DJ Will's Exclusive Wacken Open Air Festival Report
Saturday, September 14, 2002 @ 2:26 PM
KNAC.COM's Very Own DJ Will Tr
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DAY 1 Wednesday - THE ARRIVAL
Well, the day finally came after 8 months planning for this trip and while this wasn’t my first time to Europe, it had been so long since my last visit, I was treating this like it was my first. Packed very lightly for this event: A change of clothes, passport, vitamins, camera, KNAC stickers, sharpies and albums jackets to get signed.
Realistically I knew I was going to be loaded down with swag, CDs/Records and god knows what else on the way back, so I thought I would be ahead of the game in my preparation. (time will tell of course) Caught 2 connecting flights from Los Angeles into Hamburg, arrived in the afternoon then it was time to get to work once out of the airport. Found an express bus that took me to the train station where I would meet my first festival attendee, a kid named Viktor. He spoke zero English and my German was slightly rusty, but we managed to figure out we’re headed to the same destination:WACKEN! Looked at the train schedule, got a ticket for Itzenhoe then connect to the official festival shuttle that would take us directly to the site and into pure heavy metal madness.
I got off the bus only to be flooded by a sea of cars, black concert shirts, backpacks jammed with gear and a massive campground field FULL of flags and tents as far as the eye could see. What a site! Me? “Mr. Survival” here traveled “light” remember? I mean one bag was just simply album jackets and the other just clothes!
This may not have been a smart idea.
Today turned out to be solely for the early bird campers to have something to do before the bands officially play tomorrow, but I still wanted to see if I could get my passes a day early. Went over to the box office and didn’t expect to hear this already when I got there: “das ist geschlossen” (not open yet) Damn. So to kill some time there was this “Metal Karaoke” set up in a nearby tent where classic songs were given the same sing -a-long treatment on stage just like in your average local bar. This ruled! I mean there no way to hear any of this anywhere else, but here. Also in the tent I encountered the first of many metalheads who came up to me (don’t forget: 6’4 “Predator” looking types are “rare” and may attract crowds) and could not believe someone from the US would come all this way just for Wacken. Since I knew festivals are such commonplace in Europe, I tried my best to explain and point out to the gathering crowd the only thing that really comes close in the US on a semi regular basis with name recognition would be a combination of Ozzfest and Lollapalooza. That’s it. Not even the Milwaukee Metalfest, which has been around just as long as Wacken but they don’t allow any overnight camping, and its not as deeply organized.
Besides half the bands that will be performing here have never played in the states and forget trying to do an event of this magnitude each year in a matter of a few days…kind of like the Woodstock disaster in upstate New York years back minus: the fights, fires, looting, mayhem, etc. Sad but true.
DAY 2 Thursday- the REAL Beginning.
Thursday morning I awoke feeling amped and ready to do some major drinkin’ and headbangin’, but in order for that to go down properly I needed to get my pass situation sorted out. From the campground site it was a long-ass walk to the accreditation booth, but this is where I would meet up with the person who gave me the idea about coming over in the first place: Götz Kühnemund (lebe wohl!), from Rock Hard magazine, helped get my things in order and gave me a quick tour of the backstage area, artist tent for interviews, etc then after that was done I said my thanks and was off and running.
Hi ho, hi ho, into the pit I go…
A little later in the afternoon I made my way through the crowd to the “True Metal” stage to “establish” my presence early on because I knew it was definitely going to get nuts later tonight since all of the performances would take place here and it was much easier shooting from the stage than getting down in the pit. I mean, the security only allowed 3 songs to photograph and then you’re given das boot!
To start off, I ended up taking a bunch of pics of a band I knew very little about, Messiahs Kiss, who were the first group to get things underway at Wacken. They weren’t bad, played traditional heavy metal and the crowd was into it, but looking out into the sea of “horns”, fists and denim vests it was really apparent to me now if it wasn’t before, this is fucking serious!! I was excited to actually be here, get on stage and finally start shooting since several hours before it was all night karaoke, discussing the finer points of US - Europe “metal politics” and you guessed it -- more German beer and plenty of it at the biergarden.
