There's a first time for everything, and Navettarok 2009 was the first rock festival held in a barnyard we have attended! It was also the first time this festival has been organized, and we were curious to see how it would turn out. The people behind it had managed to put together a respectable line-up of mid-league bands and smaller, locall names, but they had some major competition - the Sonicsphere event with Metallica took place the same weekend, as did Tall Ships' Race, a huge sailboat event that attracted hundreds of thousands visitors to nearby Turku. Not to mention the annual Down By The Laituri festival which was about to start on the following week. How would a small festival in a slightly remote location succeed?
Thanks to its' unusual location, the festival got its' fair share of publicity during the last two or three weeks prior to the event. The festival was also heavily advertised in the local media, so things didn't look too bad.
We skipped the first few acts (rap, reggae and whatever...), and arrived just in time to see ELEMENTS, a female-fronted melodic metal band. The turnout was a bit of a surprise - there were about five or six people watching the band in the frontrow (the only row in fact), with maybe a dozen or so somewhere in the back. This could've been explained if they had been the first band, but no, the festival had been going on for hours. Normal ticketholders weren't even able to leave the area, so where were they? Could it be that some people had come to see the rap/reggae acts only, and that they had already left when the rock bands started to play?
Anyway, I felt sorry for Elements who had to play to an empty field, but I guess it's better to play to an audience of 20 than to the walls of a rehearsal room... They did try their best to get some crowd participation, but that's unlikely to happen when there's no crowd to speak of. Their music was okay, slightly like Nightwish but without keyboards and memorable songs I'm afraid. The vocals of Ida Lindell aren't quite in the league of Anette or Tarja either.
After the Elements, there was a change-over that would have lasted over an hour, so we took advantage of the media passes and left the area for a while. Apparently most of the youth of Lieto had found their way to the neigborhood, as there were more teenagers outside the gates than inside the festival area. Maybe they were expecting their friends with staff/volunteer passes to sneak them in...
As the sun went down, like bats out of hell (...) we re-entered the festival area to check out the two bigger bands of the first day, 51 KOODIA and Thunderstone. 51 Koodia have released three albums and scored a few radio hits, but my previous knowledge of them was limited to... well, I actually thought they were some sort of a rap metal group or something, and didn't realize they were behind the radio hit "Kauas". Not that I'm a huge fan of the song, it actually sounded a bit forced live, and the material from the band's latest album "Mustat Sydämet" sounded far more impressive. A metal-edged, modern rock sound with strong melodies is how I'd describe the band now, and I think I'll have to check out their albums later.
When it comes to the turnout, things looked a little brighter. There were maybe 50 people watching 51 Koodia, and a few others enjoying the festival athmosphere in the bar. I doubt that anyone had to wait in line to get a drink...
At midnight, THUNDERSTONE were ready to introduce their new singer Rick Altzi to the people at Navettarok. Even though they were the headliners, I don't think that there were more than 50-70 people watching their set at best. If that bothered the band they didn't show it, instead they gave us an energetic, entertaining performance.
New shouter Rick Altzi proved himself as a worthy replacement for Pasi Rantanen. With guitarist Nino Laurenne and stand-in bass player Mikko Salovaara (the real TS bassist Titus Hjelm wasn't able to take part in this show) doing their share of the headbanging and all sorts of messing around, the band had a strong "frontline", who put up a good show. Also relatively new to the line-up was the keyboard player Jukka Karinen, who provided nice textures and background vocals to Thunderstone's sound. Drummer Mirka Rantanen was demanded to play a drumsolo by the audience, which was another first for me - I've never heard the crowd chanting "drumsolo! drumsolo!" between just about every song. Mirko did play one, and made the diehards happy.
Thunderstone showcased a few songs from their new album "Dirt Metal" (to be released 9.9.2009) in their setlist. It's said to be a heavier album than before, and the material we heard confirmed that. They played the first single "I Almighty", the lengthy "Suffering Song" and the title track, which was heavy, but catchy. Some of the new songs were almost in the Megadeth style, although with superior vocals.
