From 17.-19. January the lovely “Tropical Winter Ukulele Festival” (TWUF) took place in Leppävirta, Finland. The festival is located in the Spa Hotel Vesileppis – and when I say located I mean the whole festival takes place there. So you arrive, get cosy and you’re set for the whole weekend.
I arrived Thursday evening – the hotel was still almost empty – but I got to meet up with my friends Arto Julkunen, who is the head of the festival and the reason I was there, Elisabeth Pfeiffer, you should know her by now, and Marius, a friend from Germany who I’ve met at a couple of festivals in the last year. So this was a good start.
On Friday the festival finally started and the hotel was filling up quickly. I had lots of free time though because my performance wasn’t until Saturday, so I did some rehearsing (not a good idea, I’ll tell you more in a following blog post) and went for a walk to check out the area. There’s usually tons of snow around this time of year. Well, what can I say? Climate change is real, there was no snow and the temperatures were around 0°C (instead of -20°C). But the lakes were still frozen and the landscape was nice to see nonetheless.
Since I wasn’t frozen all the way through from my walk I went to see one of the hotels main attractions: The Moomin Ice Cave. The What? Well, the Moomins are fairy tale characters created by the Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. They are super cute and kinda look like hippos (yes, that’s probably why they are so cute, you know I love hippos) and they are super famous in Finnland and Sweden. And the hotel where TWUF is located dedicated a ice cave to these lovely characters. The cave is located right underneath the hotel, you can just take an elevator from the lobby down to the cave (how cool is that?). Here are some pictures from that magical place:
Now before I go on with my write up of the festival, there’s something I need to admit – I did not take a lot of pictures and videos and I did not see a lot of the concerts. I was really in my head all weekend about my performance (sth I’ll tell you all about in a following blog post) and that made it hard for me to attend a lot of what was going on.
Ukulele Orchestra at it’s best
However, what I was really impressed with all weekend, were the Finnish Ukulele groups and orchestras. I saw Ukelos, Ukevirtaset, Tampereen Ukulele Orkesteri and the TWUF-orkesteri and let me tell you, all these groups and orchester put so much time and effort into their art. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to them, see how they are in sync and how much joy they have being on stage and performing. As a listener you can tell, that they practice a lot and take what they do very seriously.
So if anyone wants to start a ukulele band or orchestra, go check them out first, they seem to really know what they are doing. (also check out the guys from Oslo, they also do).
Bands and Solo Artists
The line up at TWUF offered a really nice mix of artists. There was a lot to discover – from internationally know artists, to newcomers (both local and international) and with sets of 30-45 minutes it was perfect to discover new sounds and get lost in things you already knew.
Rikuya Nakamura is a 19 year old fingerstyle ukuleleist from Japan. He is a very passionate player and it was a pleasure to listen to his set on Friday. You can check out some of his performances on youtube.
This is what I expect and want to see and hear when I’m in Finland. And OMG those guys wrote a song about my all time favorite book – “The Dark Tower” by Stephen King. I just heard the line “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed” and was like: “Wait, I know that, what’s going on, I love it”. It’s not the kind of music I usually listen to, but writing a song about the epic story of Roland makes me a huge fan of this band. So Old Man’s Tale if you read this – I’d love to play that song as well, can you send me the lyrics and chords ;).
Vox Stellarum played right before me, so I got the see the end of their set. They played ukulele and harp, which is a very nice combination and enchanted the listeners with medieval and renaissance music. This was actually very soothing to hear right before my set.
Yes, those two again. I just can’t get enough of them. They had just released their first English album and brought lots of new songs with them. As usual, very emotional, funny, witty and overall just great. I’m a fan, what can I say.
Marius was joined on stage by two Finnish musicians (drummer and bass player). They played some of Mari’s original songs – including the official festival song. Marius has a very unique sound with a tropical feeling, that I enjoy a lot. Go check him out.
Joseph to me was the biggest and best surprise of the weekend. I actually met him on Friday, because he was joining us in the ice cave. His concert was on Saturday evening and he started out with some great looping and I thought, well that’s someone who knows what he’s doing. And then he starts to sing and it just blew me away. It seems that Joseph can do it all and it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to him, to see him do his looping magic and watch closely what he is doing. Please go check him out, it’s worth it.
Nope, I don’t follow them around, I promise. I just really love to hear them play – they are the only ones who get me on the dance floor ;). I feel like everything I say about them is redundant – so go check out what I said about them the last times I saw them in Graz and Obermörmoosen ;). No really, they are just this perfect party act where no one can stand still and everyone has to get up and dance. I love it.
I know, I said once you checked in at the hotel, you don’t have to leave it for the whole festival. This is almost true, but there was a concert on Sunday at the local church, that was totally worth leaving the hotel.
Markus Rantanen, Joseph Gara, Elisabeth Pfeiffer and Kristiina Brask feat. Ukevirtaset played a 1,5 hour concert with some magical tunes at the church. This was a very nice setting with lots of variety and a possibility for the locals to enjoy some ukulele music as well.
Even though I wasn’t too satisfied with my own show, I had a great time at TWUF because I met friends, old and new and it was fun to hang out with them. My partners in crime for the weekend were Sanne and Markus. I’ve met the two of them at UFO Ukuele Festival and again at Ruhrkulele and we hit it off instantly. It was great to spend some more time with them, hang out, talk and laugh.
Then of course, Charlotte and Elisabeth were there. I don’t just love the two of them as musicians, but they are also amazing people to spend time with. It’s nice to have someone around that makes you feel like home.
Oh and remember Banana Man from Austrian Ukulele Festival? Well, Nick Gordon was responsible for play alongs throughout the festival and we also got to hang out a bit. This is why I love the ukulele community. You meet someone once at a festival, and months later you see each other again and it’s like no time passed at all.
The TWUF Festival song says “The Finnish have invited, they’re putting up a show” and this could not be more true. There are so many people involved in making this festival a success and all of them made sure that everyone felt at home and welcome. So special thanks to Arto, Anne and the TWUF team.
PS: You can check out some more pictures and video snippets in my Instagram highlights.
Oh, and there’s a blog post coming up about my performance and workshop soon.