kings” and “The Dragon Lies Bleeding.” HammerFall was always a band designed to appeal to Euro power metal fetishists. It is to power metal fans what those thick, brick-like slabs of chocolate cake are to chocolate lovers: delivery of maximum gluttony under the “too much is never enough” concept. Back in 1997 many people thought HammerFall was ridiculous. Now they’re virtually becoming elder statesmen. Strange how that goes in the metal world.

HammerFall turns out to be one of the best performances of Wacken for me. I never get tired of these guys.

7:30 PM. With HammerFall over, Karl and I continue to sit on the movie field (my feet are killing me) to check out the next act, Steel Panther. A couple of our friends, including Derek, are really looking forward to them. Looking them up in the program I see they are definitely glam metal. As soon as they come onstage it’s obvious they’re a joke band. Big ratted hair, lots of colorful Spandex, mascara, that sort of thing. Musically their songs are pretty good, but the lyrics absolutely ruin them. A song about Asian hookers with ping-pong sound effects and the refrain “Tastes like sushi!” is borderline racist. Okay, it’s not borderline racist, it is racist. Surely this will get me accused of “not having a sense of humor,” but I don’t see what’s so funny about this. Another song called (something to the effect of) “Lick My Balls All Night” is far less offensive but still not engaging, despite being musically pretty competent. This is the problem with joke bands: if you don’t think the initial joke is funny, you won’t like much of what they do.

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This was about as close as I could possibly get for the HammerFall set. Wacken isn’t like it used to be, that’s for sure.

Bands like Steel Panther are also, I think, a false projection of what 80s glam was really like. Yes, metal bands in the 1980s had outrageous hairstyles and ridiculous clothes. Yes, some of their songs tended to be about sex and partying. But that wasn’t all they were. Bands like Quiet Riot, Warrant and Trixter, for all of their faults, honestly tried to be hard-rocking, fan-pleasing bands most of the time. Steel Panther is just trying to mimic the furthest extremes. Remember Pantera’s ridiculous song “P*S*T-88” on the Power Metal album? Yes, it was silly, salacious and outrageous, but it was one song. Now imagine if all Pantera ever did, every album, every track, in its entire career, was songs like “P*S*T-88.” It’d get pretty dull, wouldn’t it? That’s Steel Panther.

8:00 PM. We can’t take much more of Steel Panther, and Karl wants to go to the WET Stage to see Letz-Zep, a Led Zeppelin cover band. I go with him. It’s extremely rare to see a dedicated cover band at Wacken. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here before, so I’m thinking Letz-Zep had better be good. Karl insists that the surviving members of the real Led Zeppelin have “endorsed” Letz-Zep. I guess we’ll see.

I do see. Letz-Zep is awesome. The lead singer sounds exactly like Robert Plant, and the musicians behind him are excellent. They go through a litany of Zeppelin cover tunes and each one is spot-on. Most amazingly, the crowd reacts to Letz-Zep as if they were the real Led Zeppelin. Around me in the darkness of the tented WET Stage, it’s almost like people can act out their fantasies of seeing a legendary band that has been inactive since before most of them were born. I especially like the cover of “Stairway to Heaven,” which is my favorite LZ song (me and about 80,000,000 other people). I would never have dreamed I’d be hearing “Stairway to Heaven” at Wacken Open Air. It’s a great performance, though, and this is one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend.

Fans react to Letz-Zep in this short video I shot. Party like it’s 1971!

9:00 PM. When Karl and I emerge from the WET Stage, it’s into probably the strangest weather conditions I’ve ever seen at Wacken. The sun is going down, but it’s raining—sort of—in kind of a misty fog. I suspect the raindrops have mixed with dust particles in the air, which gives the sky a bleary, orange burned-out look. I can feel the drops on my face but my clothes and hat aren’t getting wet. The sun is magnified in the atmosphere down near the horizon. I snap several pictures, but I doubt they will really capture what it looks like. As of this day I calculate I’ve seen about 45 sunsets at Wacken, and of all of them, this one is the most unusual.

9:15 PM. Back to camp. The weird mist dissipates, and in any event is mitigated by being back in a grassy area as opposed to one where it’s very dusty. Our camp party features a revolving cast list as people come in and out of our camp to visit us. Sometimes the Norwegians are there; at one point at least two of the Canadian Joshes come to visit us; Derek also appears, raving about how awesome Steel Panther was. As our campground is directly across from the main stages, about a quarter of a mile away, we can hear—rather distantly—what goes on there. Thus we can hear Saxon and Accept playing. I drink Warsteiners and tear pieces off my awesome medieval bread loaf. The weather is a bit on the chilly side, and Karl, who forgot to bring a hoodie, says he must call his dad to bring him one tomorrow.

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The oddest Wacken sunset of all.

The only bad thing about our camp is our neighbors. Just behind my tent is a group of Germans who are absolutely filthy. Our camp is always very tidy—any trash goes immediately into the trash bag—but our neighbors’ place is cluttered with beer cans, food wrappers and all sorts of rubbish. Some of it is within inches of my tent. I consider moving my tent closer to the circle, but I decide this will just give them a wider swath to pollute.

Further away, several camps over, is another group of Germans with a loudspeaker. For some inexplicable reason they like to play the cantina song—you know, the one from Star Wars—over and over again. By over and over, I mean, 10, 12, 15 times in succession. John and Hobbes tell me the “cantina people” were there last year, and that we’re lucky we only had to hear it 15 times. I take their word for it.

12:00 AM. With the Norwegians back in camp and bands over for the evening, I decide it’s time to turn in. I’ve had a lot of beers but I’m not drunk; in fact I’ve been very responsible this Wacken. We zip our folding chairs into our tents (an anti-theft measure) and everyone bids goodnight. I crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m a bit dusty, but nothing like I was last night; I may shower in the morning. I sleep reasonably well, considering.

To Be Continued!

All photos in these articles are copyright (C) 2014 by me (Sean Munger), all rights reserved, and may not be copied or used without permission.

1 Comment on The Last Wacken, Chapter III: Dusty Sunset and a Stairway to Heaven.

  1. I love the camp of three nations !

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