Wacken Open Air

Wacken Open Air
Festivalgelände - 2017215225222 2017-08-03 Wacken - Sven - 1D X MK II - 1539 - B70I9471.jpg
The logo of the Wacken Open Air festival is a bull skull
DatesJuly, August
Location(s)Wacken, Germany
Years active1990–present
Founded byThomas Jensen, Holger Hübner, Andreas Göser and Jörg Jensen. Both last had left enterprise in 1993[clarification needed][1][2][3]
Wacken Open Air 2014 Main Stages

Wacken Open Air (n/, stylised W:O:A) is an open-air heavy metal music festival. It takes place annually in summer in the village of Wacken in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany, 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Hamburg.

W:O:A is usually held at the beginning of August and lasts four days. The festival was first held in 1990 as a small event with about 800 visitors and six local German bands.[4] It is currently considered the biggest heavy-metal festival in the world.[5][6] In 2011, the festival attracted 80,000 festival visitors and 6,000 personnel for a total of 86,000 attendees.[7]

The festival traditionally ends on the first Sunday in August, and at midnight the following Monday tickets go on sale for the next year. Remarkably, all 75,000 tickets were sold out within 48 hours for 2014,[8][9] 12 hours for 2015,[10] and 23 hours for 2016,[11] despite the fact that the lineup (with the exception of rumors or headliners) had not been announced. Including 2019, the festival was sold out fifteen times in a row. The non-optional basic ticket price for all four days, including camping for a week, was €220 in 2018 and for 2019 as well.[12] In 2018, 197 bands were playing on nine stages.[13]

The international significance of the festival is shown by the attendees in recent years consisting of 30% foreigners, with up to 10% non-Europeans, from about 30–40 different countries all around the world. Many metal fans travel from half a world away to stand in cow meadows before stages set in the middle of nowhere.[14][15][16][17] In 2017, an official count confirmed visitors from over 80 different nations at the festival.[18][19][20] A lot of metalheads, metal and hard rock bands worldwide are keen to make the journey to "The Mecca of Heavy Metal Culture" (Sam Dunn / Metal: A Headbanger's Journey ), "The Holy Land" (Wacken 3D – a 2014 movie shown in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy),[21] "The Cathedral of Heavy Metal" (Paul O'Neill / Trans-Siberian Orchestra),[22] or "The Summit of Heavy Metal" (Thomas Gabriel Fischer / Celtic Frost)[23] at least once in their lifetime, just for the experience.[24]

Festival crowds

The W:O:A audience, bands, and artists informally address each other as "Wacken", which is its own legend and another reason why the festival sells out without billing.

Wacken is not about the bands, isn't it?! It is about the people who come to Wacken. That what is about.


German crowds in general tend to interact well and are outgoing during shows, which creates musical comradeship among those who enjoy this kind of crossing of emotional boundaries—crowdsurfing and moshing—with a little bit of beer intoxication by ten o'clock.

To quote some band members from 25 Years Louder Than Hell - The W:O:A documentary:

It is one of the best crowds in the world, actually!

People have just fun. They celebrate every note. Sometimes I think it doesn't matter who is on stage. They just into it and that's unique worldwide.

Some bands become demanding of the crowd. In 2015, there was a memorable moment during a show by Rock Meets Classic, when a too-sedate Wacken audience, who had come to listen to a classical orchestra, was berated by "chief animator" Dee Snider, of Twisted Sister, that they weren't singing loud enough and doing their part to live up to the fame of Wacken crowds. Then, after some dry exercises with "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock", Snider adjusted the sound to 120 decibels and finished with "Highway to Hell", so that the show got noticed in Kiel 70 kilometres (43 mi) away.

Looks, clothing, styles and self-expressions

A photo session by Pep Bonet, in his collection book we the republic of wacken, dealt with Wacken crowds in 180 pages and on 2 CDs.[25] Shortly before, during, and after the festival, German nationwide newspapers and magazines, such as Der Spiegel or Süddeutsche Zeitung, compete for the funniest pictures of the annual W:O:A event, so that the entire country has something to laugh about.[26][27][28][29][30] Therefore, Wacken is often compared with Burning Man festival in Nevada or Fusion Festival in Lärz, but just for Hard 'n Heavy fans.

Although officially there is no dress code, in line with the metal subculture the crowd dresses in particular styles. Black is colour of first choice, especially a T-shirt featuring a favorite band or a W:O:A T-shirt of the current or a previous year the wearer attended. Kutte with patches of favourite bands, leather, kilts, studs, spikes, and chains are also popular. A special Wacken fashion is Viking, day-after the apocalypse (e.g. Mad Max), or medieval looks.

Family and community feeling

Most of Wacken crowd are regular visitors. Many of them keep score by getting W:O:A tattoos, with stars for every year attended, or by a collection of entrance badges. A few couples were married at W:O:A, on stage in front of hundreds of metalheads who cried "their f—king eyes out" during the ceremonies.[31][32] Others had their honeymoons at the festival or became engaged.[33] For some visitors the festival is the highlight of the year, not just concerning music, but for their entire life, and the place they desire to be all the time. That's where the nickname "The Holy Land" comes from.

