‘I Never Went South’: Ísafjörður’s 100% Free Good-Time Family Festival

‘I Never Went South’: Ísafjörður’s 100% Free Good-Time Family Festival

RX Beckett
Photos by
Alísa Kalyanova

“It’s such a treat for us,” Sigurlaug Gísladóttir of Mr. Silla and múm said. “All the companies in Iceland have an annual party and we don’t have that as musicians, so this kind of feels like one.” Sitting backstage, jam-packed with members of other bands and friends, brimming with smiles and laughter, it was easy to see how the Aldrei fór ég suður music festival would make you never go south (as the name essentially translates).

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It seemed like everyone was in Ísafjörður over Easter weekend. As we rolled into town late Thursday night, the city was swarming with packs of beer can-clutching revellers. The celebration was in full swing as we arrived, everyone having just returned from the festival’s kick-off party stand-up show with Anna Svava Knútsdóttir and Hugleikur Dagsson. Between the six-hour drive and a terrible hangover of my own, I hit the hey to rev up for the next day’s show!

Who doesn’t like plokkfiskur!?

On Friday morning, after a quick coffee and mini-breakfast, we were off to make the rounds and meet friends. First stop was over to our hosts for the weekend Magnús and Ragnheiður’s seafood restaurant Tjöruhúsið on Neðstikaupstaður, the oldest part of town, famous for its killer dinner buffet and arguably the best plokkfiskur in the country. Their whole family takes part in this operation, and we even found Bóas Hallgrímsson, singer of Reykjavík!, sporting an apron in the kitchen.

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Once totally stuffed, we jumped over to Edinborg, restaurant and cultural centre, to meet up with Gang Related and Morðingjarnir drummer Helgi Pétur Hannesson. He and his family recommended we take a quick trip through the longest tunnel in Iceland to Flateyri. On the way out, we ran into Ása Dýradóttir of Mammút in the entrance, glowing with excitement over finding a dead raven in Flateyri. “I’m going to make art!” she said. So we went there too, and it was lovely, but we didn’t bring back any bird corpses.

We got back to Ísafjörður in time to hit up Edinborg again for a kick-off beer—which was grossly overpriced, but what are you going to do. Over in the room across from the eatery I ran into Kristján Freyr, drummer of Reykjavík! and festival coordinator, who told me a short conference on music in Iceland was about to take place. He invited me to stay and flippantly demand the panel to switch to English but the show was about to start so we hit the road.

Can’t rain on our parade

We got to the show while the second band was playing—the mighty Mugison! Mugison and his father masterminded the festival back in 2003 and got it happening with the help and goodwill of their fun-loving friends and neighbours. When I run into him later on I ask if it’s still exciting for him. “Yeah, when the weekend comes and everything is smooth,” he said, “there are so many things to get done. We’re just eight guys doing this and we juggle the whole process. It’s one of these things where you postpone a lot, but finally when you get to it it’s not that big of a deal.

A couple of weeks later everybody’s like ‘what the fuck?’”

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The weather had started out seemingly bearable, but as the evening wore on, despite all the beers, we were wet and freezing so we squeezed our way inside for the end of Páll Óskar’s set. Next up were Gang Related who knew how tough their spot was to fill. “I am freaking out and really, really excited,” said their frontman Albert Hauksson, “This is a hundred times more people than we’ve ever played for. I hope we do a good job. We were joking that he [Páll] was here to open up for us!” They damn near stole the show when the festival’s announcer Pétur Magnússon lightly coaxed the drummer’s three-year old son onto the stage, rocking a tiny two-stringed guitar perfectly to the beat. That pretty much topped the night right there.

Americans and lovers

The show on Saturday started two hours earlier than Friday so we ignored our minor hangovers to take in as much  of the town in the daytime. The liquor store was finally open so it all started with a mandatory stop there to grab whatever was left on the shelf. Afterwards we decided to check out the Westfjord Artfest. At Edinborg we ran into exhibiting artists Þorvaldur Jónsson and Björk Viggósdóttir supervising the Phobo Phobia exhibition, a collection of posters from different artists illustrating various phobias. A collection of individual, large artworks—mostly paintings—were also on display over at the Nordic Bakery.

We made it to the gig in time to see the end of opening band Pollapönk, who are the only children’s music band ever that rocks. We’d never heard of the next band, Ketura, so we thought it would be some local kids, but it turned out to be an American electro-rock duo. According to Kristján Freyr, a friend of theirs from Súðavík who played the previous year was responsible. “There’s a really nice guy from Súðavík named Eggert who rents Mugison’s house when Mugison is in Reykjavík,” he said. “Basically he just asked us really nicely if Ketura could play! We didn’t know anything about them, but we said okay.” For better or for worse, they played to the children like they were the headliners. It was something else.

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After running off for an incredibly delicious buffet dinner back at Tjöruhúsið, we spent the next solid six hours at the show. The weather was no better than the day before but everyone was boozed up and feeling really good. There were seemingly no bad vibes, even when the police were trolling about with their “drug-sniffing” dog that seemed more adept at smelling teen angst than Mary-Jane. The love-in hit its peak during Reykjavík!’s set when a couple was called onto the stage and got engaged. Then Retro Stefson gave their most top-notch performance to close the show and everyone went off their tits. Sadly, in a few hours, we had to go south.

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