The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #11 September / October 2014
The Faroese Festival Summer
by Miranda Metheny
September / October 2014 | 

Summer in the Faroe Islands is short but exquisite. The grass glows a vibrant green, flowers bloom, and the sun doesn't set long enough for darkness to take hold. Even at midnight, the sky glows a beautiful blue and calls you to enjoy every hour. It's no wonder that the Faroese want to fit as much fun into the summer as possible. June, July, and August offer a huge variety of festivals and other activities.

After the rowing competition, young men play in the Tórshavn harbor.

The most traditional are the local festivals, or "stevna," which feature rowing competitions, sports, activities for children and of course dancing and partying in the evenings. There are also many other types of local festivals and events. The last and greatest of the annual stevna is Ólavsøka, in Tórshavn, which is also the national cultural, political, and religious holiday of the Faroe Islands.

In recent years, music has also become a crucial part of the Faroese summer. Each summer features a calendar of concerts spread evenly through the summer months, different genres, and unique venues ranging from cafes in downtown Tórshavn to churches on remote outer islands. There are also several huge music festivals, including the magical G! Festival in the village of Gøta.

Ólavsøka – History

Many people wear Faroese national dress to the Ólavsøka festivities.

Ólavsøka is the national holiday of the Faroe Islands, and is a religious, political, cultural and sporting high point in the year. The Faroese parliament, or løgting, opens at this time. Historically, this was the time of the year that the most people from the various Faroese villages and islands would crowd into the capital to socialize, trade, and celebrate.

Ólavsøka means "St. Olaf's Wake." Like the smaller holiday of Olsok in Norway, Ólavsøka commemorates the death of the Norwegian King Olaf II Haraldsson, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Norway. King Olaf died on the 29th of July 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad. However, the Faroese parliament predates this, so although the date has been changed, the origin of the holiday is even older.

Ólavsøka – Festivities

Ólavsøka traditionally takes place over two days, Ólavsøka eve on July 28th and Ólavsøka proper on the 29th. However, in recent years some events have in fact started on the 27th, with concerts and the Faroese gay pride festival taking place before the main holiday.

Thousands gather for the sing-along that marks the end of the official Ólavsøka festivities.

One of the centerpoints of Ólavsøka is the rowing competition. At the various stevna throughout the summer, regional teams have competed in rowing, but the finals are held at Ólavsøka. There are also various folk concerts, chain dancing, performances, a carnival for children and a variety of processions.

A typical Ólavsøka celebration involves wearing traditional Faroese dress as you wander from event to event, meeting people you know and sharing pictures and conversations with them. There are many restaurants selling delicious Faroese food here and there. At night, if you like, you can change out of the Faroese dress and go out on the town, as the bars and clubs are bustling.

The ending of Ólavsøka is perhaps its most distinctive moment. Thousands of people gather in the square for an All-song, or public singalong. Faroese and a few tourists alike all join together to sing about twenty Faroese songs from a printed booklet. This is the official end of the festival, but then, as everyone prepares to go home, a different sort of song starts coming over the speakers – a Faroese kvæði, or ballad. Everyone then links arms and starts dancing to the ancient Faroese ring-dance. It's a magical moment that brings together the most traditional and beautiful elements of Faroese culture.

Some of the major Festival Summer events (Late May – August):

Norðoyarstevna – The stevna of the northern islands (Klaksvík)

Mentanarnáttin – An event celebrating both modern and traditional Faroese culture, with a huge schedule of varied events. Some call it "the little Ólavsøka." (Tórshavn)

Eystanstevna – The stevna of Eysturoy (Runavík)

Sundalagsstevna – The stevna of The Sound (alternates Kollafjørður, Hosvík and Hvalvík)

Voxbotn Music Festival – Music festival with local and international bands (Tórshavn)

Jóansøka – Midsummer and the stevna of Suðuroy (alternates Tvøroyri and Vágur)

Varmakeldustevna – A local festival (Fuglafjørður)

Útoyggjastevna – The stevna of the outer islands (location alternates greatly)

Fjarðastevna – A local festival (alternates Vestmanna, Skáli and Strendur)

Vestanstevna – The stevna of Vágur (alternates Sandavágur, Miðvágur and Sandavágur)

G! Festival – A magical summer music festival showcasing Faroese and international Music (Gøta)

Ólavsøka – The national cultural, political, and religious holiday of the Faroe Islands (Tórshavn)

Summer Festival – A huge summer music festival (Klaksvík)

Ovastevna – A festival celebrating local rowing hero Ove Joensen (Nólsoy)

G! – History

Greta Svabo Bech, who has worked with Deadmau5 and hit the Billboard Top 100, performs at G!

The G! Festival is widely considered to be the most important musical event in the Faroe Islands, and is, together with Summarfestivalurin one of the Faroes two biggest music festivals. Remarkably, this event takes place in the tiny fjordside village of Gøta, where an astonishing percentage of Faroese musical talent originates.

