Sauna Classic in Tampere was introduced as a successor to the late Sauna Open Air and celebrated for the first time on July 28-29th, 2017. We were curious to see this smaller-scale version, which was advertised as a ‘Heavy Metal Garden Party’, and it did sound very promising with a line-up consisting of some great Finnish bands. Mira and Lene set off to Eteläpuisto to find out if the garden party lived up to its name, and what kind of a show Turisas, Brother Firetribe, Stratovarius, and Ensiferum, among others, would put on for the party people!
Day 1 – Friday
Lene: While waiting for the other half of our crew to arrive, I checked out One Desire, the newcomers from the west coast. They released their first, self-titled album last March, and play catchy, Reckless Love -like hard rock with some hints of ‘Brother Firetribeness’, for lack of a more descriptive word. The group features members from, for example, Cain’s Offering and the teen metal sensation from a few years back, Sturm und Drang, so they’re not exactly newcomers in the usual sense. However, because of the latter band I mentioned, I did have my preconceptions towards them. On listening to their debut before the festival, I was more than a little skeptical as to whether singer André Linman would be able to pull off the songs nicely, but turns out that he sounds more pleasing live. It makes one wonder why on earth the lead vocals on the album were deep-fried in autotune, but I guess that’s a whole other story. The song material itself is nothing new or special in the scene – in fact, it used pretty much every trick in the AOR book – but the tracks can and will get stuck in your head like bubblegum in your hair. All kidding aside, this bunch was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to catch live. Linman’s lengthy speeches were amusing, as he expressed in a heartfelt manner how nice it was to play in Tampere again, and took his time to introduce the band, with no jokes left behind from that. I indeed had my doubts but the band left an overall good impression, and I especially enjoyed how the last track of the set, “Buried Alive”, sounded live, being more purely heavy metal than easy-listening hard rock. It’s always nice to get surprised like this, and I hope to hear more catchy tunes with less autotune from these guys in the future.
Mira: As I finally made my way to the festival site, the garden party atmosphere got to me right away. I had a little time to stroll around before Shiraz Lane hit the stage and the festival area seemed to be very cozy. People were hanging out here and there, some in the bar by the lake, some sitting on the grass enjoying their drinks and, of course, a bunch of people were waiting in front of the stage. Personally, I didn’t know much about the band; I only had a vague idea about their style and genre. It was actually quite fun to see the band without knowing what to expect. And damn, if I wasn’t positively surprised! As the band members are quite young, they had the most amazing energy! The boys seemed to enjoy themselves on stage and the audience was having a blast. It might have rained a little at some point, but in the end, it bothered absolutely no one, or if it did, we didn’t notice. The way the band got the audience to jump and sing along was quite brilliant. Towards the end of the set, bassist Joel Alex hopped down from the stage to mingle with the audience in front of the stage, and also went to say hi to the people lounging in the beach bar. The perks of a small festival areas!
The second stage, Cover Garden, was located in the bigger bar area and provided some rather enjoyable background noise for hanging out between the bands on main stage. It almost felt like there were bands playing in your own backyard – as confusing as it was at first, it really was kind of cool. What we saw on Cover Garden stage, was Dear Victims making their tribute to KISS, and New Jersey getting the crowd to sing along to the hits of Bon Jovi. And there were some seriously loud and impressive singalongs happening! Festivals have been getting more into cover/tribute bands in the past couple of years and they do seem to make people gravitate towards smaller stages, as we have noticed at a few festivals. The stage might have been tiny but the songs played there certainly were not. We certainly appreciated the concept of the Cover Garden.
After a pleasant hang-out in the Cover Garden we headed back toward the main stage where Ensiferum was up next. When it comes to Ensiferum live, they very rarely let you down, and this gig was no exception. There were some backing track mishaps right after the intro, and after a little bit of more or less confused shuffling, the band re-entered the stage in a true ‘like a boss’ manner. The set opener, ”From Afar”, got the audience right on track and during ”Ahti” there was a mini-moshpit – an impressive mini-moshpit, to be exact. ”Stone Cold Metal” and the dish brushes as drumsticks had made a comeback this summer, and yes, the song works ever so nicely! The setlist was leaning a little on the heavier side and the songs were gathered from all of their albums. Solo-wise you can’t not mention Netta Skog and her accordion; what is a Finnish summer festival without ”Säkkijärven Polkka?” – and a very speedy version of it, no less. Naturally, a metal gig needs a bit of disco, which was provided in the form of ”Two of Spades.” The band was having a blast with it and that song never fails to elicit a smile – it might not be a masterpiece but it certainly is very entertaining. ”Lai Lai Hei” ended the set, and as cliché as the song might be, it still works after all these years. Since it’s been taking a break from the regular setlist, it was a nice addition to the festival edition.
