Mihir and I got a thing that somewhat resembles a “Finland bucket list”. Visiting Pori and the famous Pori Jazz festival was on top of the list, so this year we decided to just go for it. Pori Jazz has taken place in the month of July since the year 1966 which makes it the oldest Jazz festival in Europe. It has seen big international acts such as Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and Betty Carter. In recent years it has increasingly featured pop artists such as Kylie Minogue. This year’s line-up included several Finnish and international artists. We had decided to visit the festival on Friday, with the main acts being Joss Stone and Lauryn Hill.
The inital planning stages went rather smoothly. Tickets are easily available from the ticketmaster.fi website and we decided to opt for a simple day pass for around 75€. Transportation was also arranged easily, as onnibus.fi now offers direct connections between Turku and Pori with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The first time we ran into trouble was when we tried to book a hotel room, 2 months prior to the event. Pori, also known by its Swedish name Björneborg, after all only has a population of around 85.000 people. Being such a small city, Pori only sports 4 hotels. Naturally, 3 of the 4 hotels were already fully booked at the time, and the average nightly rate in the 4th hotel was 300€. Well, we were put off, to say the least. Instead of dragging along camping gear, we finally decided to simply return to Turku with the first bus the following morning. After all it was summer, so the weather should be pleasant enough to spend a couple of hours outside, right? Haha. More about that later.
The day of the festival had us slightly worried. The weather forecast continously promised rain throughout the whole day and night. But hey, rain in Finland generally just means a somewhat annoying drizzle which tapers off after a few hours. That shouldn’t be a problem, we thought. We packed sweaters and a scarf, a picnic blanket to sit on, and off we were to Pori. When we arrived there was not yet any sign of rain, and as we had arrived a little early, we decided to take a small tour of Pori.
Admittedly, this small town does not have a whole lot to see, but it is rather charming in its own way. Having been established as early as 1558, the place boosts a handful of beautiful old buildings and a few small parks, as well as a well developed riverside to enjoy. We were particularly enchanted by the Central Pori Church, Keski-Porin kirkko, in its Gothic Revival style. Other points of interest are the old city hall and a few streets in central Pori featuring imperial style houses.
After our little tour we continued through the so-called Jazz Street onwards to the actual festival grounds. The street in itself is littered with little stalls which sell local products, and a large variety of food stalls to choose from. After crossing the river we finally reached the festival grounds at Kirjurinluoto. As we arrived just after the official opening time, entrance and security check were very swift. Note here that you are not allowed to bring umbrellas or half-filled bottles inside (bringing alcoholic drinks into the venue from outside is strictly prohibited).
Once inside we decided to first explore the festival grounds and were really positively surprised by the facilities. Next to the main stage several picnic tables had been set up, so you could actually sit and drink and eat comfortably while enjoying the music. Toilets in the shape of porta potties were plentiful and very clean. Our favourite part, though, was probably the selection of food and beverage providers inside the festival grounds. You could get anything from Thai food to BBQ pork ribs and pancakes. And to be honest, we were more than pleasantly surprised by the prices. We had cautiously expected prices to be soaring high, given is was Finland AND it was a closed off festival venue. However, main dishes ranged somewhere between 10 and 15€, alcoholic drinks such as beer and cider were around 6€ a can. There even was a tiny super market where you could buy your own snacks if you wished (although a single banana DID cost 0,5€ there, haha). Personally, we opted for a portion of fish-and-chips from the Merry Monk and refreshing ice cream from 3 Kaverin Jäätelö.
We had taken one of the tables close to the main stage which was really a wonderful spot to see the concerts, as we were close enough to see and hear well, but not too close that we would go deaf. The beautiful thing about Pori Jazz is that compared to other festivals such as RuisRock, it attracts a completely different crowd. Yes, most of the visitors were well into their 30ies or older. There were also families with young children. What that means is that you can simply enjoy the music and the atmosphere without havin to fear that you’ll be trampled to death or showered in beer by a person who hopefully usually makes better life decisions than that. It was really peaceful and civilised, yet it did not feel boring.
Our favourite act of the day was probably Joss Stone. Perhaps you wouldn’t categorize her music as Jazz, but her style is after all strongly influenced by Blues, which mixes very well with the more jazzy environment. I must say I had never been a fan of her music as such, but her personality which we got to see on stage, was rather enchanting. Known for her barefoot performances, she really seems down-to-earth. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to have told her anything about the Finnish people. During her performance she repeatedly tried to bring the crowd to singing along, but the crowd was clearly not up to it. In the end she decided to step down from the stage, into the crowd of spectators, and spread such a positive energy, that most Finns indeed started singing and clapping along. After that she even performed a piece together with Finnish singer Jenni Vartiainen (in Finnish!). Naturally, the most solemn of Finns were still not very impressed, but we certainly were. Joss Stone, you got yourself 2 new fans!
The main thing which eventually started to dampen the mood was the rain which set on soon during the first act of the day. It began with a slight drizzle which still had all of us very optimistic. During the first break the drizzle turned into full-blown rain, which tapered off after about an hour. We were rather happy that the worst was over and that from then onwards we could simply enjoy the music. Well. Turned out this wasn’t supposed to be the case. A light drizzle soon returned and developed into a relentless heavy rain, which soaked us through and through, despite our freshly accquired 20€ rip-off rain ponchos which disintegrated after 10 minutes.
Of course the fact that other visitors told us laughingly that they had been coming to the festival on and off for the last 20 years and that this was in fact the first time it actually rained, probably made matters even worse for us. I mean, just how unlucky can you be? In any case, after sitting in the rain for several hours we finally decided to call it quits and made our way back into the city, where we grabbed a couple of hot drinks to warm us back up. When the rain finally stopped in the night, we seized the opportunity to discover more of Pori on foot, before finally catching the bus at 5:30.
So, was the festival all we had imagined? Maybe not. But was the experience worth it? Absolutely. After all it was the first festival Mihir and I had attended together and the memory of us sitting there covered in rain ponchos, picnic blankets and trash bags will probably make us laugh for the rest of our lives. And isn’t this what travelling is all about?
Our final verdict: Pori is best enjoyed in 1-2 days!
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Pori? What are your experiences with Pori Jazz? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!