Challenging setlist, Fireball and a perfect show

Ragnar Ólafsson – my living room, Dortmund; July 30th, 2022

How to celebrate your 50th birthday in style? Ask your musician friend to play a gig in your living room, invite friends and wait for the magic to unfold. Everything about the show was perfect: the setlist, the guests and the vibes. It could not have been and better and I am still very much processing. What an amazing night that was.

Ragnar’s second concert in my living room had been planned for a very long time. I’d know for years that I wanted him to play a gig for my 50th birthday and in spring this year, I insisted on finding a date. We settled on July 30th (2 days before my actual birthday, but – as I had requested – a Saturday). Once that was settled I started inviting people so those coming from afar could book their travels.

Not everyone had time, but about a months before it looked like we’d be around 20 people. A nice crowd. Then the cancelations rolled – all for very good reasons – and in the end we were down to 12. I decided it was going to be small but brilliant and started preparations the week of the gig. Therefore, there wasn’t much left to do on Saturday and I was as relaxed as I could be considering how important this event was for me.

Raggi and Marta arrived around 5:30 so we had plenty time to have dinner, set up the stage and chat before the first guests arrived. It was lovely seeing B., A., P., K. and L., some of my colleagues and two of Raggi’s friends. There were hugs, introductions, pre gig drinks, flowers and a few gifts that I sat aside to open on my actual birthday. I had asked people to make donations instead so this was a happy surprise. 🙂

Once everyone had arrived and settled down, Raggi started the show without further ado. He asked who had seen him before and found that most of it had, introduced himself and told us what was going to happen: an interesting evening full of songs he does not usually play and stories – “see you on the other side”. I had put in a lot of request and no idea which one of those he would play. We might have been equally nervous about this whole thing, but as soon as he started singing I knew everything wold be alright.

He kicked the show off with Árstíðir’s ‘Conviction’, a song I had been wanting to hear again ever since they performed it at Castlefest. It worked beautifully on the guitar. Wow! <3 He told us a little about his solo project and how he now writes “Globetrotter albums”, continuing with ‘Deva’, a song I always enjoy. The sound was great and everyone listened attentively. 🙂

The first Icelandic word of the day was “skál” and the second one was “takk”, then he gave us great version of ‘A Prayer’. Raggi spoke about me being special and caused some laughter. Somehow I had a vision in my head of the Finnish “special lion” from SATW comics. 😉 He elaborated on the many concerts I have seen and how how I get to see many different shows, always waiting for the one that is special, where everything feel right and “lightning strikes” as we refer to it. Of course this meant ‘Chasing the Storm’, the song he wrote for me was next. Needless to say it was absolutely perfect. <3 I am still amazed at how well it transitioned from piano to guitar. Afterwards we clinked glasses and I could not stop smiling.

‘Every Brick in Manhattan’ followed, as Raggi knows how much I love the song. <3 He told us about writing while he travels, how it influences the music and thus you can hear the motorcycle in ‘Bravery’. As always, people really liked it.

“Now I wanna talk about death,” he continued and before getting into this heavy subject another glass of wine was needed. We heard stories about  traveling to Lost Creek and how, on the way there, both he and John got the news that friends of theirs had died and hence death was following them to their destination and it somehow got channeled into songs. While writing ‘Lost Creek’ he was thinking about the fact that death is harder for the ones you left behind because they have to live with the grief. It was beautiful, slow and somber. He shared how he wrote ‘Water’ realizing he was writing about his own death and we got an extended story about the accident that happened after. The song, of course, is a masterpiece. <3 Afterwards he mentioned that he only tells the story on special occasions. I can confirm.

There was a lot of magic in the air that night. Every time I looked around at my guests all I saw as big smiles and everyone as caught up in the music. Raggi told us about writing the soundtrack for ‘Fractures’ and played ‘Hgsanir’ for us. I really love the song just as much in Icelandic as I do in English. *happy sigh*

Since nobody responded to the question if we wanted to hear another song in Icelandic I replied “yes” and when he asked if we wanted to sing in Icelandic, K. said “sure”. “Lalala” put people at ease and we all sang nicely- Raggi commented it was “ausgezeichnet”. ‘Örlög’ always works for getting the crowd involved. 😀 Afterwards he thanked us for singing for his grandmother.

