Wacken Open Air 2015 – Day 1

Saturday, 22nd August 2015

The first weekend in August is annually looked upon with fervor and anticipation by thousands of metalheads all across the globe. The reason for this is that’s when the Wacken Open Air Festival takes place. For four days once a year, the small farming village of Wacken in Schleswig-Holstein in the north of Germany transforms from a quite community to the site of one of the largest heavy metal parties on the planet.

I had the good fortune to attend my fifth Wacken festival this year, and I can easily say this year’s festival was definitely the best I’ve attended. My first Wacken was in 2006. I didn’t return until the festival’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2009 and then attended the next two editions in 2010 and 2011. Wacken is known worldwide as the metal mecca and it’s been said by many that every metalhead should attend the Wacken festival at least once in their lives. I echo this sentiment. However, traveling thousands of miles and spending thousands of dollars isn’t in every metalhead’s budget, so I will do my best to provide an account of what this year’s festival featured.

Although I’ve attended several Wackens before this year, the 2015 edition was unlike any of my previous experiences because this year I was granted access to stay at the VIP/Press campground, which included access to the backstage area as well as the Artist Village, which is where the artists, their families and friends relax and hang out before and after their performances.

The plan was to meet up with Simone, a friend of one of my co-workers who lives in Heikendorf, about an hour’s drive away from Wacken, who I would be camping with for the festival. Simone has attended every Wacken since 1996. We were initially going to drive up on Tuesday and set up camp, but because there had been so much rain in the area, vehicles were not being let in to the campgrounds and we opted to head up on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning was dryer and we were one of the lucky ones to be granted access to the campground while the rain let up and were able to set up camp in dry conditions. Later on Wednesday night and even into Thursday, festival organizers began issuing warnings to festival goers en route in their own vehicles to find other accommodations because the campgrounds were in no condition to accept cars.

With camp established, Simone and I and our camping companions, two funny guys from Hamburg named Sebastian and Tom, made our way to the festival grounds, where the first bands of the festival were getting things started in the Bull Head City tent. The Bull Head City tent is a giant circus-like tent that houses the WET stage and Headbangers Stage side by side, which plays host to the Metal Battle, an international Battle of the Bands for newcomers and small, relatively unknown bands. While I did not see any Metal Battle bands this year, it’s a pretty cool concept that sees between 25 and 30 countries from around the globe sending a band to be represented and the top five winners at Wacken win various prizes and money to support their endeavors.

John Diva & The Rockets of Love

The first band of Wacken 2015 for me was a group called John Diva & The Rockets of Love. Think a toned-down version of Steel Panther. The band has the full-on ’80s hair band Sunset Strip throwback schtick going on and is essentially a cover band playing the hits from Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, and others. The band kicked things off with “Welcome to the Jungle” followed by “Kickstart My Heart,” “Here I Go Again” and “I Was Made For Loving You.” The band had lots of energy, striking signature rock star poses and injecting pyro and scantily-clad dancing cheerleaders into the show. John Diva & The Rockets of Love are all about partying and having a good time and that’s just what they delivered to the growing crowd inside the tent. I was only able to see the first half of their set, as I wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see Anneke van Giersbergern (formerly of The Gathering), who was brining “The Gentle Storm” to audiences, a collaboration project she worked on with Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon.

The Gentle Storm

The Gentle Storm was a 2-CD effort consisting of two different versions of the same songs, one more acoustic and folk-oriented (Gentle) and the other heavier and more metal (Storm). For Wacken, Anneke mostly stuck to the “Storm” versions of songs and though she was only allotted 45 minutes on the Wackinger Stage (a smaller stage located in the Wackinger Village, similar to a medieval Renaissance Fair), she and her band delivered a powerful performance and the material translated well in the live setting. Due to all the rain we had been having, in front of the stage was nothing but a mud pit and the crowd were all decked out in rain ponchos, but that didn’t stop anyone from having a good time. As much fun as I was having watching John Diva, Anneke was worth skipping the second half of their set. Highlights included “Heart of Amsterdam” and the Devin Townsend Project cover “Fallout.”

Grailknights

I had heard of Grailknights before Wacken but didn’t know much about them. Upon checking them out prior to the festival, I learned they are in the vein of Gloryhammer and Powerglove, a silly over-the-top act that has tons of fun on stage but still writes quality songs. But here’s where the first complaints come in. I and many other disappointed people had to miss the first half of the Grailknights set because security would not allow us into the tent, saying it was too full. Thinking I was going to completely miss Grailknights, who I definitely wanted to check out in the live setting, I was not happy standing in a crowd that was going nowhere. However, about halfway through their set, security finally gave in to reason and let us in and the masses stormed in to the tent. Thankfully, we were just in time to witness “Superhero Medley,” a mish-mash of various theme songs including everything from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to “Power Rangers” and “Batman.” The band members were each clad in colorful costumes of their own and even put on a bit of a stage show sword duel between songs. They closed their set with “Grailquest Gladiators” and while I was lucky enough to catch a few songs, I hope to sometime see a full set from these crazy characters because they know how to put on a fun and entertaining show for the audience.

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