The Buzz Aldrin Of Music Fests

Juhani Merimaa was more than happy to see 65,000 turn up for Finland’s Ruisrock Festival, which sold out two days and only came up a little short on the third.

The annual gathering in Turku is the Buzz Aldrin of European festivals, not the event that made the history and the headlines, but the one that followed very quickly behind it.

It came tantalizingly close to being the event that made what could be described as “a giant step” for European youth culture. But the first edition was put back a couple of months – due to a lack of available headliners in May – so it’s just celebrated its 37th edition about six weeks after Holland’s Pinkpop reached that landmark anniversary.

So, the Dutch open air has the Guinness Book of Records entry for being Europe’s longest-running festival and, like the second man on the moon, Ruisrock’s name is not so well-known.

The biggest headlines it ever made came five years ago, but that was only because continued losses put it on the verge of going under.

With the national papers estimating the downside to have reached more than 4 million Finn marks (worth about US$833,000 at the time), the local Turku authority that funded it invited the country’s major promoters to compete to take it over.

Helsinki’s Welldone Agency & Promotion OY (Live Nation) looked to be the council’s favorite, but managing director Risto Juvonen wanted the council to clarify a couple of points before accepting the challenge.

The Turku government turned to Merimaa, who has owned Helsinki’s 500-capacity Tavastia Club for more than 20 years and also runs the 15,000-capacity Akkarock Festival.

He was the other favored bidder and set up a company called Vantaan Festivaalit Oy to take over the reins. He’s spent the last year six years nursing Ruisrock back to health.

In 2001, the first year he ran it, he took stock and cut back to local acts, apart from getting WellDone to find a couple of international headliners. Although they’d competed for the festival, relationships between the two companies have always been good.

Since then, the Saturday has sold out five years running and Merimaa believes he’s getting closer to the point where Ruisrock will actually sell out all three days.

Speaking from Ilosaarirock Festival, en route to his summer holiday, he told Pollstar he wasn’t too disappointed to have sold out two days and dropped on the third (July 7-9) and emphasized that he was very satisfied with the overall result.

As the Sunday has a history of pulling a smaller crowd, he said he’s certain it’s the day rather than the acts that he’s booking for it.

Among the international acts helping the 37-year-old event hang in there for second place were Tool, Morrissey, New York Dolls, Mogwai, Editors, Danko Jones, The Gathering, and Gogol Bordello.

The list of regional acts read like a Who’s Who of Scandinavian talent and included Eurovision winners Lordi, The Rasmus, Backyard Babies, The Cardigans, Mew, Apocalyptica, Disco Ensemble, Don Johnson Big Band, and Kashmir.

– John Gammon