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Summer's Unpredictable Fury: When Sun, Sea, and Festivals Meet Nature's Wrath

photo: Andy Fava

Summer is the time for sun, sea, and festivals, so we are shocked when we hear that a beach has been closed due to strong winds…even more bewildered when a festival suffers the rage of the weather as well. We endured this at the last day of this year’s Farsons Beer Festival, when the last day had to be cancelled due to the strong wind blowing that day.

But this was not a freak incident only hitting the Maltese islands. During that week, anyone watching the news could see the devastation that storms were causing all over Europe and beyond. As we already mentioned, summer is a time when many music enthusiasts travel all around to attend to festivals of every genre. The days between the last few days of July and the first week of August were no exception, with two major festivals occurring during those days. Metaldays, in Slovenia, commenced on Sunday 30th July, while Wacken Open Air was supposed to open their gates a few days later, on the 2nd of August.

This year was Metaldays first edition in a new location after it had to move from Tolmin due to road constructions. This new location, Lake Velenje in Velenje is about 108 kilometers away and boasted the same picturesque scenery Sotočjein in Tolmin offered. Wacken on the other hand was in its thirty third edition and can easily be considered the largest European metal festival. Only this year both festivals were to suffer a first…. severe weather. In previous years both festivals suffered harsh weather, in fact the motto for Wacken is rain or shine.

From the first days of August posts from both festivals starting to pop up on social media regarding the weather conditions with Wacken officials asking people travelling towards the festival to be extra careful. A few hours before the wrist bands booths were to open, they announced that due to the severe weather approaching in the next few hours they are only admitting in a limited number of people. Basically, they had to cut attendance by half their normal eighty-five thousand plus attendance. On the other hand, Metaldays were experiencing some nice weather with many taking to water sports in the river in waiting for the first bands to hit the stage on Monday 31st July.

This was not the first time that both festivals, or any other European festival for that matter, suffered rain, heavy rain, but it never deterred bands from performing and fans from gathering in front of the stages. This year was different.

Both festivals are well known in our metal community and are attended by many each year. I had the pleasure to attend Wacken twice and Metaldays three times. This year was no exception, and, in both festivals, there were Maltese pilgrims…. or rather Gozitans in the case of Metaldays.

Metaldays lineup 2023

As already mentioned, the Gozitan clan, made up of David Sultana, Andy Fava, Simone Bartolo, Edric Micallef Figallo and Jacob Buttigieg were enjoying the first few hours of their arrival by Lake Velenje with a nice cold beer. In the evening they were treated to pre festival concerts through the nights building up to Monday. Although the day was rainy our friends could still enjoy the bands playing on the day with Anthrax and Kreator headlining it. On Tuesday, the weather started to deteriorate reaching its worst during the Helloween set.

In the meantime, 1300km away in Wacken, news was not as good as that of Metaldays during the first few hours of the festival. Roads were closed for travelling in or out of Wacken and people were advised to stay in hotels, with those travelling to camp advised to find other alternatives. The festival opened the gates as planned but to a diminished crowd. The festival area was flooded, and mud made it very difficult to walk on. This festival was attended by Danny Cassar and Elton Mifsud.

And from where better to get more details than directly from both parties, therefore we asked our friends about their experience……

photo: Andy Fava

We commenced with our Gozitan friends visiting Slovenia and Metaldays not for the first time by asking them how the arrival and the settling in was at their destination? In Andy’s words, “The arrival at the new festival venue in Velenje on the 27th of July was great. The sun was shining bright, and the locals welcomed us with open arms. The only thing that bothered during our first few days at the festival area was the smell coming from the power station nearby (we named it 'Mount Doom'), which smelt similar to crabsticks that were going bad in the heat. Other than that, all was good.” David agreed, “As usual our arrival was very simple, it was easier than Tolmin ‘cause everything was took us around 15 minutes to get our wristbands and follow the signs to our tents.” And as Jacob stated even the journey from the airport was good, “Arrival was standard we arrived at the airport and got our taxi as booked. What was great is the driver they assigned us was a metalhead, so the ride was full of great tunes. The destination had a stunning view and was not at all as the doubters described.”

M: When did you first notice that this was not going to be a normal holiday?

Jacob: “I would say it was on the second day of the actual festival when the first heavy rains came down and I was completely drenched”. David continued: “We were constantly checking the weather app and when the last 3 days were remaining it was showing it was gonna be raining the whole time but we were never sure that it was going to rain that bad so we weren't sure about the outcome until it hit us hard.”

photo: Wacken facebook page

A more indulged answer was given by Andy, “On the 1st of August, we went for the second batch of bands. We saw Venom Inc. on Main Stage A, and about halfway through their performance, it started to rain a lot. So, we were forced to retreat under the bar tent (frankly, I am not complaining about that because the beer was close by, and we could still see Venom Inc. play). The rain stopped after a bit and we decided to go see I am Morbid on Main Stage B, only to find out that due to the rain (and because the sound equipment was not properly sheltered by the tents), their show got canceled. Later, we met with Surtur (vocalist from the band Ars Venificum and owner of Immortal Frost Productions) for a couple of beers, where he mentioned to us the damages the rain has caused to his products (i.e. the Vinyls and CDs). He then revealed to us that the weather would be worsening in approximately two days. Surtur described the upcoming weather as "20 times worse than that we experienced" on that day and that him and a few other stand owners would be packing their merchandise and flee the area as soon as possible. At first, we said to one another, "The weather forecast is never accurate, and this might be one of those inaccurate weather details for the upcoming days. "... how wrong we were. Two days later, - after watching half the show by Keep of Kalessin - the show got canceled, and we all retreated under the Fusion Stage tent. We waited for the rain to slow down a bit and rushed to our tents till the next day.”

