Rock Weekend AOR - 19-20 February 2016 - En Arena, Stockholm, Sweden

Well it was about time. Sweden has been the hotbed of melodic rock for quite some time, so it was only natural for someone to set up an AOR festival there.
Enter Johan ”Dr. AOR” Nylen, a Firefest crew member and Martinus Ericsson, the founder of RockWeekend Festival, and things started happening. Good things.

With so much homegrown AOR talent in Sweden, most of the line-up was Swedish. Probably a wise choice for the first edition of this festival, since flying in international bands isn’t an easy or inexpensive thing to do. There were some foreign artists though, headliners FM came from the U.K. and Ted Poley flew in from the U.S.A.. The RWAOR ALLSTARS band had a couple of Italian guests, Michele Luppi and Alessandro Del Vecchio.

The Friday’s 4-band line-up was marketed as ”a Toto afterparty”. Toto played a gig at a nearby venue earlier that night, and the RWAOR schedule was designed to cater to the Toto fans. They had enough time to walk from the concert venue to En Arena.

En Arena might be a lunch restaurant during the week, but apparently it could be transformed into a rock club type of a venue. I thought it was a rather good location, close to the hotels and public transportation. Inside the venue there was a decent sized stage, a room for the merch, two bars and a V.I.P. area. There was even a dedicated balcony for us press people to take a break and get some ”aerial view” shots of the bands. The main floor had a part of it separated into a V.I.P. ”golden box” or whatever, which seemed to me a little unnecessary. The venue was so compact in size that virtually every spot of it was a V.I.P. spot.

I’ll have to congratulate the sound people for making all the bands sound very good. The volume levels were mostly reasonable and apart from some minor technical problems everything worked out smoothly. The only band that didn’t have a spot-on sound was FM, who played way too loud for this kind of a venue. Some of the keyboard ”parps” were just ruthless! Thankfully they had a few ”mild-mannered” songs which gave the poor ears some time to recover. But more of FM later…

The first of Friday’s acts was ART NATION. This new band features the former Diamond Dawn vocalist Alexander Strandell and released one of the best debuts of last year. I was looking forward to seeing them live and they didn’t disappoint. Strandell is a good frontman with a fine voice, and the rest of the band are competent players. Considering that the band’s sound is quite keyboard-heavy, it was strange to see them without a keyboard player but thanks to modern technology, the keys were present. I don’t know what has happened, I know they had a keyboard player but his name has been erased from the band’s Facebook page. Oh well.

Art Nation played a short set, consisting of the highlights of their debut album. Their sound is quite similar to that of H.E.A.T., and Strandell’s stage presence bears some resemblance to that of Erik Grönwall, but I can’t really hold it against them. Their song material is so strong that in a couple of years they’ll be serious contenders… especially if they find their own special thing. Anyway, one of the highlights of the whole festival. And somewhat off-topic… does guitarist Christoffer Borg look an awfully lot like the keyboard player Tomi Nikulainen of Brother Firetribe? Never mind, let’s get back to the business…


I Need You To Understand
I Want Out
All In
Start A Fire
All The Way
3000 Beats
Here I Am
Wage War Against The World
Don't Wait For Salvation


DEGREED have released three critically acclaimed albums so far. They were one of the less familiar bands for me. I’ve only heard their latest album and quite liked it, but didn’t have much knowledge of them otherwise. For example, I had no clue what they’d look like… I was kind of expecting young guys with trendy hair cuts, so it was a bit of a surprise when vocalist/bassist Robin Eriksson came to the stage looking very casual and rugged, like a member of southern Rock band or something. Nothing wrong with that of course. Guitarist Daniel Johansson looked like a rocker and drummer Mats Ericsson could pass as a hard core punk drummer, so in the end it was only keyboard player Micke Jansson who looked anything like I had imagined they’d look like.

Degreed sounded a bit harder-edged than most other bands of the festival. Luckily they had enough hooks and melodies to keep the AOR loving crowd happy. Some of the highlights for me were ”Better Safe Than Sorry”, ”Shame On Me” and ”The Scam”, all from the new album ”Dead But Not Forgotten”. ”Shame On Me” is apparently Ted Poley’s favourite song, and he did a cameo appearance during that one.

Considering that the band actually had a keyboard player, the keys were pretty low in the mix. It seemed that they were mostly audible during the intros, once the rest of the band kicked in they were drowned.


Kill Your Darlings
Black Cat
A Little Bit
Shame On Me
Follow Her
Captured By The Moment
Better Safe Than Sorry
The Scam

The hard rockin’ Degreed were followed by Peter Friestedt’s LA PROJECT. The project has released two albums, all-star affairs with west-coast giants such as Joseph Williams, Randy Goodrum, Bill Champlin and Michael Ruff. With Toto in town, I guess most people were hoping for an appearance from Joseph Williams, but that was not in the cards.

