Wacken Open Air, the great yearly metal festival in northern Germany, is over. This year, 2015, was the 26th such festival, whose illustrious history stretches way back to 1990. I wasn’t there this year, as I thought it likely that 2014 was my last Wacken at least for a good long while. Nevertheless I spent considerable time this weekend monitoring what was going on via social media and the terrific livestream of several of the performances, and thus I feel at least somewhat qualified to offer my thoughts on how the festival went this year. Keep in mind I didn’t go–these are the thoughts of a veteran of 12 previous Wacken festivals, as well as some ruminations about what it’s like to see this event, with which I was so intimately connected for many years, from a different perspective.
W:O:A 2015 will likely go down as the most challenging episode in the festival’s entire history, almost entirely because of the weather. That’s been said before. Ten years ago, in 2005, rainy weather turned the rural festival site into a quagmire; I was there, and let me tell you, it was quite something to experience. It happened again in 2012, only worse. This year, however, seems to have topped them both by a wide margin. A long period of soaking rain turned everything into mud just as many of the 70,000 metalheads were trying to get to the site, which lies about an hour’s drive outside of Hamburg, Germany. Then to make matters worse it rained for 16 hours straight through Thursday night. From the moment of arrival I started seeing photos of the “mudpocalypse,” which puts to shame anything I experienced in 2005 or saw photos of in 2012.
Mud conditions at Wacken were debilitating for everyone, but particularly for people who came by car (which is most people). Numerous cars were immobilized.
The rain finally stopped on Friday and the mud began to dry up, but then the Wacken-goers were faced with another environmental challenge: unusual cold. Once the clouds burned off all the heat went out of the atmosphere. At one point I saw a weather report on the web for Schleswig-Holstein and saw the temperature was 41° F! Although when I’ve gone to Wacken I’ve always taken a long-sleeve shirt and a hoodie, I don’t know if I would’ve been prepared for that. Thus Friday night a lot of people shivered in their tents in campgrounds that were still mud bogs. It did get cool at night in 2005–I remember that well–but I doubt it was quite that cold.
Saturday, however, seems to have redeemed the festival. I watched a number of the acts via livestreaming, and the headliner Sabaton, a band I haven’t had much interest in before, absolutely won me over with their incredibly powerful, cheerful and fun show. The weather appears to have been beautiful during their set, a perfect Wacken sunset and a comfortable temperature in the 60s. I saw a previous set, In Flames, via livestream who played Thursday night. I must say that while they’ve certainly changed in the 12 years since I saw them at Wacken in 2003, they still give a great show. I also really enjoyed rockabilly band The BossHoss more than I thought I would. Cradle of Filth and Subway to Sally, the bands who closed out the livestream and the main stages Saturday night, didn’t do much for me, but on the whole it looked like the same sort of typically solid offering that the Wacken organizers have always put up. I would love to have seen Judas Priest but alas there was no livestream for that set.
My friends and acquaintances who went to the festival seemed to come out of it generally in very good spirits, which is definitely good. I also saw a lot of comments to the effect of “I’ll be back!” on social media, especially from first-time festivalgoers who are invariably amazed at the quality of the bands and the friendliness of the people. The experience of fighting the mud and the elements may have been too much for a lot of people, and that’s certainly understandable. Overall, though, from what I could see from half a world away the festival deserves to be called a success.
I think this is a testament to two things: the incredible organizing skill of the festival chiefs, Thomas Jensen and Holger Hübner, and also the great spirit of the metalheads who come back year after year. With what they now know about logistics and organizing large-scale operations to create a festival–which is remarkably similar to organizing logistics for a military operation–Jensen and Hübner could probably plan a successful invasion of Normandy. The fans deserve the ultimate credit, though. The universal, and I do mean universal, experience by people who attend Wacken is a sense of camaraderie and kinship with their fellow fans. To struggle through 16 hours of rain, endless mud and cold, but still have a beer in your hand and a smile on your face at the end is quite a positive thing. Obviously no one can control the weather, but we can control how we react and adapt to it. I think both the Wacken organizers and the fans have a lot to be proud of this year.
That’s the spirit! A Wacken fan is undaunted by the environmental challenges of the 2015 festival.
Bands for Wacken 2016 are already starting to be announced, and tickets are on sale. If you’re planning to go, get your ticket early! It will be sold out, I think, within less than an hour after this blog goes live.