Naturally, the set featured such hits as "Until We Touch The Burning Sun", "Forevermore", "10000 Ways" and "Tool Of The Devil". I was expecting their other Eurovision Song contest contender "Face In The Mirror" as the encore, but apparently there was a tight curfew and thus no encore.
On Sunday, we arrived early to catch the first band KILPI, another metal band with a connection to the Eurovision song contest - a year earlier than Thunderstone they were in the contest and fared quite well. The winner of that year's Finnish contest went on to win the whole thing - I'm talking about LORDI of course.
I've seen a few KILPI shows and they never really disappoint, thanks to the stong song material. They are not the most exciting live band to watch, but their set is usually well constructed, one hit after another and a couple of album tracks inbetween. Now that they were playing at noon, they got additional lighting support from above, with the sunrays creating a rather "heavenly" effect to the stage. Take a look at the pics - Stryper eat yer heart out!
The Kilpi line-up went from 6 to 5 recently, when keyboard player Kukkis Kukkola left the band. The band decided to continue without the keys. I was a bit afraid that it might have done harm to their sound but no, the band still sounded good. All in all, the gig was one of the more spirited ones I've seen from them, and they actually pulled in a respectably sized crowd (compared to the previous day), maybe a hundred or possibly even two hundred altogether.
Songs in the setlist (in no particular order and some may be missing): "Tuli, Vesi, Ilma ja Maa", "Savuna Ilmaan", "Sielut Iskee Tulta", "Nerokasta Ikävää", "Villin Vaaran Kosto", "Tähti", "Kunnes Kuolema Meidät Erottaa".
When Kilpi finished, the crowd did a disappearing act, and when the next band SISTER MANIK started, they had to play to a nearly empty field and the three or four fans in the front. I've been looking forward to seeing the band live, as I've kept an eye on them for a few years, and they've released some decent material in the past. Even the new material in MySpace sounded quite good, so hopes were high that they'd put on a stormin' set.
I don't know what it was, maybe the lack of people and athmosphere, but the gig wasn't much to shout about. Sure, the band played and sang well, but somehow their songs - old or new - didn't leave much of an impression. Again I felt sorry for them - the lack of audience must've affected the band too. Maybe the band would be more suited to a more intimate club setting.
The GreenBee were up next. Former solo artist, Hungarian-born Marky Bee is the band's lead singer, while the main songwriter is guitarist Tony Green, a former solo artist as well. Get the band's name? Good. The GreenBee play funky rock that bears similarities to the music of Lenny Kravitz, JSS (formely known as Jeff Scott Soto), Living Colour, Dan Reed Network or even Faith No More. I feel that they have immense potential, and in Marky Bee they have a really great frontman - he can sing and he looks like a natural performer. They have a set of solid songs, but I do feel that their big hit single is still to be written (or wasn't played at Navettarok), since the best hookline of their set was unfortunately in "Stone Me Into The Groove", a cover of the Atomic Swing track. Once they pull that (and hopefully a few other killer tracks) out of their hat, I'm sure that they'll be on their way to bigger things.
The GreenBee attracted more people than the previous band, maybe a few dozen including the ones in the bar area. Thr relatively low number of people didn't seem to be a problem for them, they put on a good show and especially Marky Bee shook his dreadlocks as if he was in front of thousands of people.
After The GreenBee we decided to the take a break and headed home, with the purpose of returning to see at least a couple of bands. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that. I assume that more people came to the festival to see Sunday's remaining bands, as the organisers have been quoted in the local newspaper saying that hundreds of people attended the festival, maybe even a thousand on Sunday. Those figures seem a little optimistic compared to what we saw.
The organisers have promised that there will be another Navettarok next year, which is of course a good thing. They have probably learned a lot this year, and hopefully next year's festival is more popular. The PR machine should start working a bit earlier, maybe a little less bands in the line-up, no one-hour breaks between them unless there's some additional activity... and if the festival is still a two-day event, the Sunday's program should end sooner, because most of the people have to be at work on monday morning.