Saga Fest Update

The Sagas of Icelanders are narratives about 10th and 11th century Iceland, when communities would gather around winter fires to share stories and music.


FTER A PERSPECTIVE-CHANGING TRIP TO PETRA, Jordan, I started to learn as much as I could about the Sagas of Icelanders. I spent my free time researching facts about the country and even started attending an Icelandic language MeetUp group at a library an hour away from my house. Given my background, I was specifically fascinated by the country’s vibrant music scene. I discovered dozens of festivals that took place in Iceland each year, a surprising finding given the country’s population is barely over 320,000 people.

But even with such a saturated market, I couldn’t find a festival that combined music with the Sagas.

I didn’t know anyone living in Iceland, so I started reaching out to Icelandic artists, storytellers and musicians online. I asked them if they knew about any festivals that focused on both storytelling and music. They said they couldn’t think of any, but they were interested in the concept. I suggested that, if such a festival is ever created, it should be inclusive and focus on the transformation of sharing.

The festival concept lingered at the forefront of my mind, and with each passing week, I realized the thought would probably never go away. So I decided to take action. I’d quit my job at the start of the summer and move to Iceland. I was going to build a community festival around the Sagas of Icelanders and music. I’d call it: Saga Fest.

To many, it seemed like an illogical decision. After all, I still had student loans and credit card debt to pay. I had no funding prospects besides this Fulbright-mtvU fellowship that I stumbled upon earlier in the year—but I knew how competitive it was to get one. I didn’t know anyone in Iceland besides the people I randomly messaged. I had a whole life in D.C. that I’d be walking away from.

But my intuition was telling me that this was something I needed to do even though it was difficult for me to articulate the reasons to anyone.

When you consciously decide to take the leap—to turn your vision into a reality—you must have faith that it will all work out.

My friend Jenny described it to me in this way: you’re driving a car at night and your headlights are on. It’s really foggy and you can only see ten or twenty feet in front of you. You don’t know how long the road is, and you don’t know where you’re headed. But you know deep down that this drive is important.

“Then one day, the fog suddenly disappears,” she said.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

– John Burroughs

The universe tends to provide gifts to people that make the leap, especially if they back it up with passion and hard work. Though, a combination of luck, privilege, social capital and timing is also involved.

The universe provided me with three gifts.

The first was this Fulbright-mtvU fellowship. I made a conscious decision to work hard on the application process since it was my only funding prospect. Three of my mentors stepped up and wrote beaming recommendations. I exhausted my family and friends who peer-edited my proposal and personal statement multiple times. I reached out to previous winners, who generously shared their insights with me. I got the fellowship.

The second gift was having an understanding boss who genuinely wanted to foster my growth as a person, even though that meant my departure from the organization. She worked around my timeline, which helped me earn enough money to fund a two-month trip around the United States where I participated and volunteered at festivals, saw family and friends, and met with prospective partners.

The third gift—one that I keep receiving—was support from the community. These relationships have, for the most part, been built in the most unexpected ways.

When I finally arrived in Iceland, I still didn’t know anyone. This was a scary reality since I knew the success of a festival is largely best online casino based on the support it receives from its community.

One of the first things I did in the country was stop by a tourism office to see if there was a school where I could take Icelandic classes. Rögnvaldur (Reggie) was sitting at the office’s information desk.

Reggie greeted me and took the time to learn about why I came to Iceland. I told him about my life in D.C., the cave experience at Petra, and the festival I was trying to build. He told me to get into contact with his friend Anna, who worked at Iceland Music Export, an organization that promotes and “exports” local musicians to other countries around the world. They do solid work.

Anna met with me and provided a lot of guidance. She helped me understand the local music scene, which saved me loads of time. She also introduced me to one of her colleagues Katrin, who became the first person to join the Saga Fest team as our marketing and PR manager.

INCE STARTING MY FULBRIGHT-MTVU WORK ON THIS FESTIVAL IN SEPTEMBER, a lot has happened. Soon after Katrin joined the team, I met Siggi in Stykkisholmur, a small village about two hours northwest of Reykjavík.

Siggi is a local musician who was helping my Fulbright advisor—also a local musician named Siggi—coordinate a music education retreat for the New Audiences and Innovative Practices program. We had a long conversation over coffee when we returned to Reykjavík, and he joined the festival team as the music and booking manager.

What started as an idea and a team of one has evolved into a two-day music and arts festival backed by an incorporated non-profit and a team of eight. We have a budget, designs and materials for structures, musicians recruited to our line-up and an office space in downtown Reykjavík.

Saga Fest’s list of collaborators has continued to grow. Our partners and artists feel an alignment in the festival’s vision: creating a space where people can connect, share and learn with others.

Iceland’s national newspaper Fréttablaðið featured an article about our tickets, which are printed on plantable-seed paper. Festival-goers will plant their tickets in a garden plot as they enter the festival grounds.

Two weeks before that article was published, I met a radiant woman named Ragnhildur, an environmental advocate who previously worked at the intersection of music. She organized a well-attended concert that protested the construction of a hydro-electric dam in the southwest of Iceland. She is also a brilliant Ph.D.-wielding ecologist who owns a sustainable farm near the small village of Eyrarbakki.

The picture above captures the Saga Fest team touring Ragnhildur’s farm to map out “drop points” for structures and stages. The farm is focused on restoring wetlands, lowering community CO2 emissions and breeding horses.

Photo by Scott Shigeoka

After weeks of exploratory conversations with her, our team traveled to her farm—which is about an hour from Reykjavík—to meet her family. We also toured her land and learned that it’s coincidentally situated in a region of Iceland where many of the Sagas of Icelanders took place.

We mutually decided to host the inaugural Saga Fest at the farm, called Stokkseyrarsel. Ragnhildur said her family jokingly discussed renaming the farm to Woodstokks–eyrarsel.

I thought it was a great idea.

Ultimately, the last two months of planning Saga Fest with the team has led to this: We have structural designs and materials to build a pop-up village on a sustainable farm near the southern coast of Iceland; there will be two stages for music performances, art and dance; a community stage for poets, storytellers and community members to perform and share; geodesic domes built for workshops and late-night DJs; a bonfire for storytelling around the sagas and southern coastland; a focus on local food and communal eating experiences; and participatory art experiences.

Though I was nervous and didn’t know how I would make it work, my life in Iceland has played out beautifully so far. Deciding to pursue a dream, instead of just talking about it, changed everything for me. I have never felt more alive in my life.

In just four months, Saga Fest will take a life of its own. The community will gather to share music, art and stories at Stokkseyrarsel farm in Iceland.

While there is still a lot of work ahead of us, and many more leaps to take, but I am confident that it will all lead to the co-creation of a beautiful festival.

I am so excited about what’s on the horizon. See you on the farm in May!

This story is an excerpt from a longer article I wrote for Medium called Taking the Leap. Pre-sale tickets for the festival go on sale January 2015. You can learn more by following us on Facebook. I’m on Twitter @scottshigeoka.

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