Graspop Grows Faster

Graspop Metal Meeting smashed its attendance record for the third consecutive year, making the Belgian heavy rock bash 50 percent bigger than it was a couple of years ago.

Festival co-founder Peter Van Geel said the three-day crowd at Dessell June 27-29 topped 130,000, compared with 105,000 in 2007 and 85,000 in 2006.

The 40,000-capacity event’s figures include festival workers, bands, crew and the media, who make up about 10 percent of the total.

Most of the Sunday audience must have thought the crowd at the Deboeretang festival park was even bigger after Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson – headlining the event for the fifth time in its 13-year history – said 55,000 were on site and that the police had stopped the organizers from letting more in.

"Yes, he said that but it seems it was because he may have misheard or misunderstood something on the radio," Van Geel explained. "Most of the people have a ticket for all three days and so there was a little under 40,000 on each day."

The original Graspop – a more mainstream event – began in 1985. After a disastrous 1995 edition when festival overkill was blamed for Joe Cocker and Simple Minds heading a bill that attracted its smallest crowd, Van Geel was close to giving up on it.

However, the intervention of now-Live Nation Belgium chief Herman Schueremans persuaded him to merge it with Bob "Biebob" Schoenmaekers’ The Midsummer Metal Meeting at Vosselaar, a rapidly expanding indoor that was bursting at the seams.

The first editions pulled crowds of a little more than 10,000 per day, but the switch to heavier music saw that gradually increase to about 25,000 per day by 2005.

Van Geel says the main reason for the upsurge in interest is the fact the festival has spent more on booking bigger acts, particularly in 2007 when he took what he called "a risk but not much of a risk" and doubled the budget to buy as many big names as possible.

He says future growth – which would mean expanding the site and upping the capacity – depends on the availability of major acts. He is reluctant to predict whether he’ll be as lucky on that front as he has in the last three years.

The bands making a big noise for a big crowd included KISS, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Saxon, Bullet For My Valentine, Ministry, Avenged Sevenfold, and My Dying Bride.