i just had one of the best weeks of my life in iceland.
now, i don’t want to get this crooked: it’s not because iceland “the vision”, magical fairytale place you hear mentioned all the time these days. reykjavik is a cold, dark (in the winter), windy place. it’s sprawling as all get out. it’s not always picture-perfect colorful buildings.
even so, i have ended up falling in love with this city and country whose culture and music i so revere– that icy, treeless grassy nordic island. that’s what this ‘best week’ business is about.
it’s also chalked up to the festival of my dreams (iceland airwaves – an annual mostly icelandic music festival), bringing so much life, people, and art to the streets and every venue you can think of from art museums, breweries, or even retirement homes (not outdoors – it’s november in iceland). then on top of that, my family, whom i hadn’t seen in over a year, met me there!
when did i ever think i’d be hanging out in KEX hostel, drinking a beer, listening to a live KEXP performance with my family?! what is life?
so, it’s all been a total dream come true. i awoke on wednesday morning, my first morning in iceland, at about 7:00 thanks to the one hour time difference. waiting and waiting for the light to come out. i brewed a cup of tea, and then it was past 8:30 and i was a bit confused. “how do people deal with this on the regular? could i deal with this?” (photo evidence, above, from 8:35am) finally the sun rose at 9:00, and we were right out the door to grund on hringbraut to see soley perform. that’s all i knew. soon come to find out that grund is a retirement home, and i enter to find soley and a few other musicians (including her father on trombone!) playing for the seniors on piano, guitars and horns. then it was time for stretching.
the entire room, which was full of icelanders, seniors, and international concert goers all stood up and stretched together. then the president came and said a few rather inspiring things (below), and sóley played some songs for us all. kindergarteners filed in in the front, drinking their juice boxes, and sóley oliged them with an icelandic children’s song.
that is when i knew that this was going to be a very strange and oh-so special time. and that i was so glad i got us out the door at 9:00 to hike across town. that first set definitely set the tone for what kind of festival this was to be.
(his and hers favorite icelandic candy, below)
over the next few days, i was in and out of venues. slurping noodles at noodle station, window shopping, walking up and down the festively-decorated laugavegur about six times per day, then trekking back up to skipholt and putting up the feetsies, the latest issue of grapevine in hand for a well-deserved rest. there was the limping all the way home late at night because my left foot had the craziest cramp from standing for so long. i guess i could’ve assumed that a four day festival could take quite the toll on one’s body!
i went to several shows at KEX hostel – it was one of my main prerogatives after all as it is the home of all of the kexp iceland airwaves streams. the place i’d watched for years and listened to my favorite dj’s, kevin cole and cheryl waters introduce the next artist who would invariably be my new favorite that year.
except i was there this time! i was there. it’s hard to convey the magnitude of watching magic happen for years and then finally being there in that very room! the first time, the venue was packed to the gills for ólafur arnalds, and it being the first day of airwaves, i had no idea that you have to show up a bit early to any KEX show. i learned this and many lessons over the next few days, but mostly, i learned just how very relaxed this festival is – something that can’t be said for most others i’ve ever been to. even as an outsider, i had the feeling several times (especially during a magnetic performance, like agent fresco’s friday night set at gamla bió) that i wasn’t actually an outsider anymore. i was now a part of it, and it was bigger than me.
i was finally seeing my icelandic music heroes, live. almost one after another. all of them. fufanu (my favorite, again, after seeing them this summer in berlin!), mammút, ólafur, högni, sóley… another aspect that gave this week such a dreamy feel. when you’re immersed in a music festival, it starts to seem “normal”. yep, we gotta get going for these five bands in a row, then we’re going to do it again tomorrow! it seems like your job. you forget that actually is not your real life, especially not when you live in the musical no-man’s-land that is south bohemia.
(above: milkywhale, fufanu, & blood orange)
things you probably didn’t know about the festival: this was its 20th year! and true to iceland’s progressive social equality standards, the festival (both performers and staff) are completely “gender equal”, meaning there are an equal amount of men as women. pretty groovy, you might say!
needless to say, coming back to reality hadn’t been the easiest but the whole “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” has been my mantra this week.
i almost didn’t even write this post because i wouldn’t know how to put it all into words, as my feelings about attending iceland airwaves and being in iceland this week have been generally indescribable. but i’ve tried. and threw in a few photos too which i hope somewhat capture the place, time and feeling of my time in reykjavik this month. the bright, low sun. the dark mornings, the clear days.
i realize this is a pretty niche post. you’re on a travel / expat / lifestyle blog set in southwestern czech republic reading about an icelandic music festival i went to in reykjavik because i’ve been following it for years thanks to seattle radio station, kexp. however, my life and interests are just sort of niche. if you’ve made it all the way here – i salute you.
after i’ve finished listening to the acts i missed and albums i want to buy someday, i’ll be back with a post about what i got up to after the festival ended. it can’t all be rushing around venues – a little bit of time outside the city is necessary to balance things out!
do you have a dream festival? have you ever traveled for one before?
ps, peruse all past iceland posts here! there’s a fair bit of them.