Sometimes you just have to do things against all odds and better judgement

Árstíðir – Firkirkjan í Reykjaviík; December 22nd, 2016 / December 23rd, 2016

Christmas with Árstíðir is and always will remain something special. No matter which songs they play or which guest they have, they turn this concert into an unusual one every year. And even if I have no clue what is going on because they only speak Icelandic and the setlist is the same for both (or this year all three) concerts, each one is precious to me in its own way. That being said, this is one post about all the concerts. 😉 I loved them so much I will carry the memories in my heart for a long time. Not only did they cover one of my all time favorite songs, they also played two completely new compositions of their own and many more. They sang beautifully and their guest Magnús Þor Sigmundsson was just amazing. I fully understand why his songs are treasured by many Icelanders (even though I have no idea what they were about). These concerts were exactly what I needed to restore my faith in the band which was a bit shaken after Iceland Airwaves. They were also a great end to the year and will hopefully tide me over until I will see them again, whenever that is going to happen.

As much as I love going to the Christmas concerts in Reykjavík (my personal tradition for the past four years), this time they were not under a good star. With all the ups and downs over the year and leaving Airwaves lacking a proper goodbye, I had seriously considered not going. I wanted to be there, but at the same time I wanted to be as far away as possible. I’ll spare you the details, but in the end I decided to go anyway, against the well meaning advice by several friends to stay home and my own feeling of dread in the days preceding my trip. Why? Because I do not run away from important things or important people. I needed to confront my feelings and my fears to see what would remain at the end of the day, to see if the bond we have forged was still strong enough to carry me. Thus, I packed, I baked (because that is a tradition too) and got ready to go. Then, on my last day of work something happened that would change everything, but I didn’t realize it until three days later: I was told that I am no longer allowed to take my vacation days freely and according to my own plans. Even though I am fully within my legal rights to do so the powers that be decided that my way of life is not acceptable. Nothing I could do for the moment, so I filed it away and tried to let go (emphasis is on “try” here, the thoughts came haunting me every night).

This year, for the first time, the band performed a concert on December 22nd, but that had not been clear yet when I booked my trip. Luckily my flight was scheduled to land a 4 pm and the concert was supposed to happen at 9 – more than enough time to get to my hotel, rest for a bit, change and go to the concert – or so I thought. As it happened, everything that day way unusually late – we didn’t land on time, it took quite long to get my suitcase and due to the snow the airport bus needed over an hour to get to Reykjavik. Having 20 kg of luggage to drag through the snow was no fun either and by the time I finally reached my guesthouse (and found my room as there was no indication which room was mine), I barely had enough time to change clothes, pack the cookies, crackers and chocolates I had brought and leave. Grabbed some food on the way, arrived at the church a little before they opened the doors and luckily was allowed to wait inside. Said hello to everyone, chatted with Ragnar and Gunnar for a bit, labeled all the cookie bags and had a sandwich before the doors opened. After a while I went to the entrance, showed my ticket and received a programme with the setlist inside. I took a peak and got really excited because I spotted two new songs on there. They had Hallgrímur on cello, Victor on viola and Sólveig on violin. This was going to be good. 🙂

Slowly the church filled up and everyone waited. I knew they were not going to start on stage, but somewhere else in the church and that was exactly what happened. They still managed to surprise me, because Christmas music was playing and I didn’t hear them walk in during that. As soon as the music stopped, the guys started singing behind me by the mixing desk. It was beautiful. I love hearing them perform ‘Shchedryk’. This time it was only Daníel, Gunnar and Ragnar. When it was finished they walked towards the stage where they were joined by the others. Ragnar welcomed us to the concert and said a lot of other things. He finally asked who didn’t speak Icelandic and repeated the key points in English, but that only happened the first time around. 🙂

Second song on the setlist was ‘Scarborough Fair’ which I love on their first EP. Like the Simon & Garfunkel version the guys do not only sing ‘Scarborough Fair’, but combinde it with ‘Canticle’ and I was hoping they’d do it again. They did. While Ragnar and Gunnar sang ‘Scarborough Fair’, Daníel sang ‘Canticle’ and later on Gunnar even switched between both songs. It was just amazing and made me close my eyes to listen more intensely for the first time that night. <3 I still had a lot of thoughts occupying my head which made it difficult to fully enjoy the concert, but during the course of the evening I slowly relaxed into it and had several songs I got lost in. It was the usual combination between Christmas songs and their own and I loved the selection they made. 🙂

The always wonderful ‘Silfurskin’ never fails to make me happy and did so once again. The second a cappella song of the night, ‘Hátið fer að höndum ein’ followed, again only sung by the three members of Árstíðir. For the next two concerts though, Hallgrímur and Victor joined them. I would not mind to listen to a full a cappella concert I think. What they do with only their voices is just amazing. 🙂 Seeing ‘Het Dorp’ on the setlist surprised me, but since Gunnar had already learned the Dutch lyrics for the tour with Anneke, why not? The pronunciation may not have been perfect (as far as I could tell as someone who does not speak Dutch), but he did well. It felt a little weird at first without Anneke’s voice in the mix, but I really liked their version – this village he sang about sounded like a warm and cozy place.

