Festival Report: Sauna Open Air 2011

Looking at the SAUNA OPEN AIR line-up is like taking a DeLorean for a spin; it’s a rad time machine back to the ‘80s. Or what else would you call a festival that gathers acts like Accept, Ozzy, Saxon, Doro, Helloween and Judas Priest together? Whatever it is, SAUNA OPEN AIR’s metalgrounds were filled with prowling headbangers―old and relatively young―craving for pure Heavy Metal.

by Mikko K.

Last year the festival was held under freezing conditions. The organizers clearly had called in some favors, as the temperature lingered around 85 Fahrenheit. Cool for some, but for a Finn who spends most of the year in freezing temperatures, the three days of burning sun deserved the name heatwave. Just as summer’s heat records were being broken with each passing day, Sauna Open Air broke the festival’s visitor record. Over 26 000 metalheads were served between Thursday and Saturday. To put that into perspective, Linkin Park performed to an audience of 12 000 a week later. Let that sink in a bit.

When I was finally able to drag my lazy ass to the festival grounds―held just next to the center of Tampere―it soon became clear that the organizers had learned from past years, as everything seemed to run smoothly. Security checks were quick and painless and there were no queues anywhere, and despite the fact that the layout had remained almost same from last year, I didn’t run into any bottlenecks either. The only complaint I can muster was the fact that there were only two spots to fill your empty water bottles but that too got fixed by the third day, as more faucets were introduced.

Finns being Finns. Sauna built on top of a raft. I think I counted three or four of these, some acting out as boats too.

As the line-up indicates, Sauna Open Air fills a special niché within summer’s many festivals. For example, Tuska Festival (to be held later this month) caters towards a much more varied metal crowd, whereas Sauna is more for the nostalgic metal crowd; to those who grew up listening to many of the legendary metal heroes of the ‘80s (or to those who picked up such acts from their parents).



THURSDAY – June 9th

I arrived to the scene just as Moonsorrow were half way through their five song set. The band’s live presence seemed to have a bit more routine than back in 2002 when I last saw them with Turisas (who’d be performing the following day). As much as I dig the band on disc, I only got slightly aroused and that was solely because they decided to play “Kylän päässä”. As the band began to finish their set with “Kuolleiden maa”, I took my leave for Helloween.

Don’t shoot the messenger, but I’ve never been a fan of the band and every time I’ve given them a chance, I’ve wondered what the big deal was. Then again, Teutonic power metal rarely does nor did anything for me anyway. Aside from Avantasia’s debut. Nonetheless, feeling the burden of history and with an open mind, I gave the band a shot to impress. I still wasn’t feeling Helloween. The band appeared to be more than happy on stage, and watching Michael Weikath’s over-the-top elegant guitar playing was somewhat amusing. Yet, everything seemed a tad too safe. As the band complained about how they usually didn’t have time to play many of the hit songs, due to the song lengths clashing against their set’s length, they’d found a way to do a few of ‘em, namely “Keeper of the Seven Keys”/”The King for a 1000 Years”/”Halloween”, in a medley format. Then again, they could have played a few songs more had they gotten rid of the overlong and excessive crowd chant moments.

Sascha Gerstner wailing…with guitar.

I’ve never been fond of Omnium Gatherum and have always thrown them somewhere in the generic melodic death metal bin. Ex-singer Antti Filppu didn’t help their case either. New (from 2006 and onwards) vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, on the other hand, seemed far more able as I was proven, to my surprise, by their performance on the second stage. Besides putting out an entertaining show, they even seemed to have a couple of good songs―mainly from their latest album―to go with it all. Guess they earned themselves another chance. The show was energetic enough and a bit of novelty was had, as they crowned touring guitarist Joonas Koto permanently to the band. Drinks and manly hugs were shared before they went onto mosh some more.