G! Was founded by two locals, Sólarn Solmunde and Jón Tyril, whose goal was to change the Faroese musical landscape. The first year was 2002, and the line-ups and attendance have been growing steadily since then. It has been estimated that up to one fifth of the Faroese population attends the G! Festival, and it is a veritable who's who of Faroese cultural icons.

G! – Festivities

Danish pop singer Nabiha lights up the beach stage at the G! Festival.

G! takes place each year over the course of three days in July, a few weeks before Ólavsøka. The venues are built around the village of Gøta – on the beach, on the playground, in an old building foundation by the shore, and even in private homes. Gøta sits at the end of a long fjord, ringed by high green mountains almost like a natural amphitheater. As the festival begins, boats fill up the cozy harbor or sit out in the sparkling fjord, campers race to get the best spots in a huge party field, and the little village lights up with the wonderful energy that comes from music and togetherness.

Festival-goers gather to hear acapella choir Xperiment sing "Í Gøtu ein dag" (One day in Gøta), a Faroese ballad.

People of all ages and interests flock to G! There is a Viking village for children, little restaurants set up on the spot to serve Faroese seafood and other delicacies, hot tubs and saunas by the ocean, and other attractions... but the focus is always on the music. Each year, musicians from both all around the Faroe Islands and all around the world converge there for unforgettable concerts that go late into the eternally lit nordic nights.

When the weather is good, Syðrugøta at G!-time might be the finest place on earth, as the fjord sparkles in the sunlight and the landscape seems too verdant and spectacular to be real. Even when the weather is bad (it's the Faroes, after all, and it's been known to rain, storm, and even flood the stages) the spirits of the Faroese seem unquenchable, and the party continues.

Modern Faroese Music

A variety of Faroese artists come together for the big sing-along at G!

Faroese music has a rich heritage including not only the unique ballads, but also several other types of traditional church and secular music. Today, the Faroese have an astonishing number of musicians per capita, and you can find Faroese music in any genre, ranging from heavy metal to experimental, pop to country (oddly enough, several Faroese artists record in Nashville, Tennessee!)

The main Faroese record label, Tutl, has given most Faroese musicians their start. They organize many concerts in a huge variety of Faroese venues, and also operate a store in Tórshavn which is the best starting place for any visitor interested in learning more about Faroese music. The head of Tutl, Kristian Blak, is himself a notable composer and musician, and the founder of the Nordic ensemble Yggdrasil.

Here are some of the biggest names in Faroese music:

Eivør Pálsdóttir performs at an intimate living room concert during the G! Festival.

Eivør Pálsdóttir – From her birthplace of Gøta, the home of the G! Festival, Eivør has brought her unique voice and incredible stage presence to a huge variety of genres, from folk to rock, pop, and experimental music. She has recorded songs in Faroese, Danish and English as well as Icelandic.

Teitur Lassen – Generally considered to be the most world-famous of all Faroese musicians, Teitur's popular English-language music has brought him a global following.

Frændur – This band, which was formed in the town of Klaksvík in the 1980's, has produced some of the most famous and beloved of all Faroese songs, without which no Faroese party is complete.

Annika Hoydal – Recording most of her work in both Faroese and Danish, Hoydal is known as an actress and a singer-songwriter who records traditional and children's music.

Orka – Famous for building their own instruments and constantly experimenting, Orka started out with acoustic vocal songs in Faroese and has since delved into dark electronic and atmospheric music.

Byrta – One of the newest and hottest Faroese bands on the scene right now, Byrta's electro-pop sound was influenced by eighties music. The duo performs in Faroese and is rapidly gaining popularity in the Faroes and Iceland.

Scenes from the Summer

Children play on the beach during G! – the festival grounds are open and free each day, before closing to ticket-holders for the headline evening concerts.

Hot-pots and a sauna are set up on the beach during G!, and small restaurants selling sushi, snacks, gourmet food, and alcohol fill the small village.

Hanus G. Johansen and Cantabile perform at Ólavsøka.

The Faroese parliament's first session is open to the public.

The crowd at Voxbotn is in high spirits despite a drizzle of rain.

Beautiful Faroese national clothing at Ólavsøka. This woman inherited her home-made and unique whale-bone jewelry from her mother.

Delicious Faroese langoustine is grilled and sold on the street.

The Faroese national dress can come in many colors, with green and red the most traditional but blue, purple, and other colors also appearing.

Celebrations - The Faroese Festival Summer
Writer: Miranda Metheny
Miranda Metheny: youth at campgrounds [splash page]; young men play in harbor; women wearing Faroese national dress; Miranda at barn; sing-along; Hanus G. Johansen and Cantabile performing; crowd at Voxbotn; Faroese langoustine grilled and sold; Faroese parliament; Faroese national clothing woman; Miranda in Faroese national dress; Greta Svabo Bech; Danish pop singer Nabiha on beach stage; Festival-goers gathered at stage; variety of Faroese artists; Eivør Pálsdóttir at living room concert; Children playing on the beach; Hot-pots and a sauna; lighthouse [images background]

Miranda Metheny retains all copyright control over her images. They are used in Parrot Time with her expressed permission.

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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