Rockfest: Afterthoughts

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Rockfest 2022 took place on June 2nd through 4th, 2022, at the traditional Hyvinkää Airport, featuring some pretty strong names, such as NIGHTWISH, SCORPIONS, IRON MAIDEN, MEGADETH, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, and more. If you missed our reports, you can check them out from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 here, and check out the galleries here from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 here.

When it comes to festivals, it’s no secret that Rockfest offers the biggest names, but at the highest cost. Regarding performances, certainly, when you bring in the hottest acts, you’re liable to sell tickets and make people happy, but what about creating a good atmosphere for attendees? Here, we’re giving our thoughts on the overall festival, beyond just who was performing.

To be perfectly upfront, Rockfest has never been an especially well-organized festival, especially when compared to many of the longer-running Finnish events. The last iteration in 2019 was passable at best, but there were still some fatal flaws, and we had already been unimpressed the year before. Sadly, this year didn’t fare much better.

One of the biggest issues with Rockfest 2022 was simply that the price hike to 210€ was utterly unreasonable. When compared to, for example, a weekend at Hellfest in France – a festival boasting more equally huge bands – a 3-day ticket to Rockfest is 100€ more expensive than the same number of days at the legendary French festival. Tickets to other 3-day Finnish festivals tend to run around 170€, like Tuska or Provinssi. In fact, this festival is barely cheaper than the week-long Metal Days festival in Slovenia (by only 15€). This insane price didn’t stop 3-day passes from selling out, but we still heard many people saying that they weren’t going to attend this year simply because of the obscene cost. As well, these days weren’t nearly as well-organized as other festival lineups. There were only fifteen bands playing per day during Rockfest (compared to, for example, Graspop, which has thirty-five per day and costs about 260€), and many of them had overlapping time schedules, so it was impossible to watch everything one hoped for.

This was further problematic, because the secondary and tent stages were always playing at the same time and were right next to one another. That meant that one band’s music was always overlapping with another’s, usually with the tent stage getting the short end of the stick. Why would you schedule bands at the same time and put the stages right beside one another? With the layout in mind as well, the whole festival area layout could be reconsidered, as there could surely be a better place for the main stage, and the walk to the parking area felt unnecessarily long.

Beyond the cost of the festival, parking was another issue. First of all, they hiked up the price to 35€ this year, though if you tried to use lippu.fi to buy your parking pass, it would only let you buy single-day tickets for 15€ each, meaning you were paying 45€ (a full 10€ extra) and none of the people working on-site seemed to know for sure what was going on. The website also said that attendees would be able to buy parking on-site, which was completely untrue. While there were plenty of shuttles to and from the venue, keeping the crowds moving after the events, the cost of the buses into Helsinki was also insane, at 45€, and there weren’t any extra trains going during the event (in fact, many trains going to Hyvinkää were late on this weekend). This wasn’t the only issue with pricing over the weekend, as there was confusion over whether shuttles were 20 or 25€, while many food places had boards that said one thing while they charged another.

To their credit, the festival did abandon the money-loaded wristbands, which was always a catastrophe, meaning card readers were thankfully an option once again. Most of the staff were quite pleasant, though some areas seemed understaffed and/or confused about what they were supposed to be doing. Security guards were confiscating strange items, such as wallet chains, while people in full spiked wristbands and jackets were getting in, which made no sense at all, and there was no one guiding traffic out of the parking area at the end of the night, meaning it was a bit of a purgatorial free-for-all. We’re also still not sure why they close the streets outside the venue after the festival to everyone except shuttles and taxi customers – this makes it impossible, really, for anyone to get a pick-up from the event without walking about a total of 3 km – a pretty hefty walk for people just coming out of a festival weekend.

They got rid of the 3€ luxury toilets that had created a strange maze in the venue, meaning the only toilets with plumbing were in the special ticket areas, like VIP, which also boasted an Asian restaurant that seemed to have meals included in the price, as well as the ability to sit in the grandstands. The toilets didn’t have overly bad queues at least, and we didn’t personally have issues with toilet paper running out (but that may be because we didn’t use the toilets in the evenings). The overall layout of the festival area was an improvement over the convoluted maze of 2019, but this year lacked diversity of food and shops, with the average meal price being 12,50€ on the low end (yikes!), meaning the price of food is going up, while the quality has been going down. Even the Poppamies cart didn’t stand out this year. While there was an alcohol-free zone, there were not many alternatives to burgers – no salads or pasta, for example, while the places with the big paella pans felt a little gross so soon after a pandemic (and generally, their food is not good quality; this weekend was no different, yet the cost per plate was very high). What about a place to buy some fruit or a smoothie maybe? Of note also, every food cart seemed to be using really cheap sliced plasticy American “cheddar” too, which means they were charging high prices for really low quality ingredients.

Furthermore, the weather preparation was poor, as there was nowhere to go to eat during the horrendous downpour on the first day, as the one indoor tent was packed full. The venue did not have enough waste bins either, as it always seemed hard to find one whenever we had a cup or food package to get rid of, meaning you were always walking around far more than you really needed to, and the garbage bins that were on site were massively over-full by the last day.

There were also fewer activities to participate in this year. It seemed that doubling the prices of carnival rides wasn’t profitable, as they were no longer present this year, nor was the secret bar, or really any of the quirky things that used to be around. The festival area was fairly simple, on the whole. The ball riders looked interesting, but there was no sign or schedule to let people know if or when they would perform, making it completely random as to whether people would see them or not. The Benji bungee jump has also increased in price, now up to 90€ per jump, though we did still see people making use of it throughout the weekend despite this. There was also a room called the “Raivoomo,” [trans: the Ragery] which is a place where you could work out your anger by bashing old machinery with a bat. Perhaps the best casual entertainment was in the performers who wandered the area juggling and doing hula-hoop tricks or gymnastics – they were quite talented. However, beyond that, there wasn’t much to do to entertain oneself if there was a lull in artists, beyond going to eat or drink, and there weren’t quite enough places to sit down ever (but isn’t that always the case)?

The whole festival wasn’t a catastrophe, per se. The number of bars and selection of drinks was pretty decent, despite the prices again being pretty atrocious. While the main stage had a lot of sound issues, the quality of sound on the secondary and tent stages was generally quite crisp and clear, making some of the bands there into surprise highlights (if the sound wasn’t overlapping too badly with the other stage). It’s also nice that the festival gives a chance to some bands that aren’t particularly well-known in the Finnish scene, and there was certainly quite a selection of different styles this time around, which meant there were lots of opportunities to try new things. However, Rockfest is really struggling to make itself fun and enjoyable, missing a lot of the fun, whimsical, and relevant things that make festivals enjoyable to attend, beyond just a good collection of artists. Even the atmosphere there, and the type of people who attend, isn’t the same as the warm and welcoming festivals like Tuska and Nummirock, but rather feels like a gathering place for nationalists and angry drunks. At this point, we’re feeling like the cost of the festival, as well as what it offers, isn’t quite worth what they’re asking at this point, especially when there are much more comfortable and enjoyable festivals to go to… perhaps they don’t have the big, flashy classic bands, but it’s not only about the music, after all.