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Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) is one of Europe's two largest heavy metal festivals, the other being Dynamo Open Air in Eindhoven, Holland. This three-day exercise in loud- and/or madness takes place in the small Schleswig-Holstein town of Wacken (that's in Germany, for the geographically challenged). Most of the year, Wacken is a small, sleepy town with around 2000 inhabitants, but during this barbarian invasion, the "population" count usually exceeds 30.000. Trust me, the sight of a tiny village crawling with black-clad, long-haired spike-wearing types is interesting, to say the least.

Not another damn fair

The crew behind the festival take great pride in the fact that their festival is not just another damn fair, and that it has remained free of commercial control for its entire lifetime, despite the lucrative offers the crew has received over the years. But as they say, that's not what W:O:A is about. Despite the fact that various European Union taxes has made the festival harder to manage financially (there is a "foreigner tax" which they must pay in addition to all foreign bands' fees, even including things like hotel rooms, flights and the like, all in all adding up to around 35% more expenses for the W:O:A crew), the crew is determined to keep the festival free of commercian control, to make sure that nobody can tell them which bands to book, or fill the entire place with damn ads. To be fair, the festival crew do advertise the sound processing gear they use, at W:O:A 2003, there were more or less prominent Marshall and AMD banners in the main concert area. The festival does make a profit, but most of it is usually spent on improving next year's festival. Music TV channels like MTV and VIVA has never once aired footage from W:O:A, nor is it likely that they ever will.

Concerts & Bands

Bands that have frequented W:O:A have been an impressive list over the years. The 2003 band list alone includes such metal luminaries as Annihilator, Diamond Head, Dismember, In Flames, Nile, Primal Fear, Slayer, Soilwork, Stratovarius, Testament and Vader, as well as the Twisted Sister reunion concert. There's pretty much something for you no matter whether you're old school or new school, except that the festival steers clear of corporate nu-metal. The festival sports four large stages (the True Metal stage, the Blackstage, the Party Stage and the Wet Stage -- the latter is enclosed in a tent, in case of heavy rain), and for two of the three days of the festival, the schedule is set up so that when one concert ends, another will start at the adjacent stage 15 minutes later.

Definitely a good place to spend a hot summer weekend if you have a fetish for distortion pedals, gigantic stacks of Marshall amps, and like the company of drunken metalheads. Suggestion: Avoid sunburn, metal concerts are Hell if the slightest touch reminds you that your skin is 400 degrees hot.