Wacken 2023 – Rain or … what?

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Wacken letters overlooking the original pit where the first festival took place in 1990

Part 1: Oh Holy Mud!                    

By now the news will have spread all over the world that this year’s Wacken edition will go down in history as the wettest and most difficult year. For the first time in 32 years, the organizers actually asked ticketholders to turn around and drive back home or not start the journey at all. As these were never seen circumstances, let’s start with a timeline and some background information. Buckle up as this is going to be longer or skip to the concert part a few paragraphs down.

What the (louder than) hell had happened?

After a hot summer with long periods without rain, the agricultural land had completely dried out. When the weather took a wild turn with constant rain of up to 150 liters per square meter, it was too much to be soaked up. Wacken’s camping area is actively used as farm land for the biggest part of the year, featuring corn crops and grazing cows in non-festival times. There is no venue, no arena, no stadium or any other concrete base giving shelter. Hence there is no drainage system on the huge camping area, which spans over several villages (or about 560 soccer fields), except for the occasional ditches in between the camp sites. Better watch out and don’t stumble when intoxicated.

In the past Wacken had heavily invested to improve draining on the infield where the two major stages “Faster” and “Harder” are located, including the famous underground beer pipeline to avoid heavy trucks stirring up the grassland. However this year’s challenge was not so much about the condition of the infield, but about getting people, cars and their equipment onto the campsites. Arriving cars, vans and RVs were stirring up the ground, destroying the grassy surface within seconds. Add some extra rain and the recipe for the mud party is complete.

Mud timeline: Monday, July 31, 2023

By Monday afternoon about 30.000 ticketholders had already arrived, with thousands stuck in traffic in the outskirts of Wacken. As every car had to individually be towed onto the campsite by huge tractors, it was very time consuming. This is when the festival promoters decided to declare an “arrival stop”, asking those who had not started their journey to wait and stay put. The ones already on the road were asked to find a hotel for the night or head for parking at an arena in Hamburg, about one hour south of Wacken. Those stuck in long traffic jams on the A23 highway received emergency packages by the Red Cross. Many metalheads had to spend the night in their cars. Some had already been traveling for many hours from the south of Germany or other European countries. Some flew in internationally and didn’t know what to do or where to go.


Getting onto the camp site was specially rough for those arriving by bus

Those nearby the highway exits close to the city of Itzehoe were redirected to an airfield about 15km away, named “Hungriger Wolf” (Hungry Wolf), where authorities quickly provided sanitary facilities, food and beer. This airfield would turn out to be a permanent Wacken campsite for the entire festival with shuttle busses taking people back and forth. While it took 45 min to commute and another long wait to pass security to get in, the majority praised the efforts and efficiency of the organization.

By Saturday, many “Hungry Wolf” campers were even spotted wearing their special edition of “Hungry for Metal – Wacken Exile Hungriger Wolf” shirts. Quite the spontaneous print design, just as the “Wacken 2023 Full Metal Traffic Jam – I was there for a long time” design for those who spent the night in their cars.

Mud timeline: Tuesday, August 1st, 2023

By Tuesday the rain had not shown any mercy, and with thousands of cars still waiting to be towed unto the campground, festival management announced than cars were no longer allowed to arrive in Wacken, as they simply could not be serviced by the 70 tractors who worked tirelessly in three shifts, 24/7. Too many camp sites were flooded, and the mud was getting even deeper with no end in sight. There simply wasn’t enough camping capacity for 85.000 metalheads. Ticketholders at home were asked to not start their journey at all, which started an outpour of different emotions on social media channels.

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Infield prior to opening

Mud timeline: Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023

At 4 am in the morning a complete arrival and admission stop was announced via App and website. Visitors without a wristband were asked to turn around and go back home. This was a never seen before dramatic situation. Many were desperate and tired from long, sometimes international journeys, overwhelmed by the sad news, again not sure what to do. It was not only about missing out on the fun, but often about forfeited vacation days, the exhausting effort of preparing, packing and traveling, and of course the financial burden of plane, trains and automobiles as well as accommodations. Some were disappointed but understood the consequences of such a wet festival experience and would therefore rather stay home and wait for 2024. Others were writing themselves in rage, blaming Wacken management rather than the real culprit: nature. Keep in mind that the promoters’ and authorities’ priority was the safety of the fans, so emergency services could assure getting to people in need within the legally specified time.