Next was Kotipelto, which is a side project of Stratovarius vocalist Timo Kotipelto. A strong set of melodic metal tunes accented with keyboards, mostly on the commercial AOR side, which is cool, a different flavor. I noticed during this time the clouds were looming overhead and it didn’t look good as they were going into a cover of Queensryche’s “I Don’t Believe in Love,” which ended their set and the ensuing downpour made certain of that... real quick!
What I dreaded on this trip from the get go: Rain.
(Forget shooting and drinking, it’s all about dry shelter!)
The stage now was getting pounded as the crew rushed the equipment off hella fast, not to mention the back tarp was rolled down which let in even more rain to make things worse. So until this downpour lets up, the stage had to be squeegeed down and the lighting trusses secured before anyone else played. During this 30- 40 min delay before Blaze, the next person I recognize is Nick Douglas, Doro’s bass player, who I last saw two years ago when she toured with Dio and Yngwie in the US. We gave each other a big hug and got caught up on the latest haps while watching the lighting trusses continue to sway in the wind. A little while later for safety reasons, it was determined it would be best to clear off the side stage area all together. So heading towards the artist holding area, Doro’s tour bus rolled by and picked up Nick, since that’s where he was headed anyway. We said our goodbyes ‘til later and I cruised back to the VIP tent for a while ‘til showtime to type some of this up on the computer provided to all the press members at the festival.
Blau nur, nein gelb! (Blue only, not yellow!)
The rain was still coming down, so I took this time to venture out into the festival grounds and scope the merch swag scattered all over. I was so overwhelmed at the amazing things I found: rare patches, out of print albums, DVD’s, etc I ended up missing most of the Blaze set because of that. I could hear him, but I was way the hell on the other side, but I did make sure to get back in time to catch the last two acts tonight: Doro and Rose Tattoo.
Since I thought I was “official” with my yellow arm band and all, it didn’t much matter to some of the newer security guards later in the evening whether I was taking pictures or not. I heard this phrase quite often: “Blau nur nein Gelb.” Blue only not yellow. (It turns out that the blue wristband was the golden “all access” one). No matter though, I’m veteran at these things and I would not be denied, especially here.
Doro opened up with “Hellbound,” which was a perfect intro for the already rabid fans down in front. The overall set consisted of other Warlock tunes, as well as selections from her solo material. One huge surprise of the night was “True As Steel” since it hasn’t been performed live since 1986! New song “Fight” from her upcoming release sounded pretty strong, considering I was hearing it for the first time along with the other thousands in the crowd who were very receptive.
Doro along with Nick, Johnny Dee, Joe Taylor and newest member, Oliver Palotai had lots of energy throughout the set, even in the creeping drizzle that would return yet again. A lot of the bands on this fest were in the middle of their own individual tours, like Doro who was headed to Switzerland the next night to play more festivals.
Wet and winding down.
Next up to finish out Thursday was Rose Tattoo. This was my second time ever seeing Angry Anderson and company and it was a nice little change of pace doing what they do best -- just straight ahead rock n roll, with driving bluesy leads. They fit in just fine with all the extreme metal planned for tomorrow.
The rain returned, but by this time everyone in the crowd was dealing with it just fine. Some highlighted songs were: “Scarred for Life,” “We Can’t Be Beaten,” “Rock ‘N Roll Outlaw” and, of course, “Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock ‘N Roll),” which has been covered by Guns N Roses.
After their set, I made my way back to the Dutch/Swedish camp section to grab my stuff and head closer to the stages where I would pass out, soaked and getting long overdue zzzz’s, because I’m going to need the energy in the morning.
DAY 3 FRIDAY-“Welcome to the United Nations of Metal”… am I really here?!?
I awoke to check out some unfamiliar acts that were playing this morning: Iron Saviour, Wolf, Necrophobic, Stormwarrior and Metal Lucifer. All were mostly a “warm up” for the band I was really looking forward to catching today: Pretty Maids from Denmark.
