No Sweet Home Chicago!

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"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 29th
September.

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. 

Photos by Mira Kumpulainen

Front page: Bullfrog Brown

Inside: PK Keränen, Tuomari Nurmio, Janko Manneh