The headliner for Friday was Brother Firetribe, who have been celebrating their 15th anniversary and their latest album, Sunbound, that came out earlier this year. While a lot of the festival-goers had been scattered all over the festival area throughout the day, at this point the front of the main stage was packed. The set was built around the new material with some appearances of oldies, such as ”One Single Breath”, ”I’m on Fire”, and ”Heart Full of Fire.” As I had completely neglected to listen to Sunbound, I didn’t know what to expect from the new stuff. And as much as I am digging the older BFT, the new songs did not disappoint. Tracks that stood out for me were ”Shock” and ”Last Forever”, the latter being very classic Brother Firetribe. Since it was late enough in the summer, it was actually dark enough for the lights and smoke effects to be seen properly and weren’t they neat! The only downside was the wind, which kind of ruined the smoke effects a bit, but they were cool nevertheless. The energy on stage was on point, the audience was swimming in good vibes, and the interaction between the band members was, to put it simply, adorable. There was quite a lot of interaction with the audience as well and it seems that singer Pekka Heino hears the most random stuff from the audience and isn’t afraid to comment on it. The set ended with the oldie but goodie, ”I am Rock”, which ended up being stuck in my head for days afterwards. Nothing to complain about though – the song is great. One more notion we had about Brother Firetribe while walking toward the gates to avoid the crowd, was that their outro was clearly the most epic we had heard this summer. Not a bad way to end the night, right?
Day 2 – Saturday
The second day of the festival started bright and early for us, as the Finnish summer showed us its best side with sunshine and delicious warmth, and early for us as we headed to see the opening act of Cover Garden. We missed most of the Kill With Cover – in their own words, the most ultimate Manowar tribute band in the world – gig in Nummirock and we felt that we need to see full set from them. When I arrived to the festival area, the first thing I saw was a butt. A bare butt, mind you. Yes, this is important to mention, because the drummer of Kill With Cover wears assless leather chaps and a thong on stage, and naturally, the rest of the band was also wearing leather in true Manowar fashion. There were a handful of people ready to witness the true metal in all its glory, and they seemed to be really into it. Even though we’re not too familiar with Manowar, the gig was entertaining and the songs weren’t bad at all. ”Kings of Metal” got the audience quite excited. I have to say though, that for a Manowar tribute, Kill With Cover did not play loud enough, due to sound restrictions. According to Kill With Cover, we were all there for three reasons: booze, sex, and heavy fucking metal. It’s quite hard to argue with that when there are bubbles floating around. Yes, they had a bubble machine, and you can’t get more metal than that!
After all that ‘true metal,’ it was time for the opening band of the main stage. Run for Cover, fronted by the very talented Netta Laurenne, was the only cover band on the main stage, and they also were only one of the cover bands who didn’t stick with just one band. And really, you can’t go wrong with such classics as Dio, Deep Purple, and Pantera. Their Dream Theater cover was a bit of an unexpected one, since you don’t hear Dream Theater covers too often. At this point, Sauna Classic was totally living up to its name with the heat and classic songs played on stage by amazing musicians such as Rolf Pilve [Stratovarius, Status Minor], Teemu Mäntysaari [Wintersun], Tuomas Yli-Jaskari [Tracedawn], and Vili Itäpelto. With such people on stage, you can expect nothing less than amazingness, and that’s exactly what we got. And it can’t be mentioned too often, that beyond her energetic stage presence, Netta’s sound truly is something else!
Cover Garden turned out to be as good a hang out place as it was on Friday, despite a bit heavier rain. There truly was something fun in it – yes, I’m saying that the rain was fun – while Luca Fly played ”Thunderstruck”, ”Highway to Hell”, and other AC/DC hits. People were bundled up under the trees and bar and food tents, but everyone seemed very cozy. And luckily, the rain didn’t bother us for too long and the party was up again. On both days, there were jam-based 80’s karaoke where anyone could hop up on the stage and sing some classics with a live band. The funny part was that it really wasn’t a karaoke since you had no screens to help you with the lyrics but, man, there were some brilliant performances by the festival-goers. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that, so respect and kudos to all of the people who did so! My personal favorite of the Cover Garden gigs was Iron Mates ft. Taage Laiho doing justice to Iron Maiden songs. Absolutely fantastic!