Made my way back to the “True Metal” stage early this time and glad to finally have this opportunity to witness these Danish rockers live ever since picking up the self-titled EP way back in ’83. The keyboard intro to “Future World” kicked in the “fan boy” side of me really came out when I heard it. Hell yeah, this is going to rule, I love this song! Not only have Pretty Maids never played the US, as far as I know, but founding members Ronnie Atkins, guitarist, and Ken Hammer, vocals, were in fine form ripping through selections from their 20-year history. Great, great set and excellent sound as they ended with “Red, Hot and Heavy” to an overwhelming response.
And“Fan boy” makes three.
As I proceeded to follow Pretty Maids back to the artist area after their set, talking to some of the crew, at the bottom of the stairs was Messiah and Leif from Candlemass, the band who have adorned my sacred denim vest since 1987 and who were last seen by me in America at the Country Club in Reseda, CA.
Pretty Maids at this point were far down the road and I had to make a quick decision right now: keep up with them or get my vest signed right now? I mean who knows when I’ll have this chance again? So five minutes into making a move, I hear I behind me: “Hey Will! You made it!” I turned around and it was no one other than Schemier from Destruction, who I stayed in touch with through emails leading up to Wacken. This guy has a good friggin memory!
Damn. What a logjam between three of my favorite bands all at once and in person. Ugh, my head hurts…
Also ran into a really good guy named Taz, who is the lighting director for the next band up, Savatage. He later arranged access for me out at the light/sound booth so I can take a some shots from there as well as watch the show. Niiiice hook up. Joining them on this tour was Jeff Waters, the guitarist from Annihilator filling in for Al Pitrelli who was unable to commit.
Previous quote from Jeff: "I’m more than happy to help out a great band made up of very talented and professional people; besides, I owe Chris Caffery (guitarist): he took me to my first NHL hockey game!" Jeff is a masterful player in his own right and handled the ‘Tage songs just fine: “The Wake of Magellan,” “Of Rage and War,” “Power Of the Night,” “Hall of the Mountain King”etc -- this was a serious 75 minute set of metal from these Floridians and 1 riff mad Canuck!
One per person, please.
I took a break during the changeover for Bruce Dickinson at the tent for a little bit to check the schedule and realized on the “Black Metal Stage” next up was Destruction. So I headed to my usual spot on the side stage to catch ‘em. The three-man assault team Schmier, Mike and drummer Marc played their thrash classics: “Mad Butcher,” “Eternal Ban,” “Invincible Force”… and newer songs “Tears of Blood” and “Nailed to the Cross” were crushing!! During the beginning encore of “Bestial Invasion,” the power generator went out forcing them to stop ‘til it was charged. Schemier was pissed of course, and these things happen, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind ‘til it was fixed.
Afterwards -- I didn’t know this at time -- but Candlemass had traded places with Torfrock in the running order which meant either it was Bruce or the Swedish Doom Masters, not both. Well, since I was the only one with a Candlemass vest in the crowd, this was a no-brainer. I was able to see most of their show down in the pit, but it that wouldn’t last for long because I had to quickly work out details on getting a hotel for later or spend another night here on the campgrounds, which I thought I could tolerate.
“Mr. Survival,” remember? Yeah right.
The long and winding road.
I tagged along with Mattias a Brazilian promoter who had arranged rides back to Hamburg at midnight. I piled in a car with him, Gary from Exodus, John from Nuclear Assault and a really cool couple who were nice enough to drive all of us down. Once there, we dropped our things off at the hotel, then headed over to the corner pub which served…you guessed it, beer (I’m seeing a pattern here).
A few hours pass, and then we all return back to our rooms to crash and an actual shower for me!
Day 4 SATURDAY- Return to the world from whence ye came.
In the morning I transferred some US dollars into Euros because I knew this would be my last day to be spend it all on CD’s and stuff. DJ’s have to always stock up.
