Throughout the year, there are many fascinating music festivals and events in Iceland that serve as a great introduction to the diverse talent that is to be found in the country. Some even feature performances by select international acts and artists that are usually of the highest calibre. The following is a list of some of the main ones. If you have a festival you'd like to submit: contact us.
Today most music festivals offer the same basic things; you can go there, set up camp with your friends and/or family, have a beer or two (or ten or a hundred) and find at least a few bands and musicians that are to your liking. These similarities create a need for music festivals to stand out in some way and become unique so that people will recognize and remember them midst the vast number of other festivals out there. It’s different how festivals tackle this problem; the large ones make an effort of bringing the biggest names on stage, some specialize in certain genres and other, like Iceland Airwaves, have become known for their ability to spot out new talent. Then there are the small festivals which have to go about this problem in a different way. Money is tight so their line-up is hardly going to include the U2s and Coldplays and Oasis of the world. Instead, the good ones manage to give their guests something different, an experience unlike the one they would get at Glastonbury or Roskilde. They are personal and cosy with a charm that’s unlike that of the big festivals, and let me tell you, Bræðslan has personality and charm by the barrelful!
In order to understand what makes Bræðslan so special we have to zoom out a bit. To begin with it’s a music festival in Iceland, a remote island in the northern hemisphere. Although amazing to imagine, that in itself is no big deal anymore with Iceland Airwaves an international success, Eistnaflug growing in the metal scene etc. Adding to that it takes place in a tiny seaside community called Borgarfjörður-Eystri which is located in the far north-east of Iceland, home to just around 100 people. To get there you have to drive 70km from the nearest town, mostly on gravel roads, through a fear inspiring mountain passage and roads carved into mountain sides before arriving at a settlement mostly made up of farms. This tiny community is placed in the bottom of a small fjord, surrounded by huge mountains. You have just entered a setting where fairytales take place; where there are elves in the hills, trolls in the mountains and strange creatures living in the sea, or so you are told. Ok, you’re starting to get the picture. Once at the festival you realize that it takes place in an old fish processing plant (don’t worry, the smell is long gone) where the musicians play on a wooden stage and the entire room is lit up by row after row of small light bulbs. To top this of the festival takes place in the middle of the Icelandic summer so it’s bright as day 24/7, the sun never sets! Now you can probably imagine that something spectacular is about to take place.
The accommodations are also not what you would expect at a music festival. Sure, there is a large camping ground where many choose to stay and at which the usual festival mood forms. However, many choose to camp in one of the many, large back yards owned by the few people that live and have houses there. The amount of local hospitality is incredible, just remember that you’re not at Roskilde; peeing on someone’s tent or raising any other sort of hell is bound to get frowned upon. When it comes to food, many bring something with them to eat but there are places you can buy food. In town you’ll find one of the smallest grocery stores you’ve ever seen, and it’s usually jam packed throughout the day. If you wish to buy something there you will have to enter the line that usually starts somewhere in the parking lot. You follow that line into the store and pick up what you need as the line progresses towards the single register. This is a truly unique experience. There is one place where you can buy hamburgers, sandwiches and such and another where you can get coffee and cakes. However, if you are lucky you get to have the best dining experience the place has to offer. No, it’s not a restaurant so exclusive you’re lucky just to get in. During the festival the housewives of the town truly make a name for themselves. In one house there is a stew being made, in another it’s fish soup and still another it’s pancakes. These delicacies are then offered to family and friends and those lucky enough to be there at the time. If you think sloppy hamburgers are the way to go when you are hung over, think again. These homemade treats will cure what ails you.
The music usually fits the surroundings, with artsy folk, country and indy rock musicians manning the line-up. Among the bigger names to have played at Bræðslan are Emiliana Torrini, Damien Rice and Belle and Sebastian. Among the smaller, local musicians are Dikta, Of Monsters and Men, 200.000 Naglbýtar and many more. To give you an idea of the closeness that forms between the artists and the audience, once Damien Rice had finished playing his show he sat down on a hillside near the camping ground with his guitar and offered everyone to join in, listen and sing with him. Last summer (2010) Dikta finished of the night with thundering power, playing the songs that had made them so immensely popular in the preceding year. That last song they performed was the beautiful Thank You, a song bound to touch the strings of your heart. The sun had been shining all day and still was at that point, and even though it had gotten a bit chilly the weather was beautiful. Inside the venue approximately 1.000 people had been anxiously waiting for this particular song and there it was. The mood was perfect and in midst of the sun shining through the cracks in the building, the small light bulbs lighting up the room and the cool sea air breathing in everybody got what they had been waiting for. It was the most perfect musical moment one can imagine. In mid song the band paused to hear what was probably the largest choir (the audience) they’d ever witnessed sing the chorus of the song from the top of their voices.
“Thank you, thank you for the world, the world, the world, thank you for the life you’re making me see inside of me”…