A legend turns 28.
Wacken- The biggest heavy metal festival in the world and Every heavy metal fans dream come true. My first Wacken Open Air and I was full of excitement and nervousness.
The train from Hamburg to Itzehoe was like the Heavy Metal Express. Metal heads from all over the world converge on Hamburg at this time of the year. We got to Itzehoe in an hour at a little past 2pm. We found a cab that we shared with a couple of Germans that took us from Itzehoe to the Wacken VIP Camping.
Once you get dropped off at VIP Parking, its a bit of a walk to the check in counter to get your tickets and media passes. An hour later and a long walk to the campground, we managed to set up a small tent next to a couple of Germans who were Wacken veterans. We were finally at the Holy Ground, I had read about Wacken over the years, seen tons of pictures and videos and finally here I was at Wacken and with a photo pass in Hand!
Day 0 – Wednesday
We arrived in good weather setup a tent in the VIP camping area got ourselves a rum and coke and walked around the VIP/ Artists area for a bit before we headed off to see the WOA Metal Battle . As I was walking around the VIP area it struck me that Wacken is not just a festival but a reunion where friends from all over the world can catch up for only a brief 5 days.
The Bullhead city circus which is indoors has 2 stages , the W.E.T stage and the Headbangers stage . The Metal battle kicked things off. While it was dark , the sound and lights were top notch. It took me a while to get acquainted with the layout of the place. Lots of entries and exits to the various stages , and it took me a day to figure out where I was allowed and where I wasn’t. I can’t recall all the bands that played the metal battle, but a band from Norway called Vorbid were awesome. They sounded great, had great energy and had the crowd headbanging all through their set.
Later that evening I managed to watch a long time favorite , Annihilator. I remember buying an audiotape of Neverland when it first came out. It was surreal watching and shooting Jeff Waters that night. I had run into him earlier at the VIP section. I managed to watch another band I kinda grew up with,Ugly Kid Joe. I could barely recognize Whitfield Krane. Ugly Kid were boring to shoot despite putting up a fairly tight set.
Thrash metal veterans Crowbar closed out the night.We walked back to the bar for some much needed downtime.It was 2 am by the time we got the VIP Shuttle to the camp.
Day 1 – Thursday
A sleepless night and the big day finally arrived when the mainstages would be open. Thursday started out overcast and cold, and not soon after we decided to switch our Hiking Boots for Wellies. We took the bus to the Press tent, where I found out rather late that you needed to get an entry slip for the bands on the 3 main stages. Each photog can pick a total of 6 bands for the day out of a total of 18 bands on the day. Thursday wasn’t a problem and I ended up shooting all the bands on the Faster and Harder stage.
Faster stage : The festival openers Skyline a German cover band sounded good and were fun to shoot. Pro Tip : If you are a photog make sure you carry a foot stool, festivals in Europe allow it and it helps get some elevation.Stand on the ground and you end up shooting upward. It was my first time shooting in a crowded photopit. We were about 40 of us and were split into 2 groups, with each group getting a maximum of 2 songs per band. The weather held up but as Europe took the stage the heavens opened up. I managed to run stage side and took shelter in a security tent. It rained for a good 30 minutes and the place then turned into the worlds largest slush moshpit. The crowd had swelled to almost 50,000 by the time Europe went on stage. There is much to be said about the sound at Wacken, despite the rain and wind almost all the bands without exception sounded amazing. Europe were no exception and played a combination of the old hits and songs from the new Album war of the Kings. Accept closed out the night on the Faster stage, they played with an orchestra and the whole ensemble sounded amazing. Accept are a visual treat, everything from the set to the band are fabulous to shoot. I must have a got a few 100 pictures of Wolf Hoffman that night. Harder stage : I managed to shoot Ross the boss who at one time sang for Manowar and Status Quo. Rossi and Quo were another boyhood dream, and it was surreal to watch almost a 100,000 people sing In the Army now with Rossi and Co. The rain continued and Wacken turned into the worlds largest Moshpit, filled with sludge. Deadbeat I headed back to the bar for a drink and back to the campground. I watched Volbeat from the press tent. Hopefully I will get to watch them again sometime soon.
Day 2, Friday
I headed out of the campground to get the 8.30 am Shuttle to the Press tent. I made friends with one of the Wacken staff at the press tent. For 1 Euro I could charge my phone and for 5 euros a day I could use their storage to stash my camera equipment. This turned out to be a blessing as I didn’t have to lug all my gear all over the place. I’d only take what was necessary depending on the stage I was shooting in.
