Germany's SUMMER BREEZE FESTIVAL Turns 20 - Still Feeling Fine
August 10, 2017, a month ago
It most certainly doesn’t sound like a vicious heavy metal festival which takes place in the dusty and sometimes muddied farm fields of Dinkelsbühl, Germany (about 90 minutes from Stuttgart). But you can blame late Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele for that. More to be revealed later. But as Summer Breeze 2017 approaches (August 16th - 19th), it’s time to celebrate this landmark occasion with organizer Achim Ostertag who guides us through the thick and thin of building one of Europe’s premier festival experiences.
BraveWords: Summer Breeze is turning 20, that’s got to have your heart bursting.
Ostertag: “Yeah, it will be a real special year, so we’re planning a lot of surprises and I think I’m more excited than I was the last 15 years, which doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited the last 15 years, but this year will be a real special one.”
BraveWords: So what are your feelings around the achievement actually getting to 20 because promoting shows; that’s a difficult business?
Ostertag: “It’s changing from year to year - the whole business changed the last 20 years. The first year we were pretty naïve, but it was pretty easy to get bands together for a festival; now there’s so much competition and so many other festivals, so that changed a lot over 20 years.”
BraveWords: Well, I will be honest, for over 15 years we used to participate in Wacken, so last year was my first official year going to Summer Breeze. We left Wacken, it was just getting way too big; it was maddening. Sometimes bigger is not better right?
Ostertag: “Yeah, I don’t want to be the biggest, I feel good in the second position, so there’s not too many eyes on me. I think it’s pretty important that people have a good feeling from the festival that people who work there, work with the bands. And we’ve changed the situation a little in the artist area so there are a lot of business meetings there and I think that’s pretty good for the festival. It’s good to see business people coming to Summer Breeze to have their networking meetings. It’s great.”
BraveWords: So what are the keys to the longevity? What’s the magic formula to keep this thing going?
Ostertag: “I think we are all metalheads, so we all go to different festivals. We all see what’s new, we try to be on the pulse of time and I think we were also lucky the first years because there were not many festivals around, so we started early enough to get that size. If you start now, it’s impossible to get a size like Summer Breeze within a few years without a lot of money and even if you spend a lot of money; you saw it in Germany the last few years, a lot of companies spent money booking Metallica; real big bands and they had no success. It’s a mix between all these things and we always wanted to keep that family feeling at Summer Breeze and even with now close to 40,000 people, people still tell me it’s like a big family and that’s what’s important for us, important for the crew, and somehow we developed this with the fans and that’s a big point of the success of Summer Breeze.”
BraveWords: And I think you’ve answered my next question, because as you’ve just stated, every weekend there is a festival somewhere in Europe and primarily they’re in Germany. My question is, how do you stand apart from all these other festivals?
Ostertag: “Yeah, you have to be special, and I think like, 30% or 40% of the festivals are done by big companies and I think especially in metal, it matters if you’re also into that music. Metal fans can feel if it’s a metal festival from fans to fans or from just a company who books the bands. I also think it’s getting more difficult over the last years, especially this year we have a lot of surprises and I think we will have a more special Summer Breeze with a different style than other festivals. This is getting more important and we will change that for the anniversary, you will see hopefully.”
BraveWords: And speaking of the anniversary; I don’t know if you can answer this question, but what has been your highest high and what has been your lowest low out of all the years promoting this thing?
Ostertag: “Every year is the highest high when there are so many people at the festival. The first years were pretty difficult, we had just like 300, 500 and didn’t know how to pay the bills. In the end, after people keep going to the festival, every year is an overwhelming feeling when so many people attend your festival. That’s the best feeling you could have. But of course, I booked one of my favorite bands for the tenth anniversary and I think there were only 50 people in front of the stage, but I had a lot of fun.”
BraveWords: Who was that?
Ostertag: “The Wildhearts from England. Completely unknown in Germany, but that was a present for the tenth anniversary so that was also a big high, moment. Of course we also had low moments when it didn’t turn out well or we were ripped off by good friends twice during this period and of course that’s really worse, but you learn from these things and in the end it turned out well.”
BraveWords: How important is the North American market? The festivals on these shores really don’t compare in terms of band quality, alcohol access, metal markets, overall comfortability and amenities. And it’s more of a family adventure. Are you trying to attract people from across the water?
