I’m a Chicagoan on a working vacation in Iceland, writing about the financial crisis for a hedge fund trade magazine and taking in geysers. When I realized that my trip would overlap the annual Reykjavik Blues Festival, running from April 4-9, well, I had to cover it, too. After all, the only people who love the blues more than white people from the north side of Chicago are white people in Europe. Pinetop Perkins, darker than any Inuit, took the redeye here to sing the blues.
No matter what we look like or where we live, we have all been downhearted, baby, ever since the day that someone left. Right? And the Icelandic people have a lot to be downhearted about these days, between their heavy debt load, their deflated economy, and their stint on the U.K.â€™s list of terrorist nations, an attempt by the British government to recover British deposits in Icelandic banks. Throw in the fact that the British blue band Led Zeppelin wrote one of its big hits, â€œThe Immigrant Song,â€ about Iceland, and you have a festival setting that Memphis and St. Louis would envy.
Only some of the musicians and fun this week are imported, but it started with the cars. Saturdayâ€™s kickoff event involved the Reykjavik Cruiser Club members driving their classic American cars down the narrow BankastrÃ¦ti. The lead car was fixed up like Jake and Elwoodâ€™s Bluesmobile. Every driver was on a mission from God: to have some fun at the end of a long winter, in the midst of a recession, by showing off their much-loved vehicles.
The Sevar Karl Gallery had a display of classic guitars. Gallery is a loose term here; itâ€™s in the basement of the Sevar Karl boutique. Upstairs, the racks of Dolce & Gabbana sweaters were all 60% off, and the merchandise wasnâ€™t picked over; there simply arenâ€™t buyers for fancy imported sweaters in a country known for its knitting. Downstairs, everyone admired Andy Summersâ€™ guitar.
But here was the best part: local musicians were playing blues in the street. They added life, which was sadly lacking inside the shops. Some of the players seemed professional, but most appeared to be groups of friends who thought it would be a goof to get together and play some blues standards for all the folks walking around outside. The musicians and their audience were having a great time, especially considering that the temperature was in the thirties and rainy. And isn’t that was the blues should do?