For nearly a decade, the Finnish metal festival season in Tampere was opened by Sauna Open Air, but after the festival went bankrupt in 2013, the spot was taken by a new two-day festival called South Park, held in 2014 for the first time. They showcased themselves right away as an event with good rock, metal, and food, so Musicalypse had to go and see what all the buzz was about. The first ever South Park turned out to be a strong newcomer, and Lene L. is more than happy to share the experience with you!
Well, the first ever South Park festival experience didn’t start out quite the way we had hoped. Our main priority had been to shoot Sparzanza, and then sit back and enjoy the rest of their show. We already had to skip some promising names like Santa Cruz and Dreamtale because we weren’t able to make it out to Eteläpuisto on time. And then came the rain. No matter how early Finnish summer starts, or how hot the weather has been for the past few days, chances are that the rain will make an appearance at some point. In the end, we managed to arrive in time to catch a few songs at the end of Sparzanza‘s set, arriving just in time to hear their singer (Fredrik Weileby) wondering, wasn’t this festival called Sauna Open Air not that long ago? It was a fair guess, but a wrong one, even though they do have a lot in common (at least on paper). Both have (or had) notably lighter lineups than, for example, Tuska, both take place in Tampere on pretty much the same weekend in June, and funnily enough, this, the first ever South Park festival, was located in the exact same park where Sauna Open Air was held before it moved some years ago to Ratina Stadion. Because of that last parallel in particular, there was some immediate nostalgia on arrival. I personally hadn’t been to Sauna Open Air since it was held at that particular venue.
But enough about that – on to the bands! During the last moments of Sparzanza’s set, the final drops of rain disappeared and we started to feel rather optimistic about the festival weekend. “Temple of the Red-Eyed Pigs” was right in its place to get us in the right mood, and soon after the Swedes finished up, we headed towards the tent stage to check out the Death Hawks – a band I knew little-to-nothing about. They surely were an interesting pick, with a lot of instrumental songs and a rather “70’s progressive rock” feeling to their music. They were alright, but it might be better to see their show in a small, intimate club rather than in the middle of a bright day during a festival, tent or no tent.
In search of a more “festivally” atmosphere, we took off toward the main stage for Sonata Arctica. They tend to be good for that sort of thing, in spite of the fact that, after many years and a few too many Sonata gigs, I had found myself a bit bored of them. However, taking a few years break from seeing their shows was apparently a good thing, since it was actually nice to watch good ol’ Sonata again. Feeling a bit alienated at times due to unfamiliarity with the newer songs wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, and the tracks from Pariah’s Child in particular suited the set quite nicely. Though the majority of the setlist consisted of new material, there were a notable number of songs from two first albums. There were no surprises whatsoever – it was pretty much as basic of a Sonata Arctica early evening festival slot as you can get. It was worth noting that there were a lot of very young kids in the crowd, probably at their first festivals ever, which instantly made me feel really good; Sonata was the very first band I ever saw at a festival, so in a way it was like the legacy was being passed onward (what with the notorious “Vodka” -song and all). Their new bassist, Pasi Kauppinen, also brought a healthy dose of energy to their stage presence, which can’t be a bad thing knowing how immobile they can be (vocalist Tony Kakko excluded).
South Park has advertised the event with the promise of good food and they had made a big deal of it on their website as well. We all probably know how festival food usually is, from the obligatory nakkiperunat [sausage and French fries] to sketchy-looking paellas and spring rolls, so improvements on that front are a big plus. The food stands were situated in the middle of some lovely trees, offering rather traditional, yet a bit better-looking selection to choose from; you could get hot wings, ribs, pulled pork burgers, fish, vegan food, tacos, and so on, but of course there were hot dogs and regular burgers as well. The VIP ticket area also had their own W.A.S.P.-menu (coming from words “wine-apple-sausage-potatoes”), which went further towards real food, with organic bread, fresh salads, pork neck, etc. On the first day, I choose to go for some pulled pork, which has become sort of a trendy dish in Finland this summer. The portion was quite sizeable, and the fries, pork, and coleslaw were all excellent, but the burger bun was surprisingly cold. It lost some points for that, so let’s give the whole thing an 8-.
After fueling up, we were ready for the band that we had been waiting for with so much enthusiasm that it almost made me feel bad for headliners: Dimebag Beyond Forever, a Pantera tribute band. For those who don’t know the story, it’s a project with players and singers from bands like Profane Omen, Moonsorrow, Godsplague, myGRAIN, Shining, Amoral, and so on. The whole thing started out as a fundraiser to help crime victims, and three and a half years after announcing that they wouldn’t be doing gigs anymore, they showed up once again. The concept works out as well as you can hope for that kind of multi-player thing; those guys sure as hell know how to unleash a total blast! Pulling off tracks from a band like Pantera requires both skill and a shit-ton of attitude, and Dimebag Beyond Forever delivered them in equal proportions. The setlist was pretty easy to guess – a best-of of Pantera’s greatest hits, from “Domination” to “Cowboys From Hell,” and from “Walk” to “I’m Broken.” My personal favorite was without a doubt “This Love,” performed as a duet by Jules Näveri (Profane Omen) and Micko Hell (Denigrate, Million Dollar Beggars) with just the right twist of rawness. Without undervaluing the unrelenting energy in their shows, I noticed I had missed these guys mostly because of the love and dedication those bundles of joy have when playing Pantera covers. Their dedication to the cause the group was formed for is also admirable. It was a shame, however that a lot of people left their show early, probably to wait for the last band of the day.
The evening was finished off by no less than Skid Row. I’ve never been a huge fan of them, although I like their songs across the board, so I didn’t have any expectations or preconceptions for what was next. I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised. They were entertaining – a band with attitude. In spite of the inevitable clichés in their speeches, it was clear why they’ve been around for 25 years. The set was well formed – big hits like “18 and Life” (with an audible “ooohhh” from the audience during the intro) and “Monkey Business,” but it also included songs from their latest album. In fact, singer Johnny Solinger mentioned that very thing in one of his speeches, how the old rock bands are still going strong. And we do like that, don’t we? As a sidenote, Skid Row also introduced us to the most inventive bottle-hide at the festival: guitarist Scotti Hill’s back pocket. Don’t try that at home, especially in too-tight jeans! Anyways, with “Youth Gone Wild” (including a surprise appearance from Santa Cruz on stage) finishing up, it was an appropriate way to wind up the night!
The second day kicked off nearly identically to Friday: rainy and filled with hassle, but with the exception of us making it to the tent stage right on time to see Lost Society. Again, this was a band we knew very little about, except for the fact they are pretty much the new “it” band everyone in Finland is talking about. I had heard a few songs beforehand, and to be honest, all the hype seemed quite over-sized, judging by recorded material alone. Anyway, we decided to give them a shot after hearing so much praise for their concerts, to see if they’d put on a good show. And that’s exactly what they did; I’m still not convinced that they’ve found the X-factor that would make them the “next big thing,” but I will concede that they’re energetic, honest, driven, and already know how to hook their audience. Their self-irony might be closing in on tacky, but that can be forgiven. One particularly interesting thing happened in the middle of the show, when the gig was interrupted by a dread-head, who at first we thought was with the band; but as it turned out, when the dude was carried away from stage (only wearing his boxers by that time), the band had no clue who the guy was. Nevertheless, the unknown stripper may just have added a little something to the band’s reputation of having the unexpected happen during their shows.
Next up was Reckless Love, who we decided to check out from a bit farther away while simultaneously making an effort to enjoy the peaking sun. They were right on target, if you were looking for the kind of band that will get you in the mood for summer. And to be fair, the last few wisps of cloud finally floated away when Hot started to play. When the sun’s out, you’re more or less obliged to remove your shirt, and vocalist Olli Herman sure had something to show off!
While waiting for the next band to shoot, we were lucky enough to have the time to check out the burlesque side show that was going on on its own stage. Yes, that’s right, and truth be told, it was an absolutely awesome addition to the festival! The lovely performers had a ton of fun on stage, and offered something totally novel to the festival experience. It was definitely a worthwhile thing to include in the festival line-up and hopefully we’ll see them continuing to step up the entertainment in the forthcoming years!
By 6:00 in the evening, the main stage was taken over by H.E.A.T., who continued in the line of 80’s-style hard rock bands. They’ve got catchy songs with a summery, driving down the highway with the convertible top down -feeling, so it fit the bill. The Swedish rockers were cheerful fellows and fun to watch, with the singer, Erik Grönwall, making faces and jumping off the stage and Crash (the drummer) being all smiles for the entire show. He was rather charming, showing off his newly-acquired Finnish skills when given the mic: it’s likely that everyone was expecting a new vocabulary of profanities, as is the norm, but he got the audience cheering and aww-ing by saying, “Minä rakastan sinua” (”I love you”).
As soon as after H.E.A.T. finished, Poisonblack immediately filled the area around the tent stage. If there’s one thing we noted right away, it’s the feeling that frontman Ville Laihiala seems to have calmed down as the years have gone on, in the sense of smoothing down the rough edges he has had in expressing himself. Not too much, of course; he’s still got that distinctive arrogance on stage and his humor is still dry, witty, and full of (self-) irony. These days they do feel, more or less, like a band with equal members more than they used to, which I think has always been the deal, but perhaps the audience didn’t catch on until later. The set was comprised mostly of songs from the last two albums, Lyijy and Drive, but it naturally included a couple of older hits as well, with “Rush” being my personal highlight from the gig. The show didn’t offer anything outrageously special, but it was a fine opportunity to just sit back and enjoy the music.
If the second day of South Park had been a mix of good, just fine, or nearly excellent shows, and W.A.S.P. was definitely the disappointment on that scale. I can admit that almost right after shooting the first three songs, we weren’t engaged enough to stay anywhere near the stage, so we decided to watch the gig from afar away while exploring the area and having a much needed coffee/food break. Funny enough, the show turned out to be much more enjoyable from a distance, mostly due to watching other people having a good time.
Speaking of the festival area, one big improvement to the previous Sauna Open area was definitely the fact that the stages were closer to each other, so you didn’t need to run like a maniac between them if you wanted to see the next band from the start of their set. While having a bit of rest in the food park, we tried out what the café that the local roaster had set up. For a coffee lover (like myself), it was pure heaven to have at a festival. There is no way that I am the only one to have had to resort to the tar-like liquid you usually get when decaffeination strikes in the middle of a good gig, so I really hope this trend continues. Along with the excellent coffee, there were sandwiches, which turned out to be an even better choice than the previous day’s pulled pork: fresh ingredients, not too wet, light but filling enough, and far from those vacuum-packed ones you over-pay for in every grocery store and gas station ever. Besides that, it’s easier on festivals than trying to deal with plastic forks and knives, so this combo gets a solid 9+. With judgment based solely on two days and two dishes, let it still be said that this was definitely one of best food parks we’ve seen at any festivals, so even though there’s always room for improvement, South Park delivered what they promised.
It was quite clear that Brother Firetribe was among the bands with most devoted fans, topped perhaps only by those who waited the whole day in front of main stage to watch W.A.S.P. or Europe from the front row. Following the hard-core fans, the tent was crowded in a matter of minutes, and to be honest, it was a pleasant surprise; I couldn’t help but wonder beforehand if people were still mainly interested because of the fact that they share a guitarist with Nightwish. But if there’s any conclusion that one could draw from the gig, it was that Brother Firetribe definitely stand on their own feet. Besides the catchy AOR tunes (adult-oriented rock), they can and will bring out an outstanding show. It had been a good while since their last tour, but it didn’t show in a negative way; more like the opposite – the guys had fun on stage and with the audience. Mr. Emppu Vuorinen in particular (guitars) took advantage of the opportunity to goof around in good humor. Singer Pekka Heino still has his unique kind of gentle charisma, as well as his voice. Seriously, watch out for this guy, he’ll sing himself straight into your heart! The new songs blended seamlessly into the set, and the audience seemed to already know the new album fairly well, even though best bits definitely involved the old songs and singalongs. The show ended with their biggest hits, “Heart Full of Fire” and “I am Rock,” which went a bit overtime, but hey, who was complaining?
After the last pyrotechnics and confetti in tent had settled, it was time for the last big band on the main stage: Europe. Anticipation stirred in the air and exploded outward in the form of cheers when “Riches and Rags” banged in, immediately instilling the feeling that, yes, this was going to be a good one. It was the perfect opportunity to ask yourself, are you not entertained? Europe’s performance has, of course, become fairly routine over the years, which can be a good thing or bad; from my opinion, it was without a doubt a good one, with the show bordering on excellence. That’s quite a lot coming from someone who usually doesn’t find anything special in huge bands and concerts. It’s all about the positive energy – even though you’ve done hundreds of shows, what stops you from being excited about playing on this night to this audience? And the crowd will catch on; it was wonderful to see how equally emotional and excited the crowd was, and how totally ballistic they went, at first with “Rock the Night,” and then to “The Final Countdown” in the end. If after the show you still didn’t know whether you were into it or not, there’s no telling what went wrong in between. With “New Love in Town” ringing in the night air as their outro, it was nice to leave Eteläpuisto this year letting the good times rock.
As we said, South Park turned out to be a strong newcomer to the Finnish festival scene, and those who might have worried about what’s next when Sauna Open Air’s road came to its end, fear not! Evidently there is still room for a lighter rock and metal event when compared to Tuska, Jalometalli, and Nummirock. Eteläpuisto as a location is superb – it’s big enough and far enough from any buildings to be a festival area, but still not too far from downtown. And what with the focus on good food alongside good music, if they can keep it up and develop even further, I guarantee that South Park might turn into one of the best summer events in whole country. They’re profiled enough to survive the heavy competition, and we’re eagerly waiting to see what they’ll have up their sleeves in 2015!
Text/photos: Lene L.