Omnium Gatherum rocks on

Finally, the time was ready for Ozzy Osbourne to take the stage. First time seeing the legend, my expectations honestly weren’t that high. Indeed, the whole gig felt a bit more like watching a special episode of a reality TV show rather than a full blown metal gig. Perverse, I know. It’s clear that years have taken a toll on the man’s voice. At times, it was rather grating and cumbersome but Ozzy did make up for it with his somewhat light spirited stage presence. I’m not gonna compare how new guitarist Gus G performed against Zakk Wylde, but his solo section felt tired and clichéd. On the other hand, Tommy Clufetos drum solo―whilst nothing new―actually was somewhat entertaining. Ozzy himself felt a bit like a funny old geezer―and I’m saying that with utmost respect―who rightfully so, refuses to grow up and take things too seriously. Watching the man accidentally spray himself with a hose (shooting foam of all things) put a light smile on my face, even if the constant “I love you all” shouts he let through his pipes were a tad too much. Then again, perhaps he really did. All in all, it’s really hard to complain hearing classic songs from the source in a live setting.

Find the celebrity

And thus, the first day of Sauna Open Air ended to the sounds of “Paranoid”. Personally, it could have ended slightly sooner as my lower back was killing me ― clearly, I’m not a man of iron (“Iron Man”, get it? Uh!) So wounded I dragged my limping corpse back to the batcave to rest and prepare myself for future ordeals. The day might have been slightly slow and cautious, but the party was only just starting.



FRIDAY – June 10th

Waking up in my own sweat (and no, it’s not a codename for piss), it was clear that the weather had picked up a few extra degress over the night. Sure, it’s heartwarming when the world is nice and sunny, but it has a demoralizing effect when you have to actually ‘work’. Filling myself with ailments, it was clear I was to miss Rytmihäiriö’s set. Yet, those who like crossover bands that combine punk, metal and hardcore, among other things, should probably check the somewhat legendary Gambina-sponsored band out.

I probably should dig Turisas but for some reason they’ve never quite clicked with me ― yet, there’s no denying the band’s entertaining live shows; it’s clear they write songs with performances in mind. Since last seeing the band, in 2002, vocalist Nygård had improved tremendously as a singer and with his antics, but considering they had just finished the first part of their tour (three months or so in The States) in support of their new album, Stand Up and Fight, that’s to be expected. The crowd seemed pleased to dance to the singer’s command as he rampaged all over the stage with mean looks in his eyes. The most interesting part of the gig for me was when they played Manowar’s “Kings of Metal” a bit, only switching the band’s name in the lyrics.


Viikate is probably another band that does not say a thing to anyone outside Finland. Yet, over here they bathe in plenty enough fame. The four piece plays melodic metal/rock with a nostalgic―if not contemporary folkish―vibe. A bit of a Southern-influence, but not quite. The band is also known for its dry humor and to play into that role, they had managed to gain access to pyrotechnics: “When the music doesn’t stand on its own, rely on other elements”. Mainman Kaarle, who looks a bit like James Hetfield’s Scandinavian brother, is a charismatic fellow.

Viikate fired up!

A bit too much so, as some years ago I was sitting in a bar with a friend of mine, when two 40-something year old gals came to our table to shoot shit. For some odd reason. Perhaps they wanted our young, ripe bodies. None the less, we complied, made conversation (as you only can at the end of a night out) and shook heads when one of them talked about her teenage kids. At some point, Kaarle sits to the neighboring table, minding his own business but still, with telepathy and pure skills of Awesome (that I call relative fame) he snatched the ladies from us. Not that we were going anywhere anyway… but I’m slightly trailing away here, so let us use this as a bridge to hype Doro.

Holy shit! 47-years old―or should I say young―and still kicking ass. Definitely one of the positive surprises at Sauna Open Air. The woman seemed happy to be on stage and her band performed admirably in keeping her up there as a metal goddess. Besides still having the looks, she still had a powerful voice to go with it too; “We Are the Metalheads” for sure.

Anyway, I skipped a few bands. Cavalera Conspiracy is and was the closest I’ve ever been to a Sepultura concert. Being the ‘90s metal kid that I am, I enjoyed the set ― even it was far from mind blowing. Unlike their 1991 performance at Giants of Rock festival. I still kick myself for missing that, even if I only found the band a year or two later… and I was under 10 in ‘91. But that’s hardly an excuse!

