FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2014.
6:38 AM. I’m awake early, but it’s not chattering in German that awakens me. Indeed it’s eerie, after hearing noises and music (and the cantina song) all night, how eerily quiet the Wacken campground gets after 6AM. Almost everyone is asleep. I decide that, so long as I can’t get back to sleep, which seems to be the case, I should seize my chance to go to the showers. The line won’t be very long. I said something about this last night and Karl said to wake him when I went. I do. At about 7:15, we head to the shower camp. The line is quite short. As always at Wacken, “It’ll be worse later.” It feels good to be free of the dust for a while.
9:00 AM. At Wacken in the mornings you don’t do much—basically you sit around at your camp, drinking water and working up the strength to go somewhere. This is what happens this morning. The Norwegians are very lazy at getting up, though to his credit Morten finally hooks up the solar-heated shower he’d been meaning to establish. Seeing it in action, I’m glad I went to the shower camp.
Unfortunately I can’t keep the Norwegians’ lazy schedule—I really have to take a dump, and the best toilets in the area are the pay-to-play rig in the village across the street from Hell’s Kitchen. After Derek joins us at our camp, he, Karl and I go up to the village. As I wait in line for the toilet I can see cows in a field just on the other side of the fence. They seem totally untroubled by the presence of 70,000 metalheads in their territory. I guess it must be pretty Zen to be a cow.
Wacken cows give beer instead of milk. What else would you expect?
10:00 AM. Breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen. I like this place because they have hot food—scrambled eggs and sausages—though they insist on serving it with (you guessed it) cold cuts, cheese and pickles on a baguette. I order eggs and sausage without the baguette and the German girl behind the counter looks at me like I’ve got three heads. The phrase “Ich bin en Auslander” (I’m a foreigner) does come in handy sometimes.
I can’t get that damn cantina song out of my head.
11:00 AM. Bands are starting early today, and the first one up is Cthonic, the famous melodic black metal outfit from Taiwan. I first saw them at Wacken in 2007 and it was a hell of a show. Surprisingly, we’re able to get right up at the front, although to catch some shade we have to be on the extreme side of the stage. Cthonic is very good, their delivery heavy and crunchy, and their stage presence is definitely strong.
Still, it gets pretty warm up front, and while I like Cthonic, I’m not sure I want to see them for a full hour. After a while we split from Derek and Karl and I go back to the movie field.
Cthonic, from Taiwan, has received an enthusiastic welcome each time they’ve come to Wacken.
11:55 AM. I’m actually very enthusiastic to see Skid Row. This was one of my favorite bands back in the day, and their Slave to the Grind album scarcely left my stereo in the fall of 1991. I’ve also always thought Skid Row got a bad rap as a “hair metal band” simply because of Sebastian Bach’s appearance. In all respects they were a very solid, heavy band. I’ve never seen them live, and I’m anxious to.
Man, am I disappointed. First off, there’s no Sebastian Bach anymore. I guess that’s been the case for a while (since 1999, actually), but I haven’t kept up with this band. The lead singer, Johnny Solinger, is the problem. He has only a fraction of Bach’s range and absolutely none of the rich vocal quality that made Skid Row especially awesome. Hearing him butcher “Eighteen and Life,” for example, is like taking my favorite teddy bear from childhood and stuffing it into a blender. After only a few songs I can’t take it anymore. Karl and I go to the infield, to shop for some merchandise and generally look around—anything but listen to Skid Row.
1:00 PM. My feet are killing me. In my normal everyday life I walk a tremendous amount, several miles a day, but the distances at Wacken far outstrip my usual regimen. I go back to camp to take care of the blisters that have been developing on my toes. In doing so I make use, finally, of every piece of equipment I brought with me, including the medical stuff I pack in a little bag: disinfectant, Band-Aids, and safety pins. After doing some minor surgery and binding up my toes in Band-Aids, I enjoy another Warsteiner, which is still quite cool thanks to the refrigerator Morten created for us. It’s a hole dug in the ground lined with ice and filled with water—very simple, but effective.
