Going to a heavy metal festival is a fun way to spend a few otherwise boring, searing hot summer days, and while popular opinion holds that copious amounts of alcohol, cannabis or hard drugs are necessary to survive such an ordeal, I nevertheless decided to stay completely straight throughout all of Wacken Open Air 2003. I figured that three days of being entertained by such acts as Slayer, Testament, Twisted Sister, Vader, Nile, Soilwork and others too numerous to list, I wouldn't need chemical assistance to alter my mood and senses into that state of delightful delirium that makes music festivals fun. What I'd forgotten to take into consideration was that the sun can have a profound effect on the human brain, at least when said human brain is mounted in the skull of a troglodyte-like programmer who usually sees the light of day once a week, and then only in controlled doses.
For three days in August, the sleepy 2000-soul town of Wacken is the Mecca of every self-respecting headbanger in Europe. Every single long-haired spike-wearing beer-guzzling freak from Norway to Sicily will be drawn to this strange event in the small Schleswig-Holstein (that's in Northern Germany, for our geographically challenged friends) town. The festival usually has a peak attendance of around 40.000 people, and sure enough, as Nordic Rock Booking's bus with me onboard drove into Wacken, it looked like an invasion zone with the invading legions of headbanging doom outnumbering the civilian targets about 20 to 1. The main attraction of the festival is, of course, the huge pantheon of heavy metal acts that grace its stages, but for many of us, the chance to add rare heavy metal records and strange collector's items to our collections is not to be scoffed at either. So by the time of the second day of the festival, I was already dangerously close to broke, and I had developed a severe sunburn from spending more time in the sun for a couple of days than I normally would in a month. And the sun was burning with a vengeance.
The main concert area featured two large stages, and the concerts were diabolically scheduled so that when one great band left one stage, the fans had fifteen minutes to pull themselves together and turn their heads 45 degrees to face the stage just to its side before the next concert began. Beer, water and soda were all available at the concert area itself, but at a terrible price: At 3.5 euro per glass of water, I felt morally obliged to not buy any. I could get it for free just outside the concert area, but going out to get some would involve me passing a big ugly German security guard who would search me for weapons, fireworks or illegal drugs when going back in. My sunburn was severe enough that a slight brush was a painful reminder that my skin was at least 666 degrees hot, so obviously, I didn't want anything to do with that. To make a long story short, I didn't drink a drop for hours, and trust me, heavy-duty headbanging and shouting friendly obscenities at bands can be quite an energy-consuming and sweat-producing task. After several hours of putting myself through this, Testament finally went on-stage. They were pretty much the main name for me; finally a chance to see bass god Steve DiGiorgio ravishing his fretless five-string live!
By that time, I hadn't had a drop of water for more hours than I can remember, but I am pretty certain that any licensed physician would shriek in righteous fury upon hearing what I was doing to my poor body. Added to this, the god damn Sun was still roasting my skin and boiling my brain. Looking to the sky confirmed what I had suspected; not a cloud in sight. "Fuck it", I think, "I'm a big boy. I can take it." So I spend the first fifteen minutes of the concert front stage, growling my lungs out, shouting horrible things/singing along and banging my balding head, while gazing in awe at the greatest metal bass player to grace the Earth and some gigantic Native American guy roaring like a fiend out of Hell. In short, I was having the time of my life.
About fifteen minutes into the concert, I notice that I have no legs. Initially I pay the phenomenon no second thought; I'm a former drunken fiend, I've experienced lots stranger things than merely losing my means of natural locomotion. A few seconds later, the horrible truth dawns on me: I was straight. I had not had a drop of alcohol, a puff of cannabis or anything else. My brain had forgotten about my legs on its own. "Well, shit in curry", I think, "I guess the damn daystar really has gotten the better of me". Despite my presence front stage at a thrash metal concert while sunburnt and seriously dehydrated, I like to consider myself a reasonably smart man, so I decide to do the reasonably smart thing: Get out of there and find somewhere to lie down and rest & regroup. That led me to my next challenge: Walking. I vaguely remember practicing this skill as a young boy, but I couldn't concentrate, and I seemed to have forgotten the particulars of it. I did remember, however, that legs are among the prerequisite equipment for it, and doing so when mine had apparently disappeared off my mental diagram of my anatomy, I was in for a challenge. Especially considering that the air has turned into a strange semitransparent jelly, and I have to navigate my way through a horde of strange otherworldly creatures with drab green skin, all engaged some preternatural war dance. I decide to make a gamble: I look around until I find a suitable spot for crashing, then throw my upper body towards it, hoping my legs would follow along. Sure enough, I stumble over to a patch of grass that isn't occupied by headbanging hordes of doom, walking with a gait that must have looked like some steam-powered clockwork golem created by a mad scientist in the middle 19th Century. I remember slumping on the ground as my upper body ceased moving and my legs kept walking until I collapsed on the grass.
By the time I come to, In Flames is playing a concert and I decide to go check out the action. I can feel that my brain still isn't entirely running at full gear, but my feet feel like going to the stage again, and who am I to question their judgment? I end up listening to the concert at a medium distance, just beside two nice-looking German girls. A few minutes later, one of them had put her arm around me and was groping me shamelessly, the other was smiling sweetly. My first instinct tells me they're going for my wallet, but knowing that my total cash belongings came to a grand total of zero, I decided that that really shouldn't be a concern. One of them, in between licking my throat, says something I don't understand in German, and being a polite boy, I reply: "Sorry, I don't speak Turkish". Their facial expressions change to a display of something I can't quite identify, and they say something more, but it's all incomprehensible gibberish to me. The one who's groping me apparently accidentally feels my 666-degree hot sunburnt forehead and exclaims, "scheisse, du bist krank!" (Shit, you're sick -- I may have slept through German in public school, but this I do understand). I decide to tell her that it isn't fever, just sunburn, but what comes out of my mouth sounds something like a Chewbacca sound, followed by the words of wisdom "Eeeaaauurrgghhhh, yo ho ho and a bottle of rat poison". Why was I saying these terrible things? Had I been drugged while I was out cold? Was I merely a victim of demonic possession? Had the Sun irreparably deep fried my speech centers? They look at me with that all-too-familiar "Ye Gods, this one is a real freak, let me get the Hell out of here" expression on their faces, and wade away.
As they walk away, I'm reliably informed that I looked to the sky and screamed at the top of my lungs (in Danish, possibly because some primal instinct decided that this was something I only wanted a minimum of people to understand, possibly just because it's my native tongue): "YOU BASTARD; WHY DO YOU MOCK ME SO?!"
The moral of the story? Wear sunscreen.