þriðjudagur, nóvember 14, 2006

vestmannaeyjar 2

The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) are a place of immense pride, a little Land unto themselves. It is said (by proud islanders) that Iceland itself is the largest island in the Westman Islands class. And that the southernmost island in the Westmans is in fact Grand Canaria. There are around 4,000 people living on the Westman Islands, but the plural name is a little misleading because in fact they all live on Heimaey ("Home Island") in a cozy little town that wraps itself around the fishing harbor. Fishing is the big deal, the center of all activity and commerce, and it seems that everyone in the Westman Islands is either a fisherman or married to one. The Westman Islands band, who we were joining, is made up of a rotating mix of whatever musicians whose boats happen to be in the harbor at the time.

In 1973 a volcano forced the overnight evacuation of everyone living on the island -- around 5,000 people -- and covered about a third of the town in lava over the next several months, creating a new mountain out of the sea. And creating National Geographic pictures that I would pore over as a little kid in suburban Massachusetts. Even though a lot of houses were buried under ash and solid lava rock, most of the islanders came back and rebuilt the place. And good thing, too: it's probably the friendliest town in the Land. Or next to it.

We arrived on the ferry at around 3 p.m. and the concert was promptly at 4. (Bad weather had caused us to miss the planned midnight rehearsal the night before.) Our bandmates met us at the docks and drove us up to the concert venue (a church) where we were advised that no booze was allowed inside. So we left our Vín Búð bags in the backs of the jeeps. Once inside, it was a mad rush to change into concert clothes and get out on the stage to rehearse the combined ensemble. We got through maybe a third of the song intros and then the townspeople started showing up early, so we had to get back off the stage. It was then that Stebbi Skór, the director of the Westman Islands band, handed me the remainder of my music. I had never seen about half of the parts I was playing, which let me feel like a real professional, sight-reading my way through a concert for the first time.

We filed onstage at 4 to a packed crowd and a lot of applause. The music, lots of pop tunes and Icelandic national songs, brightened up that dim and quiet place and brought a lot of smiles in the audience. In places it felt like that somewhat dingy church was being shaken to its steel-clad walls. Stebbi Skór introduced several of the pieces and had the packed audience in the palm of his hand with his droll delivery. The guest conductor and fisherman Ósvaldur (who shipped out the next morning and won't be home until Christmas) conducted his own arrangements of Simon and Garfunkel and sappy Chicago tunes. The people loved it so much that after the encore (Á Sprengisandi), we did the encore again. Then after that, Stebbi asked the crowd what else they wanted to hear, and they shouted out their favorites from the program. And so we blasted our way through Paul Simon again. It was a two-hour show and certainly the biggest happening in the town that rainy Saturday.



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