Aldrei fór ég suður / I never went south
Rock festival in the Westfjords
"Easter in Ísafjörður is EASTER in capital letters. In our minds, there is no Easter elsewhere. We own the Easter." says Anna Sigríður Ólafsdóttir, or Annska, Ski Week manager in Ísafjörður.
Every Easter, the atmosphere in Ísafjörður is vibrant, people ski during the day and dance at night. Ski Week has been celebrated in Ísafjörður almost every Easter since 1935 and since 2004 along with the popular rock festival Aldrei fór ég suður (I never went south) – a dig at those in the southern capital of Reykjavík.
The idea for the rock festival came from Guðmundur M. Kristjánsson, whom many call Muggi or Papamug, the harbour master in Ísafjörður and his son the musician Örn Elías Guðmundsson, known on stage as Mugison. "The first idea was to organise a music festival in Ísafjörður at a time of the year when few people would come here, and if people came, they would be stuck here," says Muggi. Because of the weather, many had to make a real effort to attend the rock festival. Muggi and Mugison wrote a manifesto for a perfect music festival on a napkin: "That it would be on an equal basis, everyone would have the same backstage, everyone received the same salary and lesser-known bands would also have a good spot in the line-up.” Reflecting on the manifesto Mugison added, “All kinds of bitterness that we found funny,” who was at the time in the first years of his career.
"We decided to go for it and it went well. Everyone was on board, and the best thing about it is that everyone is still on board with us," Muggi says, "you can not ask for more." Every year, one of the town's warehouses becomes a bustling concert hall for two nights. Muggi and Mugison are still involved in the festival – Mugison is now the festival's rock director. Year after year, the festival is launched by a group of volunteers. "I'm going to quote Mugison and say 'You do not make sh** alone', and this festival is the proof of how wonderful our community is in the Westfjords where everyone joins forces to create something magnificent," says Annska, the Ski Week manager.
This festival is the proof of how wonderful our community is [...] where everyone joins forces to create something magnificent
There has never been an entrance fee at the Aldrei festival. It depends entirely on grants and volunteers. Every year, for example, Eygló Jónsdóttir, a local, orders and sells merchandise for the festival, and a group of people ensure that the festival's warehouse is ready for a large-scale concert two nights in a row. "If we need a coffee machine, it's just a phone call away," says Birna Jónasdóttir, the festival's former rock director. "Toilet paper! We always forgot to buy toilet paper and the local bank used to call us before closing for Easter to remind us to pick up the change.
Everyone just thinks incredibly well of us and that's how it goes," says Birna. And it's not just the people in the town who put in the effort. The musicians who perform at the festival have to consider the flight delays due to the north winds, the closed mountain roads from snow, and sometimes get stuck spending Easter in Ísafjörður. Among those who have performed at the festival are well-known Icelandic bands like Sigur Rós, Emelíana Torrini and more. "Performing here has been sought after and that has probably been what has kept this going," says Muggi.
’The lovely Westfjords mountain air, come and enjoy.
Although Easter in Ísafjörður has become EASTER in Ísafjörður in capital letters with the festival, there was no desolation in Easter in Ísafjörður before the days of the rock shows. Ski Week is the country's oldest town festival, running since 1935. "’The lovely Westfjords mountain air, come and enjoy’, was advertised," recalls Gunnlaugur, 92 years old. He says that in the beginning, it was common for coastal cruise ships to come to Ísafjörður and stop over the Easter weekend.
Annska, the Ski Week manager recalls the first year of the festival in 2004, "There was quite a lot going on here at Easter and people slept in every corner of the town, but it was mostly former habitants of Ísafjörður or people who had connections here who were coming home. The composition of guests in Ísafjörður changed with the rock festival,” she continued, "Now we also have people who have no connection but just want to come and have fun.”
In recent years the rock festival and the Ski Week have sort of merged into one. Birna the former director reflected on the early years, "Skiing in Iceland was perhaps a bit dormant when the first rock festivals took place but then all of a sudden everyone was skiing, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, backcountry skiing. Now we see musicians on skis and we see former residents of Ísafjörður as the first to show up at the concerts.” As both events continued the comradery grew between the town, the skiers and the concert goers, “This has become one big family. You see people at the pool, at the ski area and at the concerts. Now we have two good parties that go hand in hand and make Easter in Ísafjörður," says Birna. Even Mugison has started skiing.
"Skiing is number one, although people party at the same time. Of course, the rock festival receives the most attention and makes people happy - though I feel it's too noisy," says Gunnlaugur, Birna's grandfather and a skier for eighty years. But the Ski Week has changed and developed over the years and has developed numerous events in the villages of the northern Westfjords. "People can go everywhere nearby and find something to do," says Annska.
"It’s so much fun how everything has come to life now, especially in the last ten years. Everyone is doing something and it's so crazy," says Mugison, "just like we dreamed it would ever be."
Welcome to Ísafjörður for Easter 2022
Unfortunately, the last two years have been Easter rather than EASTER. The only times the Ski Week has been cancelled was in 1949 due to a polio epidemic and in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid. “What saved us last year was that there was an orca family that heard of our grief and came to the inner harbour and showed off all Easter. There is always some beauty even when the situation is miserable," says Annska.
This year, it seems that meeting restrictions are a thing of the past. The people of Ísafjörður, and the whole of Westfjords, are welcoming guests, both orca and human. "The locals are grateful for everyone who comes here – that's Aldrei fór ég suður. People love this. All who want to take part are welcome” says Birna. Muggi agrees, "Welcome to Ísafjörður for Easter 2022!"