When the Public Enlightenment Society was looking for a location for a song festival to be arranged in 1893, Sortavala expressed its interest through Dr O. A. Forsström. The planning of the festival was already under way, but in autumn 1892 a decision was made to postpone the festival due to a famine caused by poor crops. Sortavala itself was not among the most severely affected areas, but the organisation of festivities was not deemed proper at such a time. It was agreed with Secretary Grandstedt of the Public Enlightenment Society that the festival would take place in Sortavala in 1896. In practice, Sortavala was given three years to plan the festival, which made for a successful event: a record-breaking 967 persons registered as performers for the festival, which also attracted a great deal of audience.
On 16 August 1896, Sortavala's first song festival was opened on a stage built specifically for the purpose in the Vakkosalmi park and designed by Yrjö Blomstedt. Local musicians were successful in the competitive element of the festival, with many of the first prizes going to Sortavala. On the whole, the festival went very well. The festival was also historic in the sense that for the first time, poem singers, Finnish zither players and lamenters participated in the song festival. The Public Enlightenment Society was also pleased with the outcome.