The ride back to Wacken with Exodus was a nutty one and came complete with bad, bad sing-a-long songs from the ‘70s that frightenly we all knew. A serious blemish on my metal credibility I must say. Also went over the set list order, equipment concerns, etc. and came to the conclusion that I was going to be put to work by my old friends from the bay area. No problem.
By the time the shuttle got through traffic en route to the site, I’d missed half of Vicious Rumors because of the additional time it took to unload gear into a storage holding area and then picked up right before showtime. Took the band to the “Rock Hard” booth in the meantime for an autograph signing session then back to the artist area where I ran into Mille & Ventor from Kreator and the guys in Immortal who were getting ready at the time applying stage makeup. After writing up the set lists, I went to catch some of the re-united Nuclear Assault who mostly played songs from The Plague and Game Over. Afterwards I headed back to help Exodus get ready.
It was so cool to hear the chanting starting up without a note being played. Few minutes before showtime, threw out a bunch of KNAC stickers and hopefully to some new listeners.
Hey you, Déjà vu.
They opened with “A Lesson in Violence” and didn’t let up from there. Great response to all the classics from “Bonded By Blood” and even the 2 new ones previewed for the first time: “An-Gary” and “Throwin’ Down.” Once the encore of “Strike of the Beast” ended, it was back to the holding area when I discovered I was about to do this all over again with Heathen, who were a little short-handed in the crew dept. So I wrote up their set lists, got ‘em to the stage, etc. Ahhh, yes this is now a working vacation, gotta love it.
After a minor delay, Heathen finally took the stage and opened up with riff-heavy “Hypnotized” from their second release. I even got into the act later on as I was urged to come out and sing backups on “Death by Hanging,” which I gladly obliged. The fans were ecstatic when David the singer hopped down into the pit to shake the hands of everyone who waited so patiently to see them after so many years of incommunicado.
For me it was just last year for the Chuck Billy benefit. Who knew the next time would be here in another country!?
Your about to witness greatness, so step back!
Once back in the artist holding area Blind Guardian, who were about to go on at the “True Metal” stage, were clearly the faves at this festival and currently Germany’s biggest group, bigger than even the Scorpions in their prime. Not a bad mark in Blind Guardian’s 11-year history. I did snicker at what I call a bit of a “rockstar” move when a van came by and drove 5 feet from their dressing room to take them all directly up the hill to the stage, which is probably common for them, but hey, all the other bands I noticed, simply “walked” to where they had to go.
They’re set was the longest so far out of everyone these past few days clocking in at 2 hours in length and the HUGE production of pyros, massive lights, cameras, logo banners, etc was used effectively, but some of this was lost on me since they have yet to officially break big in the states, despite we are one of the few that play them on KNAC.COM.
No matter, it was a decent show for my first time checking them out and highlighted songs such as: “The Soulforged,”“Valhalla” and “Mirror, Mirror” were strong standouts, and will probably all wind up on the DVD they were shooting tonight.
Once Blind Guardian finished, at some point I tried to make my way to the exit area not to leave, but over to where it all started when I got here and try to say goodbyes, but it was near impossible in the crush of the massive departing crowd so I gave up. Near the exit was the smaller “Wet Stage” that I barely ever made it to, and when I heard the faint riffs of the song “Blitzkrieg” playing and figured it must be the band of the same name that I forgot were moved over in an earlier announcement.
Cruised back to the VIP tent after the long changeovers before Kreator and UDO went on to get my composure, zip onto the computer to type up some more notes before the place was eventually dismantled.
Coming down the stretch.
UDO still wearing his trademark army fatigues complete with cyborg gear for the opening song “Man and Machine” from his latest solo release kicked things off. The last time I saw him was down in San Diego with Saxon a few years back and just like that show, this was run like a military operation on stage. The players--Igor Gianola, guitar, Fitty Wienhold, bass, drummer Lorenzo Milani and original Accept drummer -- now the other guitarist, Stefan Kaufmann --would take positions by the amps and had just great overall stage presence as well as a really good sound mix.
