This summer, there are more than 160 music festivals in Europe and the UK, including Germany's Wacken Open Air festival, where, according to founder Thomas Jensen, 85,000 attendees are expected, and, due to recent terrorist activity in Germany — including a July 24 suicide bomber at an Ansbach music fest — security concerns are running high.
"We update our security plan constantly, counting in recent events such as bad weather or the security situation in Germany. Because of that our staff knows what to do and is well prepared," says Jensen of the metal fest, which launched in 1990 and runs Aug. 4-6 this year. "Due to the recent events we decided that backpacks and all kind of bags are no longer allowed on the festival grounds."
San Francisco-based thrash band Testament play Wacken this year, and guitarist Alex Skolnick believes that "a large festival like Wacken does feel a bit safer [than clubs] "since entry is so regulated and there are watchers everywhere who'd observe the first sign of anything out of the ordinary. At the same time, it's a big brand name and probably more of a potential target. Still, despite recent events — Le Bataclan in Paris [in November 2015] and at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub [on June 12], in particular — the possibility of that kind of an attack feels like a freak occurrence," he says. "Maybe this is wishful thinking or denial, but it seems almost like a plane crash — very rare, even though it can happen."
Yo Van Saet, Festival Director of Belgian's Rock Werchter, says, "The whole country is still in ‘security phase 3' (the highest is 4), which means all security measures [for] all events where the public gathers are heightened to a maximum. For events that means a much larger police force is present, with dogs trained to find explosives. In some cases the Army helps out too. The details of our very elaborate emergency plans are classified, for obvious reasons."
Van Saet does offer that Rock Werchter, along with select other Belgian festivals (Pukkelpop and Tomorrowland, among others) have invested in purchasing 50 special gates for metal detection. "Compare it to airport check ins," he said.
German metal singer Doro Pesch, who has played Wacken about 15 times since 1993, and recorded her Strong And Proud Live DVD at the festival, keeps a home in Dusseldorf. She recalls a 2015 instance in Belgium where she first noticed Europe's increased security.
"My tour manager was waiting for me outside Trix in Antwerp; I was arriving in a taxi. He was a little bit nervous, surrounded by the army and police with machine guns. Oddly, inside the club there was no security, so everyone was still stage diving, which I love. I'm sure this upcoming week [at Wacken] there will probably be heavy security, different from all the past festivals," she says. She's also headed to Russia, but notes, "I'm not afraid in Moscow because it's always such heavy security."
Chokri Mahassine, Pukkelpop's promoter, is expecting more than 60,000 visitors over three days in Hasselt, Belgium, and stressed that the "safety of our visitors, artists and their crew, festival staff and local residents has always been a top priority.”
He added that while organizers work with local authorities to put in place a solid security plan, “we live in a different world these days” and that the “threat of terrorist attack has become real.” Following months of meetings with local and federal police and government, “existing security plans have been and are being updated, and additional measures have been taken. The leading Belgian festivals worked on collective measures based on their consultations with the authorities. However, for safety reasons we are not at liberty to communicate in detail on existing or additional safety procedures.”