Árstíðir – US Tour week one; June 24th to July 1st 2015
While Árstíðir were hopefully enjoying their day off somewhere in Maryland, I made the track back home from what might have been the craziest tour with the guys yet. The plans I had made included ten concerts on seven days in six different cities, but that is not what really happened. When the proverbial shit hit the fan, we all felt like crying, but I imagine us chilling after a concert a few years down the road reminiscing about “the time the band got stuck in Canada” and having a good laugh about it. Not yet though. For now it was a good lesson to be learned in patience and letting go as well as exploring what happens to friendships under severe stress. However, after a rather disastrous tour start, the show was on the road and the relief brought all the more enjoyment to the concerts that actually did happen. For me it was an amazing tour on several levels and I am deeply grateful to the band for having me. These are memories I will carry to my grave.
1. The soundwoman-barkeeper, rarities and a weird mood: Twins Jazz, Washington, DC; June 24th 2015 (8 pm and 10 pm)
On a rather cold and rainy Tuesday morning I found myself on a flight to Washington, DC (via Amsterdam) and arrived in the middle of a heat wave. The band had arrived in Boston the previous day and were kicking off the tour with a radio interview. I had the first night to myself and was much looking forward to the two concerts the second night at Twins Jazz in DC. Spent the day sightseeing and made my way to the club around opening time. Was warmly greeted by the guys, but still felt the subdued mood and could not make sense of it until Ragnar told me they did not receive their work visas and thus, were not legally allowed to play these concerts. Long story short: The State Department’s computers had been hacked, causing downtime and therefore a severe backlog in their visa processing. Even though they had filled all the paperwork well in advance, the band ended up without work visas and entered the country on tourist visas. Despite being scared of the consequences, four band members decided to play these first two gigs either way.
Setting up the equipment and soundchecking proved to be difficult because the club did not have enough microphones, cables and other equipment. It all came across pretty unprofessional and unprepared. Also the barkeeper double as the sound woman. Luckily Karl knows what he is doing, otherwise I doubt they would have gotten the sound right. This on to of the whole visa situation didn’t exactly help the guys to feel more relaxed. : (
Either way, the show must go on and the small club was filled pretty nicely when it was time to start. The announcement of the band was followed by a statement about this being “a listening club” where conversations should be kept down. That may be a nice idea, but the audience was overall too quiet as if they didn’t dare to cheer.
Being deprived of a cello for the night, the band improvised the setlist, picking songs they felt they could play as a quartet. Once they started and got into it I forgot all about the subdued mood and just enjoyed seeing and hearing them play. I tried to provide as many good vibes as I could and eventually they guys got into it too and I even saw some smiles. 🙂
The venue as such was smallish, long and narrow with tables set up in front of the little stage. The guys hardly had enough room to move, but there was a grand piano. Less than that it was all chaos of cables on stage and lots of weird and interesting decoration in the back. People seemed to listen intently always waiting until the very last note rang out before they clapped. Some of them had heard of the guys before, others hadn’t.
It was a weird concert overall, not only because the setlist was so mixed up and the cello was missing. Making up the set on the go there was a lot of discussion and some laughter going on and a few stories told, but not the usual jokes. One moment I remember distinctly was a police siren being heard outside mid-song and Daníel smiling about it.
Interestingly enough they never played an encore. People just didn’t cheer enough and the house music went on almost immediately after they stopped. I liked the gig, it was an OK start with a good turnout and a few people stopped by after to get merchandise or chat with the guys.
Setlist (not in order)
Ljoð í sand
Day & Nights
Someone who cares
You just have to know of me
Góda veslu göra skal
Nu gleymist ég
Once people had cleared out and there was only me and one Icelandic guy left. We waited for the audience of the second gig to turn up, but they never did. It surprised me that nobody stayed, but maybe they didn’t want to pay twice? Either way, the result was what I consider my private concert. They guys played almost a full show anyway and didn’t repeat the first set either. Instead, they just did any song that came to their minds. It was wonderful and put a big smile on my face.