Max seemed slightly weary on stage, standing still most of the show but the brothers―with the help from Marc Rizzo (guitar) and Johny Chow (bass)―did get the audience into the festival’s most violent state of mind. The group was able to muster up a respectable circle pit, which combined with the hot weather, did leave a bit of destruction behind. There were a few casualties that the security guys and medical staff had to carry away. Don’t know if they got slammed hard or just passed out from exhaustion. Or both. Naturally, it helps when you throw in some older Sepultura to the mix.

Marc Rizzo moshing it up.

Max’s stepson, Richie appeared on stage for “Black Ark” to handle a portion of the vocal duties. The dude seemed to have a decent growl, even if his guest appearance became nothing more than a mere curiosity. It also got me thinking about a possible TV sitcom based on the setting. You know, a kid lives with his step dad who is a big rock star and has access to shitloads of weed, while the real dad works at some deadend job trying to lead a respectable life and earn his son’s admiration. Ed O’Neil should play that guy and I heard Charlie Sheen is outta job too…I’m losing it again but let’s just blame the sun before I dwell into flashbacks about NAM (true story, don’t ask).

None the less. I enjoyed it all. As much as I could anyway, as in the end, the gig didn’t provide me with the euphoria that I desperately cried for. Perhaps an indoor setting would have improved the show a ton ―you know, by making it more intimate and stuff.  It also has to do with the fact that Cavalera Conspiracy‘s own material isn’t that interesting to me. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded one bit if it had been Soulfly on stage, as they’ve got the better songs.

Life in the pit

You don’t hear old Anthrax frontman Joey Belladonna complain though, as he was able to enjoy Cavalera brothers’ slippery seconds on the second stage. The crowd was pumped up for more thrashing and Joey wasn’t going to be the person to deny them of that pleasure. He and his merry band played a shiiiietloads of Anthrax songs. Not only that, the man paid his respects to Dio by performing “Heaven and Hell” and doing an acoustic rendition of “Man on the Silver Mountain”. Belladonna, still sporting an awesome ‘80s hair-do, seemed to be in a great mood, feeling talkative and cracking wide smiles. Definitely worthy of the warm response he got from the audience.

Mr. Belladonna, ladies and gentlemen.

The story doesn’t end there though. Verifiable legend tells that not only did he also do an extra gig at an after show in a local bar, he and his band also did it again the next day. On a really small stage. That’s quite something in an age where rockstars and celebrities-just-because are still trying to act like they’re the most important people on the planet.

Speaking of which, I’ve got no problem with celebrities raising awareness, but if you’re an artist who has hundreds of millions in the bank or buried in stock and blood diamonds (and then some), why don’t you donate a good portion of that to save a nation first before you ask your poor fans to do the same? Those golden grills in your mouth? Shit could have saved an entire village! That castle by the lake that you only visit once a year? Or how about that limited run sports car that goes with your child labor, designer branded purse ― both which you got just because it’s Saturday and you were bored after netting a seven digit number from a 15-minute cover shoot? Nah. That’s money well spent you hypocritical piece of shit!

Generic cynicism (that has nothing to do with Joey) put aside, let us return to the sauna’s steams as next up was Doro…but we already covered her, so here’s another picture of her in the sake of continuity.

Still looking good.

Last year, super-cover-band Hail! took the stage and this year that role fell upon Dio’s Disciples. What surprised me was the fact that Tim “Ripper” Owens was at helm , again, most of the set. Can’t say I’m sorry, though, as the dude is an awesome singer and has the skills to grab an audience by the balls. Not that he needed to do so, as Dio’s tracks are sure to do just that anyway. Toby Jepson, unknown to me but of Little Angels fame, also took some of the vocal duties.

Another surprise came with the fact that James LoMenzo was manning the bass guitar again too ― and again, I’ve got nothing against that as the dude’s an absolute beast with his instrument. The rest of the band was pretty much what was remaining of Ronnie’s last touring line-up; Simon Wright (drums), Craig Goldy (guitar) and Scott Warren (keys). Some might argue that the band somehow goes against Ronnie’s legacy, but I don’t see it. Sure, no one can replace Dio and I don’t see anyone trying to, but the group did the man justice and the crowd appreciated the fact. I think I mentioned it about last year’s gig too, but Tim really needs to get a few original bands going.

James LoMenzo rocking it up!