With the weather worsening by the minute the next question is inevitable….” What were the first steps the organizers took?

Jacob: “They constantly kept us updated with the situation going one giving warnings or cancelling bands such as I Am Morbid and Keep Of Kalessin during their set.”

Andy: “The first step the festival organizers took was to help those who were badly affected by the flood (eg. Those with their cars and tents were submerged by the overflowing river), and those who were at higher grounds should wait patiently in their tents until further notice and to keep an eye to the festival page on Facebook for further information. After an hour or so, we were notified about a free shuttle service that was taking festival visitors (such as ourselves) to a temporary shelter in the centre of Velenje. So, my friends, partner and myself packed our things and took the transportation offered by Boban and his associates that took us to a gym called "Red Hall," where we stayed for more than twenty-four hours. On the evening of the day we arrived to our shelter, 2 bands that were going to play on the day of the flood, played for us in a small bar, which was part of the gym - which they have my full respect for doing so.”

David: “When it started raining badly some bands were cancelled at first and then the next day when the rain was still going and everything was flooded they cancelled the last day, it was then that we found out that it turned out bad everywhere and not just the festival but also the surrounding towns were getting flooded. Our first few days were paradise, a beautiful new place with an amazing view of the lake and mountains, the usual friendly metalheads although it was not the usual amount we were used to but it was still good, the new bars and new food and then meeting people from previous all in all it was amazing, especially the chill weather we had at first.” “The first few days were very relaxing. We took in our surroundings as the weather was nice and sunny but not hot. “We were planning which bands we were going to be seeing on those days and taking in our surroundings,” continued Jacob. “Things started getting worse on Thursday the 3rd during the Keep Of Kalessin set when they got cancelled (mid-set). Obituary and Killswitch Engage played during a downpour that evening. This was confirmed by Andy while David added, “Things started getting worse when the heavy rain cancelled the band we were watching and the one after it. The rain never stopped not even during the night and when we woke up in the morning and saw the devastation the rain did, like flooded areas of the camp sites and cars almost under water then we got the message that the last day of the festival was cancelled.” Andy also added: “The first thing was to find shelter while still enjoying the bands playing. Reason why we chose to go to the Fusion Stage (bands, shelter and most importantly, beer). From there, we waited for the rain to calm down and when that happened, we rushed to our tents.”

Andy: “(After) the first couple of days, we were kind of disappointed with regards to the bad weather, but after what occurred on the 4th of August, we understood that things had gotten worse. However, I am happy that everyone was safe and sound, and there was no damage caused to our personal belongings.”

The town of Velenje

From here on the most important way forward was safety for of our Gozitan friends…..and as David said, “Our way forward was to try and keep ourselves dry and wait out the rain and keep checking the festival updates on what was gonna happen till we got the message that we had to evacuate the area by the transport they were giving to a local gym were victims of the flooding were gathering.”

Andy: “I was not thinking about whatever came next after the flooding, except the safety of my friends, my partner’s, and obviously my own. When things cooled off, however, we were just living minutes after minute, waiting for details to be provided by those taking care of us. One thought I had, was to ensure that we have a food source (as the food provided at the gym was limited). David and I could barely sleep during the night. I tried to distract myself from my surroundings by reading a book, but it was not helping at all. Then at 08:05 or so, we went to Mercator (thankfully, it was opposite our locality) and bought breakfast for the 5 of us (as we had not had food since afternoon of the previous day), and waited for the info to be provided by the people at the Red Hall.”

Of course, during all this apart from the thoughts of our friends’ safety, thoughts of how the organizers are dealing with all this kept popping up. Our friends at Metaldays are full of praise as how the situation was dealt with:

David: “Everything was spot on, news was constant to guide us on what to do and keep everyone safe.” Jacob added: “They were very well organized and offered shelter to those who needed it and gave constant updates to said situation.” This was confirmed also by Andy.

Wacken Open Air lineup 2023

But not the same can be said regarding the Wacken Festival which as mentioned was visited by Danny Cassar and Elton Mifsud who stated: “Sadly this was the first Wacken festival (my 6th time) that was a total mess. I am deeply disappointed with the organisation. Our settling (luckily) was not troublesome as we chose Argon events and we had a hotel to sleep, transfers to wacken and back for all 4 days, but the misery we found on Wacken grounds in the first day (Wednesday) was astonishing. There was one foot deep mud everywhere, lack of signs, stewards who did not speak English, inaccessible areas, cancelled bands, no goody bag left, most of the above could have been avoided if the 70 tractors that came the 2nd day of the festival to clear the road from the mud were engaged even before the bands began in the first day.

photo: Wacken facebook page

Additionally, they were informing people not to come to Wacken if they were in the middle of their journey, to go back and meanwhile we who were already on the grounds were letting us in, denying us the option of not entering the premises in the first place and apply for a refund. In other words, they let in as much people as possible in a misery ground to have enough money to refund the tickets for those who were still to come! Not to mention the overpriced food, drinks, merchandise etc.”