The ”R” in LA Project’s ”AOR” is definitely a lowercase one, as their sound was very light and jazzy. They’re super-talented musicians, but this kind of music rarely appeals to me. Somehow I got the vision that I had walked into a scene in Miami Vice, where Crockett and Stubbs are looking for the bad guy in a bar, and a smooth band is entertaining the partygoers…

The band’s special guest was Frank Adahl, a bit of a cult figure in the Scandinavian west-coast scene. He was an impressive singer even though he looked like an algebra teacher or a business man. The keyboard player Stefan Gunnarsson sang most of the songs.

The set consisted of LA Project originals, some covers and ”Carry On” from the recent Champlin Williams Friestedt album. I have a feeling that song was tailored for Williams to come up and sing… it could very well be that something had been agreed on, but Williams was already suffering of the pneumonia that kept him from singing in Helsinki two days later.


The Border
Love Is A Powerful Thing
Carry On
Gotta Find It
Going Home
What's Going On
There Ain't Nothin'
I Will Find You There
Signed Sealed Delivered


HOUSTON were the last band of the day, although LA Project seemed to be marketed as the headliners and had a longer set. Their set was scheduled to start 5 minutes past two, but they actually started a few minutes earlier. As we were taking a break at the hotel, we missed the two first songs. The songs that we did get to hear sounded great, and they were among my favorites of this festival.

The band released a new single just before the festival, but that new modern rock/pop-oriented song wasn’t in the setlist, it was all ”pure AOR” for the diehards. We were treated to a couple of covers, Sir Michael Bolton’s ”Carrie” and Dakota’s ”Runaway”, but I guess it says something that the Houston originals could stand proudly next to those songs.

The biggest shocker of the Houston set for some was probably the new look of vocalist Hank Erix. He’s grown himself a massive beard, probably the first of its’ kind I’ve seen on a melodic rock frontman. What’s next? A cover of Jackyl’s ”The Lumberjack” complete with a chainsaw? He could pull it off more convincingly now than Jesse James Dupree ever…


I'm Coming Home
Standing On The Moon
Truth Slips
Hold On
Return My Heart


On Saturday before the official festival started there was a special acoustic show for the VIP’s and media. Ted Poley and Alien performed short acoustic sets, and they were both rather enjoyable.

Ted Poley was first on stage, with an all-Swedish band. The band featured two members of Dynasty, guitarist Love Magnusson and Jonathan Olsson on bass, Jonas Olson’s brother Samuel on keys and Viktor Henriksson on drums. They provided rather fine backing vocals to the songs, which sounded really nice in their stripped form.

During ”Don’t Walk Away” Ted did his well-known stroll among the crowd, and people loved it. A lot of selfies and photos were taken, and Ted’s reputation as one of the coolest, most audience-friendly guys just kept on growing.


Feels Like Love
Shot Of Love
Turn It On
Don't Walk Away
Bang Bang
I Still Think About You
Monkey Business





Alien then… this was the first gig ever when Jim Jidhed played acoustic guitar (or ”got promoted” as he said himself). He could have played an ukulele or a banjo just as well, because everything and everyone else was pretty much overshadowed by his voice. This gentleman can sing! Now sporting the longest hair in the band, he looks more like a rock singer than ever before. And the voice… The voice is still there, just as good as ”back in the day” but with a bit of grit in it. I don’t think he has lost any of his range and even if he has, I don’t care. There’s so much warmth, experience and passion in his singing which compensates everything.

Highlights of the set included the AOR classic ”Go Easy”, the truly moving ballad ”In Truth”, dedicated to a fan that passed away and the obligatory ”Only One Woman”.

SETLIST (or parts of it):

Go Easy
What Goes Up
Only One Woman
In Truth

Saturday’s official opener was GRAND DESIGN. I know I’ve questioned the band’s shameless Def Leppardisms, but I can’t deny that their songs are good and they work well live. Vocalist Pelle Seether is an old-school frontman with a classic mikestand ”choreography” and his unique high-pitched voice really does sound similar to what you can hear on GD albums.

The band’s multilayered harmonies were somewhat enhanced by backing tapes, but that’s quite understandable. They should have had a dozen singers on stage to totally replicate them! The whole band did sing their hearts out though.

I consider Grand Design as one of the winners of RWAOR - since the gig I’ve listened to their music more than ever before.


U Got Me Good
Rock Back To The Eighties
Love Sensation
Get Up 'n Love Someone
Air It Out
10 Outta 10
Rock'n Roll Heart Attack
Let's Rawk The Night


COASTLAND RIDE hadn’t ever played live before this event, they’ve been solely a studio project. Now they made their live debut to an audience that was just about perfect for them - hardcore AOR fans.

