In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 9 of that journey (Switzerland at a Heavy Metal Festival).June 19th, 2010
Note: I was unable to take photos as this music festival so all the photos below were taken by others at the event (sourced from the internet).
Well I attended my first European music festival yesterday…the Sonisphere heavy metal festival in Wil Jonschwil, Switzerland. As an experience I got it all – rain, more mud than I have ever seen (or spent all day in!), and an awesome festival lineup that featured for the first time ever the “Big 4” of thrash metal bands – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax (such lovely names I know! All the classic thrash metal bands that started in the 1980’s), plus I finally got to see Motorhead blast out some loud and even louder classics such as “Ace of Spades” (that was one hell of a crowd sing along)! Motorhead lead singer Lemmy Kilmister is 65 years old – and he has lived life hard, but still rocks even harder! There were so many bands throughout the day, but the previously mentioned were the highlights for me.
I left the Swiss capital Bern at 6.30am, and arrived in Schwarzenbach SG 2 hours later. It was cold and wet, and the 20 minute walk in constant rain to the festival grounds wasnt giving me much hope for a nice day. There had been a pre-concert the night before and lots of campers were leaving (probably didn’t have tickets for the main day) – but they and everything they were carrying (tents, sleeping bags etc) were covered in mud – didn’t look promising….
So I get to the festival gates – and before me is only what I can describe as “Sea Of Mud- Part One“. 30 minutes later I have gotten through security and trudged through the mud to “Sea Of Mud – Part Two“…..this is going to be a long day…rain is still bucketing down……but there is hope….ahead I can see green grass, just beyond the sea of mud, oh and they have put in a plastic walkway….which of course only lead you deeper into the “Sea Of Mud – Part Two“! So I crossed it, ankle-deep to shin deep in mud!
I got across to “firm ground” and made my way to the grassed area, an oasis, except for the constant rain..cold, wet and muddy…headed for a tent to get something to eat and ride out the rain, I would venture out to see bands, then in the breaks I hit the tents again. The rain didn’t stop until 1pm – By then the crowd was about 50,000 and any green grass had long ago been turned into mud. So there was also now “Sea Of Mud – Part Three” and “Quagmire Hill” the former home of the grass – this was the most bearable place to stand as you only stuck to the mud and slipped about, not sink in it. So this was mainly my home for the rest of the day until about 10.30pm. Long day – 15 hours mostly in mud!
The first few bands were good, and they continued to perform as the rain poured down on us. At about 1pm Anthrax came on stage, with their original singer Joey Belladonna who had just recently returned to the band, it was good to have some true “old school” metal! Joey did a rain dance with a full American Indian head-dress on and amazingly the rain stopped (both he and all of us in the crowd could not believe it, but it was true)!
Anthrax paid tribute to Ronnie James Dio who died a month or so ago from cancer – he and former Black Sabbath band mates Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were to perform at Sonisphere. Anthrax performed an Indians and Heaven & Hell medley (the latter a Dio classic) and the whole crowd sang along to every word (including me) – it sounded awesome and was a fantastic moment! I was actually wearing my Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell T-shirt that day which seemed appropriate. Then the main bands all started to hit the stage, the sun was out (maybe Ronnie was smiling down upon us?), but that damn mud just got worse!
My journey to get a tour t-shirt took 30 minutes of toil through a pit of mud, by the time I got there all the ones I wanted with all the bands listed were sold out. I couldn’t tell that I had shoes on – just mud feet, after that effort I was buying any t-shirt (got a great Metallica tour shirt). Then I had to get back to “Quagmire Hill” – another slog through the slush. I was actually so exhausted that at one stage I fell asleep for a moment standing up (seriously) – but I had seen a guy collapse in the mud (drugged idiot) and there was no way I was going into that (although many were wrestling in it)….that mud contained all sorts of things…..imagine 50,000 people covered in it!
Anyway all the bands belted out the classics and the crowd was going wild, Megadeth and Dave Mustaine’s elaborate and impressive hair were hard, heavy and brutal, Slayer even more so (yet at the end of each performance – these guys say the nicest comments to the crowd – that’s metal), Motorhead made my day, then Metallica came on at about 9pm and played for at least 2 hours – brilliant!
I left the main stage area just before Metallica did their encore (I could still hear it) as I had to get out of this mess and catch a train before the majority of the crowd headed home. I had to choose one of the following exit strategies:
Option 1: Trudge through the vast crowd on “Quagmire Hill” to “Sea Of Mud – Part Two“, then out the exit to the trains (not a great option as it would take at least 30-40 mins to just get to the exit).
Option 2: (this is the one I first attempted) Trudge through the vast crowd on “Quagmire Hill” through the small “Sea Of Mud – Part Four” (a new one) then the long way through a field up a hill then back on the road to the train. Security decided not to let anyone out this way and said Option 1 was the only way! No way! This would now take me at least 45 minutes (carrying a lot of mud by this stage).
So I came up with Option 3: (the sneaky one!) Go through the large catering tent to avoid the crowd and experience only quagmire conditions (yes even inside the tents there was mud by this stage), then across to a bar tent, jump the fence and go out the caterers exit! Still a lot of mud, but you could walk on a road!!!! FREEDOM!!!!
On the way back to the train I used a water tap in someones yard to hose off a lot of mud, got the train back to Zurich then onto Bern, you should have seen all the people on these trains – many in head to toe mud, trains filthy – poor normal commuters were getting on and just looking and going “what the hell” – some even took photos of us all! I wish I could have but you were not allowed to take cameras (although annoyingly I saw many people with them in the festival grounds). I finally hit the pillow at 3am. Next day took a long time to clean the mud off my shoes (there is still some there – thankfully my trusty Gore-tex Merrell shoes were truly waterproof and mud proof)!
So that was it, sounds like a day from hell and in many ways it was…especially the poor organisation by the event management (no real contingency plans for wet weather) and I thought numerous times this is the last festival I will ever go to (have said that at many festivals back at home though!), but the music was awesome, I saw some music legends, the crowd antics at times were hilarious (i.e. a guy in a viking helmet, crowd surfing the mosh pit on an air bed!), met some cool people and ultimately had an awesome muddy day! Long live metal!!!!