Kiruna Festival – the last weekend in June – is when Kiruna’s distant and rather wild cousin comes to town. The Festival cousin likes a drink, loud music, and staying up late, and when she comes to visit, Kiruna remembers how to party.
The town centre is fenced off, a large canvas-covered bar and a full-sized stage erected on the main square, another stage built nearby, straddled across one of the main roads, and fairground rides and stalls fill the areas between. The town webcam is switched off, preventing outsiders from viewing the performances for free – but if you live in any of Kiruna’s central blocks of flats, experiencing Kiruna Festival is unavoidable.
I’d guess the town is divided in terms of whether that is a positive thing or not. Or maybe some of the older generation just feel squeezed out. The day before the Festival our neighbours’ houses become populated with young adults, their usual occupants having probably fled to distant summer houses for the weekend.
The Festival is designed to appeal to all ages – there are family-friendly events in the daytime, while the evenings are all about loud music and drinking. The town’s wild cousin is a party animal, and after a year of restraint Kiruna has a well-deserved weekend off.
It’s the only time in the year you’ll ever see police in town. Not that you see them doing anything much, but I read that one night they escorted some drunk young people home to their parents.
There’s a contradictory message being given out by the Festival, with its large area designed for consuming alcohol. It is the midsummer period, after all, and during these long summer nights some drinking and partying is to be expected. However, officials mingling among the festival-goers are there to challenge anyone that appears drunk and refuse them entrance to the bar areas. This is drinking in a very controlled environment – it’s drinking according to the Swedish principle of ‘lagom’ – not too much, not too little, just the right amount.
Try telling that to a teenager. Indeed, they don’t – instead there’s a system for teenagers to check-in to a tent before they go home to prove (to their parents) they haven’t consumed any alcohol at all. At least not on the Festival site.
The line-up for the Festival is mainly Swedish, but you won’t find many bands performing in anything other than English. They range in style from heavy metal, to rock, to pop, and the performers are both old pros from the 70s and up-coming young stars. The crowds are appreciative and responsive, and behave like festival go-ers everywhere, standing patiently shoulder to shoulder, waving arms and singing along to the encore.
This weekend our neighbour puts on his Elvis jacket and the 50s seem like only yesterday. All over town people are fine tuning their American classic cars for a cruise around town. If you don’t have a classic car, then any old banger will do, so long as you cruise. At two in the morning the clattering noise on the road outside our kitchen window is some youth cruising home from the Festival on their skateboards. Cars slow down around them, holding back patiently. There’s no sense of impatience. This is Kiruna’s wild weekend, and soon that distant cousin will be gone for another year.