Coastland Ride are one of those bands who sit on the fence between AOR and West-Coast music. I wouldn’t mind if they fell to the AOR side completely, but currently I’d say they’re more on the West-Coast side of the fence.

They opened with my favourite song of theirs, ”Let Me Let You Go”. Vocalist Markus Nordenberg wasn’t certainly holding back, he gave it his all and I was actually worried that he’d lose his voice after a couple of songs. Fortunately that didn’t happen, although he got more and more raspy as the show went on.

Coastland Ride were a rather popular band and made a lot of new friends with their professional and slick set. I enjoyed their set, although the more west-coast type of songs were just too bland for me. Highlights: the aforementioned ”Let Me Let You Go”, ”Hearts To The Flame” and ”Act Of Faith”.


Let Me Let You Go
Second Chance
On The Path Of Greed
Made Up My Mind
Hearts To The Flame
On Top Of The World
Believe In Me
Act Of Faith
Nailed To The Cross

ALIEN gave a serious storm warning with their acoustic set, and once they cranked it up, there was thunder’n lightning of the musical kind at the venue. Alien delivered probably my favourite set of the day. Starting with a trio of ”love” songs (see the setlist below!), the band took no prisoners and just slayed the competition. ”You might know this one”, Jim Jidhed introduced the next one and judging by the reaction, just about everyone in the crowd knew ”Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire”. Even more ecstatic was the reaction to ”Go Easy”.

A definite highlight of an Alien gig is ”Only One Woman”, which made them stars in Sweden in 1988. It’s a cover and not a song I’m particulary fond of, but damn, Jim Jidhed just owns it live. I knew what to expect, but he still managed to blow my mind with his performance.

A special mention goes to Tony Berg for some fine guitar playing, Ken Sandin for bass and fine backing vocals, Jimmy Sandorph for stylish keyboard work and Toby Tarrach for the back beat… and that’s about sums it up! First class AOR all the way.


In Love We Trust
Brave New Love
Summer Of Love
Tears Don't Put Out The Fire
Go Easy
What Goes Up
Touch My Fire
Dying By The Golden Rule
Only One Woman
Feel My Love


SNAKES IN PARADISE is a semi-legendary Swedish band that emerged to the scene maybe a couple of years too late. Had they been around in 1987, things might have been different. Their exclusive comeback after a few years’ break had given them a rather high slot in the line-up, which in hindsight didn’t match their popularity. The crowd thinned a little after Alien.

As we’re not huge SIN fans, we had already decided that we might take a dinner break during their set, once Mira had taken the photos. ”Seventh Wonder” made me re-think the situation, because it sounded very good and Stefan Berggren impressed with his voice. It was followed by ”The Night Goes On” which didn’t work for me at all, and
while ”Don't Let Your Love Turn To Hate” sounded nice enough, the hunger got the best of us.

Now looking at the setlist, I’m still slightly kicking myself, as the band did play some of my favourite songs of theirs. They even played ”Love Got Wings”, a song that I actually heard for the first time earlier that day, played by one of the DJ’s between the sets. ”Hmm, sounds great, gotta check it out who this is later”…I didn’t find out before I stumbled into a live clip from this festival!


Seventh Wonder
The Night Goes On
Don't Let Your Love Turn To Hate
Voice Inside
Rather Stand The Rain
When The Dream Is Gone
Gypsy In Your Blood
Deep In Your Heart
Love Got Wings
Take Me To The River

Next band on stage was RWAOR ALL STARS. The rhythm section from Degreed, the keyboard player Samuel Olsson from Ted Poley’s band and Magnus ”The Hat” Henriksson from Eclipse on guitar were the core of the band, with various artists guesting. According to the RWAOR press release, All Stars would have been playing ”obscure AOR classics”, but that wasn’t really the case, they played classics all right but hardly obscure.

Nils Moline of Dynasty was the first vocalist and he belted out Talisman’s ”I’ll Be Waiting” and Leppard’s ”Stagefright”. A high-energy start for the show! Robin Eriksson took over the vocal duties for Survivor’s ”Oceans”, which was probably the closest thing to an ”obscure” song in this set but familiar to most of the crowd anyway.

For the next two songs, two aliens were invited to join the party. Ken Sandin played bass and Jim Jidhed sang two songs from his 1989 solo album. Come to think of it, ”All I Want Is You” must have been the most obscure song of the set. It wasn’t a single and the album wasn’t widely distributed worldwide. ”Don’t Lose Any Sleep” from the same album is rather well-known Diane Warren song that has been covered by Robin Beck, Starship and John Waite.

Nils Molin returned to sing ”You’re The Voice” with Ericsson, and then it was time to invite another guest. Current Whitesnake keyboard player Michele Luppi played keys for Yngwie’s ”Heaven Tonight” with Molin on vocals, and then joined him to sing Europe’s ”Superstitious”.

