miðvikudagur, apríl 01, 2009

blönduós blues

The northern Icelandic town of Blönduós, or "Blended Delta", is one of the most fascinating places in all of the Land. Just like its counterpart in the southern U.S., this delta is the cradle of Icelandic blues.

My buddies and I stopped there on the way north to Akureyri last weekend. Though it was only 9 o'clock on a Friday morning when our salt-spattered SUV pulled into the lot of the local N1 gas station, the place was already beginning to buzz. Inside, around a table to one side of the road-stop restaurant sat a circle of farmers, talking and drinking coffee from plastic cups. I went into the restroom and when I emerged, one of the farmers was beginning to unpack a guitar from a battered black case at his feet.

He started to tune up and pluck the strings with little twangs. I tried to look nonchalant, ordering up a couple of kleinur and a coffee at the counter. My friend nudged me and whispered, "That's Leadbelly Guðjónsson!"

Just then the man began to sing. It was gravelly and sweet, and the conversations around him died off one by one. He sang and then spoke in a funny dialect about the trials and tribulations of the northern farmer. And as he did this, the blúsfélag came alive around him. One by one, his sheep-farmer compatriots took out their own instruments from kuldagalli pockets or paper bags. One had a mouth harp, another a "fish scraper" made from an actual herring. And before our very eyes a magical music came to life.

We stayed for two or three songs, but quietly hanging back and not applauding. These blues farmers were in a little world of their own, and we felt privileged to have a glimpse into it. After we were back on the road, my friend told me that not only had I seen Iceland's Leadbelly, but also "Reverend" Ragnar, "Gus" Gustafsson, and Sheep-Bone Vilhjálmsson.

So next time you're on the road to Akureyri, stop in at the little N1 restaurant in Blönduós. You just might be as lucky as we were that day.


Blogger JDK said...

Love the use of "blúsfélag" fellas.

Blogger Joy said...

I call April Fool!

(On the off chance that it's true, I must say it's a great story either way!)

Anonymous Biskupinn said...

The dulcet tones still ring in my ears. This was truly a moment I'll cherish.

Thanks for bringing the memories flooding back for me :-)

Blogger Lyle said...

I love this idea. Every country's got its own blues roots. You should do one post a month like this and see if readers can guess which one is not like the others.

Blogger JB said...

Lyle, I'd like to try that, but it seems like after Michael Lewis' exploding Range Rovers, people will basically believe anything they read about Iceland.

"I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn't believe anything." -D. St. Hubbins

Anyway, I learned something new yesterday about April Fool's jokes (aprílgabb) in Iceland. It isn't enough to trick someone into believing something that's false, you actually have to fool them into motion of some kind: get them to come outside to see something crazy you found in the yard, for example. There are always newspaper articles that try to get people to appear somewhere public, such as this one that I fell for back in 2005.

Anonymous Skúli said...

As a former resident of Blönduós and a member of the local men's choir this warmed my heart. Blönduós, and the surrounding countryside is indeed home to much music. Every farmer is a singer. An unforgettable experience is a party of the choir after a concert: The conductor playing the piano, someone holding a guitar, everyone singing until morning, never the same song twice.


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