Friday, October the 18th. The long-awaited Firefest weekend was upon us again. Last year we (me and my wife Mira, our photographer) finally managed to make it to Nottingham, and had a great time, so it was pretty easy decide that we’d come back this year. After a badly-slept night in an airport hotel, two flights, two trains and taxi ride later we found ourselves at Crown Plaza hotel, some few hundred metres from the Rock City. I had suspected it for a while that Plaza might be the hotel where the bands would be staying, and sure enough, as we dragged our bags through the doors, I noticed that there were familiar looking characters hanging around… interesting…



For this year's Fest the Friday had been expanded into a full-blown Firefest Day, with six band on the bill. It was the first one of the days to be sold out. Last year we missed the first band, but this time we left nothing to chance, and made sure we were there right from the start.


There was no time to start counting the stars among us at the hotel, as the doors were about to open soon, and the first band would be on stage in no time. That first band would be the Finnish/Norwegian alliance called The Magnificent. It was a masterstroke from the Frontiers Records to put Circus Maximus vocalist Michael Eriksen and Leverage’s guitarist Torsti Spoof in contact with each other, as their first and so far only album turned out to be a fine slice of Scandi-AOR. For their first ever live performance, Spoof and Eriksen were joined by Spoof’s Leverage bandmates Sami Norbacka (bass) and Tuomas Heikkinen (guitar), Stratovarius drummer Rolf Pilve and keyboard player Lasse Finbråten from Circus Maximus.

At your average festival, the opening act might have to play to a half-empty hall, but Firefest is anything but average. When MC Steve Price asked us to welcome the band, the room was packed and the band had the audience’s undivided attention. The first thing I noticed was the sound, which was superb, no instruments overshadowing others and balanced vocals. As the evening would progress, this would change, but more of that later…

Despite the fact that the band had only met each other a couple of days earlier, they didn’t sound or look like a band taking its’ first steps. Eriksen sounded easily at least as good as on the album, and the colourful, bright sound of the recordings was nicely duplicated live. An excellent start for the Festival and a proud moment for us Finns. The only complaint would be that they only managed to fit seven songs into their 40 minute slot…


1. Smoke & Fire
2. Satin & Lace
3. Lost
4. Bullets
5. Love's on the Line
6. Cheated By Love
7. Holding on to Your Love


Michael Eriksen - vocals
Torsti Spoof - guitar, vocals
Tuomas Heikkinen - guitar
Sami Norbacka - bass, vocals
Lasse Finbråten - keyboards, vocals
Rolf Pilve - drums


Another band making their live debut was Eden’s Curse’s latest line-up. Over the last couple of years the band has gone through a few personnel changes, some of which weren’t particulary smooth. Especially the band’s original vocalist Michael Eden has been making rather strong statements ever since he and the band went their separate ways. Now the trouble seems to be well behind them, as they’ve found two new guys and have released a critically acclaimed fourth album with them.

The live debut of Nikola Mijic (vocals) and Steve Williams (keys) didn’t start convincingly. The band has serious sound problems, with Mijic’s vocals being barely audible for the first couple of songs. That was kind weird since The Magnificent had a superb sound. It did improve for Curse too during their set.

The set consisted of three new songs from their latest opus ”Symphony of Sin” and four fan favourites from their previous albums. I actually thought that the new songs ”Unbreakable” and ”Evil & Divine” were the best of the bunch, although I did like the others too. Well, I wasn’t particulary fond of ”Symphony of Sin”, which was plagued by sound problems. I felt that Mijic tried to compensate them by overdoing his parts a little.

The band performed two songs that were originally recorded as duets. ”No Holy Man”, the song that features James LaBrie on the recorded version was sung by Mijic alone, but for ”Angels & Demons” the band invited Issa to sing Pamela Moore’s parts. I thought she did a fine job, and seemed to know the lyrics better than Mijic…

A special mention must go the new keyboard player Steve Williams, who looked like he was really enjoying playing and sang his heart out too. A lively performer indeed.


1. Symphony of Sin
2. Trinity
3. Fly Away
4. No Holy Man
5. Unbreakable
6. Evil & Divine
7. Angels & Demons


Nikola Mijic - vocals
Thorsten Koehne - guitar
Paul Logue - bass, vocals
Pete Newdeck - drums, vocals
Steve Williams - keyboards,vocals
Marcus Thurston- guitar


Next up were Swedish soft rockers Work Of Art. They were the second band in a row to feature left-handed guitarist (Robert Säll) - mark my words, this will be a question in the Firefest edition of Trivial Pursuit! Anyway, out of their last year’s 8-song set they played 5 songs, and added two brand new tracks to it and one from their first album. The set was kicked off with perhaps two of their strongest songs so far, ”The Great Fall” and ”The Rain”, both of which got a suitably enthusiastic response. ”Time To Let Go” was the first of two songs, it reminded me of Toto mixed with a bit of ”Raised On Radio” era Journey. Good, bouncy AOR.

