Seems like ages ago that I properly attended a European music festival. And by properly attended, I mean went to hang out IN the festival and not just backstage. Don’t get me wrong, fun things happen back there, but more often than not, you end up missing out on many of the other performances and always you end up missing out on feeling the GA [general admission] vibes.
For this summer festival season, I knew I wanted to catch at least one event since I was going to be on the continent, and one in particular: Ruisrock. Had been hearing about it for years as it’s one of the largest festivals in the northern Europe and the second oldest continuously organized rock festival in the world. That sort of street cred combined with a national park for a venue seemed too cool to be true so this past July I headed back to Turku, Finland to check it out for myself and here were some of the highlights…
Being personally invited by the organizers/Visit Turku
Receiving a personal invitation to come over and join the fun from the city of Turku itself and the organizers of Ruisrock was certainly one of the biggest highlights. Not only because it was going to ensure the personal security of my festival pass from shady people and rogue security guards, but it also gave me a chance to learn more about the history and inner workings of the event, as well as to see Finland’s oldest city in all its summer glory.
You may or may not remember, but the last time I spent some days in Turku, it was the tail end of the off-season and so I was unable to experience some of the cool things the area has to offer between May and September. Like taking a steamship out to a the rock/island of Loistokari in its archipelago to dine al fresco on smoked salmon and snaps.
After spending quite a bit of time traveling around Finland last year, there was one ever-present theme I noticed everywhere I went: Finns have an incredibly strong connection to nature. From Lapland to Savonlinna, nature has historically played an important role throughout Suomi and so of course it’s only fitting that the country’s largest music festival takes place on an island and in the middle of a national park.
While most festivals I’ve been to could be happening anywhere in the world and still feel the same, this one just oozed Finnish-ness which in my opinion makes it a wonderful festival to go out of the way to check out if you’re looking for a fun music experience abroad.
Getting back and forth between the island by taxi boat, frequent and ridiculously close ferry sightings, and a swimming area/beach were just a few of this highlight’s highlights. Only thing missing was a massive sauna though in some moments the Teltta tent stage probably could have doubled as one.
The eclectic line-up
From rap (Wiz Khalifa) to Swedish and English pop (Icona Pop, Lily Allen) to the skate punk soundtrack of my 90s junior high years in Orange County (The Offspring), I loved that the line-up consisted of such an eclectic mix. Variety is the spice of life, so fun indeed it was fun to move from one genre to the next within a matter of minutes.
Exposure to Finnish bands
While a nice mix of international acts graced the Ruisrock stages, so did a ton of Finnish ones. They made up more than half of the line-up in fact. The biggest name of them all being Cheek who I was totally digging after I saw a bit of his live performance. Then I checked out some of his music videos out on Youtube. And, well, let’s forget I ever mentioned that…
I will still secretly dance to this jam though.
From fast food to fine dining, the culinary bases were covered
As I said, it had been a while since I had properly attended a European music festival, but the last time I did, I certainly don’t recall ever seeing such culinary offerings in the midst of sweaty, muddy music pits. Break for some gourmet pizza and champage though? Yes, please!
Not to mention a vintage champagne and craft beer bar, Michelin-starred chef Hans Välimäki’s pop-up restaurant called “Rikhards”, and a few trendy food trucks. I was impressed.
Of course there were also the more traditional, non-trendy food trucks slinging plates of greasy fast food – Finland style…
Seriously every group of drunk dudes I walked by had at least one person feasting on a plate of this fried “deliciousness” aka muikku. I wasn’t into it.
Bearing witness to the stage presence amazingness of Future Islands
The thing is, I had no idea who Future Islands was when I saw them on the line-up. Sounded familiar, but not familiar enough. Thank GOD I accidentally stumbled upon their set though because the second I spotted those dangerous dance moves, I instantly remembered they were the ones responsible for that legendary Letterman performance that went viral not too long ago.
Cheers to them and in particular the lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, for bringing the same heat all the way over to Finland. In person, this was even more amazing to watch and I’m sure Tom Jones, Morrissey and Glen Danzig would be collectively proud of how well he manages to channel all three of them. And all at once.
(favorite parts come in around 00:34, 00:45, 1:10 and 2:09)
I could have brought my grandparents along with me for free
Ok, technically I couldn’t have since none of them are still alive, but if they were and over the age of 70, they would have been able to get into the festival for free. And not only that, they would have also been to ride over to the island with me via water transport which is otherwise reserved for those with media and/or VIP passes.
It’s a cute offer in my opinion, the festival giving the older gen the opportunity to take a walk on the wild side and see first hand “what the kids are listening to these days”. Probably wouldn’t work at 85% of all other European music festivals, but at Ruisrock it did. Plenty of places for them to escape to (it is a national park after all) should the bass become unbearable or kids too out of control.
Meeting rock legend/national institution of Finland – Michael Monroe
It had been on my list of things to do in Finland since I first visited Turku last year. Meet the man with the the face that launched 1,000 glamrock “ships” back in the 80s… the world’s most respected, yet least famous, rock star…”nicest guy ever” according to a mutual friend…Mr. Michael Monroe.
An honorary resident of Turku, I had heard Michael could sometimes be spotted riding his bike around town and all the time as one of the headliners of Ruisrock, so of course I chose the latter as the place where I wanted it to all go down if it ever did. And, well…
Truly one of the most down to earth musicians I’ve come across, it was such a pleasure shooting the shit with him about everything from the breakup of Hanoi Rocks to his favorite places in Turku. There is no question as to why he is so beloved not only in the music world, but also in Finland. In the end I’d say my mission was accomplished and I’ve already come up with a new one for the next time I visit: karaoke with Michael Monroe.
Chatting gypsy stuff with Sami Yaffa (and looking like a douche)
Through Michael I had the esteemed pleasure of connecting with another awesome individual – Sami Yaffa. Former bassist of Hanoi Rocks, current bassist for Michael Monroe’s solo show, and fellow Romani culture vulture.
Another super nice guy, we ended up bonding pretty fast once we discovered we had a shared interest in Balkan music and hanging in Roma neighborhoods.
Since we weren’t too far away, of course I had to bring up the gypsy bar just outside of Helsinki that I saw Anthony Bourdain hit up on an episode of No Reservations. It looked awesome and I really wanted to go. Had he heard of it??
“Uh, I’m the one who took him there .”
Turns out Sami not only took Tony to that bar, but also everywhere else in the city as he was the co-host for the entire episode. Ohhh shit, again.
How embarrassing, how douchey, but in all fairness – it had been quite a while since I had watched that. Luckily he didn’t care at all and in the end we left as homies so can laugh about it now. Looking forward to meeting his non-blonde gypsy friends in Serbia. SOON.
Just another festival in the life of a blonde gypsy. KIITOS to Turku Touring and Visit Finland for the invitation and making this trip possible, Ruisrock for being such great hosts, and Finland for not bringing the rain – the weather stayed perfect for the entire weekend. Any sweet Euro festivals you can recommend for Summer 2015?