As it later turned out, anyone who somehow made it to the Holy Ground did receive a wristband. No one was turned down or denied entrance. This was due to circumstances, as some might have already been on the camp for a longer time but did not pick up the wristband right away. They might have been waiting for improved weather, less mud, or simply had too much beer. Instead of 85.000, only 61.000 fans celebrated this year’s W:O:A Vikings theme. The last time Wacken had seen this “few” people was in 2006 with “only” 48.000. The infield was still full, but you could spot areas without people where the mud was deeper. Specially bands playing the other stages drew smaller audiences as travel times were longer and exhausting. And you could tell that the usually long lines at the sanitary facilities were non-existing, even during the headlining shows. Apparently only around 1500 people picked up their wristband after the full admission stop had been announced. For those who made it, it was a relief and reason to party even faster, harder and…yeah, you get it. Many of those who had discontinued their journey and turned around felt cheated though.

According to Wacken’s promoters, all unused tickets will be refunded as soon as possible. You do the math: 23000 x 299 € …that’s a loss of about 7 million Euros. Add the loss in food, beverage and merchandise sales on top, plus the manpower it takes to handle the refunds, it is obvious that no one would have sent anyone home unless it was absolutely necessary.

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Wacken founders and promoters, Thomas Jensen and Holger Hübner

As Wacken founder Thomas Jensen stated at the press conference on Saturday, he was devastated that he had to close the door for “the family”. The real heroes were the ones that followed the order, as those who stayed at home made it possible to even have a festival. It’s a paradox and he cannot thank them enough. He also praised the solidarity of the Wacken residents and adjoining businesses who took care of the stranded metalheads.

Hail to the Rubber Boot God!

To those who stayed behind: Sinking into the mud, getting stuck and barely out is both exhausting and time consuming. It makes you think twice about changing stages as there is no quick way to go anywhere. This means that you don’t get to see all the bands you initially planned on watching. Getting to the village was a one-to-two hours journey (depending on the camp ground you were on). On the way we’ve witnessed exhausted incoming travellers who arrived from the busses dragging their now filthy suitcases through the mud, with no spot left in sight for camping. Camping Plaza with food and merchandise stalls was so slippery, no one even bothered to shop. Some sought protection underneath the newly installed “Welcome to the Jungle” umbrella tent, the rest of the area was deserted once the rain kicked back in. Until Wednesday night, visitors weren’t even sure if the festival would take place at all or as planned. So being part of the ones that made it was overshadowed by the sadness and negativity of those who did not make it and an insecurity regarding the line-up.


Hail to the Rubber Boots God!

Compared to the infamous year of 2015, when fans were standing in puddles up to their knees, always wondering if the next step might end up even deeper, 2023 wasn’t that…deep. Muddy, sure, but the puddles and lakes were more predictable than eight years ago. Yet rubber boots were mandatory every day as waterproof hiking shoes or boots were simply too short to handle the puddles.

Lemmy’s Ashes in Wacken

On Wednesday afternoon, a parade consisting of several trucks with partying metalheads blasting Motörhead tunes drove from the village to the festival grounds. On the Louder Stage, promoters Holger Hübner and Thomas Jensen explained that some of their long-time friend Lemmy Kilmister’s ashes had returned to Wacken. Lemmy, who had played Wacken eight times, had originally planned for his ashes to be put in bullets and given to his closest friends, like Doro who had received her gift a few years ago.

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Lemmy exhibition @ LGH Wacken, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Now a small replica of the original urn with some of Lemmy’s ashes was about to be enshrined in a ceremony at Lemmy’s bar in the village. The memorial celebration was attended by Motörhead’s drummer Mikkey Dee and long-time guitar player (1983–2015) Phil Campbell, who also played in Wacken with his current band, the Bastard Sons. The same night Doro honoured Lemmy by performing “Ace of Spades” with both former band colleagues in attendance on the main stage. Now that Lemmy has returned to Wacken, fans are able to pay their respect at the new resting place at Landgasthof Wacken, Hauptstraße 25.