After ‘Allt er hljótt’, which had been their Christmas single a few years ago, they asked Magnús on stage and set up a chair, microphone and music stand for him. He joined them to many cheers and talked quite a lot before the first song he played. It was lovely, I really liked his voice and his performance. Even though I have no idea what he was singing about, the songs touched me. His singing reminded me of someone of else, but I could not figure it out and gave up eventually. Something about it just felt very familiar to me. It also sounded warm and comforting, making me feel like I was in a safe place where nothing could hurt me. 🙂 Whatever he said between the songs seemed to be funny, as people were laughing. It was one of the times I wished I remembered anything from the brief Icelandic class I took. Yet it has always been part of the magic of the Christmas concert for me that I do not understand everything. 😉

Magnús left for a while and the guys treated us to one more a cappella song. <3 I took a few pictures here and there, but tried not to disturb people so much or spoil my own enjoyment of the concert. Now it was time to get ready for the first new song though. Gunnar said a few words of introduction, but other than the title ‘See you later’ I could not understand them of course. The song was beautiful, in music as well as lyrics. The first time I heard it, it made me think of The Anatomy of Frank for some reason, but I could not pinpoint why. I instantly loved it though. It had everything I adore about Árstíðir’s music and led to a few happy sighs from my side. Then and there I knew that all was going to be well with this band, that they are still capable of writing beautiful songs that touch my heart. Not that I had any doubts there, but it felt good to have proof. 😀

Among the Christmas songs they played, Daníel singing ‘A Christmas Song’ was a highlight. His performance was great, made me almost see everything described in the song. <3 Among their own songs that I already knew, ‘Systir’ was my favorite. I still have the feeling the song is getting better each time I hear it and it was already amazing the first time around. Even ‘Heyr himna smiður’ was beautiful to me that night. 🙂 The second new song, ‘Passion’ followed. It was one of Daníel’s, completely different from ‘See you later’, but just as great. I loved it right away too. This one made me think of Pain of Salvation, but again, I could not figure out why. Two amazing new songs in one night brought me straight to fan heaven. <3

Before the night was over, Magnús was back on stage, for yet another beautiful song. Again, he said quite a lot before he played and people were laughing, but I have no idea what he was talking about. That could not keep me from enjoying the music though. 🙂 As every year, the concert ended with ‘Heims um ból’, the Icelandic version of ‘Silent Night’ that everyone sang along to. For those of us not knowing the lyrics they had them printed on the back of the programme. It was the perfect ending and I saw a lot of smiles in the audience.

I stuck around for a bit, met L. from Belgium who had also come for the show, chatted for a while and finally said goodbye to everyone, going home to catch some sleep. I had been hoping for some Northern Lights, but didn’t see any, even though I took the long way around. The next day I learned there had been some during the concert time.

After a good night’s sleep, a morning swim and some walking around in Reykjavik I was back for the concert at four the next afternoon. I got there too early, but was again allowed to wait inside. The outer doors were opened before the inner ones did this time and the anteroom filled up quickly before they finally let us go through. By now I was really happy I had come, but also felt it might be a good idea to take a break for a while after the Christmas concerts and maybe see them a little less next year. After all, I had been to over 40 Árstíðir concerts in 2016. Either way, I decided to make the most of it and enjoy what I had to the max.

This time around I found it easier to get into it and felt myself getting lost in the music much more than the previous night. Magnús’s songs moved me to tears and when I noted the woman next to me was crying too it made me smile. The guys only spoke Icelandic and I think they told us how they ended up with Magús guesting. Ragnar also said something about Svavar Knútur, but that could have been anything from “We wanted him to play with us and he didn’t have time” to “He is playing a Christmas concert too, but we have the more interesting guest” or anything else for that matter. 😉 Apparently it was funny, because people were laughing. 😉 Then, just before Magnús started playing he turned around to look at Ragnar, to check if he was ready. 🙂

‘See you later’ and ‘Passion’ were even better than the first time around. Both songs killed me, i.e. were so good they made me cry. I felt happy and absolutely loved being there, but also felt like I was saying goodbye, which made me sad. A weird mixture of emotions overall, but still all sorts of wonderful. <3 There were less people at the church this time, but everyone enjoyed it and quite a few came to talk to the band after. Thus, I waved goodbye to them and left. “See you tonight”.