Months before the show, I had found a bottle of fireball at a local supermarket and remembered how Raggi spoke about drinking it on his adventures with John so I had bought it and set it out for the concert. We did an intermission, while he poured shots for everyone who wanted it and we all drank. “While we still have the cinnamon on our mouths…” we heard the story about traveling to Slab City in a VW microbus, shooting a rifle in the desert and “Shannon the Cannon”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that story like this, even though I’d heard most of the individual pieces over the years. The only thing missing was pictures to illustrate it, but I think we could all imagine it quite well. ‘Cannon’ was great, I had almost forgotten how much I love this song.

The next story was about the song that almost didn’t get recorded because he did not think it good enough until the Patrons all loved it, so it got more verses ad ended up on the upcoming ‘Mexico’ album. Of course all the verses and stories involved John, whom Raggi referred to as his muse. 😀 He gave us an absolutely amazing version of ‘Winona’. We had reached the end of the set and after some prompting “awww”-ed appropriately. 😀 The final song was ‘Scar’ and we heard all about how he felt like a sad clown at the time and then ended up incorporating old tapes of himself when he was three years old, talking about clowns. “I’m very talkative today because I’m happy”. The song is always brilliant and everyone clapped, cheered and stomped their feet loudly for more when it was over.

For the encore, Raggi faced the biggest challenge of the night, as I had asked him to cover Grace Petrie’s ‘No woman ever wants to be a muse’. I joked that he knew why and he proceeded to explain about democratic love songs and how he wanted to give his ex-girlfriend a voice, then spoke about muses “when someone calls you a muse its meant to be a compliment, but is it?” 😉 He rose to the occasion and played a fun cover. I absolutely loved it and could appreciate how hard it must have been to learn all those lyrics. 😀 At one point he had to stop and think about the words and I could not even help. 😉

Thus ended the official setlist and he asked what else we wanted to hear. K. Suggested something from Mexico, so we got ‘Tequila’. Yay! Perfect encore song to party to! I requested ‘Message’ and ‘Southern Nights’ for the grand finale and he complied, after asking if we weren’t tired yet, Nope!

“When I wrote this song I was sitting by the river, when a blue not flew by and got stuck in my guitar…” – ‘Messages’ was wonderful. It always makes me happy that it works as a solo song as well as a duet. Raggi gave his all. <3 Before ‘Southern Nights’ he told us about traveling down the Mississippi on the boat and how he really wanted to write a river boat song just like ‘Proud Mary’. To illustrate he covered it and we all sang along. 😀 Then we had more singing along to do for ‘Southern Nights’ and it marked the perfect ending to a perfect show. <3

We hugged it out for a while afterwards, had more drinks, food and stories. Raggi even sold some CDs. Later we got out the bubbly, B. had brought and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. Since he already had the guitar out, Raggi wanted to try ‘No woman ever wants to be a Muse’ and wit less pressure did it even better. Then he played ‘Muddy Waters’ because I said he had not played it yet and afterwards he spontaneously made up a blues song with anything and everything we said. 😀

Eventually everyone left and Marta, Raggi and myself talked into the wee hours of the morning. Suddenly it was past 4 am and time for bed. We met again a few hours later for tea and coffee, talked, packed and I send them off with many hugs and a few cans of Monster. It was brilliant, thank you so much and I’ll see you very soon.

Setlist

Conviction
Deva
A Prayer
Chasing the Storm
Every Brick in Manhattan
Bravery
Lost Creek
Water
Hugsanir
Örlög
Cannon
Winona
Scar

No Woman ever wants to be a Muse (Grace Petrie cover)
Tequila
Message
Proud Mary (CCR cover)
Southern Nights

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