They even performed two a capella songs and for the second one they were joined by Unnur and the Icelandic guy in the audience. I absolutely loved it. There were so many highlights, it is hard to pick the one I enjoyed most. The started out with ‘Látum okkur sjá’, a song I had not heard in a long time. That already made me happy and it only got better from there.
Even though they had an audience of only four (counting Jeanine the manager and Unnur in with the crowd), the band still made introductions to the songs and told a few stories, e.g. joking they usually only performed ‘Heyr hymna smiður’ in train stations. It was the first time in a long time I heard ‘Ró’ in the violin version. It was beautiful. 🙂
The biggest surprise for me, however was ‘Siðasta Kveðjan’. Being one of my favorite songs it always makes me happy to hear it, but since it is so long it rarely fits the setlist. It was a lovely rendition, if just a tiny bit rusty. Ragnar explaind they had not played it in two years and I had to correct him, because it was only a bit over one year ago. 😉 If I’d had to decide they’d have played longer, but of course I was happy they played this second show at all. I felt so lucky to have been there. 😀
Setlist (not in order)
Látum okkur sjá
Heyr, Himna Smiður
Land míns föður
Things you said
After the show it was time for packing up things and saying goodbye, before catching the last subway. I wished them good luck with their visas and hugged them, knowing we’d all see each other in Toronto the next day.
2. Wonderful people and big decisions: Church of St. Stephen in the Field; Toronto, June 25th 2015
I left Washington early the next morning, catching a flight to Toronto while the guys were of course driving in their old school bus turned tour bus (Ragnar’s friend John had remodeled and painted it and was the band’s driver for the tour). So far I had only seen it from the venue’s window the previous night, but it sure looked cool. Coming out of the DC heat, Toronto felt almost cool (it was still around 25 C) and it gave me a chance to attend to my sunburn. 😉 I didn’t spend as much time sightseeing as I had in Washington, because I was just too tired to walk around.
After an afternoon nap I made my way to the venue and got there much earlier than I had expected. The doors were open with the guys still setting up and sound checking so I found myself a place in a corner and just listened. Between soundcheck and the show I got an update on the whole work visa situation: They had rushed to Toronto to get to the embassy on time, but it was already closed. The expectation was getting the visas the following morning. Only they had a TV interview scheduled in Rochester then. The final decision was to send Karl to do the interview alone and have the Icelandic band members stay and get their visas. If I were in their shoes I would have done the same.
Before the show there was food. Amazing food provided by their hosts and the concert organizer. Since I was there I got invited too. <3 The mood was a bit subdued, but knowing they were actually allowed to play that night (no special permit needed for Canada) and the beauty of the venue lifted everyone’s spirit. The small church sure was pretty and the sound was great too. 🙂 We barely managed to finish eating and get the food out of the way before the doors opened and people started filing in. It may not have been sold out, but it was nicely packed and everyone was excited to finally see the guys live – some had even traveled from the US to see them there.
I spent some time walking around to take pictures as well, trying to capture the mood and the beauty of the venue without disturbing the audience too much. More often than not, I was too caught up in the moment to even lift my camera and just listened. Everyone else was caught up in the moment too. listened intently and cheered loudly. It brightened the band’s mood and mine. I had been nervous for them and unhappy for them, but all that was lifted off of my shoulders and taken away by the music. They truly made the best of it, delivering a great concert. 🙂
What I didn’t take a picture of was the setlist and I cannot remember in retrospect. I know it was more or less the same they played everywhere on the tour with songs from Hvel and older ones nicely mixed together and a few a cappella numbers thrown in. The sound was great, not only because the church offered better reverb than the club in DC, but because the sound engineer knew what he was doing. The lights, too, were just right for the occasion. The venue was a good choice – just the right size and just the right atmosphere for the band. All in all it was as close to perfect as it gets.
