Festival Report: Sauna Classic 2017


Sauna Open Air shut down a few years ago after some financial hurdles, so we were surprised to see the name pop up again in 2017. Rebranded as “Sauna Classic,” the festival has returned to its roots with a more traditional and local heavy metal line-up. Naturally, Teeth went in to find out how this scaled-down operation is working now.

by Mikko K.

The festival’s subtitle, “Heavy Metal Garden Party,” made it clear that the organizers wanted to go back to basics. The festival ground was at Eteläpuisto in Tampere, Finland, and it’s a tad smaller than previous Sauna and South Park festivals. There were still two stages, but both were small and intimate. One was reserved for cover and party bands, while the main stage hosted the bigger acts. No video screens or huge stage constructions – just a platform for bands put on a no-bullshit metal show.

I wasn’t originally supposed to get to the area before Saturday, but I managed to skip out of work on Friday to catch the last few acts. The crowds were light, but that was because it was the end of the day, or else people just didn’t want to deal with the tropical heat (yes, even in Finland). No matter, it made for quick, efficient entry into the fest!

First act I caught was Dear Victims. They were doing Kiss covers on the second stage (basically planted inside the beer area). Surprisingly, the band had opted out of painting shit on their face and instead just rocked out in plain clothes. I’ve never really paid much attention to Kiss, aside from the singles and seeing them live once, so I’m in no position to tell you how Dear Victims compared to the real thing. Seemed to be okay, but perhaps, just perhaps, the songs need the spectacle too?

Ensiferum went up on the main stage right afterwards. Last time I saw them was at Stormbringer in 2002, and truth be told, I haven’t really kept up with their doings since then. Well, I knew that Jari Mäenpää left the band to form Wintersun at some point. The show started with an intro while the band took their positions, but just before they could get the Viking metal party started, whoops, here’s that intro again. Some laughs, chuckles and a few rimshots.


Ensiferum

Round 2: Ensiferum got its rousing brand of folk metal flowing through the PA. They whipped the audience up with an extremely fun and entertaining show, filled with nice humppa interludes and other bits. The band’s musical output is just left of my interests and I wouldn’t have recognized the songs if they bit me in the ass, but it goes to show that in a live setting, some shit just works. Guitarist Markus Toivanen must have also been in a special mood that night – sometimes he pranced around the stage in such a way that the rest of the band kept doing double-takes.

I also noticed Netta Skog is now part of the band. I figured she’d had enough years ago after leaving Turisas – in fact, the last I saw of her, she was participating in one of Finland’s biggest Tango contests and apparently won an accordion championship as well. She hasn’t missed a beat though, and gelled well with rest of the band – accordion and folk metal go together like honey and blood, so she’s a great addition to Ensiferum.

Next up, New Jersey began its set of Bon Jovi covers, and they covered pretty much everything you’d expect a Bon Jovi cover band to cover. As I was trying to find some facts from the Internet to throw up in here, I learned that there’s actually another Bon Jovi tribute band in the States called New Jersey. Dese guys weren’t dose guys, so fuggedaboutit.


Finland’s New Jersey and Finland’s Bon Jovi

Anyway, the alcohol-soaked (but civil!) audience craved Bon Jovi, and so Bon Jovi they got, talk box tricks included. The vocalist didn’t really sound like Jon, but he did his job fine. Capri, better known from Amberian Dawn, laid down some female vocals throughout, but also performed the solo in “Living on a Prayer.” Someone in the audience really wanted to hear “Runaway” as well, and the vocalist agreed ,but blue-balled the guy with a “But not yet. BAD MEDICINE!” Musically, the group was tight, but they have a thing to learn about setlists – after playing “Runaway”, they ended the show with a lesser hit. Might work as an encore at a real Bon Jovi concert with hardcore Bon Jovi fans, but you can’t go out on a low note like that!


Brother Firetribe

Brother Firetribe is one of those bands you can’t name, but at least in Finland you’ve definitely heard a song or two of theirs on the radio. I guess they’re better known as the band that has Emppu Vuorinen (of Nightwish fame) on guitar. The Brothers appeared at Tuska as well, but at the time their set didn’t really leave an impression on me. At Sauna Classic, what I saw wasn’t actually too bad, though. Brother Firetribe play inoffensive, extremely well-shaped AOR with some catchy choruses straight from the 80s. The stuff is clearly made for, well, radio. The band as a whole was tight, and vocalist Pekka Heino (also in Leverage) carried his frontman duties with experience. The smaller stage also fit the band perfectly. At Tuska, it was too big for them but here it allowed for more of a direct and intimate experience. Funny how things completely outside of the actual music can alter the experience altogether.

