Words by: Roel and Ingrid
Pictures by: Ingrid
What should have been the 20th anniversary of the Dong Open Air Festival in 2020, finally took place in 2022. We, and many with us, have patiently been waiting for this edition to happen and we weren’t let down. In almost every previous year, the stage of the festival stood inside a tent, of which we’ve seen different forms and shapes pass by, but this year they turned up their game and built a big open air stage. Fortunately the weather gods were in our favour and having actual open air was the best possible thing. The location of the festival area moved to the other side of the Dong hill and this really improved the festival itself since it offers a lot more space and possibilities. Having visited Dong Open Air for 15 years now, seeing the evolution of the festival is a nice thing to witness. With the years, the festival grew up to a professional one, it might have lost a little bit of its cosiness and messiness that were around in the first years, but hasn’t lost its charm since it will never be able to outgrow the hill. What almost díd outgrow the hill, was the waiting line for the festival wristbands and Biermarken. Now, there always has been quite a waiting line for the ticket exchange, but this year the waiting line was insanely long, with many disappointed faces in it. Fans missing out the shows of bands they were really looking forward to see isn’t something that should happen.
After putting our tent up right on the edge of the hill for some precious shade, wind and a nice view of the surroundings at wake up time, we took a little time to get hydrated again (damn, its hot, walking up the hill with stuff), followed by getting our own wristbands. Being impressed by the size of the festival area, we decided to meet some of our friends. After a nice get together beer we went and saw the first band of the day: Brothers of Metal. I actually might have liked this band ten years ago, but watching a part of their show, I wasn’t sure what to think. The entire band, stage performance included, is way too cheesy and instead of hearing the people around me talk about the actual music, I mostly heard comments on their female vocalist Ylva Eriksson that don’t belong in a metal festival setting anno 2022…
Knorkator was next. As always with these Germans it was absolute lunacy. The singer stamping across the stage with his high vocals and shouting of the lyrics. All the while taking of clothes until he walked around in nice red fauxleather tight underpants. The crowd was eating out of the hand of the band and loving it. It isn’t something for me (Roel) though, and I stopped watching after several songs in search of some food. Like other bands on this festival, it’s too German for me.
This leads to one of the few disappointments this festival, the food. I myself (R) haven’t been at Dong for a couple of years and remembered some nice vegan cuisine. At least some burgers and a few options. This year though, only some rice and Vietnamese vegetables, falafel and fries. The falafel wasn’t nice and the spring rolls were gone after day one. Thankfully we had thought about it beforehand and brought some own food otherwise it would have been a hard festival. For the non-vegans the choice wasn’t as big as it used to be either.
After a few more beers it was time for Testament – a band that I always watch on festivals, but never actually listen to. They always play very well and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I must remember this time to actually listen to the music while at home so I will know some of the songs next time. The band played so wel,l a lot of crowd surfers appeared. Something that would pan out to be a custom during this fest. Songs that are now stuck in my head are “DNR” and “Practise what you Preach”.
After the dinner that was Testament, it was time for dessert. This dessert being DJ Benne in the drinks/after party tent. Some nice tunes and a couple of beers later I went to my tent to got some sleep to be ready for the next day.
Only a few hours later (don’t you just love the sun on a hill with no shade) we get up and enjoy the fact that we have put our tent up right on the edge of the hill. A nice little breeze keeping the tent cool enough to lay around and get passed our hangovers. There isn’t another festival where you can wake up with such an unique view, when look you out of your tent, as on Dong.
We looked into the running order and saw that the first band I wanted to watch was Sisters of Suffocation. A band which has played the festival before and whom I have known for quite a while. The band’s line up has changed quite a bit the last couple of years, making it more of a sisters (and brothers) of suffocation. At the moment the lead singer is being temporarily replaced with Linn Liv (Pictura Poesis, Cyanide Paradise, Yakoeza), which is something that has brought a different dynamic onto the stage. With earlier gigs a showing of energy mixed with hatred and sorrow the band now looked more upbeat, very energetic and got yours truly moving early in the day. One of the best shows of this Dong, that could have been higher on the billing.
Next up for us was Finsterforst. It has been a while since we’ve seen them play live, so we were looking quite forward to seeing them again. Unfortunately they were struggling with some sound issues during the start of the show and they didn’t start off very strong either. It felt a bit disappointing but fortunately they got themselves together after a while and the second half of the show was a lot better. A few less jokes would have been appreciated, a lot of them weren’t that funny…
One of us crashed a bit after Finsterforst and decided to have a nice little nap. Only to be surprised by a couple of friends coming to Dong for a day. This underlined the feeling of DONG: a festival where friends come together and have fun and the easy possibility to come by for just a day and chill on the hill. The other one went to see Surgical Strike, while the temperature was rising. Lots of people left the infield to try to find some shadow and not many were left watching the band. This thrash metal band played an okay show, and with their high energy they got the people who were left to watching moving enough to create some clouds of dust.
A band that díd get all the attention of the Dong visitors was Nanowar Of Steel. These Italians got the field full again and with good reason because they played a very enthusiastic show. Even though their music is not my cup of tea, I still had a great time watching them and they played a very strong and tight show. A lot of characters were brought on stage and they even wrote a song specially for the festival season: ‘Armpits of Immortal’. We’re not so sure what to think about that one, but at least it was hilarious.