Watching all of this by the side of the stage with Gotz I had noticed a kid rocking out in army fatigues and come to find out it was UDO’s son Sven! Cool. Where’s my friggin camera? There were some nice surprises in the set list -- “Screaming for a Love Bite,” “Princess of the Dawn” and “I’m a Rebel.” Right after the encore of “Fast as a Shark,” the band handed over their gear to the crew and made a beeline off stage and into a van to whisk them away. Hmmm this looks familiar… I had a final talk and said my goodbyes to Gotz who had a long drive ahead of him and like the fans we were enjoyed the powerful performance put on by a veteran like UDO, who still has the voice that commands your attention.
The last act to close out my Wacken experience was Onkel Tom, which featured the bassist from Sodom who I’ve never met in person and I definitely wanted to catch. This is a very popular side project with a bunch of releases out all of which are about one thing: Hint -- starts with a B and ends with an R.During the middle of their set once again I was invited to come out on stage but this time there were 3 dozen others joining in a huge drinking party atmosphere. Like another band, Tankard, whose lyrics tackle this same theme, this was truly out of control! I could understand some of the songs since I’ve heard them online, but everyone on stage was in literal hysteria and it reminded of some insane frat party only with thousands of people. Crazy.
Back to the VIP tent for one last hurrah and final goodbyes to all my newfound friends. This time around I was just too drained to get a hotel, so I figured I’d rough it one last time on the campgrounds, this time with some Italians metalheads. The weather wasn’t as brutal as before but attempting sleep was to met by the sounds of a van 20 feet away blasting Manowar and Iron Maiden ‘til God knows what time…
Day 5 Sunday (the morning AFTERMATH)
We awoke to that same van cranking Manowar yet again down the way, which I guess was fitting since the last song I would hear would be “Metal Daze” and well… that just about sums up this whole experience -- A Metal Euphoric Daze! After breaking down all the gear under a light drizzle, we all piled in the car to get outta dodge before it rained harder, but it didn’t look good on our way out as Igor got stuck in the mud crossing the campgrounds. Duh-O! So I immediately put on my “MacGuyver” hat and grabbed whatever leftover junk I could find around the area to jam under the wheels for traction. Two attempts later, we were free from the sludge and finally on the road back to Hamburg.
Arrival: 2 hours later.
It took us additional time trying to find a place for the night and we were already dead tired. So once a hotel was finally secured and another long overdue shower, Marisela had mentioned that there was a pub just walking distance from the hotel called the “Headbangers Ballroom” (gee, what are the chances that people from the fest might be there?) We all walked down to check out this place where you could down a few pints and unwind with others from the festival and swap “battle scars” and stories, which of course I did with people from Australia, Spain, a bunch of girls from Ireland, and of course more Germans! This ended up turning out to be a nice sendoff into the wee hours before heading back to the US the next morning.
THE SCORE: Total Bands seen: 26 out of 80+ Stickers given out: 300 Hundred Beers Consumed: Infinite Creed/Limp Bizkit shirts seen/worn: ZERO!THANX:
* To Gotz Kunemeund for helping put the wheels in motion.
*Eska & Sheree from the W.O.A. offices, all of the staff, stage managers and the ”Metal Guard” security force for keeping the peace between 40,000 faithful.
*Frank & Holger… I don’t know how you both do this each year.
* Daniel Höhr our KNAC.COM German correspondent who I hope recovers from his ankle injury he suffered the day before Wacken began! What bad timing.
* And to all the many truly dedicated metalheads or “Wacken Wackos” from around the world I met: Thank you for the warm welcome, the warm beer and your pure faith in Heavy Metal music.
_\m/ Stay Heavy! \m/_
DJWill -- Aug. 2002
Gotz From Rock Hard Magazine With DJ Will
Savatage from the True Metal stage
Ken Hammer of Pretty Maids
Geoff Thorpe of Vicious Rumors with DJ Will
Doro About To Take The Stage
Schmier of Destruction with DJ Will
Leif Edling of Candlemass
Destruction in the daylight
David Godfrey and Lee Altus of Heathen with DJ Will