Festival Review: Vi på Värmdö 2018, Gustavsberg
With an added beach event and several surprises along the way, the little Swedish music festival continues to win hearts with charm and creativity
‘And when that foghorn blows, I will be coming home/And when that foghorn blows, I want to hear it…’ I really felt the lyrics from this Van Morrison classic “Into the Mystic” resound as I returned yet again to the languid seaside town of Gustavsberg for the magical Vi på Värmdö Festival for a week of music, warmth and impeccable Swedish hospitality.
For this edition, Vi på Värmdö added a two-day beach event before the main festival which brought together hundreds of school kids from all over Sweden. A complete alcohol, tobacco and drug-free festival, it was ideal for a young audience. It was the perfect setting, with the usual craft workshops and food stalls but as always it was the music that stood out.
Day one featured Dead Fox Dancin’, a four piece pop-rock band that has a female vocalist who is an absolute showstopper. Linnea Kjellberg is an explosion of energy on stage as she leads her band of merry musicians with great chemistry and cohesion. Songs like “One Way Street,” “Starlight” and their latest single “Best Thing I’ll Never Have” are super infectious with their melodies and grooves. Do check them out on social media.
Day two of the beach festival brought a very pleasant and magical surprise: Henry Bowers, one of Europe’s leading slam-poets and hip-hop artists. As with all hip-hop, the music and lyrics reflect personal takes on society, culture et al. But what was interesting was the accompaniment of DJ Lo-Kut. An unassuming master at the turntables, the Swedish artist looped, scratched, spun and sampled with such magical dexterity, it had me amazed. The beach festival ended with Stockholm-based artist DJ Sister Justice spinning out dancehall and tropical tunes into the night.
After a break for a day or two, it was time to head to the main two-day Vi på Värmdö festival at the town square which would bring a legend or two to the party. Local boy DJ Goran kicked of the proceedings with some funky tunes and power vocalist Evelina Olsen led the charge as the music began. The highlights of the day included Daniel Lemma, a Grammy nominated artist of Ethiopian origin who now lives and resides in Sweden. A man brought up on the blues and American roots music, he was an immensely knowledgeable person to talk to. Our discussions on the blues origins of music were quite impassioned. His performance at the festival moved many, with songs like “If I Used to Love You” and “Run Tell John” among many others. I have since acquired his albums for my collection.
Nothing could have prepared me for the headliner of the evening, legendary Swedish punk band Noice (‘noise’ in Swedish.) While they sing only in the Swedish language, these legends brought the roof down. Formed in 1977 in Gustavsberg, this hometown band were celebrating their 40th anniversary with a tour. Although having lost two original members in the early 2000s, bassist and spokesperson Peo Thyren is as enthusiastic as a teenager about the band’s legacy. In my conversation with Thyren, I asked about the non-English stance being a hurdle to global acceptance, but he was accepting of the fact that the Swedish lyrics are difficult to translate and would lose their meaning which would dilute the music. The bassist was also happy about the fact that their music is relevant till today and spans age groups amongst audiences who come to their gigs. Speaking on the loss of two original members, Thyren believes in keeping the legacy alive by moving on and getting the music out there and playing it to future generations. All said and done, when Noice took the stage, they conquered everyone with their energy. As for me, I retired with a happy vibe, having got a full blast of pure European punk-pop madness.
The final day of festivals always have a burst of extra energy and excitement that raises the happy vibe of the place. The roster was peppered with local politicians and social officials speaking about the importance of community. I was happy to experience the music of Mathias Larsson, a soft-spoken singer-songwriter teddy-bear of a man. We spoke at length about the music of singers like Neil Young, Van Morrison and of course Bob Dylan, and he was very curious to hear about the independent music scene in India. His set at the festival was well received. I urge you, constant listener, to seek out his music.
And soon it was time for the finale as the Värmdö Local Heroes Band took the stage, consisting of stalwarts like legendary Swedish singer and bassist Michael Rickfors, singer Tina Ahlen, artists like Magnus Jonson, Martin Frontman and Louise Reader. The highlight for me was the soulful tribute and rendition of the late Swedish EDM superstar Avicii’s song “Wake Me Up” by Olsen. There was not a single dry eye in the house. The band then rocked the audience with Bob Marley and Van Morrison classics amongst Swedish hits. The culmination was a high spirited rendition of Joe Cocker’s version of the Beatles classic “With a Little Help from My Friends,” to which I contributed a line or two as well. And now many months later as I write this, refreshing those vivid memories, recounting all the interactions with all the marvelous people and musicians I met, I can only say that once again, I have been fortunate as ever to have experienced the magic of music that unites us all as human beings.