A single festive moment in the midst of a blizzard

Posted in:Department of Musicology & Places
Guitarist on stage at Aldrei fór ég suður
Image: Julia Staples

Aldrei fór ég suður — literally “I never went south” — is an organically grown music festival taking place annually in Ísafjörður, capital of the Icelandic Westfjords. You could say it’s like Iceland Airwaves, but you would not be correct — there are no foreign bands and very few international hipsters. As he has done many times before and will do many times again, Aðalsteinn Jörundsson went up there. On Saturday 3 April 2010, he woke up feeling sick.

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I just woke up and I feel sick. I’ve dissolved two tablets of Treo in a cup of water and drunk it. I’m sharing a two person apartment with twelve other people. Some sailor rented us the house. Few of us actually know each other but we’re getting along just fine.

The guy who works at Gullfoss Cafe and makes the famous meat soup is here, and he just made 30 litres of it. It has become our steady go-to meal for any given occasion. It will last us all weekend but as a result everything is evenly glazed with lamb fat.

We smell, we don’t look our best, we’re having the best of times. It’s a festival and it doesn’t seem to matter that we’re not staying in a tent outdoors, that there’s no mud, that there’s a constant blizzard outside and I haven’t seen anyone wearing a beer hat. It seems like the lowest common denominator of a festival is the mysterious odor melange of smelly feet, stale beer and a piece of a rotten fruit cause somebody thought it was a good idea to bring something healthy along but has since forgotten about it and the fruit is hidden underneath something that also smells. In short, this is a festival. They all smell the same.

"As music festivals go, this one isn't really your average. Here, it feels more like we've all been invited to somebody's house and there happen to be loads of bands playing."

It’s the feeling, the location and the general attitude that makes Aldrei fór ég suður special. The relaxed, down to earth attitude of the good people of Ísafjörður somehow makes you feel welcome: “It’s a good time” one of them said, last night when I asked him what the festival means for him, as a local. “But in the end it’s just a weekend, there’s only one Friday every week and we celebrate every single one of them. This time there are loads of bands. That’s good too.”

Normally I, and everyone here, would think twice about going somewhere that is expected to be blizzarding the whole time. Even though it’s free, you’d still hesitate if it was any other festival, anywhere else in the world. I expected this, because I checked the weather reports beforehand, so I dressed for it, as did the others in this house. We just know that if you go to Ísafjörður at this time of year, you can expect the elements to try your endurance. That is the way of the Westfjords. Other than that, if you’re dressed in your blizzard best, you’ll be fine.

I could tell you that we’re here because of the charming people or the exciting weather, but I would be lying. Because of course we mainly come all this way for the music. But as music festivals go, this one isn’t really your average. Here, it feels more like we’ve all been invited to somebody’s house and there happen to be loads of bands playing. You’ll see 5 to 10 year old kids playing around the monitors on stage while a hard rocking beer guzzling metal band tear off their clothes on stage and scream bloody gore over a crowd where the mandatory festival goers are evenly mixed with local baby wagons and grandmothers minding them while the parents get jiggy with it in the back. So even though we like the festival for its music we also love it for the domestic feel of it.

I’m feeling a little better. I just helped my self to a huge bowl of steaming meat soup. I will drink one more cup of coffee then I’ll go to the swimming pool. After that the festival will proceed. There are talks of fewer bands tonight since a bulk of the musicians are still stuck at Reykjavík Airport and won’t make it on account of weather but no one is really devestated about it. There are other bands being formed or recruited for the show. It’s going to be fine.

Besides, we came for the music, not for the bands.

see you next year,
Aðalsteinn Jörundsson

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