August 26th, 2006 was a pretty crazy day. I woke up in Helsinki and put myself and my bicycle on a short ferry-ride to Tallinn, Estonia. I spent the day exploring Tallinn, which was as close as I’ll get to being in a real-life fairy tale. The city is simply breathtaking. It is thousands of years old and still works great. I went into a pharmacy that was at least 900 years old. Clean as a whistle.
Anyway, I meandered and swooned and gaped and shook my head in wonder. Then I checked into a hostel and poured myself a drink of whisky. I finished the bottle before it finished me (but to be fair the bottle was much smaller than I was) and set out on a prowl.
I had enquired about live music at a tourist booth earlier in the day and was told about a bar in the old town that often had bands playing American rock and roll. Hmm. I asked if there was anywhere I could hear local music, the girl consulted with the other girl in the booth, and after a bit of poking around she announced that there was a free music festival featuring Estonian rock bands in Singing Park, just seven kilometres out of town. Well now, that would be no problem for a guy who was near the end of a 1,000+km bicycle/camping trip through Scandinavia!
Despite a belly full of rye I virtually flew along the ultra-scenic forested bike path to the venue, maintaining a steady 30kms/hr. After cycling for so long laden down with all of my gear, suddenly riding with no panniers on the bike was like riding on a cloud. And though I got there in no time at all, it turned out I only made it for the final two acts of the night. I was kicking myself when I discovered that I had just missed a band with the awesome name Winny Puhh.
Singing Park was a large outdoor venue – a field, really – that could transform into a huge venue simply by moving back the stage. On this evening it was an amphitheatre with a capacity of perhaps 14,000, but if they backed the stage up to allow grass seating the capacity would be fairly limitless. For example, Singing Park got its name when 300,000 Estonians staged a protest there back in the ’80’s and sang local folk songs. Michael Jackson played there ten years later and drew a crowd of 100,000.
When the second last act hit the stage there were perhaps 250 people in the audience. They were a very heavy six-piece Doom Metal band called Taak that were very tight and very good. The lead guitarist could really, really play and the drummer was super-solid. I spoke to them afterwards and probably drank some of their beer. It seems that they had been playing together for over fifteen years though they had been poerforming as Taak for only a short time, and their sole album briefly hit #9 on the Estonian charts. I heard a lot of Judas Priest in their music with a dollop of Metallica but they told me they were mostly influenced by the ’70’s underground Estonian music scene. “And Alice Cooper!” the singer added.
The final band of the night was called Genialistit. They were a lot more poppy and also really, really good. I would compare them maybe to the Spin Doctors, and the crowd made up for their small numbers by surging to the front of the stage and dancing and singing their heads off. Somewhere along the way someone handed me a huge plate of food right there in the swell of dancing singing partiers near the front of the stage. It was meatballs with some sort of cucumber/potato goulash; I took a bite and went to hand it back. The guy told me to finish it and I did, with relish. In retrospect that meal probably saved my life.
By the time Genialistid was done I was quite hammered, though I managed to maintain enough coherency to chat with them afterwards too. Apparently they were a big band in Estonia, a fact the excited crowd proved, and they told me that the festival had been organized by the group responsible for collecting and distributing Estonian royalties (their SOCAN or ASCAP), and the organization had done little or no promotion hence the small attendance, though nobody seemed to care.
Eventually I left them to pack their gear and I mounted my bike for the ride back to town. Along the way I stopped at an enormous monument that had been built to memorialize dead Russian soldiers. It is quite a poignant structure; a concrete groove that widens and flattens as it approaches a high cliff that overlooks the sea, where the ramp abruptly ends and drops off to nothing. It quite looked like an unfinished bridge reaching towards the ocean.
I was drunk enough to find the courage (stupidity) to sit dangling my feet over the ledge and sober enough to somehow not fall to my sure death. Gadzooks.
I was certainly ready for bed by the time i got back to Old Town, but everything was just so charming that I just had to go barhopping. When I was finally done for the night I headed back to my hostel and along the way some guy tried to steal my wallet*. I can’t really blame him – I was definitely a prime target – but he got nothing except maybe a scrape or two when I shoved him to the ground. It happened directly outside of my hostel; I spun around and punched the code and was inside before the guy’s friends had even helped him up. There were four of them. I’m guessing it was a dare or something equally semi-innocent.
I don’t remember getting to my room but I must have because that’s where I woke up.
*This marks the only time in all my travels that anyone has tried to do crime on me (aside from fraud).