A cold but beautiful winter-morning. With sunglasses on and singing along loudly to some great folk sounds playing on the car stereo I’m on my way to one of the last large events of the year, the Midwinter Fair at Archeon in Alphen aan de Rijn in the Netherlands. I can’t wait to see my folk-family again, to feel that feeling of home that is so different from all other “homes” yet always feels so familiar.
is an open air history museum covering roughly the time period from the stone age up to medieval times. Its collection of buildings, from bronze age farms through a Roman bath house and inn, all the way to a medieval cloister, provide such a great backdrop for this festival that you can just imagine yourself actually being transported back to these earlier times.
Upon arrival the first thing that you notice, apart from the very friendly staff, is the wonderful smell of wood-fires burning everywhere. It is after all a Midwinter Fair, so some added heat is required. Every few hundred meters there is a fire burning, with extra wood supplied, so that if you want you can build the fire a bit higher to warm up. This combined with so many happy people, many of which are clad in stunning costumes, makes the cold air fade to the background and warms the heart.
Right at the entrance we were greeted by the musicians of
Welcome home! After a quick chat it was off to our first performance indoors for the day,
in the cloister. As we have come to expect from this band this was a heart-warming and soothing performance, with their spiritually inspired sounds blending perfectly with the smell of incense and a candle lit room. Ok, I know there was electric lighting as well, but the were candles and I’m trying to convey a feeling here, give me a break
After this performance there was a little bit of time to walk around to sniff the atmosphere and get some quick lunch, after which it was time to get back to that same cloister for a show by
best known for being the man behind the formation of
During the show the emphasis is not so much on the music itself, but heavily on the stories and the lore behind the instruments and the poetry. Einar performs with a passion for the music, and he certainly succeeds in conveying that passion onto the audience. I’ve been looking and thinking hard to find the correct words to describe the performance. Moving, touching, emotional, these come close but don’t do it much justice. Best way to describe it is: Do yourself a favour and go to one (or many) of his performances!
The stage was quickly converted for the next sound-check and performance.
is a new formation, these were their first performances, but with very experienced musicians. It’s a new side project by Oliver s. Tyr from
playing Nordic Folk in somewhat of a more old school style than his more modern musical endeavours. Great music to sit and listen to, but also to dance to! As they are so new they do not yet have any music recorded, but as soon as they have an album you can be sure we will add it to our play-list!
After this we walked around for a bit and as so often happens we met so many old and new friends that we missed a lot of performances. Unfortunately we can’t be in more than one or two places at a time. The evening then turned to a more personal note as we attended a beautiful handfasting. Well, I, Arjan, attended, as Alex was actually the one getting handfasted. 😉
And then the first festival day ended with a smashing show by
at the Roman inn. Hard hitting pagan rockers from Britain, these guys, and girl of course, always know how to make a party! They almost blew the roof with their great music and experienced showmanship!
The second day started surprisingly similar to the first one, all be it rather late after an impressive Saturday, we overslept, we’re only human 😉 Sowulo is a band we can easily visit twice in one weekend, so that was our chosen method of waking up. Besides being great musicians they are also just amazing people and good friends, so a nice chat ended up in us stepping across the threshold for the next performance just as they played their last note. But the guys and girl of
were nice people too, so we agreed that they would give us a little heads up right before their next, and final, performance of the day so that we could see them live.
Quick lunchtime again and then back to the cloister for
Their show on the previous day at the Roman inn had been plagued by technical difficulties, resulting in a short performance. Not so on this Sunday. No matter how often you see these amazing musicians perform, their desire to reach perfection shows every time, and it’s always a joy to experience. Surprising to me, yet very fitting, were their renditions of songs by
A feast for the ears! Somehow, organically, the room divided itself. People were sitting and listening right in front of the stage, where left from the stage a sort of dance area formed. To the right there was room for those who came in a bit too late to sit down to stand, and so everyone could get the full effect of the show that they wanted!
With only a short thirty minutes before the next performance, again in the cloister, we raced out to do some shopping, because let’s face it, how can you go to a fair and not buy something like for instance some great mead for back home? We made it back just in time for the start of this day’s performance by Kaunan. Oliver s. Tyr (DE), Göran Hallmarken (SE) and Boris Koller (AUT) used their self-described “archaic” instruments to create an atmosphere that completely fitted the theme of the fair for this year, Vikings. With eyes closed the cloister almost turned into a longhouse and I would definitely love to see an extended show of this great new group!
Right after this performance we received the heads up I mentioned earlier, that Pyrolysis was about to start their final show, so it was off to the Roman bath house which by this time was filled with candles. Originally formed in 2010 as a folk-punk band these four guys and one girl play a very good acoustic set and we had loads of fun listening to them. It was extremely hard to keep myself from moving along to the music while I was trying to record some video. Work of their own, and well known traditionals, it was just pure fun being there!
A race back to, yet again, the cloister, because Einar Selvik was playing again. And judging by the crowd, many people had heard of his amazing performance the day before, because the cloister was pretty much full. The performance itself was just as moving as it was on Saturday, but being able to share that with such a large group of people was amazing. The emotions that Einar placed in his music and his singing reverberated through the entire crowd and probably also back to him, as this was fast becoming one of the most touching shows ever. After it was over, which was way too soon, there was a well-deserved standing ovation, and there were many people, including the both of us, left in tears from the massive emotional roller-coaster. Thank you Einar, thank you so very much for this experience!
Coming down from this emotional high we unfortunately missed the closing act of the fair,
A shame, because these guys know how to make a party! Fortunately the CeltCast family extends beyond just the two of us, so I’m glad to report that the Roman inn was packed full from front to back, with everybody dancing and moving along to the music. With candles on all the tables and that typical Rapalje madness it certainly was a party!
This is however somewhat of a continuous thread through the Midwinter Fair, albeit a positive one. There is so much to be seen, in so little time, that you are bound to miss some great shows and events. And that’s just the music! How about the many stands selling all sorts of lovely things, the story tellers, the costumes, the Kid’s Quest, the LARP’ers, the wedding chapel, just too much to talk about without this report turning into a book 😉 I guess in the end there’s just one more thing to say. It has been an amazing weekend, and we are already looking forward to next year’s Midwinter Fair!
Pictures courtesy of: