Swedish shredders in Skagit
When: 7 pm Fri., Apr. 12
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
My appearance might not give it away, but I come from a very large Scandinavian family.
I don’t know that there’s any kind of Scandinavian family other than “very large,” but mine is bigger than most. A goodly number of us remain in the Motherland—where it seems like at least half of my male cousins are named Ole, which makes family reunions both easier and more complicated—but we’ve established strongholds in Kathryn, North Dakota (pop. 52) and, inexplicably, Snohomish County, where the majority of us settled. Despite our size, we are a pretty tight crew, and until my generation ruined things with our wandering ways, we pretty much married other Scandinavians with strong ties to country and culture.
I say “Scandinavia,” because even though we started out 100 percent Norwegian, as time has gone by, we’ve incorporated some Swedes into our family. Supposedly, people from Norway and Sweden don’t get along, and I’ve certainly been witness to some good-natured ribbing at family gatherings, but I grew up eating lefse and Swedish pancakes alike.
While I’m not trying to suggest I was raised listening to the folk music—traditional or otherwise—of Scandinavia, I was exposed to it at various Norway Halls, Swedish pancake breakfasts, grange gatherings and other events that involved the eating of white foods, the wearing of thick and cheery sweaters and dancing. I won’t claim that I recognize a nyckelharpa (the Swedish equivalent of a hurdy-gurdy) when I hear one, but there is something familiar in its sound.
Which is why I was excited to hear a Swedish folk band, Vasen, was coming to Mount Vernon for a Fri., April 12 concert at the Lincoln Theatre.
It’s quite possible when the trio comprised of Olov Johansson on the aforementioned nyckelharpa, viola player Roger Tallroth, and guitarist Mikael Marin first toured the United States, they appeared in some of those halls and granges of my youth. However, the group has been at this for more than a quarter of a century to great critical acclaim, so now you’re far more likely to find them playing an NPR Tiny Desk Concert or on a stage at the Kennedy Center.
Each member of Vasen is a master of not only his chosen instrument, but also in the traditional music of Uppsala, the region they’re from, as well as other parts of Sweden. They take the time-honored music of Sweden, marry it to a modern sensibility and imbue it with playfulness, liveliness or a touch of melancholia as the song warrants. They also play very fast, and watching their nimble fingers dance over their instruments is impressive, to say the least. To borrow the vernacular of another Scandinavian music tradition—black metal—Vasen totally shreds.
However, it seems that when they make their way stateside and to the Lincoln Theatre, Vasen could quite possibly be short 10 of those nimble fingers belonging to one of those shredders. At press time, Marin and his viola are stuck in some sort of musical no man’s land, waiting on a work visa that is caught up in something called “administrative processing.” If any of you are bureaucracy whisperers, I know a Swedish viola player who could use your skills right about now.
That said, with time between now and when the proverbial curtain rises, Marin may be the recipient of a minor miracle and still be able to hop a plane, train and possibly an automobile or two (not necessarily in that order) and tour with the trio as planned. In the event that doesn’t happen, the show must go on and Johansson and his nyckelharpa and Tallroth and his 12-string are willing and prepared to give Vasen fans a unique opportunity to see them play as a duo. One of the key’s to Vasen’s popularity and longevity has always been the interplay between its three core members, who effortlessly weave their respective instruments together like the three plaits of a braid. They’re also able to make a few instruments sound like many, so potentially being down a member is going to prove a test of their considerable mettle.
It’s a test I have a feeling they’ll pass with flying colors, falling back not only on their skills as seasoned musicians, but also using it as an opportunity to allow audiences to see a slightly different side of Vasen. I have no doubt they’ll rise to the occasion with the kind of industriousness and good humor that is synonymous with Swedes—and I bet most of my Norwegian cousins named Ole would be forced to agree.
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