The rain came at around Mid- day when I decided to go to the Bullhead and shoot a couple of German speed metal bands playing back to back. Warrant and Warpath. The standout band was Warrant, and their drummer Thomas Rosemann was fabulous to shoot. I trudged back through the rain to the main stages at about 2PM to watch Grave Digger I’d never heard them before and they sounded ok. There are some bands that you end up shooting that you feel nothing for. You can’t relate to the music , neither is there an interesting visual element to the band. The next band I was shooting was Saltatio Mortis on the same stage. I had a few hours to kill, and I decided to walk around other parts of Wacken. It is incredible how big Wacken actually is. They have 8 main stages and a bunch of small stages , so its never really possible to see all of it in one year. Local act Saltatio Mortis was like one big party, lots of color , lots of people on stage tons of instruments and some great pyro. They were clearly a crowd favorite. Its a pleasure when you get to shoot a band that has crazy energy and is visually exciting. The energy between the band and the crowd is always something I try to capture. Keeping pace with Saltatio in a crowded photopit with the band running all over the stage was a task in itself. Trivium went on a 6.15 in the evening. Thankfully the rain had abated by then. Trivium is all about Matt Heafy. Killer vocals , great guitar riffs and Heafy sticking his tongue out more often than not. My first time watching and shooting Trivium turned out to be an amazing experience.
W.E.T Stage – I made it back in the rain and barely to watch The Dillinger Escape Plan at the Bullhead Circus. I had heard so much about them and watched a youtube video of the singer jumping of the second floor of a gig in the States and figured I’d definitely get a few killer moments of the band doing their stuff and the audience going bat shit crazy. I’m not really a fan of their music but they lived up to their on stage reputation. Despite the low lighting I managed to get a few pictures of an airborne Ben Weinmann. I left after a few songs and made it back to the faster stage to shoot Emperor. Again I’d never heard their music and they seemed ok visually. Most black metal bands the lighting is really low and the light is predominantly a blue wash making it rather challenging to shoot and then to process.
My last band of the night was Megadeth. Never seen them live and being a huge fan of the band and having watched a ton of their shows live, I knew exactly how the stage would be set up. The lighting was abysmal and again just washes of red , blue and yellow. The band sounded fantastic though and I did manage to get a couple of amazing pictures despite it being freezing cold and the rain pouring down.
I got back to the Press Tent a little before midnight and it took atleast 2 hours to get a shuttle back to the camp ground. It was cold, raining and I was exhausted. I got back to the campground and lost my way to the Tent. I spent a good 30 minutes carrying my equipment and walking around i near darkness trying to find my tent. It was 3 am when i crawled into the tent wet, cold and ready to collapse.
Day 3, Saturday
I set out early before the rain came and got to the Press Tent. I was going to shoot Possessed, Max and Igor Cavalera, Beyond the Black , Alice Cooper, Kreator and British Lion. I walked around for a bit , found some food and made it in time to watch Possesed. They sounded good, tight and the singer despite being wheelchair bound was belting out his vocals. Max and Igor Cavalera were up next and played some old material and some of their newer stuff. There was a large Brazilian contingent in the crowd , singing along with Max Cavalera. I finished watching the Cavalera’s and walked to the Wackinger Village, where I hung out with the Wasteland Warriors. I had written to them before I got to Wacken and they very graciously allowed me in to their space and I shot a ton of pictures and made a few friends.
I made it back to the main stage to watch Alice Cooper. This was pretty much the highlight of Wacken for me. I’ve listened to Alice growing up and a few years ago when Nita Strauss joined the band I’ve always hoped I’d get a chance to shoot them. Alice and the band put on one hell of a show and I ended up with some unbelievable pictures of the evening. One of the highlights apart from the guitar slinging Ms Strauss, was when the band played a medley of Schools out and Brick in the Wall to close out their set. At one point as I was leaving the photo pit I turned around and stood on the barricade and there were people as far as my eye could see. It was a sea of humanity and every one to a man was singing with The Coop’. I watched the rest of the set and made it back to the BullHead Circus to watch Steve Harris and British Lion. Another stage, another dream come true. I had shot them a couple of days earlier in England. I mangaged to get all my paperwork done just before they went on, and was first in line to get in the photopit. I got in , and was transfixed when I saw Harris on stage. I don’t know how many pictures of him that night, but it was yet another surreal experience.
I walked back to the press tent, had a drink and got back on the bus that night. I was tired , exhausted and weary by the time I got to the campground. My first Wacken had come to and end and I was leaving the next morning to go to another country and another festival. I lay in my tent alone, listening to the music playing in the distance and realised there were many firsts for me at Wacken, the first time I really felt like a photographer, the first time I saw a lot of those bands and really the first time I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone physically and emotionally. I thought back on my few days at Wacken. Standing there up front, camera in hand and to be part of something so huge yet so intimate. In hindsight, yeah it was worth the effort. Would I do it again ? Hell yeah !