Henry Rollins Stresses DIY Approach to Security at Germany's Wacken Fest Following Recent Attacks

Burak Cingi/Redferns
Henry Rollins performs onstage at The Barbican Centre on Jan. 14, 2016 in London. 

“Nothing begs for attention more than someone with a security detail.”

Since 1990, Wacken Open Air has brought metal, hard rock, punk and more to the tiny town in Northern Germany from which it takes its name. This year’s edition kicks off Thursday and features the likes of Iron Maiden, Bullet for My Valentine, Testament and former Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins performing a spoken-word set. Rollins spoke with Billboard to preview the fest and offer advice for keeping live music safe, in light of tragedies like a suicide bombing that left 15 wounded at a July 24 music fest in Ansbach, Germany. 

But Rollins has never used a security team on the road. “I look at any situation anywhere the same way,” he tells Billboard. “Something can jump off no matter where I am, so I'm always looking out and thinking a few steps ahead. I would rather assess situations and deal with things as they occur. Nothing begs for attention more than someone with a security detail.”

Rollins has been all over the world since joining Black Flag in 1981. He toured solo and with his Rollins Band from 1987 to 2003, and his tour diaries formed the basis of his 1994 memoir Get in the Van, which won a Grammy for best spoken word album. Since 1985, the actor, radio host and activist has released more than 35 spoken-word albums, books and videos. In 2010, he toured both hemispheres on the slogan “Knowledge without mileage equals bullsh--” with his Frequent Flyer Tour.

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While it might appear that larger festivals are bigger targets, Rollins says he has no personal safety concerns “that go beyond not falling off the stage. As the audience's safety, I hope they stay hydrated and if someone starts feeling less than good, they make their condition known to concert security. Perhaps I am naive, but beyond crowd control and other safety/health issues, I don't see the festival setting as a dangerous one. We live in interesting times. Choose your locations wisely.”

As a performer, Rollins has behind-the-scenes insight in terms of concert security, and that’s only strengthened his sense of safety. “I would say this from experience and use Wacken as an example: Safety and comfort for the festival-goer is taken with extreme seriousness. I have been at more than a few safety and security briefings. It is no joke. No one is asleep at the wheel. I am willing to bet that these meetings have been restructured with all consideration given to recent events. Truly, none of these matters are taken lightly. I don't think people are always aware of how heavy-duty all that is,” he says, adding, “I have been at festivals where officials come into your backstage area and give you a briefing that lasts several minutes. You are asked to not say a single word and reserve your questions for afterward. I would wager that festivals in Europe would be some of the safest places to be in 2016.”

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In the age of ever-increasing involvement with personal screens, Rollins urges more interpersonal action: “More music, more hanging out, more interaction. Maybe some young person looks at all the good coming from shows and decides that it's a better idea than being radicalized,” he says. “The bottom line is that music and art make your life better. … It could be argued that it would give the bad guys more opportunities, but if you want to give them no opportunities, then stay inside your room and never come out.”


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