The next day, I grinded through work while contemplating the fact that I was missing out on Kill with Cover, a Manowar cover band. Last time the actual band toured here, they were asking around 100 bucks for club show tickets, so a cheaper option to hear a few classic tunes wouldn’t have been too bad. Then again, the weather was having a manic up/down episode with rain, sun, and everything and anything in between, so at least I didn’t get soaked up my tits. Another interesting group, as far as cover songs go, would have been Run for Cover, which features people from Tracedawn, Wintersun, and Stratovarius on instruments, with Netta Laurenne out front.


Omnium Gatherum. Don’t be afraid!

Once I was finally able to distance myself from things that pay, I got to the festival ground just in time for Omnium Gatherum. I think I’ve written about OG multiple times for all the previous festival reports I’ve penned, and all of that probably holds true here. In a way, it’s weirder to be in a festival where the band isn’t performing. They always put on an energetic show and once again, vocalist Jukka Pelkonen tried to sweeten up the audience in an effort to lure more people to the stage: “Don’t be afraid!” It’s funny; they always seem to have to do that, playing in spots where they should have the audience but where they still have to work for it — and they always do. The band is always reliable live and soon enough, people who hadn’t heard of ‘em were throwing up the OG signs in the air (both hands facing one another with index and pinky fingers extended. Like their logo. Extremely clever if you ask me!)

The funny thing is that Pelkonen also commented how this was, if I heard correctly, Omnium Gatherum’s only festival gig in Finland this summer. Only one? Surprised — they always seem to be everywhere, always working. Since I’ve seen the band live so many times, I figured that I finally owed them a merch purchase, so I bought a reasonably priced (15 euros instead of the usual twenty-fucking-five!) t-shirt. And if you ask my close ones, no, I don’t need another black T-shirt — but fuck them! What do they know?


Iron Mates

On the ‘cover’ stage, Iron Mates was doing, you guessed it, Iron Maiden covers, with two guitars and Taage Laiho (from the band Kilpi) on vocals. The mates concentrated on 80s stuff, such as “Two Minutes to Midnight,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” and the likes. Taage isn’t exactly Bruce Dickinson, but he’s still a competent heavy metal singer and the songs rolled out effortlessly. Every now and then, the sound cut off for a second, but that didn’t stop the group. Also there was quite an audience in front of the stage, making it clear that yes, Iron Maiden is metal canon.

Meanwhile, the weather was going completely crazy again. The main stage area was being drowned in rain while half of the beer area, including the stage, were enjoying a sunny sky without any raindrops. Fucking Finnish summer at its worst, best, I don’t know anymore.


Turisas

Luckily the skies cleared up just before Turisas took the stage. It was a minimalist stage set-up this time – no pyros – but it didn’t matter. None were needed, as Turisas is a fucking well-oiled machine. Likely the band was celebrating their Vangarian Way album’s 10th Anniversary by playing through most of it and ending it all with “Stand Up and Fight.” Matias set the scene for each song through storytelling and describing the songs’ settings, asking people to imagine the journey that we all were to take. Great way to engage the crowd on a deeper level – but of course the band was also able to spank the audience into a dancing frenzy throughout. During “In the Court of Jarisleif” it was hard to get a steady photo with all of the bodies slamming in and invading my personal space. Excellent!


Turisas’ crowd

Stratovarius had the pleasure to end the festival though they started 15 minutes late or so. There were unfortunately some technical issues during soundcheck:

-“You need to connect that into the analogue thing”
-”You’re telling me this now?!”
-”I’m telling you this now.”


Sir Tolkki of House Stratovarius

What’s surprising is that the audience was pretty much silent the whole time. No screams or shouts or any kind of explicit negatives thrown around. Just a polite clap and cheer once shit got solved, and then the intro started blasting. I suppose if you make positive music and groom the audience, they’ll turn out to act courteous. Hell, nobody even yelled the mandatory “Slayer!” Also worth noting that maybe the extra time to sort out the technical issues was worth it – the bass drums had a lot more punch and impact than most bands at the show. After three songs though, I figured I’d gotten my fix, even if it meant that I had to skip hearing set closer “Black Diamond.” Time to go.


Stratovarius’ crowd

(Random Finnish moment after I left the show: I went to wait for a bus where some old people next to me were talking about how sex-hungry Tampere is as a city, and how they’d fuck so much that they’d churn out 16 kids or something. This is while a nicely-dressed man in his 50s was trying to pick a fight with taxi drivers, a bus and who knows what else. Fucking Finnish Summer. Often reminds me of Predator 2.)

Even though I don’t often have a boner for “traditional heavy metal,” Sauna Classic was a refreshing small little event. Simple and easy going and everything felt just right. The indecisive weather clearly took a toll on the crowd as the festival space could have accommodated a bigger crowd, but after experiencing plenty of stuffed venues and events, I have to say it was nice to have space to breathe.


Beer grows in trees in Finland

As South Park festival is stated to return again next year, I have no idea how that will affect Sauna’s plans. But hell, I might go even if the bands aren’t to my exact liking just for the straightforward pleasure of it all.

For more information on the event, visit the official website.

 

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