In 2014, Ron and I made our first journey to Wacken Open Air, the world’s largest heavy metal music festival, which takes place every year just outside of Hamburg, Germany. It’s not the first music festival I’d ever attended – that would be the Quebec City Summer Festival. But I stayed at the fucking Mariott in Quebec. In contrast, I rented a tent at Wacken, where I camped out on farmland, got rained on, saw a truly ludicrous number of people pee in a ditch, bartered warm beers for cold with a group of Puerto Ricans a couple of tents down, and woke up every morning to a group of young German lads from a few rows over chanting “Canadian Mama.” So I count it as my first.
It was one of the best weekends of my life. And as this blog goes on, I expect there will be (roughly) a million stories about “This one time, at Wacken.”
But I’m gonna start with my favourite.
Every year, Wacken has a Metal Battle, in which unsigned bands from around the world, who have competed to represent their country, play a set at the festival. It gives the bands some exposure, and it’s a good way for attendees to hear some up-and-coming music.
Ron and I were having breakfast in the beer garden – I always have to stop and savour the beauty of the phrase ‘breakfast in the beer garden’ – when a couple of guys approached our table. They were members of the Hungarian Metal Battle entry, Room of the Mad Robots, recently renamed simply Mad Robots, and they were drumming up business for their show later that day. They gave us free CDs and a hilarious flyer that completely convinced us to check out their show.
The show was great. It’s always a plus when you take a chance on a new band and end up loving the music.
Adding them to my mental ‘to-follow’ list, I tucked away the flyer, as it would fit nicely in the souvenir frame I intended to make with artifacts from the festival. Unfortunately, it being a little bitty piece of paper, and with us travelling for several more weeks after the festival was over, the flyer got lost. Fortunately, while I was busy pouting about the loss, Ron had the sense to suggest that maybe the band had a Facebook page where I could contact them for a replacement.
They did, and I did. And it led to the most extraordinary sequence of events.
It started out simple, with a bit of extra swag when they sent me a replacement flyer – things like stickers, guitar picks, beer mats and the like. I followed the band’s page, so I heard the news when they signed with a label and were releasing a new album. I asked if it would be available in Canada, and they assured me that a copy would make its way to me.
Thing is, I had to order it directly from the band. Still kicking myself for not having bought a t-shirt at Wacken, I asked if there were any available. There were several, and a lot of back-and-forthing about sizes and colours and styles resulted in a largish package. More back-and-forthing ensued when a month later it still hadn’t arrived, and it turned out the box had gotten damaged and had been sitting in a post office in Budapest the entire time. When it finally landed in my mailbox, I was in Finland, and Ron spent a week sending me one photo at a time as he slowly unboxed it. I passed this onto the band, who thought Ron sounded like “a really cool guy.”
After so much friendly communication over a couple of years, when Ron and I got tickets to go back to Wacken in 2017, I messaged the band to see if any of them might be there, thinking perhaps we could meet up for a drink in the beer garden or something. They said no, but then asked if we were going anywhere else on our trip because, depending on where we might be, it was possible some of them could come meet us somewhere.
At which point I said to Ron, “Well, we’ve been talking about going to Budapest for forever. Wanna make it this year?” Him being the Really Cool Guy he is said “Why wouldn’t we?” I messaged the band to see what they thought, their reply was enthusiastic, and we worked out some dates.
Once we got to Budapest, things just kept escalating.
First we were meeting one band member for a beer.
Then we were meeting most of the band at their rehearsal space.
Then the whole band had made it and they might play a song.
Which then became a full-on private concert.
It just doesn’t get more once-in-a-lifetime than that. I’m still absolutely blown away by the generosity of time and spirit they showed us.
And when their new album comes out this Friday? With music like this?
Yeah, you can bet they’ll be getting a message from me, working out the details of getting a copy to Canada.