Fortunately, unlike Slovenia, the weather in Germany got better and our friends could at least enjoy a few bands, even though maybe not those they have travelled to see.

photo: David Sultana

Back to the Metaldays grounds, or what was left of it. We asked our Gozitan friends how the locals reacted, help and at what point did they feel that everything will be alright:

As Andy already mentioned: “The locals in Velenje were very friendly and welcoming. Even during the evacuation, they were ready to welcome us with dry clothes, towels, hot showers, and (most importantly) cold Laŝko beer in the fridge.” “The locals were very helpful from offering free clothes to food and also volunteering to keep us safe or giving us information”, agreed David, “Very helpful and amazing hosts, local restaurants and bakeries provided us with warm food. Local people donated clothes and towels for those lost in the disaster”, added Jacob, “(We felt everything will be alright) when we were told that we had a way to get to our hotel in Italy.”

David: “The people at the gym/shelter kept us updated on the roads if they were still closed or when they opened and what was the best way to get out of there when the time came for us to leave.. so I guess everything was alright when we took the bus to the train station and we had a way out of Slovenia.”

Andy: “I was calm the majority of the time, but knowing that there was free transportation being offered to a safe haven (and knowing that my partner and my friends would be safe also) made me feel extra safe.”

Natural phenomena are unpredictable. But does this adventure dent the way both parties plan travels in the future, and now that they are all back and safe, how do they look back on this misadventure / adventure?

Andy was very specific: “These are things that happen, and -as stated in the question - it is unpredictable. I would (definitely) go through this situation again, as especially now that I have experienced this, I'd be prepared and will know better how to react if similar tragedies take place. I look at this disaster as an opportunity that helped me grow. It gave me the chance to get in touch with who I am as a person (something I have not felt ever since pre pandemic), and I can also say that the bond between my Gozitan metalhead brothers and also my partner has grown even stronger than ever. So, I will consider the mishap as a blessing!”

David was also adamant in his answer: “As you said, it is unpredictable, it will not stop me from going to a festival or any other vacation abroad. Shit happens even if u stay at home, so I rather enjoy life and take the risk. I look at it as an experience, any experience that u can walk from is always a good experience.”

Jacob was also positive in his answer: “This was completely unprecedented and no way of knowing if this will happen in the summer, winter, autumn or spring. I look back fondly as even in such a disaster it showed me that people will help each other out and will also be a good story to look back on in the future.

photo: Wacken facebook page

On the other hand, unfortunately the events that happened at Wacken, Germany left more than a bad taste on our friends Danny and Elton: “Wacken is a no go festival anymore, you have lost all your reputation and respect, I am deeply sorry to say this considering that my previous years (2004,2009,2010, 2012 and 2014) were a blast !”

During this year’s edition of Metaldays Maltese/Slovenian band Decline The Fall were set to perform on the last day, which unfortunately was cancelled. We caught up with singer John Castiel and asked him a few questions as well:

NM: Decline The Fall were supposed to hit the stage on Friday, the last day of the festival, but you visited the grounds earlier. How was the atmosphere at the time?

JC: We had the opportunity to visit the festival for a couple of days and we loved it. Saw some of our favourite bands and the atmosphere in general was great. Tuesday was a rainy day, but we still managed to see most of the bands on the main stage. Wednesday's weather was perfect, so we got to enjoy it even more.

NM: When did you start to suppose that things are getting beyond normality?

JC: We couldn't attend on Thursday, but we were following the festival and saw that it was raining heavily. Friday's cancellation still came as a shock to us.

NM: When were you notified that the festival is cancelled and what was the band’s reaction?

JC: We were notified on Friday which was gig day for us, and we all were shocked by it. We didn't expect that it would get this bad and we were very disappointed because this festival was on our bucket list for a very long time, but we understand that this isn't anyone's fault. We are sure there will be a next year.

NM: In your opinion, how was the whole situation handled by the organisers?

JC: I don't think they could have done anything better in that situation. They handled the situation bravely and I can't imagine how disappointing it must have been for them to cancel a whole day from a festival, but they've done their best for everyone's safety.

NM: How did the locals react and help?

JC: From what we've seen, a lot of people were helping the situation. They opened up an evacuation shelter inside a sports facility and offered free food and shelter to everyone. Some had to stay longer because many of the roads were closed due to the floods.

As you have just read this was an adventure few of us can relate to. Although rain (even heavy sometimes) is very much related with open air festivals, as far as I know there were never any cancellations and evacuations with the festival sites marked as disaster areas. Of course, we are more than happy that our friends and (as far as we know) all attendees to both festivals are now safe and sound back home with many stories to relate.

If you, the reader, has any similar experience you wish to relate, please comment below.

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