Saxon came in last and truth to be told, I personally didn’t get too much out of their set even if everything seemed to be in proper, working condition as far the band goes. For reason or another, I never got around listening to the band, so watching the guys rock the stage left me a tad cold. I know. I’m a bad person.  On the other hand, I really didn’t feel like their performance was too explosive either and the unbalanced soundpolicy didn’t help. Thus, halfway through their set, I decided to call it a day as I wasn’t feeling it at all. This made me miss their duet with Doro on “Denim and Leather”. But that’s life. You choose, you snooze, you lose.

Except I didn’t feel the burn of loss at all, as once I got back to the base of operations, there was cold beer waiting for me and I got to sleep like a baby.



SATURDAY – June 11th

The sleep continued through the sets from Anthriel, Battle Beast and Tarot, who performed last year as well. Supposedly Tarot’s second singer, Tommi Salmela had been somewhat tired on stage. Turns out he was suffering from a heatstroke and based on hearsay, he had to check in to a hospital for a check up later on.

Blake was winding down their lightly stoner-influenced set, so it was up to Queensrýche to wake me up. Unfortunately they didn’t. Aside from Geoff Tate marching about in a modern-mafioso outfit, the rest of the band seemed somewhat dead on stage. The band’s set list didn’t help either, even if things picked up slightly towards the end ― thanks to the older songs. 

Instead, it came down to Mokoma to finally start my engines. Being one of Finland’s most popular metal bands, it was odd to see them on the second stage but that didn’t stop the band from putting on a good show. Whilst I’m not too big of a fan of the band’s latest album, Sydänjuuret, the song material worked relatively well live. Albeit, it helps to inspire when you’ve got a full line-up of guys rocking out for 45-minutes with no holds barred (unlike, *cough*Rÿche*cough*). Surprisingly the band’s breakthrough-album Kurimus was completely ignored from the set. Indeed, the few ‘slower’ songs, like “Kuu saa valtansa auringolta”, “Tästä on hyvä jatkaa” and “Hei, hei heinäkuu”―despite adding some breathing room to the set―could have and should have been dropped from the set to maximize room for the beating. It’s also clear that all the vigorous touring is paying dividends, as the band has gotten its routine up to a frightening standard. Makes me wonder what would a ‘bad’ Mokoma gig be like.

Another huge surprise for me was how massive Accept sounded on the main stage. The band has been flying under the radar for years to me so the current quality of the band was definitely one of the festival’s bigger surprises ― to the point I had to seek out last year’s Blood of the Nations CD. The new songs worked just as good as all the legendary ones. Mark Tornillo’s performance left little to desire and the guy filled his frontman spot admirably. Didn’t miss Udo Dirkschneider at all. The rest of the band (minus Hermann Frank who was on sick leave) was feeling active as well, everyone, including the audience, was having a blast despite the burning weather. I also have to commend guitarist Wolf Hoffman for being a man of many faces, even if he does look like Bruce Willis. Come to think of it, perhaps the man’s a bit of an action star; when you’ve got a man who knows his shit, missing a second guitarist isn’t that big of a problem.

Peter Batles, Wolf Hoffman

“You know how there needs to be some bad bands to make us appreciate the good ones” educated Sparzanza frontman Fredrik Weileby. Surely, he wasn’t talking about his own group, even if in my opinion, he was. Since I don’t listen to the radio that much, I’ve been completely oblivious to the Swedish ‘next big thing’ (of mainstream rock radio) band but apparently they’ve gotten a shitloads (don’t know, don’t listen) of airtime on Finland’s biggest rock channel, Radio Rock. Doesn’t surprise me as the band is like a very light, totally uninspired version of, say, Disturbed or something, except with completely forgettable tracks and without the hint of personality. Typical pop-driven hard rock/metal, everything just screams generic here. Yet, the crowd gathered in front of the stage was eating it all up, moist and willing, so what do I know? The band did, however, employ a tactic I can’t remember seeing yet. They had some male groupie with them, bouncing in the photo pit, facing the audience, trying to rile up the crowd and help the mass to react properly amd sing the proper line. You live and learn. Weileby also pulled many easy ‘sucking off the audience’ moves with his in between banter, mentioning how Finland beat Sweden at the hockey world championships (6-1, den glider in!) and how the women and beer was better this side of the gulf. Or something like that, as I was mentally elsewhere during the first four songs and physically elsewhere after the fourth or fifth. Indifferent.