I think that is something very special to Wacken that is a all-day thing and people are here all-day. Hangover!? What ever. It's time to get up. It's time to rock. It's fucking raining?! We don't care. We are covered with mud?! We don't care. That is their time in a year. This their time to go. Just let it all loose. Forget all the problems and raid.

Even it sounds properly wicked for some people (ER: by up to 90,000 people), it is like a huge family party.[35][36][37]

They are all sorts of awful things going on in the world you look at the moment. Newspapers, you see it on the TV. All this bullshit, people going around killing people, murdering people in the name of religion or what ever the fucking is.I don't give a shit, quite frankly. Because the one thing all of us stand for; this is family! This is not one nation. This is not one race. This is not one religion. These are all religions. Every race. Every color. Every person. Every gender, it use to be two or a few more. – You know what?! – We are all family in this together and everybody is welcome. And the answer to the bullshit is going on out there at the moment; is not to be full of hated, it is to be full of love and light and music and a lot of beer!

That shows you how connected people are in the metal world, because it is a really deep, deep, deep emotional thing for our fans as music is. The great thing about metal is it doesn't matter what generation you in, it doesn't matter what kind of life-level you at, it doesn't matter how much money you got. This comradely, this metal spirit, that really unite us together with that sound and particularly with these festivals. This is a great celebration. This Wacken is one of the most important festivals in the world. And this not only for the bands, but for all these metalheads. All these metalheads see each other once a year at Wacken. And these keep us a home, a special vibe, strong and powerful.


According to a 2015 survey of 808 visitors the crowd consisted of the following demographics:[40]

Age: <16 years 0,2%, 16–17 years 2.5%, 18–25 years 17.5%, 26–29 years 29.8%, >30 years 29.7% and 0.9% N/A. Average 27.2 years.

Educational level: High school or similar 40.3%, advanced technical college entrance qualification 19.9%, secondary school level 30.8%, without degree 0.6% and 6% N/A.

Money spent during W.O:A: >€400 13.1%, €301–400 12%, €201–300 24.3%, €101–200 32.4%, €51–100 12.1%, €26–50 2.5%, €11–25 0.4%, <= €10 0.5% and 2.7% N/A. Average €250.80.

Distance traveled to W:O:A: >700 km 25.4%, 601–700 km 11.6%, 501–600 km 8.5%, 301–500 km 18.8%, 201–300 km 9.7%, 101–200 km 6.9%, 51–100 km 7.7%, 25–50 km 4.7%, <25 km 5.7% and 1% N/A.

A home for the elderly of Itzehoe takes frequently field trips to the festival, to celebrate their over-70 parties. Hosts grant them free passes. The metalheads show their admiration and respect to the seniors by hailing them with "Waaacken" battle cries and showing the Sign of the horns. The elderly patrons, up to 99 years old, admire mostly the peaceful, huge gathering for music; which were unknown in their youth.[32]

Deep Purple attempted to explain Wacken as a fountain of youth at Wacken 2013:

As you get older the world changes on you and the world becomes a more serious place and lot people do tend to forget what they like when they were kids; and when they do come to a Rock'n'Roll show and they are few kids in the audience. The kids actually remind them what is like being 18 again. And then those guys or those women they forget that they are 55 or 60 and they become 15 years old kids again. And it is an amazing thing to see happen.

— Ian Paice

I see that all around here. The music has a great power to move people.


Since 2011, the hosts have set the target number of attendees at 84,500 people. 75,000 tickets are sold, a third of those being reserved for foreign visitors. An additional 5,000 tickets are reserved for a special guest list of the hosts, mostly with backstage passes. Free passes go to the 1,800 villagers of Wacken and the up to currently 200 bands and their crews. In 2017, 5,000 are for organizational staff. Passes for a couple of hundred of officials and emergency personnel—such as police officers, customs officers (searching for drugs), regulatory authorities, fire fighters and paramedics—are also needed.

In 2011, the hosts decided to not let the festival grow any further, despite the huge demand for tickets. There were several reasons for this decision: First, logistical problems. Wacken is a small village and the entire festival infrastructure must be built up from scratch beginning two weeks before each festival—stages, fresh water, camping grounds, toilets, showers, power, food and beverage supplies, etc. Further growth would create demands that could not be satisfied. Second, safety. Local authorities got very sensitive regarding security after the Love Parade disaster, in 2010, when 21 people died from suffocation and 500 more were injured. Therefore, every festival has to meet the highest safety standards, which are strictly controlled by regulatory authorities nowadays, and which would be hard to meet with a further increase in attendance. Third, so as to not jeopardize the acceptance of the festival by the village, due to the strain caused by higher numbers of visitors. And last, to keep the festival grounds concentrated, which otherwise would have to be expanded.

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