I played in a school bus at the foot of a volcano under a glacier by the sea in Icleand. Yeah, I typed that correctly.
When I was planning a tour of Iceland's famous Ring Road, I really became attached to the idea of having a show in each of the four points of the compass. There seemed to be a balance in that plan, and it would give me the opportunity to experience the different regions of the country. I had shows in the West (Reykjavík), North (Akureyri), and East (Egilsstaðir), but I was struggling to land a gig in the South. There's a series of towns along the southern coast of Iceland, but they are all very small providing few options for venues. I had been concentrating on the town of Vík, known for it's black sand beaches and nearby glacier. What's more there's a brewery there called Smiðjan. I play in brewpubs quite a bit, so I kept reaching out to them. But I just wasn't getting any traction.
I decided that if I was going to be able to make a show happen in the South, I was going to have to get creative. So I opened up Google maps, typed in "Vík" and looked for anything on the map that had a food icon. I figured anywhere people gathered was a potential venue, even if it was a cafe in the gas station. One of the places that caught my eye was a coffee cup icon that marked something called Skool Beans, but the listing said it closed at 5:00 pm, not exactly promising hours for a music show. Regardless, I decided to give it a try, so I emailed asking about the potential of booking a gig.
The email I got back from the owner Holly, was not only in the afirmative but also exuded positivity. Her email didn't just say "yes", it said "YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!". She sounded really excited about the idea and told me her coffee shop was actually in an old converted school bus! The space would be tight; There would be no sound system; They had never hosted live music; But if I was game, she was in. I had found my collaboratuer!
Over the next few weeks Holly and I corresponded back and forth about the gig. Every email I got from her was filled with joy, positive vibes and lots of words in all caps. And with every email, I got more and more excited. Her positivity was infectious! I think she was a bit nervous that I would look down my nose at such a small and informal venue. Little did she know that I was more excited about this gig than any other one I had ever played. I mean, I was getting to play in a singularly unique space in a beautiful town in an amazing country! I was treating this gig like I was playing at Wembley Stadium. I even made a concert poster just for the occassion.
In one of these email exchanges, I sent Holly a link to a video of the group Scary Pockets covering the song "MMMM Bop" because I thought she'd find it uplifting. Her response was not only brimming with her usual joy, it also included a request that I play "MMM Bop" at the show. And she said that the volcano had errupted, so I might have a good backdrop for photos. I decided that I would be remiss if I didn't play Jimmy Buffet's "Volcano" during the gig. Then, when I was having a pint with my friend Andy, he suggested that since I was playing in a bus, I should learn the Who's "Magic Bus". So it looked like I would be learning 3 new songs for this gig.
All of that is a pretty tall order, so I decided to mash up all three songs into a medley instead. And what's more, I rewrote some of the words to make the song a little more personal. I didn't know if I could pull it off or how it would go over, but one thing was for sure, we were going to have some fun with this one.
The day that Mary and I pulled into Vík, it was raining. In fact, it was the only entirely rainy day during our whole trip.. We had been hiking earlier to a waterfall called Svartifoss, so we were still in rain gear and hiking boots.. I thought I'd grab a quick shower before the show, but we couldn't check into our hotel until later in the day, so it appeared I'd be performing in hiking gear. Kind of appropriate acrtually.
So we headed over to the bus. It's right beside a campground, so I wasn't the only person wearing hiking clothes for sure. On arriving, I was told that Holly was on her way and had given explicit instructions that no one was to make a move once I got there until she could come greet me. After a short time she came through the door like a whirlwind of happiness and sunshine yelling "Steeeevviieee Weeeeeeeks!". All of the wonderful emails suddenly made sense.
Mary and I both agree that Holly is one of the most joyful, uplifting people we've ever met. She works really hard to run her coffee shop and make every person who climbs onboard feel safe and welcome. Mary said she thinks people are a better version of themselves on the bus. I agree.
Oh, and the coffee. We were served the best cup of coffee we had in all of Iceland by the barista Adonis and Holly's step-mom Jackie. I had been told by three separate people on our travels that the coffee was amazing, and they were right!
Eventually I broke out the guitar and began to play. It was pure joy. It was raining outside, but Holly has installed a wood fireplace in the bus and would occassionally put another log on the fire. Everyone there was smailing and seemed to be aware how unique and magic this concert was. I felt really welcome, supported and appreciated, which just filled my heart to the brim with gratitude. Holly's Dad, who was visting to help out, showed up and we had fun talking to him about how his little girl had come to starting a coffee shop in a bus in the far reaches of Iceland. It was absolute magic.
Then I decided to try out my MMMM Bop/Volcano/Magic Bus creation. Holly seemed thrilled that I had come through on my prommise, and when I got to the part with the custom lyrics, she started laughing and crying. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the whole thing. I know I did.
The next day, before we left, we went back to Skool Beans to get a poster. I wanted to hang one in my music studio to remind me of one of the most wonerful moments I've had in my music career. Once again Holly greeted us like we were the royal family, and as we finally left, I tapped on the window to say goodbye. She yelled, "Wait, I'm coming out!". I thought she would head for the door, but instead she leaned out of the bus window and hugged us both warmly. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. If you visit Iceland, go to Vík for a cup of coffee and some joy. You won't regret it.