Ragnar Ólafsson – Galeria Wzgórze, Bielsko-Biala; February 23rd, 2020
In my world, concerts have special powers. They can move me to tears, make me so happy I feel I could burst, heal my broken heart and turn any bad mood around. So whenever I make my way to a concert, especially when it is someone whose music I love, I know I will find a reason to walk away smiling. That could always be called a regular night for me. Yet some nights are so full of unexpected treasures that they leave me struggling for words to describe how I feel and so full of emotions that I know they will stay with me for a long time. Ragnar Ólafsson’s concert in Bielsko-Biala was one of those nights and all I can say is that I am deeply grateful to have been there an no matter what else happens on this tour, it does not get any better than this.
The day started nice enough and except for the fact that it was raining heavily outside I felt good, was well rested for the first time since this tour started and had a good breakfast at the hotel too. Even better: I didn’t need to take a taxi to the train station – the hotel receptionist’s husband drove me. So sweet. 🙂 However, once I got to Bielsko-Biala my mood inexplicably shifted and I got stressted to near-meltdown by the fact that I could not manage to open the door to the room I had rented, there was no reception and the hostel people I called only spoke Polish. Someone came and opened the door for me, but the room felt unwelcoming and I did not want to stay there. Thus, I looked for another hostel and moved out, never mind having to pay twice. The second hostel was much nicer. I spoke with the cleaner a bit and she asked me what was bringing me there. When I told her about the concert she concluded that I must love the artist very much to follow him all the way there. Yes, I do. Once I got settled I felt calmer, but it was still strange. I felt nervous and sad and as if I should not be there at all. Not good. There wasn’t much I could do and the weather wasn’t inviting so I went to a cafe and got the first warm meal on this tour. It did me good.
Later I dropped by the venue, an art gallery to ask if I could buy a ticket. It resulted in the owner taking me upstairs to were the concert was going to be. I felt bad about intruding and apologized to Ragnar and Bartek, went for a quick hug and left again. There were no tickets, they’d pass a hat around. A bit after 7 I was back, got a tea and waited. Everyone there was super friendly, which calmed me down considerably. They also had a talking parrot – cool. Once allowed upstairs, about 30 minutes before show start I talked to Ragnar about being in this weird mood all day and feeling shitty and he told me he’d felt super moody too – maybe it was the weather. Someone else in the audience claimed it was the wind (it had been stormy all day) that made people feel depressed. So I guess we were both “under the weather”.
The room in which the concert took place was a lot bigger than I would have guessed when I first saw the gallery from the outside. it had looked tiny. Pictures were everywhere on the wall and in the corner by the side of the stage was an old grand piano that Ragnar said he would use. At first I feared only few people would come, but the room filled up almost to capacity before the concert started. Bartek said a few words of introduction and the show was on the road.
Ragnar’s first question was if anyone spoke Icelandic and one person raised their hand. He joked they could translate for the rest of us. He then wanted to know if we felt the weather and spoke about having felt weird all day. Then, unexpectedly he started with ‘More will come along’. Wow, it had been a while since I’d last heard that. It was lovely and very much reflected the sadness I felt. The stage was somewhat squeaky, which was a bit distracting at times. For ‘Wine’ he stepped on two empty chairs to my left and they were even squeakier, making sounds with every small move. If my mood had not been so somber I might have giggled. It did make me grin though and the song still worked beautifully. The people in the row behind me were mesmerized. 🙂
Next I heard Ragnar say he wanted to try some new songs that night and announced a song he had never played before, ‘Water’. The song absolutely took my breath away. <3 I could feel the tears gathering in my eyes, the music taking me away to the creek he was singing about. It was gorgeous. Afterwards he said that he’d felt small inside all day and therefore picked sad songs for this night’s set. He spoke about the importance of silence in his music and invited us to notice it and fill in the gaps with our own feelings, thus becoming co-creators of the music.