Ostertag: “I know it’s pretty expensive to come over and I don’t think there will be too many people we can attract. I think there is a big market which would love the festival, so we try to spread the name all over world and I think there is a big scene which would love to visit Summer Breeze. I just don’t know if everyone can afford it. The North American market is very important, especially when it comes to bands. Our biggest bands are mostly from America so of course I always keep an eye on the American market. I was at Ozzfest and Knotfest last year for example and I saw how they run festivals in America. Over the last two years, we’ve received a lot of requests from the Canada, USA, even Mexico;there are a lot of people in South America, so it’s getting bigger and it seems like finally the word is spreading that Summer Breeze is a metal festival. When I decided to call it ‘Summer Breeze’, I didn’t think about; it doesn’t sound too much like a metal festival, but it seems like now it’s getting a good name in the metal scene even outside of Germany.”
BraveWords: Well, aside from all the Seals & Croft’s jokes, where did you get the name Summer Breeze? Let me be frank … it doesn’t sound very heavy metal.
Ostertag: “My English wasn’t too good during that time. I had just gone to school so I just was searching for a name. You remember the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer? At the beginning, when the helicopter is flying over the sea, there’s a Type O Negative cover version of ‘Summer Breeze’ playing and I thought that was a perfect name for a festival, but I didn’t really think about the meaning and just thought it was a cool name.”
BraveWords: One thing that I was really fascinated with is that little town called Dinkelsbühl and the history, they must love you guys. What’s your relationship with the townsfolk and the mayor?
Ostertag: “It’s great. We were searching for a new crowd in 2006 and the old area was too small and they started building houses around, so we had no camp-site anymore and it was really the last minute that we found that nice little spot. And the mayor of Dinkelsbühl spoke to the farmers and all the people from the area, saying that it’s an important thing that Summer Breeze is coming to the town. And since then, it’s been a real good relationship and any problems we have, we can talk to them and find a solution very quickly.”
BraveWords: Is there any issues in terms of the environment, crowds, and destroying the land?
Ostertag: “In the beginning, it was a little bit about the lyrics. Some people were a little bit scared, but I think after one or two years there was nothing about that anymore. Like a handful of people still mention this, but all others were surprised how friendly it is and there’s almost no crime, no violence, and nothing is destroyed around the town. Everybody loves the festival and people behave in town, so everything is fine.”
BraveWords: I must say I was touched to see the T stage. Your partner, late Michael Trenger (who also helped build Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade Records in Europe) was a huge supporter of BW&BK and it was a terrible tragedy when he passed away. So when I saw that big T I was taken aback.
Ostertag: “Yeah, still can’t believe this. We were partners in 2002, that was when one of my old partners ripped me off. He stepped in and I learned a lot from him and we were the perfect partners. We were different, but we always found good solutions. We all miss him every day. We think about him every day and talk about him every day. We have big pictures of him in the office and he was really important for us. It’s so sad, but nothing we can do. He was one of the real good guys. We will have a big tribute night this year for him on Wednesday. Only bands playing who have to be really thankful to him and some of them are playing the other days too. Some of them will do a reunion just for that one night and do special shows. This will be a big tribute for him on Wednesday this year.”
BraveWords: So what does the future hold after 20 years? What do you have in your back pocket?
Ostertag: “It will be really difficult for the next years, so I think I’m really satisfied with the billing for this year; the special shows and all that stuff. Of course we are talking about the next years and that new concept we have with different layouts for the festival crowd. There are plans to do this bigger next year and different stuff next year. It will be difficult to top the billing this year, but I hope we can do this the next year.”
BraveWords: What are some of your dream bands on your list of booking that you haven’t got yet?
Ostertag: “Yeah I think that won’t happen anymore, but Pantera. For me personally, I’d love to have Rob Zombie one day. Most other bands we’ve had; of course last year when we announced Motörhead and four days later Lemmy passed away. That would have also been great for us and for the festival. Big bands like Metallica or Rammstein, we can never afford them, so I won’t dream for bands like this and that’s ok.”
BraveWords: As Ozzy said with the Black Sabbath reunion, “Never say never” right?
Ostertag: “Yeah, but that’s real difficult for a festival like us or for all festivals. If you book a band like Iron Maiden or Metallica this year, what are you going to do next year? I’m feeling pretty good in the position we are. Korn is a real good headliner for us and Amon Amarth is a headliner; they grew up with us!”
BraveWords: So this is your dream job then?
Ostertag: “Yeah, absolutely. I’m really thankful every day. I was working in a factory and quit my job. We had just like 2,000 people in the crowd which was also pretty naïve, but I had no chance doing that beside my regular job and that job I absolutely didn’t like. So I’m so thankful that I have a job which isn’t like a job. I love going into the office and doing what I’m doing. I think that’s the same with all the other guys like (Chris) Jäger or David (Gregori). Everybody loves what they do and that’s the most important thing in life, the best you can get in life is having a job you really like which doesn’t feel like a job.”
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