Rääkylä Festival July 2001

Hot sweaty Friday evening, the crowd agog, bells flying, what next?

More of HM in the Cafe Tent


Pirjo's Pleasure - courtesy of Tony. Photos from Heikki Nuutinen in Rääkylä


The abiding impression from the Rääkylä Festival is of colour: crystal blue skies, multitudinous varieties of green in forest and field, and selections of grey, blue and brown from the lakes and bare rock that surround the area.

The area in question is just a bus-ride from the old iron curtain, still in this area the border of Fortress Europe, a third of the way up the 1000 km border between Finland and Russia. Rääkylä itself is a scattered collection of painted wooden farmhouses, around a village centre of uniform 1960’s concrete and glass municipal buildings, which for the better part of a week every July is transformed into a thriving gathering of musical humanity. And here again the colours are as variegated: rich brown skins of the many local visitors, dappled shades of pastel make-up of a post-modern theatre group, fluttering tatters of an indigenous morris side(!) – and all lit by the near-daylong sun of the northern summer that makes sleep before the early hours an impossibility.

The journey from Helsinki is something of a test of patience, unless you can enjoy the traditional pleasures of the open road. Motorway travel in Finland is limited to the routes between the major towns of the south, and we were heading absolutely east. The journey is reminiscent of road travel in the 50’s and 60’s when a 3-lane road stretched ahead, overtaking was a challenge of eyesight, closing-distance estimation, and motor power, and when the roadside offered something of an education into the rural lifestyle: sawmills, abandoned petrol stations, patient queues at bus-stops, impenetrable pine and spruce forests, and scattered red, yellow or tan painted farmsteads. If patience is not your virtue just enjoy the scenery!

Finland is host to a welter of festivals every summer – there’s even a website dedicated to the cause (www.festivalsfinland.fi). It’s maybe in the nature of a country that sees such a prolonged winter season that socialising is concentrated into the 3 months of summer with schools finishing at the end of May, in earlier times enabling the pre-adult population to turn to with the farmwork. Many folk do return during the summer to their birthplaces, but usually to spend time in the family mökki – often more of a summer residence than a cabin, preferably located on a lakeshore, and preferably at a considerable distance from any neighbours. However when the social spirits are let loose, they do so with an abandon, either around the outdoor grilli or in the sauna, or more officially at a festival. The most famous is probably the Savonlinna Opera Festival held in a majestic lakeside castle towards the east, or the Pori Jazz Festival in the western port of the same name. But there are a plethora of more modest events catering for tastes as diverse as American bluegrass music or modern film in Lapland.

Rääkylä is a good example of Finland’s ability to combine the small scale with high quality. The music surprisingly ranged from progressive modern jazz of Trio Töykeät to standard displays of Scandinavian violin troubadours, and in the international sphere from a spirited troupe of 20-odd wailing and gyrating Russian octogenarians from the Finno-Urgric region of Volga region of Lydia, to leather-clad American androgenoids from LA (Suddenly Finnish) singing in adopted Finnish somewhat in the style of their inspirers Wäätinä. And don't forget Helsinki Morrisers spirited performances around the festival sight, and late night in the café tent. It seems that in deepest Finland, in lightest summer, anything is possible.