Next was ‘Dozen’ and Ragnar jokingly asked for any volunteers to help him out, before inviting Goscia to the stage. It’s not a happy song, but brightened my mood nonetheless. I always look forward to the duets and they never disappoint. 🙂 ‘A Prayer’ was next and made me happy too. I have always loved it and think it should be played more often. It fit in with the overall theme of the night, especially when he explained how your thoughts go in a circle when you are depressed, like a mantra or a prayer. Quietly I sang long to every word, feeling all of them. That night, I was completely there, part of the music and hardly noticed anyone or anything around me. At this point I was lost for words already, knowing this was as good as it gets setlist wise.
As he moved over to the piano he said that if we thought that was depressing it was about to get a lot worse. Until then I expected it would be ‘Red Wine’, but he took me completely by surprise when he announced Árstíðir’s ‘Shine’ instead. What surprised me even more was that he shared the true story of how the song came about for the first time. I had always felt that the whole “traveling to mars on a one-way trip” was a metaphor and eventually learned the real story behind it, but I’d never heard Ragnar share it on stage. The song was beyond amazing. One of the strongest versions I have ever heard him play. When he stopped, people were silent, unmoving for several seconds before anyone started clapping. <3
He gave us ‘Reations’ then and while we were all singing along I felt really connected with everyone else in the room. The sadness, that had so far been amplified by the music, slowly started lifting. Singing really is good for you. That was enough of the piano for the night and we moved on to a happy tune with ‘Mexico’. We heard a little about the trip and everything he did while there. The song was perfect to make me smile again and I just enjoyed hearing it, knowing it was written for us Patrons. 🙂 Otherwise it is growing on me too. Once in while it is nice to have something happy. 🙂
“Do you want to hear an angry song or a super angry one?” People voted for “just angry” and it turned out to be ‘Bravery’. He even put a new twist to the story, telling us he was suffering for the art because he could still taste the Jägermeister cinnamon vanilla and even drank some wine to make it go away. The song and the story are such a fixed, reassuring point in the show, I’d miss them if they were gone. It is still one of my favorites, even after hearing it at almost every concert I have seen. I wondered briefly what the “super angry” song would have been and assumed ‘Scar’, but never asked. To contrast this, he played ‘Örlög’ and before asking us to sing, he asked us to pronounced the title. I think we did rather well. Someone asked what it meant and he translated “destiny”. The singing was beautiful. It really resonated with me, made me feel happy.
He called Bartek to assist him and he was once again wearing the cow costume, “only because the colors match the keyboard” – of course. “Are you ready?” he asked him. “I was born ready,” came the reply and they played a lovely version of ‘Dragonfly’. Who would have thought this could become the “fun” song of the show? It is though, I’m looking forward to seeing the cow costume every night. The guys were having lots of fun with it too and there was spontaneous applause for their shenanigans. I could have listened to more of this for hours, but the show was coming to a close. ‘Petals’ was again the last song before the encore, beautiful as always.
Needless to say we loudly cheered for more and Ragnar gladly came back. At this point I have to mention how good the audience was overall. They listened quietly, they cheered loudly and they did well in the sing-along too, which they proved again during ‘Southern Nights’. 🙂 Last but not least we heard about murder ballads and were treated to two examples. People sang along to ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ too. That had not happened in a while and made me extra happy. ‘Sleep now’ of course followed and once again Ragnar stood on the chairs to my left for a while. He didn’t move deeper into the room though and ended the song from the stage, leaning forward and singing directly to me and I sang along with him – first a whispered “I love you” and then a powerful “You’re asleep now!” “Yeah!,” I replied. It was perfect.
Several times during the night I let out a deep breath and did so in the end as well. It was hard to contain all my emotions and in my head I was trying to find words to express how much I had liked the show, but I could not come up with much. Mind? Blown! All I wanted to do was hug Ragnar, but I waited my turn and talked to N. and her friend instead for a while. Finally we got to hug and I just thanked him, saying it was exactly the show I needed. Other than that, I still could not come up with much other than stammer something about how beautiful it was. It was enough, I got the meaning across. Soon it was time to say goodbye and back at my hotel, while watching the few videos I had filmed, the tears finally came. I welcomed them, a good cry was just the right ending to the day. I am deeply grateful for this show and so far it was definitely the highlight of the tour. 😀
More will come along
Where the Wild Roses grow
Ragnar Ólafsson – Something New Tour – four gigs down, six to go. Next stop: Puszczykowo