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Festival organisers frustrated by lack of clarity over summer rules

Time is running short for final decisions on major music events such as Ruisrock and Flow Festival.

Valtavasti yleisöä puertoricolaisen Bad Bunnyn keikalla Ruisrockissa. Bad Bunny seisoo lavalla yleisön edessä käsi pystyssä.
Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny drew large crowds to Ruisrock in 2019. Last year the event was cancelled for the first time since 1970. Image: Nelli Kenttä, YleX

Event organisers have criticised the government's proposal regarding summer events as too vague. According to a cabinet proposal unveiled on Friday, public events could start in a limited way in June if health safety can be ensured. In July, further restrictions would be lifted.'

Some European countries, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, have set up cancelation compensation funds for festivals, but so far the Finnish government has not made such a decision.

One of Finland's oldest and largest music events, Ruisrock Festival plans to announce in the coming weeks whether the festival will be held as planned in July. The festival arrangements will be made, at least for the time being, so that the event can be organised as planned in Ruissalo, Turku.

In 2019, the three-day festival drew crowds of about 105,000. Last year it was cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1970.

Ruisrock promoter Mikko Niemelä does not believe that rapid testing on-site as a prerequisite for admission is workable for such big events.

"The rapid testing proposals would probably concern events on a much smaller scale. I have not yet heard any international examples of a fully functioning system being found for big festivals when it comes to tens of thousands of visitors," he told Yle.

"There are still a lot of question marks in the air about what kind of restrictions there will be this summer. Social distancing is not really feasible for a festival like ours, where people come to be together," Niemelä said.

Flow: No final decision yet

No final decision has yet been made on whether Helsinki's Flow Festival will be stage this August, the festival's artistic director, Tuomas Kallio, said late Friday.

Earlier on Friday the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported that Flow would again be cancelled this summer, as it was last year.

"We have not made such a decision. We are trying to think about what kind of event could be possible, and the question is still open," Kallio said.

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Flow Festival
Flow artistic director Tuomas Kallio at the festival site in Suvilahti. Image: Ilkka Loikkanen / Yle

According to Kallio, measures related to possibly organising the festival will be decided in the near future.

"There's not much time, from our point of view. People who have bought tickets want to know soon," he said. In 2019 the three-day event attracted some 83,000 people.

According to Kallio, there is a strong desire to organise the festival in one way or another.

"There will be no normal festival this summer in Finland or in the world; that's useless speculation. International touring activities are at a standstill and this summer artists won't be touring," Kallio said.

"Festivals will have to be organised within the boundaries and conditions in which we now live. It remains to be seen how that will succeed," Kallio said.

More questions than answers in the air

In western Finland, Jaki Silvennoinen, who runs the Mustakari Memories in Kokkola and the Sun Pampas festival in Ylivieska, said that there are still more questions than answers in the air.

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Kokkolan Mustakari vastarannalta kuvattuna.
Mustakari Memories is scheduled to be held next summer for the 21st time. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

"First we need to be able to know what the allowed number of attendees will be and whether there must be certain distancing and masks. If they specify that there has to be hand sanitiser, that's one of the easiest things to organise," he said.

According to Silvennoinen, a decision will be made on the organisation of the June Sun Pampas festival within the next two weeks. The fate of Mustakari Memories, which will run in early July, is likely to be decided in May, once clearer instructions have been received. The 20th annual Mustakari Memories had 7,000 visitors in 2019.

"If they say that we can only admit 1,000 people, then we will probably not arrange it," Silvennoinen said.

Wait-and-see status for Kanta-Häme events

Meanwhile organisers of major festivals in Kanta-Häme, south-central Finland, have not yet decided on organising next summer's events. Hämeenlinna's Wanaja Festival is awaiting more detailed instructions on how coronavirus restrictions will be lifted.

Production manager Jonna Myllykangas said that Wanaja Festival is still preparing for a possible festival next July.

In 2019, a total of 15,000 people attended the two-day Wanaja Festival, with all-domestic headliners such as J. Karjalainen, Kaija Koo and Ville Valo.

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Kaija Koo
Kaija Koo, one of Wanaja's headliners in 2019. Image: Sakari Partanen / Yle

Simo Jaakkola, organiser of the Forssan Holjat city festival, said that his team is awaiting more detailed instructions this month. If more detailed instructions become available, preparations for the festival will begin in earnest in May.

Holjat has already signed some contracts with performers. If Holjat is held, singer-songwriter Arttu Wiskari will be one of this year's headliners. Holjat has traditionally been held in Forssa in early August.

Saaristo Open again postponed to June

Near Turku on the southwest coast, Kaarina's Saaristo Open was one of the few festivals held last summer, with an all-Finnish line-up of pop and rock acts. It plans to go ahead again this year, once again rescheduled from June to August.

Last year, Saaristo drew some of the summer's biggest crowds while following strict instructions laid down by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southwest Finland, including distribution of face masks in the festival area.

"We strongly believe that this summer we will be able to enjoy live music in Finland's wonderful summer. The event will once again use the security measures that worked well last summer," the event's promoter, Kalle Keskinen, said in a press release.

This year, the Saaristo Open is to be a two-day event on the last weekend of August.

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