Ísafjörður wants you to know that it’s awoken from wintry slumber and it’s celebrating with the thirteenth annual Aldrei fór ég suður festival. Never mind the thick layer of ice caked onto the streets, nor the piles of snow obscuring all but the heads of the churchyard’s headstones: the sun has finally crested above the mountains that encircle this Westfjords town and promises to continue its climb into sleepless summer. Time to play.
The thirteenth iteration of the festival, taking place over Easter weekend, will feature a wide array of musical acts, from songstress Emilíana Torrini, whose words plumb the lyrical depths of human experience, to newcomer GKR who, by rapping about breakfast and school-day malaise, seems to do just the same.
Other acts this year include rap duo Úlfur Úlfur, electro-poppers Sykur, and throwback outfit Risaeðlan. In addition, the organisers recently announced that actor and songwriter Laddi, who is known for assuming comedic personas in his performances, will leave his characters behind and perform a rare straight-up music set.
Can-do spirit and DIY approach
The festival is a celebration of music, but it’s also a showcase of Ísafjörður’s can-do spirit. Started as a labour of love amongst friends, the festival has maintained its DIY approach, albeit on a larger scale: the festival is expected to at least double the local population of 3,000. Despite this draw, however, admission has always been free.
This year, the concert breaks with tradition with a new venue, moving to the warehouse of a shrimp processing facility, across the street from a handful of houses which constitute Iceland’s oldest extant cluster of buildings. But the festival will extend beyond the warehouse walls. Off-venue events such as concerts, comedy shows and art exhibitions will ensure that there’s never a dull moment.
I never went south
Although the festival’s name, which means “I never went south,” is a playful jab at Reykjavík, Kristján Freyr Halldórsson, one of the festival’s organisers, isn’t interested in playing into any petty rivalry between the capital and the rest of the country. “Our goal is just to get people to Ísafjörður, to experience this town, the area, and the Westfjords,” Kristján tells me.
Having grown up in Hnífsdalur, a small village down the road, he exudes civic pride as we walk around town. He points out the barbershop where he got his childhood haircuts. “They still call the younger barber ‘the boy,'” he says, “even though he’s been there for forty-five years.”
As we approach the library—formerly the town’s hospital—Hálfdán Bjarki Hálfdánsson, another festival organiser, tells me he was born in what is now the coatroom. Such is the small-town vibe of Ísafjörður. The more I talk to the organisers, the more I realise that “music festival” is a misnomer. Aldrei fór ég suður is also a community gathering and a big party that brings together locals and travelers, kids and adults, musicians and spectators alike into a city-wide celebration.