About This Festival
Most of the year Wacken is a cow-dotted hamlet of church-going farmers, with a population of 1900. But for a few days each summer it morphs into something far different, when 75,000 uber-tattooed visitors arrive, flashing the sign of the horns and going wild at the planet's premier metal music fest.
They come by car, bus and RV, clad in black T-shirts, spiked wristbands and heavy eyeliner, pumped to be among like-minded headbangers. The villagers are totally welcoming, even though they're not particular fans of black metal, death metal, nu metal and gothic metal.
More than 130 bands spill off seven stages rising from the festival grounds:
- The side-by-side Black Stage and True Metal Stage are the main venues, where the headliners let loose. Anything goes here. Flying limbs and mud fill the mosh pits in front. Body after body crowd surfs overhead. Bare-breasted female fans flash across the Jumbotrons. And heaps of pyrotechnics ignite, from guitarists shooting flames from their mouth to cannons blasting smoke at the crowd.
- The Party Stage is nearby, for slightly smaller but equally hard-core crowds. Prepare for more ominous riffs, fists pumping in the air, and hair flying to the beat.
- The Headbanger's Stage and W.E.T Stage sit under a giant tent known as Bullhead City Circus. This is where metal karaoke and the Metal Battle between up-and-coming bands take place. The latter brings groups from 30 countries to compete. The winner gets a record deal.
- The raucous Beer Garden Stage is in the—yes—beer garden, located in the center of the festivities.
- The Wackinger Stage hosts a rowdy line-up similar to the Beer Garden. It's set in Wackinger Village, a recreated medieval zone.
The festival covers an enormous area, so it can be a time-consuming trudge from, say, the True Metal Stage to Bullhead City Circus. Luckily, several meaty food and booze stalls pepper the grounds, allowing you to energize from one show to the next.
For all the wild, hard-partying ambience at Wacken, it's impressively organized. Bands play on time, you can see the TV screens even if you can't see the bands, toilets are plentiful and drink vendors are conveniently located. Bonus for families (yes, families are welcome): free childcare is available.
Beer & Mud
Germany has a legendary beer-drinking tradition, and heavy metal fans are legendary for consuming huge quantities of beer. It all comes together at Wacken. The festival provides two expansive, Bavarian-style beer gardens that are almost as popular as the main concert stages. Metalheads pack in to raise steins and yell "prost!" and guzzle barrels of lager. The swilling continues in the campgrounds. Fans can bring in as much beer as they want, as along as it's not in glass bottles. The village's grocery marts stock up for the onslaught.
Besides beer, the other constant at Wacken is mud. It inevitably will downpour during the fest and turn the grounds into a mucky quagmire. Everyone stomps around in rubber boots, but footwear only goes so far once the mud wrestling begins.
Sword Fights, Movies & More
The festival offers several activities beyond destroying your eardrums with loud music. Wield a sword or crossbow in Wackinger Village, the faux Viking town and knights' army camp with role playing, staged fights and medieval weapon shows. Watch films under the stars when band documentaries and old concert footage screen at the Movie Field late night. Fans can also take part in organized wrestling and soccer matches throughout the fest. Most activities begin Wednesday, the day before the Wacken officially kicks off.
History & Past Headliners
A couple of young metal fans from the area hatched the idea for Wacken while drinking beers. They pooled their cash, built the stage, brought in a handful of German bands and held the first Wacken Open Air in 1990. A ticket for the two-day fest cost $8. Fans were ecstatic.
Within a decade, the event had big-name international bands headlining, and it expanded to three days. Molly Hatchet, Thin Lizzy, Twisted Sister, Slayer, Lizzy Borden, Whitesnake, Motörhead, Megadeath, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and Dio are some of the stars that have cranked it up at Wacken over the years.
Recent programs have featured:
- Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Apocalyptica, Suicidal Tendencies, Airbourne and Sepultura in 2011.
- Henry Rollins, Ministry, Saxon, Scorpions, In Flames and Black Dahlia Murder in 2012.
- Rammstein, Motörhead, Danzig, Alice Cooper, Lamb Of God, Anthrax and Nightwish in 2013.
- Sodom, Skid Row, Hammerfall, and Five Finger Death Punch in 2014.
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Rob Zombie, and Zodiac in 2015.