”Over The Line” was another new one, very familiar sounding Work Of Art, perhaps even a little bit too familiar, as I was thinking that I had surely heard it before. The slightly dull ”Lost Without Your Love” was followed by two of the band’s more urgent tracks, ”Never Love Again” and ”Why Do I?”, which closed the set on a positive note.

Work Of Art are a good, professional band with some superb songs, but somehow their brand of AOR is so squaky clean and polished that I sometimes find it hard to connect with. I like their recorded stuff and I liked them live, just not as much as some of the other bands. I know that I’m in the minority here, as their previous Firefest appearance was voted as one of the all time Top Ten FF performances.


1. The Great Fall
2. The Rain
3. Time to Let Go
4. Nature of the Game
5. Over the Line
6. Lost Without Your Love
7. Never Love Again
8. Why Do I?


Lars Säfsund - vocals
Robert Säll - guitar
Herman Furin - drums
Jonas Gröning - keyboards
Andreas Passmark - bass


A late but logical addition to the Firefest Friday was W.E.T., the AOR ”supergroup” featuring Robert Säll, Erik Mårtensson the one and only Jeff Scott Soto. The band’s live line-up actually featured two guys from the previous band, bassist Andreas Passmark and Robert Säll. The latter switched from guitar to keyboards though. Erik Mårtensson and Magnus Henriksson were the guitarists and Robban Back played the drums, all three from Sunday’s opening band Eclipse.

I’ve really liked both W.E.T. albums, and was looking forward to seeing the band live. When they took the stage to the sounds of ”Walk Away”, it was immediately obvious that they were here to steal the show. They had it all - the stage presence, the energy and the songs. Jeff Scott Soto is a bona fide star, it’s just that the mainstream media or the masses haven’t understood it yet! ”Learn To Live Again” became one of the biggest sing-along numbers of the day, followed by the hard-hitting ”Invincible” and ”Rise Up”.

The band slowed it down for ”Come Down Like Rain”, which was almost a religious experience, with the whole ”Church Of Rock’n Roll” singing along again. ”Still Unbroken”, the Journey-pastiche ”If I Fall” and ”Brothers In Arms” worked really well too. The only track that didn’t really take off was ”Broken Wings” (hmm… was that clever?). The celtic vibe did work for the majority of the crowd, so it was just me I guess, and it wasn’t bad by any means. My favourite band of the day, hands down.


Walk Away
Learn to Live Again
Rise Up
Comes Down Like Rain
Still Unbroken
Broken Wings
If I Fall
Brothers In Arms
One Love


Jeff Scott Soto - vocals
Erik Mårtensson - guitar, vocals
Magnus Henriksson - guitar
Robban Back - drums
Robert Säll - keyboards
Andreas Passmark - bass


Next band was Dare. I was looking forward to their set, yet I had my reservations. After their two first albums Darren Wharton has lead the band to a more celtic-flavoured style, and I was afraid that their setlist might be dominated by the latter-day stuff. Thankfully it wasn’t, in fact a number of jaws dropped to the floor when the band opened with not one, but two songs from their ”Blood From Stone” album, ”Wings Of Fire” and ”We Don’t Need A Reason”. The album is usually pretty much ignored by the band… A good move from Wharton & Co, taking everyone by surprise…

The next four songs were indeed that latter-day material I was worried about, but I actually quite enjoyed them, especially ”Sea Of Roses”
which is one of my favourite tracks from their ”celtic” albums. One can almost drift to another time and place with these songs….

After the atmospheric and mellow selection of songs the band went back to the early days and played four songs from the classic first Dare album ”Out Of The Silence”. ”Abandon” and ”Into The Fire” were the kind of songs that gave me the ”goosebumps effect”, and judging by the reception they got I wasn’t the only one getting strange skin symptoms. The more mellow ”I Will Return” and ”The Raindance” were more in style of the band’s recent material, but the crowd loved them. Especially ”The Raindance” was a big sing-along track with its’ catchy chorus.


Wings of Fire
We Don't Need a Reason
Silent Thunder
Sea of Roses
Where Darkness Ends
Beneath the Shining Water
Into the Fire
I Will Return
The Raindance


Darren Wharton - vocals
Richard Dews - guitar, vocals
Vinny Burns - guitar
Kevin Whitehead - drums
Marc Roberts - keyboards


Friday’s headliners were the recently regrouped Harem Scarem, who were on tour celebrating their classic ”Mood Swings” album. Apart from touring to celebrate it, they have also re-recorded the album with some additional songs.

”The Scarems” started their set with the utterly classic opening track of ”Mood Swings”, ”Saviors Never Cry”. Dazzling guitar work by Pete Lesperance and cool vocals from Harry Hess, not to mention the superb backing vocals from the rest of the band. A definite highlight of the day for me. The grungy, boring and repetitive ”Dagger” I could have done without, but it didn’t matter too much as the band was back on track with the utterly classic opening track of their first album, ”Hard To Love”. Despite the lack of keyboards the song was sheer melodic bliss and the Firefest crowd/choir sang along beautifully.

"Sentimental Blvd." saw Hess hand out the lead vocal duties to drummer Darren Smith. Two songs from the debut followed, along with "Karma Cleansing", which stood out as another rather heavy, unmelodic track. I wish they could've resurrected "Die Off Hard" or "Staying Away" from the same era instead... Anyway, the rest of the set was all about "Mood Swings", including the fantastic "Stranger Than Love" and Lesperance's showcase instrumental "Mandy". The album's biggest hit single "No Justice" was the first encore, while an energetic version of "Change Comes Around" closed the set.

Harem Scarem played a good gig. Looking at the setlist below I really couldn't have asked for much more. I rate the first two HS albums very highly (5 R's for both!) and they played the whole "Mood Swings" and most of the others were from the debut.

Harry Hess may not be a "typical" frontman, his style is a bit more subdued but I thought he was funny and entertaining. Pete Lesperance's fluid and melodic guitar playing was spectacular, and new bassist Stan Miczek filled his slot well. He's not a bad singer either, helping out with those trademark background vocals. Darren Smith who made a comeback to the band was a bit of a showman, adding some "rock'n roll spirit" to the HS experience.

Having slept only a couple of hours the previous night and having spent most of the day travelling, exhaustion started to creep in during the last few Scarem songs. This probably was the reason why I wasn't as overwhelmed as I should have been. But yeah, it was good!


Saviors Never Cry
Hard to Love
If There Was a Time
Sentimental Blvd.
Slowly Slipping Away
Karma Cleansing
Stranger Than Love
Just Like I Planned
Empty Promises
Had Enough

No Justice
Change Comes Around


Harry Hess - vocals, guitar
Pete Lesperance - guitar, vocals
Stan Miczek - bass, vocals
Darren Smith - drums, vocals



After a good night's sleep, a fulfilling breakfast and a couple of encounters with the stars afterwards we were ready for the second day. Saturday was the day I was looking forward to the most, with some of my all-time favourite bands in the line-up. I would say that it turned out to be as good as I hoped it would be...


Of all the bands in the line-up, Nation was the band I was least familiar with. Their first album I had heard a long time ago, and remember thinking that it was merely okay, so I hadn't felt an urge to investigate any further. Just a few weeks prior to Firefest I borrowed their "Without Remorse" album from a friend, and while it was better than the first one, it didn't blow my mind either. So I wasn't expecting too much, but ended up being positively surprised.

The first Swedish act of the day played to a respectably sized crowd, and I'm pretty sure that they made a lot of new friends with their excellent performance. They certainly took advantage of the 40 minutes they had, playing their strongest songs without any messing around. Johnny Ohlin proved that he was a bit of a guitar hero and vocalist Isaac Isaacsson sounded actually better than on the old albums. It was bass player Nobby Noberg who impressed me the most though, his playing style was really visual and powerful. Some die-hard AOR fans probably thought that he was "too metal" for Firefest, but he really brought a lot of action to the stage.

The band's biggest hit was the last song, a cover of Abba's "Waterloo". Not surprising because it's a song that everyone knows, and Nation's rocked-up version was very good.


Throw the Dice
Don't Need to Come
Just Before
Live in a Lie
See Them Fall
Without Remorse
You'll See


Isaac Isaacsson - vocals
Johnny Ohlin - guitar
Nobby Noberg - bass
Kaspar Dahlqvist - keyboards
Anders Wallberg - drums


Canadian bands have been a big part of the Firefest history, and this year was no exception. Each day had its' share of Canucks, and Saturday's Canadian band was Von Groove. The band released their cult classic debut in 1992 when the grunge boom was all over the place, so it didn't exactly set the charts on fire. Had it been released a few years earlier things might have been different. Anyway, the band kept releasing albums during the dark nineties, but since 2001's "The Seventh Day" they've been mostly off the radar.

The Firefest line-up of the band included the key members Mladen (guitar) and Michael Shotton (vocals), with Brighton Rock's Mark Cavarzan occupying the drum stool and new recruit Craig Brown on bass. Mladen had chosen to add a touch of theatrics to his stage presence by wearing a Clockwork Orange-inspired outfit, complete with make-up. The others had stuck to more basic outfits... The star of the band was Michael Shotton though, an old-school frontman who moved a lot and interacted with the crowd.

I was a bit disappointed in the Von Groove setlist. They did play my two favourite VG songs ("House Of Dreams" and organizer Kieran Dargan's special request "Two Nights In Tokyo"), but for some reason almost half of the set was from their rather bland "Driving Off the Edge of the World" album. Strange, as it's not their latest one or one of their most popular albums... maybe the band feels that it's an underrated gem. It does have its' moments but none of those moments were revisited at Firefest.

Kieran was invited to the stage to sing with the band before "Two Nights...", but he was nowhere to be seen. The show was closed with the band's video song "Once Is Not Enough", which was a big crowd pleaser.


Can't Get Too Much
I Can't Find My Groove
House of Dreams
Driving Off the Edge of the World
Two Nights in Tokyo
Once Is Not Enough


Michael Shotton - vocals
Mladen - guitars
Mark Cavarzan - drums
Craig Brown - bass


One of the specialities of Firefest is bringing bands back to life, and one of this year's resurrections was Heaven's Edge. This Philadelphia-based band combined Skid Row-like hard edge with more AOR-type of material on their debut in 1990, but despite having some very hit-potential tracks they didn't become a household name. They did get a cult status, and in 1999 the now-defunct MTM Music released their second album, which was actually put together mostly of their early nineties' recordings.

Heaven's Edge stormed the stage with plenty of energy. Vocalist Mark Evans looked exactly like he did on "Skin To Skin" MTV video, an eighties' styled rock god with plenty of hair. Some of the close-ups taken by our photographer revealed that he had aged a little, but he still might be a member of the "Rock Vampires" club, those lost boys who never grow old... The rest of the band had aged like the rest of us, but they still had the stamina to bounce around the stage in synchronized moves, which was pretty damn cool.

The setlist was pretty good, even though there were some criminal omissions in it. When a band has songs as good as "Come Play The Game", "Bad Reputation", "Hold On To Tonight" or "Rock Steady", how come they don't play them? Okay, they had limited amount of time, but I would have happily traded away "Don't Stop, Don't Go", "Is That All You Want" or "Can't Catch Me" for any of them, always thought those were fillers... but that's just me blowing off steam, I'm truly thankful that I got to hear the aforementioned "Skin To Skin", "Find Another Way" and the number-one-hit-ballad-that-never-was, "Just Another Fire", all classics in my books. Should they be invited back next year, they could play the ultimate, super-melodic Heaven's Edge gig and steal the show completely! :)


Play Dirty
Daddy's Little Girl
Don't Stop, Don't Go
Just Another Fire
Some Other Place - Some Other Time
Skin To Skin
Is That All You Want
Find Another Way
Can't Catch Me


Mark Evans - vocals
Reggie Wu - guitar
Stephen Parry - guitar
George "G.G." Guidotti - bass
David Rath - drums


Then on to the next band... one of the Big Ones for me, Treat. Be warned, an old geezer is going to be reminiscing next... Way back in 1986, when I was a young, impressionable young boy, I hadn't heard a single song by this Swedish band called Treat. I had only seen their happy faces and poodle perms gracing the pages of a Swedish magazine Okej, and I had a feeling that I might like their music. Then one beautiful day I came across their "Pleasure Principle" album in a second hand store. It had just been released and if I remember correctly, the copy in the store had some promo sticker in it, so it must have been sold there by a
music reviewer or some other low-life like that! I handed out my hard-earned cash and became an owner of the album, hoping that it would be somewhat decent... it was, and I became a Treat fan during that afternoon. When their next album "Dreamhunter" was released, I purchased it on the day it was released and paid the full price without hearing a note.

A couple of years ago we had the pleasure of seeing the band here in Finland, when they played the "Legends Of Rock" festival in Oulu. That gig was a highlight of the year for me then, and I wasn't going to settle for anything less with Treat's Firefest appearance. There was also a sad underlying vibe to this gig, as the band had announced that they were calling it quits soon afterwards.

I will not deny the fact that the fanboy in me took over when the curtain was taken down. The only complaint I had about the gig was the fact that it was way too short, the band should have been headlining. I believe I wasn't the only one who felt like this, Rock City was packed during their set and people were singing along very loudly. Me included. The band looked pleased with the reception they got, and maybe it'll cause them to reconsider their decision...

The band's setlist was almost identical to that we saw a couple of years ago, with only "Strike Without A Warning" added and "Soul Survivor" removed, although some of it was played in the medley. They could have easily played an extra hour of nothing but great songs, but that was not to be, we had to settle for the 60 minutes allocated for them.

Afterwards, some friends of mine were saying that they were slightly disturbed by the amount of music that came from a hard drive or a tape. Maybe I had my fanboy glasses on, but I didn't notice that they relied too much on pre-recorded stuff.


The War Is Over
Strike Without a Warning
Ready for the Taking
Paper Tiger
Changes / Rev It Up / Party All Over / Too Wild / Sole Survivor
We Own the Night
Get You on the Run

Skies of Mongolia
World of Promises


Robert Ernlund - vocals
Anders Wikström - guitar
Fredrik Thomander - bass
Patrik Applegren - keyboards
Jamie Borger - drums


To follow Treat and their set of scandi-AOR classics would be a task too big for most bands. U.S. rockers Trixter were originally scheduled to try that, but they had to cancel their appearance because of some personal issues. To fill their slot the organizers reached out to long-time Firefest favourites from Sweden (again), and that band was happy to step in. The band in question was H.E.A.T., one of the hottest or very possibly THE hottest young AOR band of today.

We saw H.E.A.T. play an unforgettable gig in Helsinki earlier this year, so we knew that they were ready to take up the challenge of following Treat. Led by one of the most passionate and exuberant singers I've ever seen in Erik Grönwall, the band owned the stage from the very first moment and played a storming set that many rated as one of the best ones of the festival. Can't argue with that, just like Treat they could have been headliners as well, there were at least as many people watching their show and they would have had no trouble playing a much longer set thanks to a solid three-album back catalogue.

The recent departure of guitarist Dave Delone meant that Eric Rivers had to take care of all the guitarparts, which he did rather fluently. Sure, he might have had some help from an offstage source every now and then, but that only bothered the most demanding members of the Rock Police Squad. The rest of us were just enjoying the songs...

The band played loud, and from where I was standing they keys were at times inaudible, but apparently it was very much a question of location. I guess the "sweet spot" of Rock City isn't near the frontrows, probably somewhere near the mixing desk as usual or the balcony, as many of the YouTube videos from there had a really balanced sound.

Highlights of the set for me were "1000 Miles", the superb singalong anthem "Heartbreaker" and of course "Living On The Run", possibly my favourite song of the last few years.


Breaking the Silence
Better Off Alone
1000 Miles
Late Night Lady
Straight for Your Heart
Beg Beg Beg
Falling Down
Danger Road
In and Out of Trouble
Living on the Run
It's All About Tonight


Erik Grönwall - vocals
Eric Rivers - guitar
Jona Tee - keyboards
Jimmy Jay - bass
Crash - drums


"One for the AOR anoraks" could describe Shooting Star. They are very much a cult band and one that has been around since the late seventies. Their first few albums are considered as classics, but a lot of people rate their late eighties material highly too. There was a discussion or rather a vote on the FF Facebook page about the songs people were hoping they'd play, and it seemed that half of the voters wanted to hear early stuff and the other half were more keen on stuff from the albums "Silent Scream" and "It's Not Over". My votes went to the late eighties' songs, but apparently the band favours their "vintage material" over the latter-day tunes, as two thirds of the set was from the early albums.

What's interesting is that even though Shooting Star only played a couple of tracks from my "wishlist", I quite enjoyed their whole set. Somehow the old stuff sounded more appealinglive than from a CD. It would have been nice to hear songs like "Rebel With A Cause" or "Promises", but maybe the band thought that this was a one-time opportunity to play their "classics" to the UK audience. I could imagine that if they had replaced a song like "Hang On For Your Life" with something more recent, a lot of people would have been disappointed.

The band consisted of three long-time members, seasoned veterans Van McLain (guitar), Steve Thomas (drums) and Dennis Laffoon (keyboards) and a more recent addition to the band, vocalist Todd Pettygrove. He was a striking figure, a bodybuilder type of a guy and a good frontman for the band. His vocals were really good, he could easily do justice to the songs originally sung by Gary West and Keith Mitchell. The slightly unusual line-up of the band would be material for that Firefest Trivial Pursuit game... "which Firefest line-up featured two bands with no bass player?"...

To be honest, as I suspected that the band wouldn't play many of my favourite songs, my expectations weren't very high for their gig. The setlist was pretty much what I expected it to be, but I was still positively surprised. I'm glad we didn't do what a lot of peopledid - take a dinner break during Shooting Star's performance... it's not everyday you can see AOR legends live!


Summer Sun
It's Not Over
Are You On My Side
Flesh & Blood
Somewhere in Your Heart
Bring It On
Touch Me Tonight
Hang On For Your Life
Last Chance


Van McLain - guitar
Steve Thomas - drums
Dennis Laffoon - keyboards
Todd Pettygrove - vocals


Saturday's headliners were Hardline. Only vocalist Johnny Gioeli remains from the band's original line-up which recorded the classic "Double Eclipse" album in 1991, and each one of the albums released after it has featured a different line-up. The Hardline we saw on stage was different again to the one that played on the band's most recent "Danger Zone" album, with Josh Ramos returing to the guitar duties and the rhtythm section of Anna Portalupi and Mike Terrana being temporarily replaced by Nik Mazzocconi and Mark Cross. The main songwriter of "Danger Zone", keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio completed the line-up.

Possibly because of the temporary band members and limited rehearsal time, the Hardline set was a rather short one. They played only 12 songs, filling the set with a keyboard solo and a drum solo. That was a bit disappointing, but thankfully among the 12 songs there were some truly memorable moments. "Everything" was a "goosebumps" moment for me, as was "Hot Cherie", which featured Jeff Scott Soto sharing vocals with Gioeli.

One of the most memorable songs of the whole festival was "In This Moment", the superb ballad from the "Leaving The End Open" album. Del Vechhio played a lengthy intro to it, with Gioeli dedicating the song to a friend of his who recently lost his son in an accident. The lyrics of the song suddendly came to life, and Gioeli's heartfelt vocals enhanced the message. A truly special moment.


Danger Zone
Takin' Me Down
Fever Dreams
Dr. Love
In This Moment
Keyboard Solo
Drum Solo
Life's a Bitch
In the Hands of Time
Hot Cherie
Rhythm from a Red Car


Johnny Gioeli - vocals
Josh Ramos - guitar
Alessandro Del Vecchio - keyboards
Nik Mazzocconi - bass
Mark Cross - drums



The previous day had been a great one, and I had high hopes for the last FF day too. It turned out to be an eventful one, with both positive and negative surprises.


The openers of the previous days had been good, but Eclipse were probably my favourite opening act of the festival. They played a dynamic set with full of energy, melody and almost metallic power. They were certainly not a wimp rock band, they rocked hard yet their hooks were lethally sharp. The Man Of The Moment, Erik "Hit Machine" Mårtensson is not only a Songwriter to the Stars but also a star himself, and the rest of the band are great players and performers as well.

The first three songs of the set were pure hard rock heaven for me - kicking off with the frantic "Wyld One", then one of my favourites from their latest album, the anthemic "Ain't Dead Yet" and the great opening track of the said album, "Wake Me Up". A real triple treat of kick-ass melodic hard rock.

"Battlegrounds" with its' celtic leanings or the balladic "A Bitter Taste" weren't my favourites but the Firefest crowd loved them. For me they were "a calm before the storm", as the rest of the set was immaculate. "Bleed And Scream" (feat. Mr. Cameo - Jeff Scott Soto), "S.O.S." and "Breaking My Heart Again" are among my favourite Eclipse tracks, so I was in hard rock heaven again... An excellent start for Sunday, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were to make an appearance again next year. A lot of people have already expressed that they'd like to see them play a longer set.



Wylde One
Ain't Dead Yet
Wake Me Up
A Bitter Taste
Bleed and Scream
Breaking My Heart Again


Erik Mårtensson - vocals
Magnus Henriksson - guitar
Robban Back - drums
Lars Peter Hallgren - bass
Johan Berlin - keyboards



Making a reappearance after their successful visit last year, Canadian rockers Brighton Rock had a bit of a challenge to match the explosion of energy that had taken place on the same stage before them. However, the 20-minute intervals between the bands somehow give the crowd a change to recharge the batteries and in true Firefest fashion, no matter what has happened before, each band is welcomed with big cheers and hands in the air.

There was surprisingly lot of room on the floor during Brighton Rock's set, so I assume that the band's harder-edged sound didn't appeal to some Firefest visitors. Still, they had a lot of fans in the audience too - after all, they were asked to come back.

The band kicked off their set with the song that closed their set last year; "Bulletproof", followed by their anthem "Young, Wild And Free". The band had some technical issues with the keyboards during "Outlaw", but they soldiered on. Two of their biggest hits were played next, "We Came To Rock" and "One More Try", on which vocalist Gerry McGhee again attempted to make the crowd sing the chorus. Gerry, Gerry.... it's just too high-pitched for us mere mortals!

"Who's Foolin' Who" was a cool addition to the setlist, a song from "Take A Deep Breath" album but as I remember correctly, it wasn't on the LP version. For "Jack Is Back" Mr. McGhee found himself a mask, to add some theatrics to the dramatic song. Unfortunately we only got a couple of so-so photos of that...

Even though the setlist of this gig was even better than the one they played last year somehow I'd still rate their first appearance as the better of the two. Maybe it was the thrill of seeing them for the first time, that's always special...


Young, Wild and Free
We Came to Rock
One More Try
Who's Foolin' Who
Hangin' High & Dry
Jack Is Back
Unleash the Rage


Gerry McGhee - vocals
Greg Fraser - guitar
Johnny Rogers - guitar, keyboards
Steve Skreebs - bass
Mark Cavarzan - drums


Sunday's "one for the Anoraks" band was most definitely Prophet. Their pomp-rock and prog influenced music was a bit of a departure from the more straight-forward melodic rock of most of the other bands, and I guess for many they were one of the less familiar acts. Most of us "old geezers" who were following the scene back in the eighties probably have "Cycle Of The Moon" in our collection, possibly even their debut which featured the one and only Ted Poley on drums.

The band photo in the back cover of "Cycle..." and their one music video from 1988 potrayed a band with a typical late eighties' look, a lot of hair and leather. Vocalist Russell Arcara bore a striking resemblance to Paul Stanley... the years have done what they tend to do, and I have to admit that I didn't recognize any of the band members when I passed them in the hotel lobby before the gig.

Prophet's set was understandably heavy on the tracks from "Cycle Of The Moon" album, but I was surprised that they played as many as four songs from their last album "Recycled" and only one from the debut. Of course the fact that Arcara didn't sing on the debut may have affected that.

The band's performance was musically top notch, but visually they were rather stagnant and serious-looking, to the extent of me wondering whether they were actually enjoying themselves at all... I suppose they did, but it's probably hard to smile when you're playing tricky, proggy chord progressions one after another. Their music isn't three-chord party rock...

My favourite moments of their set were the two classic AOR tracks from "Cycle..." - "Can't Hide Love" and the video track "Sound of a Breaking Heart". I wasn't really familiar with the songs from "Recycled" though. As much as the die-hards enjoyed the instrumental "Hyperspace", it went a bit over my head. I looked around during it, and noticed that a lot of people were texting or checking internet on their phones or just standing there with a puzzled look on their face... then again, one very enthusiastic fellow was standing at the front, playing air guitar and keyboards intensely, obviously loving every moment of it...


Restless Hunger
Can't Hide Love
Cycle of the Moon
Street Fighter
Peace Of Mind
Power Play
Run With The Pack
Sound of a Breaking Heart
Red Line Rider


Russell Arcara - vocals
Ken Dubman - guitar
Scott Metaxas - bass
Bill Delicato - keys
Jim Callahan - drums


I had heard that Alien blew the roof off during their previous appearance at Firefest, but I still wasn't prepared for what I heard. One of the original Swedish "poodle rock bands", the band simply showed everyone how it's done, and played a magical set of marvelous AOR music. The poodle haircuts are nothing but a memory by now, but otherwise the band had not lost anything.

Concentrating on their classic debut album, the band gave us fine renditions of "Go Easy", "Brave New Love", "Tears Don't Put Out The Fire" and other fine tracks from it. The band's biggest hit in Sweden was "Only One Woman", which went to number one there, and naturally it was played at Firefest too. To be honest, I've never really cared for the recorded version, but thanks to a stunning vocal performance from Jim Jidhed, the song turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole festival. Simply incredible, check it out from YouTube if you weren't there.

Another highlight of Alien's set was the new song they played, a really melodic rocker called "In Love We Trust", which promises good things for the next album. Hopefully it will also include the classy ballad "Ready To Fly" that's been out as a single for a couple of years. It was performed at Firefest too, and sounded really great.


Touch My Fire
Go Easy
Now Love
Tears Don't Put Out the Fire
Jaimie Remember
Only One Woman
Brave New Love
In Love We Trust
I've Been Waiting
Ready to Fly
Dying by the Golden Rule


Jim Jidhed - vocals
Tony Borg - guitar
Ken Sandin - bass
Jimmy Wandroph - keyboards
Toby Tarrach - drums


When Baton Rouge was announced as one of Sunday's bands, I was really thrilled. "Shake Your Soul" is one of my favourite albums of all time, and I was really looking forward to hearing songs from it live, and possibly some gems from the other two albums too. Well, they did play seven songs from the debut... but their show ended up being something other than a highlight of the festival.

I met vocalist Kelly Keeling the previous day. I told him that I was looking forward to the show, and he replied something that I didn't quite comprehend. I gathered that he was trying to save his voice and wasn't willing to talk too much, so we respected that and left him alone. With this incident in the back of my mind, I was hoping for the best when the band started their set. "With the mornin' light sneakin' through in a cold, cold sweat I shake for you"... I have heard that intro hundreds of times from the CD (and an LP and a cassette before that!), so chills went down my spine when I finally heard it live.

It soon became obvious that Keeling's voice wasn't in shape at all. I tried to concentrate on the positive things and sang along to the songs, but it was pretty painful to listen to him struggling. As the show went on, I could sense that the frustration of not being able to do what he was supposed to do started to take its' toll on Keeling and his stage antics started to reflect that. The tension between him and guitarist Lance Bulen wasn't hard to notice. The situation on stage seemed to be very strange, and it things heated up towards the end of the set.

The beautiful ballad "There Was A Time (The Storm)" was done as an stripped down version with drummer Corky McClellan on acoustic guitar. The three-part background vocals made it sound great, and even Keeling sounded good when he didn't desperately try to hit those highest notes.

A new song, possibly called "Nothing You Can Do" sounded pretty good, you could hear some Baton Rouge trademarks in it. The band's first single/video "Walks Like A Woman" was greeted with big cheers, although the performance wasn't probably the tightest one they've played... especially the ending was a bit strange, not to mention Keeling's crowd surfing. Yeah, it's all rock'n roll...

Bulen took over the vocals for another new song "She's a Crazy One", an okay track but not as good as the other new one. Then it was time for something off "Lights Out In The Playground" or the self-titled album, right? Wrong. For some reason, the band played a very long version of Gary Moore's "All Messed Up" and indeed everything fell apart. The crowd had started to thin already after a few songs, but now it turned into exodus. The final nail in the coffin was another throwaway cover, a CCR song... and that was it for us, we had heard enough.

The area outside the venue was pretty crowded. Among the people there was a fellow Finnish guy who we had met earlier that day, and both of us had been excited over the fact that we were about to see Baton Rouge live. Now he sat there on the stairs in a state of shock, with his head buried into his hands...


Baby's So Cool
Big Trouble
Bad Time Comin' Down
Hot Blood Movin'
There Was a Time (The Storm)
Nothing You Can Do
Walks Like a Woman
She's a Crazy One
All Messed Up
Born on the Bayou


Kelly Keeling - vocals
Lance Bulen - guitar, vocals
Corky McClellan - drums, guitar
Scott Bender - bass


The disappointment of the previous act was washed away by JSRG, which really was Vixen by another name, featuring three members of the band's best known line-up.

The band kicked it off with three songs from their second album "Rev It Up". The title track set the mood perfectly, boasting a cool hard rockin' edge, while "How Much Love" was one of the set's highlights with its' catchy "whoa whoa's" and the killer chorus. Vocalist Janet Gardner played rhythm guitar for these two tracks, but after them she left the guitar duties to Gina Stile, the "new girl" of the band. Well, "new" is not entirely accurate as she was in the band already back in 1998...

The Jeff Paris-penned "Cryin'" was a big hit with the crowd, as was the stomping "I want You To Rock Me". The Neil Young-cover "Rockin' in the Free World" was sung by bassist Share Ross, allowing Janet a little break. Share did a good job and even though I might have preferred a Vixen song instead, this cover worked very well.

Over the years, I've grown to like "Love Is A Killer" a lot. When I first heard it in 1990, I foolishly didn't appreciate it completely, but now that I'm older and wiser, I consider it as one of my favourite Vixen songs. It was great to hear it live and notice that Janet Gardner could still sing it convincingly.

The next highlight was the band's first hit "Edge of a Broken Heart". A week before Firefest we heard the sad news that Vixen's founding member Jan Kuehnemund had lost her battle against cancer - a battle that very few knew she had been fighting. "Edge..." was dedicated to her, and the performance was perhaps the most emotional one of the whole festival. A "Not a dry in in the house" moment.

As an encore, we got an interesting, rocking cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep". Yeah, maybe a Vixen original would have been just as good, but everyone knew the song and happily sang along.

It was funny to notice how the number of cameras multiplied, it seemed like every other guy dug a camera from their pocket.I even saw someone filming with an actual video camera... so rest assured that JSRG's show has been very thoroughly captured by dozens of videographers. Okay, I took some photos as well, and managed to capture a Firefest legend Tony M. to one of my photos... you can find the photo on Facebook and Flickr.


Rev It Up
How Much Love
Bad Reputation
I Want You to Rock Me
Streets in Paradise
Rockin' in the Free World
Love Is a Killer
Never Say Never
Wrecking Ball
Edge of a Broken Heart

Rolling in the Deep


Janet Gardner - vocals, guitar
Roxy Petrucci - drums
Share Ross - bass, vocals
Gina Stile - guitar


All good things come to an end, and DANGER DANGER were the band to close this year's Firefest. We had already seen quite a few brilliant performances, but I have to say that the D2 boys topped 'em all. With a setlist that was almost identical to the "Best Of Danger Danger" CD I had compiled a few weeks before Firefest, I got to hear almost all the songs I had dared to hope for.

It was the wrong country but the right place I had my doubts about the headliners. Only a few weeks before the show, two of the three vocalists were changed. Fergie Frederiksen and Joe Lynn Turner were scheduled to appear as "Legends", but Fergie's health prevented him from performing and Joe Lynn Turner had other interests apparently. Their place was taken by another Toto vocalist and another Rainbow vocalist, namely Bobby Kimball and Graham Bonnet.

Some people were nagging about the headliner being a "cover band", and to be honest, I wasn't really too excited about them either. I should have known better, their show was a lot of fun. Basically it was 90 minutes of singing along to some very familiar songs.

Graham Bonnet was the first "Legend" on stage, with "All Night Long" starting the singalong party instantly. His other two songs weren't as well-known though, rock classics but not the kind of songs everyone has heard. Bonnet's full-throttle singing isn't everyone's cup of tea and maybe it wasn't his most polished performance of all time, but I thought he was pretty good.

My favourite part of the show was Eric Martin's songs. Not only is he a fine, soulful singer, he's also a very funny guy. Later that night we had the priviledge of taking a couple of photos with him and spending a couple of minutes with him, he was a really nice guy. Even though he's a rock'n roll vampire who doesn't age like the rest of us...

There was of special guest on stage too, Bob Catley of Magnum sang "Wild World" with Eric Martin. Of course certain mr. Soto made another cameo appearance, this time as a guitar roadie...

Bobby Kimball's set included the obvious Toto-classics "Africa" (with P-O Nilsson singing the verses) and "Rosanna" but also a couple of slightly "deeper cuts", "Girl Goodbye" and "White Sister". Especially the latter was a very hard rocking track. Kimball did a pretty good job too.

There were times when I felt really proud of us Firefesters, it was really overwhelming to listen the whole crowd singing together. The last three songs were particulary fine, I don't think I've ever felt this kind of togetherness at any concert. All legends were on stage, supporting each other, and the crowd really was the extra member of the band.


All Night Long
Desert Song
Love's No Friend
Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)
Alive and Kickin'
Wild World
Addicted to That Rush
Girl Goodbye
White Sister
Since You've Been Gone
To Be With You
Hold The Line


Graham Bonnet - vocals
Eric Martin - vocals, guitar
Bobby Kimball - vocals
Tommy Denander - guitar
Sayit Dolen - guitar
Pontus Engborg - drums
P-O Nilsson - keyboards, vocals
Ken Sandin - backing vocals
Joel Starander - bass


After the show, there was a nice afterparty kind of a thing in the hotel bar, and we hung around there for a while. The family vibe continued, and we met a lot of nice people, both stars of the 'Fest and fellow fans.

Final words then... we loved it last year, but this year it was even better. Great bands, great shows, great people... Next year it's the last one, and even though it will be sad to say goodbye, I'm sure it will be the best weekend of the year again. If you have been to Firefest, you'll probably want to be there again, and if you haven't... as Shooting Star sang, it's your "Last Chance"!

Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen
Some additional photos by KT

Additional photos available at @ Facebook and Flickr