My first gig was in the capital city of Reykjavík at Hús Máls og Menningar (Art and Culture House), a bookstore that doubles as a cocktail bar and live music venue. As I had just landed in Iceland 12 hours before and hadn't gotten much sleep, I was running on fumes, but the excitement of performing in Iceland at such a great venue, kept me on my feet.
I was especially excited about this show because my wife Mary was with me on this trip and would get to experience first hand all the wonderful things about Iceland I had been telling her about. My friends Bill and Maria were also with us for the first 4 days of this trip which meant that they would be at the first 2 shows. I was also a little nervous as Hús Máls og Menningar was a pretty well known live music venue hosting some serious acts. A friend back in Colorado had told me that he had gone there to see a blues band when he was in Iceland earlier in the year. Was this stage too big for the likes of me? Would I fall asleep in the middle of my performance?
When I walked through the door at Hús Máls og Menningar, I knew it was a special place. There are books everyehwere! 2 stories of them! There's a cocktail bar in the front and a balcony overlooking a very prominent and professional stage. Music is obviously a very important part of the vibe here. In fact, on the outside there is permanent signage that says "Live Music Yesterday,m Live Music Today, Live Music Tomorrow". My kind of place.
As I began to set up my equipment, I noticed that all of the cables on the sound system were labeled with specifiic names like "Kjartan" and "Sibbi", and there was a set list on the floor. I was a bit tentative about rearranging things too much. If I've learned one thing from J. R. R.Tolkien, it's to be careful about messing with objects that have names. So I decided to skip the vocal effects unit and simplify my setup to just one vocal mic and my guitar looper.
Ella, who had booked me for this gig came over and welcomed me and helped me get things set up. She also explained that there was another band performing after me and that I'd need to clear off by 7:30 pm. The start and end time of my performance had been in flux for a while. One thing I've learned from performing in Iceland is that Icelanders are really laid back and just go with the flow. They have a saying "Þetta Reddast", which kind of means "so it goes". It's a nice casual attitude to have and necessary when unpredictable weather and long distances can change your plans at the drop of a hat. I've learned to just go with it and be flexible, a good exercise for me.
The crowd was a little light when I started. 6:00 pm was a little early for this venue. But as I played, people began to gather. I think music attracts a crowd naturally. Eventually there were people on both levels, and almost all of the tables were filled. People seemed to be enjoying themselves. And the negroni that the bartender made for me was amazingly good. Looking out and seeing familiar friendly faces made me feel that it was going to be alright. A couple of times I looked down and thought, "Wait, I don't know how to play AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell'. Why is it on my set list?!?", before realizing that I was looking at the set list left on the stage.
Eventually, a guy came in with a guitar. He looked a little confused when he saw me. It turns out that the regular house band "Sibbi and the Guns" had no idea that I'd be performing before them, and they were probably wondering if I had stolen their slot. I let them know that I'd be clearing off in time for their set. They were super nice guys and very engaging and supportive. They seemed very interested in my looper and were listening intently. Things were going well, so I decided to try out a little Icelandic.
With shaking hands, I launched into a song "Einu Sinni Á Ágúst Kvöldi". It's older tune I had seen performed by Icelandic songwriter KK in a video. I had actually contacted him asking for help learning it, and he was kind enough to write me back with lyrics and chords. I was unsure about my ability to pronounce the words correctly and about whether locals would know it. Again I had nothing to worry about. The members the band sang along and seemed very impressed and happy that I had attempted this song.
The show went swimmingly from my perspective, Mary, Bill, Maria, the other musicians and the folks in the crowd said it sounded good and offered such kind words. Kjartan, the lead guitarist for the house band talked to me quite a bit about music, my looper, touring and Iceland in general. He was a really nice guy, and the whole band was very gracious for sharing their stage with me. Oh, and they were also an amazing group by the way. They played cover tunes and sounded excatly like the original versions. Kjartan is one of the best guitarists I've seen, pulling off Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" flawlessly. The whole band was an amazing group of musicians, an dwe had a blast hanging out and watching them.
Only one show down, and I was already on cloud nine.