18 June 2017
As a crazed Eurovision fan, who’d have thought travelling to Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest would not be the highlight of the trip to Europe? As strange as that sounds, the real highlight came afterwards, seeing my music hero Lenna Kuurmaa in concert. It happened just north of the southern Estonian seaside town of Pärnu, in a 100 year old barn, called the Kõlli küün – or Jingle Barn. As quaint as that sounds, it’s perfectly true, and the intimacy and seclusion of the occasion was the perfect tonic to the razzle dazzle and frenzy of the events just witnessed in Kyiv.
It had been nine years since I saw Lenna live, when she was lead singer of Vanilla Ninja, and the wait was well worth it. Much had changed in that time, notably the three concerts I saw of the Restart Tour were almost the last Vanilla Ninja would perform before disbanding, and Lenna was now firmly entrenched as a solo artist and the mother of two mini ninjas. In contrast to the raucous and powerful vocals in Vanilla Ninja, Lenna’s style with her solo songs is more subtle and subdued. It was a very new experience in that sense, hearing these songs live for the first time, and Lenna sounded superb, like I knew she would. It was also a very fortunate opportunity, as the news of this concert only came a few weeks before leaving for Europe. Already planning to travel through the Baltic countries after Eurovision, thankfully my schedule could change – sacrificing a day in Riga to reach Pärnu in time. After the concert it would be a lift to Tallinn by car, thanks to some very kind German fans met online, who had already picked us up from Pärnu. The wonders of Facebook!
We arrived at the barn quite early, coincidentally at the same time as Lenna. She looked stunning in a traditional looking outfit, long wavy blonde hair and cool sunglasses. On the property was a house built in 1938, which would be the retreat for Lenna and her two band members. In the barn served food, including delicious homemade cake. I regret only ever getting one slice. Already we had dropped our belongings right at the front of the stage to reserve our spots for Lenna.
There was a big applause as Lenna entered the barn. Several times after a song, the drummer would tell stories, which would always elicit a hearty laugh from Lenna. She has a great laugh! Also on show was her beautiful smile that never ceases to warm my heart. While nothing from these stories made sense, I appreciated these moments seeing the natural, non-singer, Lenna.
After one song with the spotlights on, the band seemed to ask the audience if it was ok to turn them off. I guess because it was a warmish day the band found them too warm, or didn’t want them blasted into their faces. They were set on the ground and beaming up. Unfortunately this caused the only slight regret: I was far more focused on listening to Lenna than taking photos or anything else, so my later attempts would prove quite difficult. Ultimately I got enough as memories of this great occasion.
The set was about 12 songs, broken by a 15 minute interval, and all were from her solo career. My favourites were “Maailm ei keerle”, “Suvehommik Setumaal”, “Õnnega koos” and “Mina jään” – the latter being the song she finished second with at Eesti Laul in 2012 and is also on her second solo album. “Maailm ei keerle” is my favourite song from her first solo album, and the other two songs are recent non-album singles (likely to be on her eventual third album). During the concert Lenna would often look directly towards me and it was a struggle to look straight back for long periods into her eyes. Was I a familar face to her, or maybe she was just curious about this odd looking person? At one point I held the stare and there was a hint of smile from her. I smiled back.
The concert was over so soon! It was time to try meet her just outside the barn where others were already taking photos with her, including some small children (so cute she has some new, young fans!). I called her name and she was happy to come talk. First thing I notice were her big green eyes. They really glistened and are the prettiest green you will ever see. I told her I’m her big fan from Australia, which she seemed to be aware of who this might be, and that I’ve been waiting 9 years to see her again and it was well worth the wait. That really piqued her interest as she smiled and seemed pleasantly surprised – and curious – at this meeting. She seemed impressed that I had such 9 years of patience and dedication, and touched me slightly on the forearm in a friendly, welcoming way as I explained the previous occasion was the Restart Tour in 2008 and I had met her too. She was immediately trying to remember, saying “Restart Tour, Restart Tour” aloud, when I mentioned I met her in Rapla and gave her a small koala. She instantly remembered. That was a day I will never forget. A big smile beamed from her face when I said I was from Australia, and likewise with the koala, to which she immediately cuddled. For some reason I had it back in my jacket pocket when I took a photo with her, and when I gave it back to her, she cuddled it again before running backstage. The following day in Tallinn I saw her again and she mentioned the koala is in her bedroom. So cute!
Lenna asked a few things like how long I’ll be in Tallinn, things I planned to see, and was especially curious how we arrived at this remote barn after I told her that was our biggest concern. It was general chit-chat, and I felt very comfortable talking with her, unlike in Rapla where I was so nervous. I then introduced my sister, who immediately said how I constantly talk about Vanilla Ninja. Lenna responded those days are so long ago. Although those Vanilla Ninja days are over, it’s those days that started this crazy journey in my life, discovering Lenna, travelling so much, and putting me in the Jingle Barn on 20 May 2017. Lenna then asked our thoughts on the concert (obviously it was great!) and whether I still listened to her. I said the last 5 years it’s all been her solo career, to which she replied “Good!”. It seemed to please her that such a big fan from her Vanilla Ninja days had moved on with her to her solo career, rather than remain nostalgic for Vanilla Ninja.
Lenna tried for Eurovision this year, and that’s when I first saw the shadows of my destiny, which prompted my committment to Kyiv. While she failed to win Eesti Laul, Kyiv and Eurovision proved the link that allowed me to see her again, just like they were when I discovered her. The synergy of time, the setting, meeting Lenna and, of course, hearing all those beautiful songs – these will be life-long memories to savour. A bit more chit-chat among the three of us, a few laughs, some photos, and that was it. It was bye Lenna, bye the Jingle Barn and bye this wonderful evening. Let’s hope it’s not another 9 years until the next one.
Enjoy once more!
– Vanilla Ninja represented Switzerland in 2005 at Eurovision with the song Cool Vibes, finishing 8th.