Preview: A First-Time Hitchhikers Guide to Iceland Airwaves Music Festival

by Aaron Pylinski

The festival circuit has a problem with becoming stale, especially in North America.  Many solutions are suggested for this problem, but most are largely concerned with the “one-up-manship” of the music industry, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the “one-up-manship” that needed adjustment.  Size, location and artists involved were the real issues at hand.  Going from Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits seeing Eminem and My Morning Jacket perform the same canned act is throwing the festival ring into a stale and rather boring Mexican standoff facing fans against the same ol same ol.  As a solution, one could trek outside the strict confines of these borders and branch out to greener pastures and a music scene less tread on by big media.

Iceland Airwaves started in 1999 in an airplane hanger with the purpose of providing new music from around the globe a springboard into a larger fan base.  The festival is set in the capital city of Reykjavík.

Studying Iceland before visiting, one can see it offers a wide choice of experiences for the traveler, regardless of when they visit the country. Every season seems to have its own unique charm and there are always opportunities to experience new things, discover beauty and be mesmerized by the freshness and colors of nature.

An open mind and willingness to explore are about the two most massively useful things an extra continental hitchhiker can have. And from reading the spoils available outside of the festival itself, a tour of the greater Reykjavik area looks paramount for the first-time hitchhiker in Iceland.  For the first-timer looking at what to do, exploring the most significant places in the capital and some surrounding towns seems a good start.

Settings such as the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir and the Höfði House where the all-important summit meeting between former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, which took place in 1986 looks attractive. On top of the Höfði House being an historical landmark, legend says that the spirit of a young woman inhabits it.  Accounts vary on who she is but most commonly locals say she is either a suicide or drowning victim.

Following in the same vein of the paranormal, the Northern Lights Mystery tour is said to blend natural phenomenon with the supernatural.  The trip sounds mysterious, normally held on a bright starry night, any time from the onset of autumn darkness until the light nights of spring.  Under the best conditions, a hitchhiker may be lucky enough to witness one of nature’s most spectacular displays; the phenomenon called the Northern Lights.

Outside of Reykjavik, there are opportunities to visit quaint and less spooky areas.  The town Hafnarfjörður is said to be the home of “elves” and “humans” alike along with an old fishing harbor and fish market could be a great way to top off an all-encompassing look at the people of Reykjavík and its surrounding villages.

According to, another gem outside the city limits of Reykjavík holds to the local tradition of public pools and the Blue Lagoon and looks to be the best way to drink it all in.  Touting a public meeting place and natural healing facility, the Blue Lagoon is a state-of-the-art business in health, wellness and skin care powered by geothermal energy.  The entire facility is power 100% by geothermal heat and communicates a world of healing power.  For the spa wellness traveler, this mecca on an island of volcanic heat and fury is bound to be a peaceful escape from the daily rigors of the hitchhiker.

Tying tourism with the music of the Iceland Airwaves Music festival is the Imagine Peace Tower.  A booming monument that Yoko Ono designed for former Beatle and husband John Lennon, this tower of light stands as a testament to peace love and understanding.  To honor Lennon, every year, his widow Yoko Ono lights the tower on October 9th, which is his birthday.  She makes the pilgrimage to Iceland every year on the anniversary of her husband’s birthday to “light” the tower.  This tribute to peace, love and understanding is situated on Viðey Island near Reykjavik and could prove to be the musical icing on the cake that is Iceland.

Whether it’s trekking through villages or admiring art and local traditions, Iceland appears to be a step above the norm in the tourism industry and the draw is nothing short of thrilling.  It is said the evolution of every overseas trip tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of arrival, inquiry and sophistication, otherwise known as the how, why and where phases.  A good example:  the first phase is characterized by the question “How can we eat?” the second by the question “Why do we eat?” and the third by the question “Where shall we have lunch?”  The answers seem to lie over the North Atlantic and land in Iceland.

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