One of our long time readers, David Smith, recently attended the 8th Annual Nordic Roots Festival from September 28th to October 1st, 2006, and sent us this report and photo array.

I have just returned from the Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis. This is a small, urban festival held at the Cedar Cultural Center, a small non-profit center based in an old movie theater which features music of all types during the year.

The festival features contemporary folk music from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Samiland, and other places where Nordic roots can be found. They present a nice mix of music from those countries, with attention paid to diversity in presentation.

I arrived on Thursday, and that night I was fortunate to see one of my very favorite bands in all of music - Väsen. This is an amazing trio of Swedish musicians (guitar, nyckelharpa, and viola). This is powerful, melodic and intensely rhythmic music played with almost frightening skill. To add to this wonderful mix, American fiddle player Darol Anger joined them for about half the evening. Now, we have all seen collaborations between musicians of different cultures before. In my opinion, they mostly don't work. But here, we heard a collaborative effort where Anger's very American-style playing blended seamlessly with the Swedish song structures. It was an amazing and magical show to open the Festival.

Friday featured the only clunker of the Festival for me. The band Vajas is from far northern Norway (near the Arctic Circle), and featured Sami yoiks songs as well as fiddle and synthesizer. Sorry, but the yoiks were more like squealing pigs, or loons out on a lake. The singer was dressed in pelts, and the whole thing reminded me of a bad experimental theater experience. I could only take so much, and was very thankful when it ended.

The featured band of the evening was the Gjallarhorn. This is a band that has been around for many years, and features the wonderful vocals of Jenny Wilhelms, along with fiddle, percussion, and contrabass recorder. Promoting their new CD Rimfaxe, the band effortlessly moved through older and new material, with Wilhelm and Adrian Jones on fiddle shining throughout. They play a lot songs based on Nordic mythology. An excellent, solid band.

On Saturday afternoon, the Festival presented a tribute to the Finnish Tango. After dance lessons for anyone who wanted to participate, the Maria Kalaniemi Trio came on and played an hour plus of tango-inspired music. I'll be honest and say that tango music is not at the top of my list, but I think Maria Kalaniemi is one of the truly great and gifted musicians playing Nordic-influenced music anywhere. A virtuoso accordion player, she composes much of her own music, and teaches at the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department. A brilliant and endlessly creative player, Kalaniemi puts everything into her performances, creating a breath-taking musical experience. It was a great performance.

On Saturday evening, Maria Kalaniemi returned again as a solo performer, offering her own original pieces and it was nothing short of breath-taking, as she used her accordion to paint many different colors and textures with tunes she has composed over the years.

Saturday brought the Finnish band Loituma, who combine Finnish vocal traditions with the sound of two kanteles (a dulcimer-like instrument called the 'Finnish harp'). This band featured some creative vocal work which had the crowd in thrall, as well as the two kanteles, and fiddle. Very exotic and beautiful music, which sounded about as far-afield as anything at the festival.

On Sunday, I audited a fiddle workshop in the morning by Ole Backstrom of Swåp , and then headed over to the afternoon show, featuring Finland's Timo Alakotila on piano and a slew of his 'friends'. Timo is considered one of the great accompanists in all of Nordic music, and has collaborated with some of the very best - many of whom were at the show.

Playing in various combinations, Timo played with Karen Tweed ('May Monday'), Maria Kalaniemi ('Ambra'), some of Loitima, and students from the Augsburg Suzuki Ensemble (ten students from ages 12-18, from Minneapolis). Timo's playing was just seamless, and he supported and strengthened every act he played with.

Then, the final night show was one of high anticipation. This was to be one of the last shows anywhere by the Swedish/English super group, Swåp. Apparently, they have all found it too difficult to fit the band into their busy schedules, and will pursue other musical adventures. It seems like such a shame, since these folks are one of the very best bands ever to come out of this scene. So it was with a touch of bittersweet melancholy that I watched them for my last time.
(Editor's notes:
In the ever-so-quickly changing world of musicians, there was news right after the festival that in fact the band might continue touring... stay tuned!

)

Swåp are English musicians Karen Tweed on accordion, and Ian Carr on guitar. They are joined by the twin Swedish fiddle attack of Ola Backstrom and Carina Normansson. And to me, this collaboration, combined with their great playing and composing, makes them one of the best and most powerful bands anywhere.

The show was absolutely stupendous! Perhaps feeding on the emotion in the room, they all just played their hearts out, leaving the audience spent. If you've never heard Swåp , do yourself a favor and find one of their CDs and prepare yourself to be floored by their incredible mix of composing creativity, playing skill, amazing dynamics, and simply charming music. To me, Swåp are one of the best Nordic bands I have seen, and they will always be remembered as such. After a smokin' set, they did 3 encores and then were gone.

The headline act, incredibly, was not Swåp , but the Swedish rock/folk band, Hoven Droven. Now I like this band, but after Swåp , I felt a bit deflated to see anyone else. Hoven Droven put on an excellent (if a bit showy) performance which at times featured guitarist Bo Lindberg lying on his back onstage, while doing an excellent Jimi Hendrix imitation. It was like Black Sabbath married to some obscure Swedish musician, all thrown together in a sonic stew. Weird, but a fun show.

So there you have it. To me, this Festival is an indispensable part of my musical calendar. This is such great and unique music, and unfortunately it no longer travels to the east coast of the U.S. So heading to Minneapolis every September is the next best thing. - Dave Smith

David Smith is a RootsWorld reader and offered his views to share. He is not a member of the RW editorial staff.

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