Sparzanza reaching for the skies!

As the day was getting slightly cooler towards the evening, it was finally time for Judas Priest’s concluding show. Some sources had advertised the Epitapth-tour as a farewell tour, which, according to metal god Rob Halford, it isn’t. They might step off the stage in the near future, but most likely they will continue recording and doing new music.

A living Legend

The huge Epitaph-banner that hid the stage fell down and “Rapid Fire” fired up Priest’s set after “Battle Hymn” acting up as an intro (along with “War Pigs”). What was to follow was a 2-hour, 15-minute metal show with a capital S ― featuring many of the band’s ageless and immortal classics along with some newer songs. Surprisingly clear-cut hits like “Screaming for Vengeance” and “A Touch of Evil” were missing from the mix, but apparently you can’t have it all. The stage set was entertaining in itself as well, with changing back banners, lasers and pyrotechnics. Rob Halford also drove a Harley on stage, sporting the legendary leather cap, even if the effect was lessened by the fact that years ago Manowar brought four ― ha! Still, a Harley is a Harley and when you add Rob Halford on top of it, in leather, it just screams of heavy metal imagery. Tom of Finland would be proud and rightfully so.

Set list being as of follows:

Battle Hymn / Rapid Fire / Metal Gods / Heading Out to the Highway / Judas Rising / Starbreaker / Victim of Changes / Never Satisfied / Diamonds & Rust (Joan Baez cover) / Dawn of Creation / Prophecy / Night Crawler / Turbo Lover / Beyond the Realms of Death / The Sentinel / Blood Red Skies / The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown) [Fleetwood Mac cover] / Breaking the Law and Painkiller. The Hellion/Electric Eye / Hell Bent for Leather / You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ / Living After Midnight made up the encores.

Rob Halford seemed to be in a good condition for his age and he appeared to change outfits in between every song. No lie, the man seems to love to dress up. Glenn Tipton was, well Glenn Tipton. Ian Hill seemed to disappear into the stage set up, basically never moving from his spot and Scott Travis felt like he was having some issues with his drum playing. The biggest news to me this year was how Jeff Loomis and Van Williams left Nevermore. To some, it was K.K Downing dropping out of Priest. The guitar player had been replaced by relatively unknown Richie Faulkner ― who seemed more than able and a suitable fit in his tight, leather-y outfit. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to spark a bit of more vigor to the well-oiled, classic metal machine. Had Ripper still been in the premise, would have been interesting to know if he could have made the stage too…

Not only did Finland beat Sweden in hockey, Finland also received an extra track from Priest to the set list. “Living After Midnight”, despite the sun being still up high (summer, Finland, go figure) was the perfect closure to Judas Priest’s huge set, and to the whole festival. The crowd―huge in numbers―had gotten what it wanted. The band had gotten what they wanted. And so had I. And so did the other bands as I witnessed quite a few ‘celebrities’ gazing through Priest’s performance mesmerized.

Priest has quite a few fans, it seems.

In conclusion, for the nostalgic and ‘80s metal fans, Sauna Open Air fills up the need nicely. Three days of old school metal, with a few surprises. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a few more acts being brought from Sweden Rock Festival (a much bigger festival held at the same time. In Sweden.) For example, I’d gotten a boner if acts like GWAR (still evading Finland, fuck!), Overkill and Destruction had appeared on stageThey could have also flown in Down.

Yet, since I’m not the exact target audience, it’s hard to be bitchy about the lineup. I got more than I bargained for, even if a few of the bands suffered from my own personal ignorance and bad taste.  What can you say? I’m an asshole. On the other hand, the lineup gave a decent history lesson; it gave me a rundown on what I’ve been missing and what I’m still going to miss on purpose. The festival itself ran painlessly smoothly, it’s held at a very convenient location at a convenient time, so in the end, I exited the battlefield content with the aim of returning, again, next year even if my favorites aren’t playing. Sauna Open Air is, quite simply, a good kickstart to the summer.



  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    fucking great read mikko

Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.