Landgasthof Wacken, housing LGH stage and Lemmy’s bar

Part 2: Music? Concerts? Hell Yeah!

With all this extra drama, it is easy to forget what Wacken is all about: Music! Ready? Scream for me Wackeeeeeeeeeeeeen!


Muddy Infield

200 acts on eight stages performed throughout the week. In the end, only a few bands did not make it.

Festival Wednesday

The infield opening on Wednesday was postponed twice and 2.5 hours late, so scheduled openers Holy Moses were rescheduled to play Headbangers Stage on midnight.

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Sabina Classen of Holy Moses playing Headbangers Stage

Skindred started the festival with their mix of heavy metal, hip hop and reggae.


Benji Webbe of Skindred

Next up was the Broilers, a punk band from Düsseldorf, Germany. Headlining this newly added fourth day was Doro Pesch, who celebrated her 40th stage anniversary. Hard to believe she’s been around that long as she looks fantastically young and is as energetic as ever. Special guests on this unique evening included Joey Belladonna, who’s band Anthrax were to play W:O:A but had cancelled their entire European tour due to unforeseen circumstances. Also sharing the stage honouring Doro were Udo Dirkschneider (UDO, formerly Accept), Mikkey Dee (Motörhead) and Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions), Chris Caffery (Trans-Siberian Orchestra/Savatage), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Rhein (In Extremo), Sammy Amara (Broilers) and Sabina Classen (Holy Moses). As always, the hard-working Queen of Metal’s performance was dedicated and enthusiastic.

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The Queen of Metal Doro Pesch’s 40th anniversary, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Festival Thursday

The US ladies of Vixen were around in the 80s, when the hair was full of spray and the ladies full of glam. Now in their 60s, they didn’t lose any charm opening Thursday, according to festival founder Thomas Jensen who praised their performance. While singer Lorraine Lewis (ex Femme Fatale) joined Vixen in 2019, drummer Roxy Petrucci is the only original member left.


Vixen’s Lorraine Lewis


Vixen’s Roxy Petrucci

Legends Uriah Heep had released their 25th studio album in 2023. Guitarist Mick Box is the only founding member left in the band.

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Uriah Heep’s Mick Box, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Legendary German Thrash masters Kreator have been around since the 80s and are regular guests on the Wacken stages, this year stirring up moshpits despite the mud. Swedish power metal force HammerFall, who have extensively been touring with Helloween on the “United Forces” tour, were replacing Anthrax.

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Hammerfall, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Helloween featured the Pumpkin United line-up with three singers. It included current vocalist Andy Deris, former singer Michael Kiske (remember the Keeper albums?) and first singer/guitarist Kai Hansen (Ride the Sky!). And boy, all three still know how to sing, delivering a first-class show featuring songs from four decades. The night ended with orange pumpkin balloons and a special drone show. So much fun!

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Helloween, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

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Pumpkin fly free!

Festival Friday

Doro – again? Sure enough, our Metal Queen presented her new album “Conqueress – Forever Strong And Proud” and offered glimpses into her new video and a listening session to members of the press. Although it was early for Wacken standards (1 pm), she was in full make-up, gear (btw., her leather outfits are vegan :-), flashing her authentic smile while being escorted by majestic looking warriors. She talked a bit about the new recordings and performed a live singalong with her new songs.

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Doro Pesch album release @ Wacken press tent

Last time Megadeth played in Wacken, Dave Mustaine’s voice was totally off, so expectations were low. But surprisingly, Dave came back strong and convincing. And along with the great atmosphere, the weather showed itself from his best side. Very cool indeed!

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Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Scream for me Wackeeeeen! Iron Maiden have been headlining the festival three times before. Having been on European tour, Bruce Dickinson was in great shape playing the Harder stage on the infield, alongside the forever young Steve Harris. However many complained on Social Media about the sound in the back of the infield and left; I attest that it wasn’t loud enough up front. No need for ear plugs is not good enough for the best sound and intense vibrations of any festival. Bad FOH day, huh? For those staying at home and watching the online stream, Iron Maiden’s management did not authorize streaming but offered a compilation of former concerts instead.