Another Italian keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio was the next guest, playing keys on ”Out In The Fields” and then stepping to the limelight to sing his own song ”Fever Dreams”, recorded by Hardline.

With an official member of Whitesnake in the house, a couple of ’snake tracks were naturally in the setlist. Luppi sang ”Is This Love” and ”Still Of The Night”, with a nice rendition of ”Forever” by Kiss in-between. The set closer was ”Long Live Rock’n Roll”, the classic Rainbow track. Molin and Luppi on vocals for that one.

All in all a very entertaining set with some great songs. Not obscure but great anyway. And the amount of vocal power on stage… immense. Not to mention Magnus the shredder, who moved effortlessly from Malmsteen to Survivor. He’s a bit of a guitar hero.


I'll Be Waiting
All I Want Is You
Don't Lose Any Sleep
You're The Voice
Heaven Tonight
Out In The Fields
Fever Dreams
Is This Love
Still Of The Night
Long Live Rock'n Roll


Ted Poley’s electric double-D experience looked on paper like the party set of the weekend. It wasn’t, we got an introspective set of meticulously crafted progressive rock ballads… Okay, I know I’m not fooling anyone! When Ted’s on stage it’s party time!

Kicking off with full-throttle versions of ”Horny S.O.B” and the only non-Danger Danger song, Bone Machine’s ”Man Alive”, Ted and his band were rocking hard for the first 8 minutes. ”Shot Of Love” from the ”lost album” ”Cockroach” lead us to a selection of tracks from the classic first D2 album. ”Bang Bang” worked great as always and during ”Don’t Walk Away” Ted walked away again. A special personal highlight for me was ”Under The Gun”. Alessandro Del Vecchio played keyboards on it.

The big hit ballad that never was - ”I Still Think About You” - was a crowdpleaser, but ”Naughty Naughty” was even more so. It featured a bit of ”Rock’n Roll All Nite” too. Because I didn’t take notes, I can’t confirm it, but I’m pretty sure that ”Monkey Business” was omitted from the setlist…


Horny S.O.B.
Man Alive
Shot Of Love
Turn It On
Bang Bang
Don't Walk Away
Feels Like Love
Under The Gun
I Still Think About You
Naughty Naughty/Rock'n Roll All Nite


The headliners FM got to the stage around midnight, a few minutes late I think. I had secured a place in the front row, but had to take a few steps back once the band started playing. The volume levels had been reasonable for all the other bands, but for the headliners someone decided to CRANK IT UP! It wasn’t me alone, I saw several people covering their ears. But credit where credit’s due, it was loud yet clear…

The first part of the set consisted of the band’s debut album ”Indiscreet”. It’s a classic all right, and I loved songs like ”I Belong To The Night” and ”Love Lies Dying”. There’s not a bad track on the album in fact.

A single-only track ”Let Love Be The Leader” got a surprisingly great reaction, but the next couple of songs weren’t as eagerly awaited I guess. Then it happened, something I had only dared to dream about - my all-time favourite FM song and one of my top 10 songs of all time had been dusted off and added to the setlist. Yes, I’m talking about ”Someday (You'll Come Running)”. Apparently it’s not an easy song to sing and the band hasn’t played in years, but during this winter it’s been played a few times. Needless to say it sounded great, Steve had no trouble singing it and judging by the crowd’s reaction, they might keep it in the setlist for a while.

A few classic FM tracks from ”Tough It Out” followed, including another favourite of mine, ”Bad Luck” which closed the main set. As encores, we got a couple of tracks from the new album and a couple of other post-comeback songs. ”Story Of My Life” was played as a stripped down version and Mr. Overland’s heartfelt vocal made it one of the highlights.

My first FM live experience was a good one, and I’m happy I got to hear some of my favourite AOR songs live, sung by one of my favourite singers. If the band hadn’t been so loud I might have been even more awestruck.


That Girl
Other Side Of Midnight
Love Lies Dying
I Belong To The Night
American Girls
Hot Wired
Face To Face
Frozen Heart
Heart Of The Matter
Let Love Be The Leader
Don't Stop
Closer To Heaven
Someday (You'll Come Running)
Burning My Heart Down
Tough It Out
Bad Luck
Story Of My Life
Digging Up The Dirt
Life Is A Highway
Tough Love/Wildside

To sum it up, none of the bands disappointed, even the ones that weren't my actual favourites had their fair share of fans who loved them. There’s been talk about another RockWeekend AOR already, and I’m certainly all for it if it happens. Stockholm is only a ferry-ride away from here… Let’s go, we're ready!


Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen, a few additional photos by Kimmo Toivonen
(c) 2016 RockUnited.Com