Mid-afternoon at Wacken. Shade is at a premium.
Karl has contacted his dad. He’s meeting him at the “Kiss & Ride” drop-off point at 3:30. Karl has told me that we have indeed appeared in the local Itzehoe newspaper for yesterday, thanks to the reporter who was at the train station Wednesday morning. He promises to bring a copy of the paper. I go off to the Wackinger Village in search of a beer, promising to meet Karl later. Derek also has plans to meet at the beer garden at 2:30.
4:10 PM. Wackinger Village beer garden. Derek has gone off to see another band, not sure which; I’ve just returned from the bathroom. Karl hasn’t come back from the Kiss & Ride yet. By chance I run into Josh, one of the Canadians from our next-door camp. We have a beer and sit down at a shady table. After a few minutes a couple of guys, Germans, sit down at some of the empty seats at the table. Josh and I get talking to them. They’re crazy, and crazy drunk. But three of them have very distinctive wristband ribbons: dark red, with the legend “AAA” on them. That means “Access All Areas.” That’s the holiest of holies—the ultimate Wacken pass, higher by an order of two or three than the VIP/Press passes I’ve had every year except this one.
One of the Germans, who speaks very good English, starts telling me about the amenities backstage. They were recently partying with some of the bands, and he talks about posh trailers with big-screen TVs in the shower, groupies going around searching for sex, full dinner banquets, that sort of thing. I wonder if he’s putting me on, but I have heard rumors over the years of the largesse in the Wacken backstage areas, which I have never seen.
Drunken German VIPs order another round. Skoal!
While this is going on, Karl wanders into the beer garden and sits down with us. He soon becomes privy to this conversation.
Here’s the kicker. The drunk German tells us, Josh and Karl and I, that he and his party have to leave Wacken at mid-day tomorrow. After that, their AAA wristbands will be of no use to them. He offers to give them to us free of charge. There are three of them, one for each of us. He says they have a tool that can loosen the little metal crimp that holds the wristbands together. If we three come here, to this exact table in the Wackinger Village beer garden, at noon, he’ll give them to us.
Admittedly I’m skeptical. This guy’s just going to give us Access All Area passes for nothing? Then again, stranger things have happened at Wacken. Karl marvels at the prospect of possibly meeting Megadeth, as he’s a huge Dave Mustaine fanboy. Josh seems as skeptical as I am, but we agree that we have very little to lose by showing up tomorrow and seeing if the Germans are on the level. We decide, however, that until then, we won’t tell any of our friends or traveling companions about the offer. Best not to get anyone else involved.
We remain at the Wackinger Village table with the drunk Germans for quite a while. They’re totally blasted. At one point one of them squirts ketchup on his forehead and sticks a cookie to it. He falls over backwards into the dust and seems to not even notice. As drunken antics at Wacken go, this is pretty tame, but it’s still drunker than I want to get.
Beer and ketchup packets are a dangerous combination. Note the AAA (Access All Areas) wristband ribbon, which became the tantalizing prize our party was offered.
7:30 PM. After dinner—another “fleischspier”—we go to the movie field to see Apocalyptica. I’ve seen this act several times before and they never fail to disappoint. A full classical orchestra doing metal covers, Apocalyptica is perhaps best known for a furious cello version of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” that eventually became quite popular in 2006 or so. Despite the danger of being an act that’s noteworthy for novelty only—which of course wears off eventually—Apocalyptica have remained surprisingly fresh and innovative over the years. As they play it’s very interesting that you often don’t quite know what famous metal song they’re playing until almost the end of the song. Such is the case here with a Slayer tune (I think it’s “Raining Blood”), and their interpretation of “Nothing Else Matters,” the second time I’ve heard this song in the past two days, is pretty interesting. I wish they’d do the cantina song just to get it out of my head.