Quite a few people came to chat after the show and successfully distracted the band from what lay ahead. Once the fans were gone, they were exhausted thought. I did not want to leave, not wanting to be alone with my thoughts. I got invited by their hosts too, but after talking to Gunnar and Ragnar about it I realized it was not my place to be and they needed time to themselves. So it was time for hugs and goodbyes.
3. An unplanned break: Rochester; June 26th and 27th, 2015
Karl and Jeanine were laving for Rochester that night and to my surprise they offered me a lift. Really? Wow, thank you. We went to my hostel to get my suitcase and off we were in a rental car to a parking lot somewhere outside Toronto where the tour bus was waiting. There, in the wee hours of the morning, I had my first encounter with John, Ragnar’s friend and their driver for the tour. I instantly liked him. Off we were in the coolest tourbus that ever existed. what an honor to be allowed to go with them. The ride was uneventful, the border crossing was smoothly and at the Rochester hotel a comfortable bed invited me for a nap.
First though, some TV watching was in order. Karl barely had time to get ready after we arrived, because of an interview in the morning. Originally the whole band was supposed to be there, but with the others still stuck in Canada, he had to do it on his own. He fared well and played a solo version of ‘Á meðan jörðin sjefur’ to boot. so far, so good. Got word later, that the others were still stuck in Canada at least until Monday. Damn the hacker who caused the visa delay! We had all been hoping that at least one of the concerts at Rochester Jazz was going to happen.
Couldn’t sleep, decided to go for a walk and explore Rochester a bit. Didn’t get far, didn’t really see much through the tears I was crying, but it felt good to walk for a while. It felt good to cry too. All the worries of the past few days, the tension I felt between people I consider my family, the realization that the plans I had made were not gone come true and, worse, that the band’s biggest gigs, right here in Rochester, were not happening just got too much and I needed that relief.
Pulled myself together, got some food, returned to the hotel. Got in touch with C. who was going to come from Buffalo and told him it wasn’t happening. 🙁 Ran into John, he offered me a beer and I drank it too. And I really do not like beer so that’s the state I was in. We decided to make the best of it though, went out, watched some bands at the festival, got drunk on rum & coke, had a great time. Upon my return I joined Jeanine and Karl for pizza with Karl sharing a few stories from the road. Not a bad end to the day. 🙂
The next day, after an extended brunch, it was time to say goodbye until New York (since the concert in Boston was not happening either). I saw them to the bus, then stayed at the hotel lobby because it was raining all afternoon and my bus was not until the evening. With nothing to do I received a message that Jim Kroft’s first Journeys documentary was available and immediately bought a copy. It was money well spent and I enjoyed 90 minutes of inspiration. Later a guy who was selling custom guitars at the jazz festival offered me a cookie and we had the best conversation about pretty much everything. It was great!
Finally, it was time to leave for my bus. It took me ages to find the bus stop in the darkness and by the time I finally saw the tiny Megabus sign I felt quite desperate, because anyone I had asked for directions didn’t know where it was. Well, I found it, but standing there in the pouring rain with no shelter but my tiny umbrella did not make me feel any better. When nobody else showed up and the bus was late I came close to a nervous breakdown with tears streaming down my face and me begging the universe for help. Yep, I was at the end of my rope. Luckily the bus got there eventually and as soon as I got inside I felt better. It was warm and after I had taken off my soaked jacket, shoes and socks, it was dry too. I dozed off quickly and slept on and off until we arrived in New York City the next morning.
4. Pride, Haltftíðir and relief: Rockwood Music Hall, New York City; June 29th, 2015
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived at my hostel so I walked all the way through Central Park and later took the subway back. Checked in, got food, and relaxed for a while, thinking about what to do with my day off. Then I remembered that hearing about Toronto Pride being on that weekend and wondered when NYC pride was happening. Found out it was that very day so all there was to do was grab my camera and go. It was fun! Had a great day overall.
