Gig Review: Vi på Värmdö Music Festival, Gustavberg, Sweden
The magical two-day event celebrated diversity and multiculturalism with an impressive lineup of bands and performance artists
I knew I had left the heat of Mumbai behind when I stepped out into the cool Scandinavian air at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. My friend and host, Martin Frontman Anderson—who had previously hosted me for the Stockholm Jazz festival—greeted me shortly and together we drove to Vi på Värmdö music festival in Gustavsberg in Anderson’s big black SUV.
About an hour’s drive later, we reached the main centre of the town. My hotel, he Bla Blom or the Blue Flower, was a sweet little vintage building that overlooked a little gulf that opened out into the Baltic Sea. Just next to the hotel was a green patch of ground where the stage was to be set up and the festival was to take place.
I checked into my room, a tiny one bed and small window setup, that made me feel I was back in Arles and was all set to watch Van Gogh paint one of his masterpieces. But all that imagery was soon gone when Martin suggested we go for some supper to the local pub called O’Leary’s. The Irishman in me did a quick somersault and we were on our way.
Gustavsberg is a town of only 12,000 people, about an hour’s drive outside of Stockholm. It is primarily famous for its porcelain factories and products that have kept it prosperous since 1825. In wake of the recent crisis in eastern Europe, many immigrants have moved into the area. The local government strives to welcome and settle the newcomers, but Anderson felt that a musical celebration would further help in allowing them to be integrated into the community. Thus, the idea for Vi på Värmdö festival was born. Each day had a roster of music and dance performances intended to highlight the cultural integration of the immigrant nationalities of the area.
One of the interesting things I’ve always noticed about music festivals in Europe and particularly in Sweden is the efficiency and ease of logistics. At about 10 AM on the first day of the festival, a huge truck pulled into the parking lot and began to unload equipment. I was wondering when the stage would be set up when I saw that the truck itself opened up into a stage complete with an assembly of truss rods for the lights etc. And as I watched the setup in progress the various musicians began arriving and by noon, everything was ready to go. Around the area, the usual food trucks and local trinket shops were set up to entertain festival-goers.
The festival programming was split into two parts. Day one was for the youth, and day two was for families. The festival opened with local DJ Goran setting the mood with his funky beats. Soon the host for the fest Martin Bianco came up onstage and began announcing the artists as they came and performed.
One of the acts was a dance troupe called Lonely Riders, a multicultural group which uses dance to bring young people of different cultures together, led by the trio Louise Kvarby, Peter Lagergren and Mans Erlandsson. Erlandsson, the founder, explained that the group consisted of young people from various countries who have left their homelands and are in surroundings that are not always comfortable. Lonely Riders allows these various people to meet new people and forge friendships through the medium of dance and performance. As I watched them onstage, I was amazed to see these seemingly awkward teenagers transform into confident performers who were in control of themselves through the choreography.
The lineup also included a very sweet love story enacted onstage by the duo of Imran and Smilla, two young actors who prepared and presented a sketch on how two people from different cultures can look beyond their backgrounds and progress positively forward with love and respect for each other.
As for the musical acts: Atheena, an emo pop/rock band, blew me away with their music. They performed a short set which included tracks from their recently released EP Lumos. The band had a huge sound that was raw and definite at the same time. Powerful vocals with punchy arrangements kept them well in-tune with their genre and they indeed rocked the audience.
Soon it was time for the headliner of the evening, a band called Partiet (Swedish for “party”), a Swedish reggae-ska band with a political twist (as is the case with most reggae bands). They had amazing control over the ska rhythms, and the vibe of the band overall was exhilarating to experience.
The second day of Vi på Värmdö took place on the Swedish national day and a public holiday. The festival opened at 10 am to a sunny day, which is quite a relative rarity, even in summer in Sweden. But this day the weather was kind and clear sunny skies smiled down upon the festival. I was able to watch the headlining act of the evening, The Varmdo Local Heroes Band, rehearse for their upcoming performance. I was told that this was a gathering of legendary Swedish musicians especially for the festival—a “supergroup,” you might say.
One of the group members was Michael Rickfors, who was part of the legendary group The Hollies and has written songs for Carlos Santana, Cyndi Lauper, Richie Havens and Percy Sledge. His wife, singer-songwriter Louise Raeder, was also part of the group and has previously worked with Benny and Bjorn of Swedish pop legends ABBA. The rest of the group was made up of Magnus Jonson on bass and Adam Atterby on guitar, as well as Kristin Stenerhag, Tina Ahlin and Evelina Olsen on vocals and Morgan Agree (who has played with Frank Zappa) on drums. There was no doubt that I was in the presence of Swedish music gold.
The festival’s closing evening was pure rock and roll magic. Every person in the audience sang along to every lyric at the tops of their voices. Later that evening, festival-goers sat down to a fantastic dinner organized by the nearby Hotel Bla Blom, with tables that were set with iconic porcelain designed by Lisa Larson, and a menu that was simply delicious (vegetarian for me). The evening went on with mirth and laughter, with all attendees talking about life and experiences and travel and of course, music.
All photos by Hasse Lindén & Håkan Schüler