The first non-cover act of our day was Omnium Gatherum, with their only festival show in Finland this summer. They broke the line-up’s folk-y and power-y vibe, which is right up my alley, with their melodic death metal. When the line-up was announced I wasn’t too excited about them, and I never gave them much attention since I thought that they wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I had seen them live once before, and as I remember, I mainly thought that they’re okay as a support band. This time, maybe it was the festival magic, but something clicked in my head and I was truly enjoying myself and the music. The setlist seemed to be built around the latest album, Grey Heavens, and some songs that stood out were ”Skyline” and ”Storm Front.” The audience was very much into the gig and it truly showed on stage. The amount of love that went back and forth was great. All the smiling faces – not to mention singer Jukka Pelkonen and his bright and bubbly personality – on stage were somewhat clashing with the music, and the melancholy of it, but I found that absolutely brilliant. There was a lot of guitar wankery (in a good way) and loads of great energy. At some point I found myself sitting by the lake, just looking at nothing, and truly feeling the music. And yes, after seeing Omnium Gatherum live again, they are becoming my cup of tea.
Turisas was something we had been looking forward to. It had been a while since they last played in Finland, and the setlist from other shows this summer was looking very exciting. Their second album, The Varangian Way, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – what better way to celebrate an album than playing it in all its glory? Aside from the set and show in general, we were quite interested to see how Turisas were going to fit on such a small stage. It was quite tiny, especially for a main stage, and Turisas tends to be huge and somewhat dramatic, but as you would expect from any great live band, they made it work. Turisas is one of my all-time favorite live bands, and they delivered once again. “To Holmgard and Beyond” worked like magic as a set opener and the audience was enjoying themselves from the beginning. Obviously, the highlights were the songs that you don’t hear live that much – “Cursed be Iron” has been out of the setlist for quite some time and same goes for “In the Court of Jarisleif” which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs that Mathias Nygård has ever created. There was even a proper party pit going on! And not only during that particular song – it was an hour of intense partying. I could keep rambling about the set being amazing from the start to finish, but I think that you got the memo already. They did exclude ”Rasputin”, which is in fact a bonus track on the album, and that was a shame – yes, they might be a bit done with it, but it would have fit the anniversary set. While ”Miklagard Overture” would’ve been a great song to end with, they treated us with one more song which was none other than the very anthem-esque ”Stand Up And Fight.” In conclusion, The Varangian Way is an amazing album, and Turisas still haven’t lost their game when it comes to live performances.
Stratovarius had the honor to headline Saturday night and wrap up the festival. As appeared to be the overall trend of the weekend, they did put on a nice show as well. I have seen my fair share of Stratovarius shows and can honestly say that their live quality is very consistent. Like on Friday, most of the festival-goers made their way from all over the festival area to the main stage for the headliner. The atmosphere was good, the weather was back to lovely, and there was nothing much to complain about. Setlist-wise, there wasn’t anything too exciting – hit after hit, more or less. While it’s nicer to have the well-known songs on the festival set, a little change probably wouldn’t hurt. Luckily though, a rare treat came in the form of ”Visions.” Usually Stratovarius is quite fond of all kinds of solos but this time the only one was the keyboard solo by Jens Johansson that lead to ”Black Diamond.” When it comes to older and newer material, it was quite close to 50-50, so there was something for everyone! ”Coming Home” brought me back in time properly, since my love for festivals originally started from that very same place 10 years ago. Being back in Eteläpuisto at a festival under the name of Sauna, it truly felt like coming home. As it tends to be a tradition nowadays, the set and the festival ended with ”Hunting High and Low.” Can’t go wrong with that, and the audience seemed to agree, if the volume of singing and screaming is anything to go by!
In general, the first Sauna Classic was a success. We have no complaints about the way it was organized – the Eteläpuisto park area was as lovely as it’s always been, and the way things – such as stages and bar and food areas – were set up worked nicely. There were hardly any queues, even though the food and beverage stalls were in good use all of the time. The FOH booth did cause some difficulties if you wanted to see the main stage from the main bar, but it was easily avoided by moving one’s butt a little. The lake view is always a nice addition to a festival area, as it makes everything feel a bit more summer-y.
On food side of things, there was a good selection to choose from for a small festival. Two café booths catered for the ones looking for hot beverages, sweet stuff, and little snacks, as well as the Ruisherkku booth that serves their rye-bread based snacks at several festivals. In the bar area, you could get burgers and hot dogs from Public House Huurre’s booth – both vegan and meat versions. On Friday, we tried out the vegan wrap from Tönö café (good, but not quite excellent), and were planning on getting vegan burgers on Saturday, but due to its popularity, only vegan hot dogs were left, so we went for the pork neck burger instead. From the omnivorous point of view, we weren’t disappointed – Lene named it the best festival burger this year, so we do recommend checking out Public House Huurre in Tampere! Another pleasant note about bar area was that the beers from two local breweries were the same price as the regular bulk option, and we hope to see that at other festivals in the future as well.
To conclude, even though the audience needed to take a little time to adjust to the concept of the festival, the garden party atmosphere was well achieved on Saturday at the latest, and well enjoyed too. We truly had a blast, and would definitely go again!
Text: Mira Penttilä, Lene L. | Photos: Lene L.