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Halloween Blues
The English-born Joensuu resident and his "aboriginal" drummer Mika Vauhkonen kick off the proceedings with a celebration of their brand new EP, The Hypnotic Songs of The Forgotten Dead. The title of the record being the last reminder of the duo's heavy metal history, they turn in an energetic set of electric hill country blues; the crowd is gathering, the room is getting hot.

Next up is
Bullfrog Brown, but as I have the good fortune to constitute 1/3 of that group, I'm not going to voice an opinion here - festival organizer Jukka Juhola's kind comment "the gentlemen's live show is great to watch" will have to do. With Tuomari Nurmio next in line, people keep piling in, and by the time we finish, there are actually more than 300 people crammed into a room fit for 250 - that's including the performers and according to Juhola.

"Is he… alone?!" a long-haired rocker gasps as the honorable Judge is taking the stage. Yes he is, and has absolutely no problem filling the stage, the room and the air with his raw and rugged electric blues that sounds positively ageless. Spicing his set with a few mutilated cover versions ranging from
Hank Williams to The Beatles, Tuomari Nurmio must be the undisputed star of the evening for many; I tend to agree. The boat is steaming.

A change of pace, and
22-Pistepirkko's PK Keränen and the Gambian percussionist Janko Manneh embark on a journey deeper into the vast treasure trove we know as the blues. Paradoxically, while their set is the most primal and blatantly African in nature, it is also the most distinctly Finnish-sounding performance of the night. The people appreciate that, and the house keeps rocking.

Midnight tolls. By now, it is obvious that this is a festival unlike any other I've witnessed. The bands are on schedule. The sound is great. The audience seems happy and genuinely thrilled, and not once has anyone shouted: "Play Paranoid!" Also, and perhaps most strikingly, there is no banner advertising drinks or newspapers or anything else on the stage - no,
Katja Juhola's fantastic blues paintings provide the perfect backdrop for the show.

It's time for
Black River Bluesman & The Croaking Lizard, the latest and greatest of Jukka Juhola's own alt.blues quartets, fresh from the Himalayan Blues Festival in Kathmandu. Possibly the heaviest act on the bill, the audience reaction is best illustrated by the fact that this is where the schedule finally fails: Black River Bluesman's encores make Cosmo Jones late for the stage.

Towards the end of the good Bluesman's footstomping set, the rows of the audience seem to thin somewhat: some have been rocking since 8 p.m. and simply drop, others run to catch the first thing smoking or - to put it less poetically and more to the point - to catch the last bus home. But there's plenty to remain, and the joint is still jumping as Cosmo Jones
Beat Machine hits the stage in the wee hours of the morning. It's a big band, and a loud band, and the crowd is spellbound by their mixture of eastern melodies, atonal cartoon-soundtrack sounds and, yes, the blues.

"I think we were successful in creating a whole: each set fit the spot perfectly, no two bands were alike, and the audience seemed to dig every performer without reservation," Jukka Juhola says a few days later. "I think the biggest difference compared to a regular blues festival was that we didn't get to hear Sweet Home Chicago not once during the evening - and there were NO wailing guitar solos!"

Indeed, at a time when the Blues In London e-zine is marketing T-shirts with the happily dyslexic and heartfelt slogan "Clapton Is Dog", Finland is right on the ball. As plans for next year's fest are being discussed, the non-profit organization behind it, Alt.Blues Finland ry, will be putting together a Finnish tour for the Italian
Papa Leg Acoustic Duo featuring Stefania Calandra in February 2008. According to Juhola, that just might include a Floating Cockroach club night with 3-4 bands; if not, the alt.blues boat is due to set sail again next September. 


No Sweet Home Chicago!

11 October 2007  
Photo gallery

The Floating Cockroach Festival in Helsinki was Finland's first event in the alt.blues field. Check out the report, written by one who actually was, and played, there.

"The atmosphere was amazing! When I was playing, it felt like I was playing to my friends - the crowd was really responsive and we were all riding a wave upon which the distinction between performer and audience melted away,"
L.R. Phoenix says of the first Floating Cockroach alt.blues festival, held on the restaurant boat Wäiski in Helsinki on September 29th.
Bullfrog Brown (c) Evert Palmerts