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Iron Maiden crowd including blue rainless skies

Bad timing that Amorphis played on the Louder Stage at the same time, followed by VV Ville Valo (HIM). Decisions, decisions…

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VV Ville Valo at Louder Stage, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

Festival Saturday

Masterplan opened the festival day with an early 11.30 show. Ukrainian band Jinjer from Donetsk (now residing in Lviv) played the Faster stage in the afternoon. Featuring the slogan “We want our home back”, they were supported by fans wearing matching shirts and waving blue/yellow Ukrainian flags, symbolizing the vast sunflower fields and blue skies. Singer Tatiana Shmailyuk is quite an eye-catching appearance, tall with long braided pigtails that fly around her banging head while she looks like a metal mannequin. Her voice sounds unreal, like all the political frustration is channelled into her strong growling.


Tatiana Shmailyuk of Jinjer

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Jinjer from Ukraine

At the same time, the Swiss ladies of Burning Witches played on the W.E.T stage, with US support by Courtney Cox of the Iron Maidens on guitars as well as Biohazard on Louder stage. Scottish Alestorm and their yellow rubber ducks celebrated an enthusiastic party on the infield.



Swedish progressive rockers Everygrey were lucky to finally play the Headbangers Stage. In 2019, their equipment was set up and they were about to enter the stage when all shows were halted due to thunderstorms. When the shows restarted a few hours later, they lost their time slot and left without playing a note. They’ve obviously enjoyed their return in 2023!


Johan Niemann and Tom S. Englund of Evergrey

The melodic death metal band Heaven Shall Burn from Thuringia, Germany became famous for their previous Wacken show, having ignited circle pits around the entire FOH towers. It was still surprising they were announced as headliners, given the fact that they were playing afternoon slots just a few years ago. No offense, but not exactly A-list material when other headliners sell out arenas and stadiums.

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Heaven Shall Burn, photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH

By the time London-based anonymous masked post-rock collective Sleep Token attracted a particularly younger crowd and the Dropkick Murphys closed the festival with Irish tunes, many had already left to safely get off the camp grounds as more rain was announced for the night.

After the festival is before the festival

As the German saying goes, we all look forward to 2024! The homeward journey was much smoother than expected as everyone did not leave at once Sunday morning. Despite nature’s threats, the head of police Frank Matthiessen and EMTs lead by Volker Böhm were happy with the outcome of the festival. As in previous years, Wacken was a very safe place to party. About 2500 patients were treated at the Red Cross tent, however only minor injuries and nothing out of the ordinary were reported. Most of those 120 admitted to surrounding hospitals were already released and back at the festival.

Also worth mentioning: According to telecommunication representatives in Harry Metal’s Podcast, phone and Internet capacities had been multiplied by five compared to the previous year. For the very first time in 15 years, this author had nonstop quality connection without any interruptions. Not sure how it would have been with everyone attending, but so far: Well done!

Incredibly, Wacken 2024, taking place from July 31–August 3, 2024, has already been sold out within 4.5 hours! Obviously no rain or mud can take the spirit away. If you are still looking for a rubber boot camp experience in mud, it’s a good idea to sign up on the official W:O:A ticket waiting list. Remember, quality equipment solves most challenges, and the reward is the greatest metal festival this planet has seen! However we all vote for “Shine” in 2024, so hopefully we won’t be needing them.

WOA Website Poster 2024

For the 33rd W:O:A edition, these 33 bands have already been announced:

Scorpions, Amon Amarth, In Extremo, Blind Guardian, Mayhem, Pain, Beast In Black, Watain, Bury Tomorrow, Blues Pills, Knorkator, Sonata Arctica, Motionless In White, Unleash The Archers, Sick Of It All, The Warning, Red Fang, The Black Daliah Murder, Ankor, Primordial, Flotsam & Jetsam, Xandria, Soil, Emil Bulls, Vio-Lence, Wolf, Exumer, Vreid, Brutus, Ignea, Future Palace, John Coffey, Asagraum and many more.

Visit www.wacken.com for more information.

Words: Äfa Angelhardt

Photos by Äfa Angelhardt except where marked “photo courtesy of W:O:A Festival GmbH”