Blaze Bailey doing his thing. Making the lesser known Iron Maiden songs great again. Though a great singer and band could not entertain me for more than a couple of songs. Problem being that it just misses the catchiness that Iron Maiden has and the vocals (although probably being better than Bruce Dickinson) are just not that energizing to me. And so I got back to eating some French fries and talking to the friends. We continued this into the set of Fiddler’s Green. A German band that is a subtraction of bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphy’s. Though entertaining not worth more than a mention to me.
Finally we were at the big bosses of the Festival, a set of Blind Guardian. Ingrid said beforehand we could already write the review about the show without having seen it. She said it would be: a few old songs, a couple of new, ‘The bard song,’ then a few old, and ending with ‘Valhalla’. She was close enough for it to be true. The gig was very much predictable but also very good. Blind Guardian yet again proving that they are still on their game and not moving aside for newer power/heavy metal bands, but then again: they had the privilege of this being a home game for them. The only sad part being that the old stuff is so good, the newer stuff hardly gets a good chance. For me it would be awesome if the newer stuff could get a better place within the set. As during all the bigger bands of the festival, crowd surfers to the max, and tempting even myself to have a go. This was also the first band to really get a lot of dust moving. Making lungs cough and noses black. One of the side effects of it being warm for days.
Again we ended the day with DJ Benny, This time his set was more German based and didn’t attract my dancing feet. After a relatively short while we ended up leaving, leaving a tent bristling with energy behind.
The last, and also warm day of the festival started with Dirty Shirt, and that was exactly how we were feeling. The drought and warm weather left their marks on not only us, but everyone and everything. Especially after yesterday’s show of Blind Guardian where it basically rained dust. When listening to Dirty Shirt from a distance I wasn’t very convinced about them, but taking a closer look, they were actually quite entertaining and playing better than I expected. My dirty shirt and I were pleased, but still it was time to take a shower. Thankfully these were provided on the festival again this year.
One of the most impressive shows of the festival definitely was the show by Ukrainian band 1914. In the first place because we were happy to see them at all, since they cancelled all festival performances this year because of obvious reasons, but managed to pop in some shows this summer after all. Before entering the stage the first blue and yellow flags popped up in the crowd, the stage lights shined blue and yellow on the stage and crowd and so on. Singer Dmytro Ternushchak also entered the stage with their flag in his hand as well and didn’t let go of it for a while. The band played a nice mix of some older songs, but also a lot of new songs from their latest album ‘Where Fear and Weapons Meet’. They dedicated a song to lost friends and soldiers fighting the war, and when they thanked the German audience and their country from the bottom of their hearts for their support to Ukraine, we have never in our lives witnessed an audience being as quiet as it was during this speech – and we have been to a lot of festivals. With goosebumps on our arms we watched the rest of the show, and when Ternushchak jumped into the audience during the last song and performed it entirely from the crowd, the picture was complete.
Time to lighten up a bit with the dwarves from Wind Rose; cheesy folk metal in its finest. Even though their music is far from being any kind or original, except for their theme maybe, they managed to get us moving and entertain us. Not only us but all of the people watching them, even though feeling hot. We couldn’t imagine how warm and hot the band must have felt with their thick layers of ‘dwarf clothes’ on – it didn’t quite match the day. They recently released their fifth full length ‘Warfront’ which means we obviously got entertained by quite a few songs from this album. But also some older material was played and we soon started a drinking game by having to drink every time we heard the words ‘mountain’ ‘dig’ and ‘hole’, free tip: very bad idea when the band plays “Diggy Diggy Hole” unless you want to get really drunk, really fast.
While Wind Rose is very easy to catch up with, Skyclad is exactly the opposite. Their folk rock is a lot more layered and complex, yet still entertaining. They are a familiar face on the Dong hill, and you could easily say they are the Dong Open Air house band. They’ve played about half of all editions of Dong Open Air and played a nice game with the crowd, asking who has seen them in which year. Being more layered as it is, the sound of Skyclad is still very danceable, and that is exactly what we did! During the band a lovely scene ensued of one of the crew guys proposing to his soon to be wife. The entire crew got on stage and after the proposal sang a little song with the band. It was quite lovely.
After Skyclad it was time for Memoriam. In my opinion it’s a band that is never bad, but also never entertaining. If you are a lover of the old Bolt Thrower, this is for you. It’s a steamroller of old school death metal from the UK. That delivers exactly what it wants to deliver. A solid performance.
Before we knew it, it was already time for the headliner of the day and the festival: Skindred. They have an unique sound that combines metal with reggae which is very bounceable. Singer Benji Webbe is quite a character who knows how to get a crowd going, and if they don’t, convince them to move anyway; or get the entire festival down to the ground – a nice surprise for me. After years of being in the festival scene and walking away before their show, I finally gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised. The showmanship is at an extraordinary level. The energy coming from the stage is really high and with the radio style whoopwhoop being loud and clear during and after songs, it really whipped up the crowd to a frenzy. Loads of crowd surfing, dancing and headbanging. As with Blind Guardian, dust lungs for days. It was (and this is hard to acknowledge being a BG fan) the best set of the festival.
The energy of the Skindred set we took with us to the after party. Time for some glitter and real boozing (which I (Roel) regretted very much during the car ride the next day). An after party fit for a good festival I continued into the wee hours of the morning. Only leaving us to feel sorry for ourselves the next day, while we grabbed our stuff to go home again.
All in all it was a great gathering of music lovers, Dong delivered yet again; it being a great place for hanging out with friends, listening to a wild arrangement of different metal styles and having a great party overall.
Pros: Great/solid shows from loads of bands, weather, new setup, the crowd
Cons: Food, shade.
TILL NEXT TIME!