9:00 PM. It’s time for one of the most anticipated sets of Wacken 2014, that being Motörhead. Last year Motörhead played at Wacken, but the set was cut short by Lemmy himself who was in poor health. This was followed, the day Wacken 2013 ended, by a nasty rumor circulated on Twitter that Lemmy had died. Fortunately that turned out to be a hoax, but since it was announced that he would return in 2014 to finish his set, every metalhead in the place has been on tenterhooks. Basically the object of the set is for Lemmy to get through the whole thing without dropping dead onstage. I am not exaggerating. There’s even a girl in the crowd holding up a cardboard sign reading “DON’T DIE, LEMMY.”
Maybe I sound jaded, but, as awesome as they are and have been for 40 years, Motörhead is a band that has simply ceased to have the ability to impress me. They’ve played at Wacken several times, and sometimes they’re on fire, other times not so much. Hearing “Ace of Spades” live is a thrill to be sure, but once you’ve experienced it, there’s not much that’s new. This set is notably subdued. Lemmy clearly is starting to slow down and he’s not nearly as animated or engaged as he’s been in any previous performance I’ve seen him. The wisecracks are at a minimum. But, he fulfills the purpose of the set, does not drop dead, and plays “Ace of Spades.” Mission accomplished for Motörhead.
Watching Apocalyptica on the movie field.
9:30 PM. While Motörhead is going on, Carcass is playing on the neighboring Party Stage. Since Lemmy seems to be doing fine I just can’t resist slipping away from Karl and Morten for a little while and going to see them. I also make the mistake of visiting the mead bar which is right near the entrance to the Party Stage. This one glass of mead proves to be my downfall; had I just stuck to beer, as I did last night, I would’ve ended the evening pleasantly buzzed but not really drunk. Mead, though, is hard to resist, and it tastes so damn good.
10:30 PM. Still drinking the mead, I go back to the movie field to watch Slayer. This is another band I’ve seen numerous times at Wacken—2003 and 2011 certainly, and at least one other time though I can’t remember exactly when. I mention this just in case you’re wondering why I’m not trying to wade through the crowd of ten thousand to get up to the front to see Slayer. I’ve seen Slayer. Actually they too, like Motörhead, are hit or miss. If they’re on, the show is really good. If they’re checked out, the show is meh. Hard to believe for Slayer, I know, but it’s true.
Tonight, though, they’re on. I’m surprised—with Hanneman gone and all the remaining guys getting older, Slayer certainly has a different set of circumstances than they ever have when I’ve seen them before. But this set is marvelous. In fact it’s probably the best of the whole festival. They do the usual crowd-pleasers, and Tom Araya seems to understand that, if this is not the band’s last performance at Wacken, many in the crowd believe it might be. It’s so odd to think of Tom Araya as a bearded, gray-haired past-middle-aged man—so many of us remember the grinning kid holding a can of beer on the back of the Reign in Blood sleeve. But he’s still totally metal, and he gives the crowd what they want. The band also presents a banner, looking like the Heineken logo, with Hanneman on it instead and Jeff’s dates. There’s an aura of a farewell show about this, although time will tell if it is or not.
Lemmy lives, but my guess is that 2014 will be his last Wacken.
11:45 PM. Karl gets me back to camp—I’m a little shaky from the mead. Most of our people are back there, flush with war stories from the trenches, so to speak, and our camp party gets going yet again. My favorite word is “Hosenbügler!” I probably drive my poor campmates to distraction repeating it over and over again. I hope I’m not as annoying as the folks with the cantina song recording. But hey, it’s OK to overindulge a bit at Wacken—I’m not nearly as drunk as the German guy in the Wackinger Village with the cracker stuck to his head.
12:30 AM. I know my limitations. To bed. At least I think I’ll sleep pretty heavily tonight. Tomorrow we’ll see about those AAA passes. I’m not holding my breath, but it would certainly be awesome if it worked out.