Meanwhile Karl was working on putting together a show with Kyle of The Anatomy of Frank, just in case the others were not going to get their visas on Monday morning. On Facebook they announced the show would possibly played by Halftíðir. 😀 Either way, there was going to be a concert and I was much looking forward to it. Now imagine my relief when on Monday morning I heard that it had all worked out and the band was on a plane to New York City. YES! It was a beautiful day so I went to Highline Park, walking its length and ending up building “Árstíðir” in Lego for a collectivity project by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. 🙂
In the late afternoon, I made my way to the venue. Staying all the way up on Broadway, near 104th street, it was quite a trek down to the Bowery where the Rockwood Music Hall is located. After a subway ride and a long walk I found myself by the door, wondering which entry was the correct one. A few more people showed up, but we didn’t see Árstíðir until we got in. At first , I didn’t see much at all though. The venue was extremely dark. It had two levels, so I opted for upstairs, hoping I’d get some good shots from there.
Support act Gracie and Rachel started playing soon and by then the place was at least somewhat filled. I enjoyed their set and soon realized that my vantage point was far from ideal. Thus, I moved downstairs and kept walking around to take pictures. The duo played piano and violin mostly and had a drummer for some songs. Lights were bad, mostly red, but the sound as OK and their music was a good start into the evening. When they were done, I spotted Kyle in the audience and briefly said hello.
When it was finally time for the guys (and gal!) to play, seeing them walk on stage made me feel so happy and relieved. I am sure they must have felt the same after not knowing how or when this tour was going to continue for them. Finally they could do what they had come here to do. They put on a great show too, just what I needed after the unplanned break. Had been hoping for Kyle to guest, but he didn’t. After all, he wasn’t needed any more. One of the women from Gracie and Rachel joined them on violin for a few songs. For the life of me I can’t remember if that was Gracie or Rachel though. :/ It was lovely, she did a great job. They must have rehearsed together for Halftíðir.
Can’t remember much of the setlist, but it started with the first three of four songs from ‘Hvel’. They also played ‘You just have to know of me’, ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Days & Nights’, all songs I love dearly. It didn’t really matter what they played though, all that mattered was that they played, that they finally had visas, that everything was going to be OK from here on. The audience loved it too, I just wished more people had come.
Since the video of their impromptu singing ‘Heyr himna smiður’ at the train station in Wuppertal had gone viral on youTube and was especially watched widely in the Us, the guys did a lot of a cappella song on the tour. This night was the first time Unnur sang with them. It was lovely, she should do it all the time. Of course their were stories too, funny ones of their trip so far. They talked about the visa situation too, but they didn’t make a joke of it yet. It was a solid concert after all with the mood considerably better than at the first two. This felt like the moment the tour really started.
After the show, a few people stuck around to chat, but in the dark venue it was actually difficult to see anyone. 😉 Met one of Ragnar’s High School friends and spent some time hanging out with a couple, who stayed until the guys left. We went for a coffee and some food together before going our separate ways. 🙂
5. Let’s not talk about the elephant in the room: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC; June 30th, 2015
The next day I took a bus to Washington, D.C. and dragged all my luggage to the parking lot of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where the tour bus picked me up. It was rather hot and I was glad to have found some shade by a few trees. The band had been asked to play at the opening of an exhibition called ‘Iceland Revealed’ – it was an invitation only event so they had to smuggle me in as part of the crew. Once I was inside with them, nobody care, but I could not just have walked in there. Among the guests were the Icelandic ambassador to the USA who used to be the Icelandic prime minister and the Icelandic minister of foreign affairs. Everyone was dressed up for the occasion, finger food and booze were available too. I was impressed and happy I had brought a dress.
They played at the entrance hall of the museum, pretty close to a huge Mammut, so the joke about “the elephant in the room” got mentioned a few times that evening. Before people arrived, there was ample time for soundcheck and taking pictures. I loved the museum backdrop and even snuck upstairs to get a few shots from there. Later I was told I was not allowed up there, but when back anyway when no-one was looking. 😉 It’s not like I did anything but take pictures of the downstairs area.