A few hours later I was back again, freezing in the wind outside for a little while, then getting in and after some more waiting finding myself in the same spot I had sat in for almost every concert I have seen Árstíðir perform at Fríkirkjan: the aisle seat front row to the right. A strange choice considering I usually sit on the left, but yet the best spot to actually see Ragnar at the grand piano. 🙂 This time many people were streaming in and soon the church was packed. I was talking to L. until almost 9 because people still kept coming it. It was great to see such a big audience. 😀

Of the three concerts this last concert was the best for me. I felt like they had used the other two to rehearse and now everything was running smoothly, but it might just as well be that I just needed the first two shows for my mood to lift so I could truly enjoy the last one. Either way, it was wonderful beyond words and several times I could not help but cry at the beauty of it all. <3

This time I saw the guys walk in for ‘Shchedryk’ and even managed to snap a picture of them standing by the mixing desk. This show was being filmed with several cameras for the live stream which lead to a start with a bang so to speak: As Hallgrímur walked to stage from the back, he tried to squeeze through between the camera’s tripod and some furniture, lost balance and fell backwards into the furniture, all the while protecting his cello. Collective gasp until he got up, smiled and said he was OK. Once on stage he took a bow and we all applauded for him.

As I sat there listening to the beautiful music filling the room, my heart and my soul, closing my eyes to take in even more of it and let it carry me, I realized that I did not want a break at all, that I wanted to see them again, be part of this magic again as soon as possible. At the same time it occurred to me that I could not, that in fact, I had no idea when I would be able to see them again. Not only have their no new tourdates been announced yet, but with my work situation being as it is now it is going to be considerably harder if not impossible to see any of their concerts, because they are usually announced short notice and they rarely happen on weekends, especially not on Saturdays, the only day on which attending a show should not be a problem. With this revelation the tears came so I was crying for more than one reason that night.

It wasn’t all tears though. The feeling that it would be a long time until I saw them again made me pay great attention to each and every detail, let me take in the show as fully as possible. I looked at each one of them closely, especially during their own songs, tried to commit everything to memory from the way they are playing their instruments to the looks on their faces when they are singing, their smiles, the moment they are so lost in the music they seem to be in a different world. This is how I want to remember them: my guys, my family at times, people I love so much it breaks my heart, one of them a dear friend. Words formed in my head that I wanted to say to them before I left and I stored them away for later, returned to the here and now, lived and breathed every moment of the concert.

Despite my heavy heart, my tears and the fear of this being my last Árstíðir concert ever, I truly enjoyed being there, sang along whenever I could and even belted out ‘Silent Night’ in Icelandic – who would have thought? In all the sorrow I felt, there was also a spark of true happiness. I was glad I had decided to ignore all my bad feeling and come to these concerts and felt deeply grateful for the music I received. It was the best parting gift the guys could have given me and I knew that I had collected some memories I could hold on to for the times to come.

When it was over I breathed deeply and gathered my wits, stuck around until most people were gone. The guys were not going out that night so I did what I had to do and said my goodbyes, told each one of them how much I had loved the shows, that I thought the third one was the best, how amazing the new songs were and how much I was looking forward to more new material. I thanked them for the year behind us, each one individually for what they had done for me and told them about my situation, that I did not know when I was going to see them again, because “IF” was too big and scary a word to use. They all had kind words for me and they all refused to let me believe that this was the end. Each one of them reacted in their own way, showing me they understood and making sure I understood it was not over. Gunnar and Ragnar hugged me several times, Daníel, who rarely hugs me did what he always does and shook my hand. It was the perfect gesture, because a sudden hug from him would have felt final, like farewell, whereas a handshake simply said “goodbye and I’ll see you”. Gunnar, also having a job where he needs all the flexibility it has to offer, understood my situation best I think and assured me that I’d find a way. Ragnar simply told me that we would meet again and was so convinced it was a ray of hope. I was glad I had managed to talk to each of them and said what I needed to say.

Finally I walked out and held it together until I was back at my guesthouse – there I broke down crying and could not stop the tears for a while. Yet then and there I was more determined than ever that I would find a way out of this. I had said it to each one of the guys: “There is a way and I will find it!”, but I wasn’t as sure as I made it sound. With each one of them believing me, I find hope. There is always a way and there is always hope! All that’s left to say is thank you, Árstíðir for 144 great concerts and over four years of amazing memories that can’t be touched or tainted. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I love you and I’ll meet you further on up the road.

Setlist:

Shchedryk
Scarborough Fair
Silfurskin
Hátið fer að höndum ein – a cappella
Het Dorp
Allt er hljótt
Ein róandi – Magnús
Þú átt mig ein – Magnús
Jólabæn Einstæðingsins – a cappella
See you later
Jólin alls staðar
The Christmas Song
You again
Systir
Heyr himna smiður
Passion
Nú gleymist ég
Ást við fyrstu sýn – Magnus
Heims um ból

pictures of these concert

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