“What I Did On My Trip To Elfia Arcen”
by Niilo Sirola / Greenrose Faire
It’s now one week until Elfia Haarzuilens and it’s time to start putting my gear together, figuring out what to fit in the restricted amount of baggage I can take on the plane, let alone what clothing to pack. Instead, I find myself browsing the photos from Elfia Arcen last September and going through my notes and memories, as I seem to have promised to write a travel journal from the artist’s point of view for CeltCast. So what better way to prepare for what will surely be one more weekend to remember…
I’ll leave the description of the wonderful atmosphere, the sights, sounds and costumes to others, and instead try to give a glimpse into an ordinary – yet extraordinary – day in musician’s life.
Once upon a time, Greenrose Faire was offered a gig in the Elf Fantasy Festival in Arcen, on the strict condition that we bring the travelling harmonium along. This was a big thing for us for a couple of reasons. Firstly it would be the farthest from home we’ve gone as a band, and also what looks like the biggest stage for us yet. Secondly, whatever genre our music might represent, the heart of that scene is undoubtedly in The Netherlands so it’s a great pleasure to play there.
And thirdly, it would be the first gig where we can’t just rent a minibus and bring all our usual gear, starting from the drum set, amps, instruments, backup instruments, backups for the backup instruments (just kidding), the banners, flags, barrels and the green-stuff for the stage, the merchandise tent and tables and chairs to go with it, camping equipment, etc. Instead, we were to travel on one of those flying tubular things, with combined amount of 31 kg of gear per person, so a total of about 250 kg for the lot of us. It looked like a pretty tight squeeze! (Although after this computation I start to wonder how many kilos of stuff our usual load is..) The drum set and bass amp were just impossible and we’d have to ask to borrow them on location, Pete had to leave the other keyboards behind, spare instruments could not be spared, and of course almost all of the decorations was out as well. The backdrop banner with our bonfire artwork we at least managed to squeeze in one of the suitcases. Then there was still the two-hour trip from home to the airport in Helsinki, and again from Düsseldorf airport to Arcen. There was no easy way of renting a van or minibus in Düsseldorf end, so we booked two station wagons from airport car rental instead.
For some reason I left booking the flights a bit late, and come July the direct flights were already so pricey that we had to find an alternate route. To absolutely minimize the risk of our baggage getting lost or delayed, we picked flights with a generous 4 hour changeover time in Oslo.
When the day got closer, there arose a little matter of a general strike in Finland planned for the day we were supposed to fly out. It was in the news for a couple of weeks before, causing us some amount of nail-biting, and planning alternate routes (anyone for a 42-hour ride by minibus through Sweden, Denmark and Germany?). In the end, the strike stopped only the buses, which did not affect us (although we stopped for a coffee on the way at the same time as a bus-load of people on strike on their way to a demonstration in Helsinki), and grounded Finnair’s flight for a couple of hours, which luckily was not our carrier this time.
So all fair and well, we roll out from Tampere at 6 am with the band reinforced with our sound-man Pauli (who would be mostly focusing on photography this time) and our merchs lady Laura. We find the airport almost deserted, and get through the formalities in a flash (even though Tomi, Hanna and Pauli are picked out for extra inspection) and arrive at the gate almost 2 hours too early. We get to spy through the window as our instrument cases get gently loaded onto the plane, and the flight takes off exactly in time.
On the plane, after the obligatory group photos, I immerse myself again to study Dutch on my phone (with Duolingo) and pretty much master the phrase ”Excuse me, I am an apple”. I suppose a situation may arise where I’ll need that.
The stopover in Oslo is uneventful. We try to find the awfully expensive beer they are supposed to have in Norway, but have to settle for almost reasonably priced pints. Don’t see the baggage get loaded on the plane this time but hope ours was still in tow.
Arrival in Düsseldorf gets bit more exciting about at the moment that it is clear that our instruments are not going to appear on the baggage conveyor belt. So, walk about a kilometre to the inquiries desk, and then walk back about a kilometre to the shady corner where the special baggage is dumped. Luckily all our gear is there, and I tear open by bouzouki case and all the fillings to check that nothing indeed has broken. So far so good.
The rental cars turn out to be brand new, shiny black, with darkened windows, cockpits like those of a space shuttle, and with less than 50km on the odometer between them. And apparently all the stuff that had no problem fitting into our own two car’s trunks on the way to the airport in Finland has somehow grown in size during the trip and does not agree at all with the dimensions of these space shuttles. After a bit of Tetris with large and bulky blocks, everyone and everything is finally fully inside the vehicles – although not exactly comfortable – and then it is 5 floors down the spiralling driveway from the parking house, honorary laps around Düsseldorf central while the in-car GPS tries to decide where it wants us to go, until finally we are on the autobahn leading towards The Netherlands.
At this point we notice the world has started to drift towards the medieval times already, as our cell phones all lost reception on the road. We can’t get calls through from one car to another and even text messages don’t go through. Without homing pigeons on hand, it’s down to driving in close convoy, but fortunately Pauli’s lead car has pretty fancy shaped tail lights so it is easy to pick out in the traffic.
The crossing over from Germany to The Netherlands is marked only by a welcome sign on the roadside, and as the night gets darker, the roads gets smaller, until we arrive at our assigned lodging. Upon entering we are promptly offered free beer by a jovial gentleman we later learn is “The Professor” who apparently has been involved in Elfia since the dawn of times. A more pressing matter however is finding something to eat and perhaps doing some advance scouting of the festival and stage area.
There is no food to be had in the hostel at this hour and we are directed to an alehouse along the road. Arriving there, they too have already closed their kitchen, but give directions to the village (”go that way and you can’t miss it”). We don’t – no thanks to the received directions but rather to Google maps – and enter the first establishment that looks like there could be hot food in it. Again no luck there, and new set of directions to a restaurant they guess should be open. Eventually we do not find that one either, but instead there is a Turkish 24/7 fast food place wherein I use my new-found Dutch skills to point at a food on the menu. I’m not sure if most of the conversation actually was in English, Dutch, German or some other language, but it does the trick and gets me probably the best Turkish food ever in my memory. When we are about to leave, they learn we are from Finland so they promptly wish us good night – in Swedish. Well close enough.
The walk back to the hostel takes us past the gates of Elfia. In the darkness beyond the gates, a sound check of sorts is going on, with a lonesome electric guitarist having a go at Slayer’s Reign in Blood.
…to be continued tomorrow…