Once people had arrived there was lots of talk and the band got to play two short sets. Sadly, very few people were listening or so it seemed. A handful payed attention though and actually watched them play. Me, I loved the whole weird secret gig atmosphere of it all, but felt sorry for the guys that people had not come for them. However, the Icelandic ambassador sang an a cappella song with them which was pretty cool. He also wanted pictures with them and so did some others. I ended up collecting cards and sending out pictures to a few people. 😀
It was all quite relaxed and enjoyable to be there, we got to mingle with the guests and even saw the exhibition – great photographs. I could not thank the guys enough and at the end they even gave me a lift, because like me, they were staying in Falls Church, where the next concert was going to me. It was a night for partying, but sadly I had to leave. Bad timing. Luckily, their host drove me to the Air B’n’B I was staying at and I ended the evening with a nice chat with my host who got curious and decided to join me for the concert the following day.
6. All is well that ends well: Falls Church Episkopal, Falls Church; July 1st, 2015
I spent a beautiful day in Falls Church, walking around, going swimming, having good food and being complimented on my tattoos. The sun was out and everything was perfectly relaxing. Got to the venue, a church, way too early and as luckily spotted by Ragnar who let me in. Thus, I had the chance to sit down and watch soundcheck, taking in the atmosphere of the place. It was going to be the last concert for me on this trip so I’d decided to enjoy the hell out of it. That was easy to do. The concert was just the way I had hoped it would be.
Slowly the church filled up and even the Icelandic ambassador showed up with his wife. I knew the guys were going to have a support act so I was curious how they’d be like. It did not take long until they started. They were a trio with a guitarist, drummer and singer called Kel do Nascimento. Not really my type of music, but very listenable and good for creating a relaxed mood. Watching them was fun, because they got really into their playing.
Finally it was time for my band to perform and I got really nervous for them. With the nice church setting and after that strange week behind them, this felt like the real start of the tour. As the walked on to the big, but low stage, people grew quiet and looked at them expectantly. There is always that one magical moment when the band has taken their places, just before they pick up their instruments and start playing. To me it feels like being suspended in time, because right then and there, everything is possible and no matter how often I have seen them, I don’t know yet where that day’s journey will be going. Once they started, I raised my camera and got into work mode, looking for good pictures.
After all the trouble and bad luck during the first week of their tour this felt like the first real concert, not only because it was a really nice venue, but also because they had had a few days to relax and get into tour mode by now. It was a proper show with two sets and a break in-between. The sound was really nice too and for the first time in a long time I was able to let the music carry me and drifted for a bit. One of the highlights was the band singing ‘Heyr himna smiður’ with a high school choir. They would do the same many more times on this tour, but this was the first and it was beautiful. How amazing it a to hear American kids sing in Icelandic is difficult to describe.
Everything else was just wonderful as well. The music flowed nicely and the setlist was a nice mixture of older and newer songs, complete with a few stories and the usual banter in-between. Finally they had arrived and the tour was really starting. 🙂 I loved the show and felt a little sad when it was over, because I knew I’d have to go home the next day and I did not want to leave. Caught up with my host and heard she had enjoyed it as well, hung out, finally met S. whom I had chatted with on Twitter a few times. It was all relaxed and lovely .
Those of us who stuck around long enough, got a special treat. Right out there in the hall between the last remaining guests, the guys sang an a cappella version of ‘And so it goes’. *sigh* It was the perfect end to a wonderful night and made it even harder for me to say goodbye. I would have loved to go out with the guys, but they were already moving onwards to he next city the same night. All I could do was hug them and wish them good luck for the remainder of the tour. We agreed that it could only get better from here.
Things you said
Someone who cares
Days & Nights
Á meðan jörðin sjefur
Nú gleymist ég
Ljoð í sand
You just have to know of me
Orð að eigin vali
Heyr himna smiður
Thus ended my little US tour with Árstíðir that was full of craziness, love, happy moments and some bad luck too. In the end I hope that in years to come only the good memories will remain and that, as Springsteen sings “Some day we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny”. After all: all is well that ends well. 🙂