Bergen Fest, a friendly festival with lots of musical highlights


By Per Ole Hagen, and Rock At Night Norway Correspondent.

Bergen Fest, Bergen, Norway

Bergen Fest is the first of the main all round festivals in Norway, happening for four days in mid June. It is situated at the Bergenhus Fortress, next to the Haakon’s Hall, that was finished in 1261. The festival can’t boast of the same long heritage, but it has roots in the 90’s, when it was called Ole Blues and was a club festival

The concept at Bergen Fest is to mix interesting artists from different styles. This way everyone can experience artists they haven’t seen before, together with their favorites. The festival has three stages–one large stage with a capacity of 6,000-7000, one medium-sized stage with a capacity of about 2000, and a tent stage that can handle around 1,000. Personally, I mostly go for the artists at the two main stages, but last year I saw The Struts in the tent, and this year Banditos and Patti Griffin.

The festival spans over four days. I had to leave after three days for a family occasion. But a three day festival is really my favorite length. Wednesday was my first day, with Biff Clyro as headliners at the big stage. But before that we got many other great acts. Israel Nash was first out on the second stage with his high quality songs and performance. After him Patty Griffin took over in the tent. Her act was a duo, and therefore a good contrast to the bands at the other two stages. Michael Kiwanuka made beautiful music and performed passionately.

Vintage Trouble was the first band on the main stage Wednesday. They played a high tempo show with Ty Taylor as the ceremony master. I haven’t seen the band before, but they presented one of the best live shows at the whole festival. The next two bands, Yessayer and Band of Horses were not as good as I had expected. I knew little of Yeasayer from before, and their quite introvert show didn’t make me want to explore them further. Band of Horses I have seen a couple of times before, but this concert wasn’t the best I have seen.

Biffy Clyro was the headliner at Bergen Fest three years ago, and I was just as impressed by their show this year as then. Maybe even more. Their albums are good, but they are, in my opinion, best experienced live. Their songs with sudden shifts in dynamics, and the vital stage show was a perfect way to close Wednesday.

Thursday started with Nothing But Thieves. They are a new English band with instant success, much because of their singer, Conor Mason. Wilco was next, one of the bands I was most looking forward to. I have seen them more vital on stage, but Jeff Tweedy was playful and smiling more than all the other times I have seen them put together. Great songs, great playing and, to me, one of the highlights of the festival.

Banditos was another unexpected highlight. The Birmingham, Alabama band mixes bluegrass, rock, some punk, honky tonk and country, and with one of the best female singers I have heard for a while, Mary Beth Richardson. I saw Mercury Rev ten years ago, and then at SXSW this year before Bergen Fest. Their newest version is good, but I must admit that the late club concert at SXSW suits them better than an outdoor summer stage.

Ghost was next out on the main stage, and this time with Papa Emeritus III in front of the nameless ghouls, which the musicians are called. Their former version, with Papa Emeritus II had the band in in hooded monk outfits and masks, while now they wear devil masks, while the singer is painted as a younger man than his former personage. The concert was so far the best I have seen with them. Wolf Alice were also a new band for me. They are English and has been together since 2009, and have had some success with their music. Competent, good songs and a nice warm up before Sigur Rós.

The last time I saw Sigur Rós was at Oslo Spektrum in 2013. That was a highlight concert with extra musicians and a vital show. At Bergen Fest the photographers had to stand at the side of the stage, and with lots of contraptions on the edge of the high stage, it was virtually impossible to get good shots of them. We can all wonder why bands behave like that, but then Sigur Rós is a special band that follows their own whims and don’t much care about the rest.

Friday was my last day, with a wider mix of styles than the firstg two days. They also had two of Norway’s best artists, Sivert Høyem and Lars Vaular, the latter as this day’s headliner. But before them, Ezra Furman was my first act this day. I liked his quirky show, with some really good songs that reminded me of early David Bowie. Visually, he was also interesting. He is a cross-dresser and wore a dress, blue hair plus make up with red lipstick.

Twenty-two year old Jake Bugg is another new artist, who has released three albums so far in his career. His voice is very characteristic, but as a live act, I found him almost boring. Sivert Hoyem was the singer of Norwegian band Madrugada, but went solo when they broke up. Sivert might have Norway’s best male voice, really deep, full, and strong, and he has a very competent band behind him. Another solid concert from Sivert Hoyem, who deserves more recognition outside of Norway.

Friday was the day of the big voices, and John Newman is a singer that I have heard almost ad nauseam on radio, but who showed us that he can make a good show, too. If you like modern soul performed by a singer who would have been a well known crooner in Sinatra’s time, John Newman is the man for you. Half Moon Run isn’t about one good voice, they had some harmonies that knocked me out. The band has some perfect songs, and I could se they had even more confidence on stage than the first time I saw them three years ago.

The last three bands and artists Friday night were Rudimental, Yelawolf and Lars Vaular. Rudimental is a drum and bass band from England, perfect for summer parties, and with many people on stage and a great show. I almost found myself dancing! Yelawolf is the bad boy rapper who works hard to live up to his image. He sprayed the photographers with water and spat in the lens of a video photographer. But his delivery is impeccable, and he was a big hit with the audience.

The headliner Friday night was Lars Vaular, a hip hop artist from Bergen. He is considered one of the best rappers in Norway, and the one with the best lyrics. With a good light show, and being from Bergen, he was a big success with the crowd.

The best thing with Bergen Fest is that they combine so many different styles without it being forced. This means there is something for all, and the audience risk seeing bands and learning about music they don’t know. That is a good thing. That the festival is professionally organized, the organizers and volunteers are friendly, and this year they had real bbq brisket didn’t hurt at all.

See more articles by Per Ole Hagen at Artist Pictures Blog.

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