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September 8, 2011

Veldensteiner Festival 2011: Mead, Metal and Mad German Archaeologists

Brutal Tunes, Concerts & Grog Fests, Grymm and Frostbitten Lands, Steff

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A few months ago I mentioned that Steff Metal was going to cover the Veldensteiner Festival, a annual festival of folk metal and medieval rock held at the Burg Veldenstein in deepest, darkest Bavaria.

(photo by CDH)

We’d been to the castle two nights previously to see Blackmore’s Night (more on the in my next blog) but winding our way through the cobbled streets toward the castle gates was no less exciting. Burg Veldenstein dominates the skyline of Neuhaus a. d. Pegnitz, the steep walk up to the gates giving us plenty of time to admire the view across the valley. All around us, other metalheads shouted and waved, most wearing t-shirts from folk metal bands, and a few in medieval or viking garb. We picked up our VIP passes and went off to explore the castle grounds.

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Medieval market (photo by CDH)

Being only a small festival, Veldensteiner has only one stage, set in the perfect spot in the main courtyard. As the ground slopes toward the stage, everyone has a clear view of the action. At the rear of the courtyard, the Veldensteiner beer tent did a roaring trade, selling a lovely beer brewed on site, along with the usual festival favorites.

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Around the back of the courtyard, heading up the hill toward the keep, a small medieval market bustled with even more black-clad warriors. Here you could buy every variety of mead (met) imaginable, along with some lovely fruit wines, schoko-and-marzipan crepes (nom nom nom), medieval garb, leather goods, jewelry, and the most amazing ritterspiess (meat-on-a-stick) I’ve ever eaten. Seriously, if you go to this festival for no other reason, it’s to try the spiess. We did a little shopping while we waited for the first band to start, and happened to see a crowd of people surrounding this guy, who roped us into placing some stones on this board.

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Yes, I did accidentally have my camera set to “pinhole”

Since he spoke German and had the most hilarious accent, we had no idea what was going on, so we were completely surprised when he pulled a mouse out of nowhere and set it free on the board! I didn’t win anything, but I did get to pet the mouse, so all was not lost.

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There he goes!

We heard action on the stage and went to stake out a spot. First up were The Sandsacks – a German folk-quartet. I hadn’t been too keen on their music when I’d listened to their songs online, but live, they put on a great show and got the crowd revved up for the rest of the day.

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Nachtgeshrei (photo by CDH)

After them came Nachtgeshrei. Seven blokes from Frankfurt who play melodic, catchy medieval rock. Their vocalist, Hotti (who is, yes, kind of hot) belts out catchy melodies with incredible power and range. The tone of his voice draws you in to the music, even when, like us, you don’t speak the language. Even though I came to see Eluveitie and Subway to Sally, Nachtgeschrei were the stand-out act of the day. We were so impressed we motored up to their merch tent after their set and brought a copy of their album Am Rander der Welt, which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

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After Nachtgeshrei was Fueurschwanz, a “mittelalter comedy” band. If you’re thinking of silliness along the line of Alestorm and JBO, you’re on the right track, only with armour and high-pitched horn-shaped instruments. During their song “Met und Meizen”, a few scantilly-clad medieval dancers (female, thank Odin) jumped on stage, much to the delight of the crowd. I wasn’t so into these guys, probably because we didn’t really get the joke, and, like most comedy bands, the music itself takes second place to the lyrics. But the crowd LOVED them. The whole vibe changed and everyone’s energy levels amped up.

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Halfway through their set we went off to get more meat-on-a-stick and explore the rest of the castle. While he was waiting for me in the toilet (what is WITH girls always taking twice as long as guys? What are you all DOING in there?) CDH got to chatting to a guy wearing an “Archaeology from HELL” t-shirt and discovered he was a local archaeology student. So we talked shop for awhile, went and got some food with our new friend, and clambered around the back of the castle where I got to climb the highest tower for an amazing view over the festival grounds and the town of Neuhaus.

Finally, Eluveitie took the stage, and I squeezed into the press area to take my turn at the front. The self-proclaimed founders of the “New Wave of Folk Metal” took the stage in front of an amped crowd, and they opened with a track from my favorite album, Slania. (I forget which one, actually, since I was too busy taking photos.) These guys were the whole reason we chose the Veldenstein festival, and to see them up so close was a pretty amazing experience. And yes, Chrigel is even hotter from a foot away.

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Eluveitie

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Eluveitie

Eluveitie have a great energy on stage, and genuinely look like they’re having a great time, which always makes me happy. Their set included a happy mix of older songs, including a lot of Slania material, as well as some of the standout tracks from Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion and Everything Remains … like “Omnos” and “Thousandfold”. But after Nachtgeschrei’s stunning performance, they weren’t quite the highlight I was expecting – they’re not as tight live as you’d expect – some of the songs came off a bit messy.

CDH had staked out a great spot for us to watch the shows. Right in the back corner was a patch of grass and an old gnarly tree that were roped off, but as VIPs, we could hang out there. The folks in wheelchairs were hanging out there, too, and a fun security guard, so we had a great little vibe and a perfect view. On the way back from Eluveitie I headed straight for our corner, but couldn’t see CDH anywhere. I walked around the corner a couple of times, hoping to spot him, but no luck.

A lady saw me looking and asked if she could help.

“I’m looking for my husband,” I said.

“What does he look like?”

“He’s got long hair, and he’s wearing a black t-shirt.”

We both laughed. Luckily, CDH spied me from his spot behind the tree, and a crawled up to meet him.

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(photo by CDH)

After Eluveitie came Letze Instanz, a band from Dresdon who play an almost Rammstein-ish style of metal with violin and cello. By the time they started, it was getting dark, and their edgier, more atmospheric show suited the mood of the crowd. I didn’t know any of the songs, but they have a catchy, industrial sound that makes you want to headbang.

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Letzte Instanz (photo by CDH)

Last up for the night was Subway to Sally. We went down into the pit and CDH ducked off to take his turn with our photopass. I chatted to some nice German lads and we all had a dance to some of my favorite German medieval rock songs – Besser Du Rennst, Die Schlacht, Feuerland, Henkersbraut and, of course, Sieben. I love this band – catchy medieval tunes, easy-to-learn German lyrics, a stadium rock vibe and crazy stage outfits. One of the ugliest lead singers I’ve ever seen, but hey, you can’t win ’em all.

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Subway to Sally (Photo by CDH)

Subway to Sally put on a professional show – pyro everywhere, a presence that seemed to leap off the stage. They’re clearly a favorite with the German crowds – the vibe was just amazing. I felt very blessed to be amongst the swirling bodies. The people around me sung every word – it was an incredible night.

The Veldensteiner Festival turned 10 years old this year, and I hope it sees another ten years. The gnarled trees, overgrown walls and rough stone battlements of the castle made a perfect backdrop for a light-hearted celebration of folk and folk metal. The organizers pull out all the stops to make this an event to remember, and the castle brewery must’ve been working overtime for weeks to quench the thirst of two thousand Germans (and two kiwis). We hope to be back again for another metal festival at this beautiful castle.

More photos from the Veldenstein festival tomorrow!