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By David John Smith

In what had been the sleepy town of Notodden, the world’s most modern industries were employing thousands. A melting pot of people came from all over Norway and beyond with their cultures, their music and their traditions.

Norway’s first unions were created. Jobs were safe as black smoke filled the skies. Men worked the fiery furnaces by day, then played hard by night in the young and vibrant town of Notodden.

Courtesy of Telen

Years passed. The war came and Norway was occupied. Five painful years later, Norway and Europe were freed.

New post-war generations in Notodden began to work the factories. Some young people heard the call of adventure and sailed to American and beyond as crew on mighty Norwegian ships.

Young men such as Kare Virud went to sea with his father in the late 1950s, buying his first guitar in Japan and bringing back Elvis, Chuck Berry and Big Mama Thornton records from New York City.

Those who has remained behind in the factories embraced the new music with all their youthful energy. New bands were formed, lots of them. A new sound was being created in prosperity.

By the 1960’s young men such as Willy Strandi began to play the electric guitar. He was inspired by Norwegian folk and traditional music, as much as the light fast riffs of Jimi Hendrix. Willy and Kare spearheaded a 60’s generation in Notodden that embraced Rock n Roll – and the Blues.

Kåre Virud / Telemark Blueslag - courtesy of Erik Vold

A lasting Blues love affair began with places afar such as Chicago, Memphis and what would later become Notodden’s sister city – Clarksdale, Mississippi, a natural kinship with Blues artists in America.

Until their Fingers Bled

By the late 1970s there were a dozen good Blues bands in Notodden, and by the mid 1980s there were 20 active bands, many practicing in the four big rooms of the ‘Janitors House’ until their fingers bled.

Bands broke up, reformed, all looking for their next gig in Notodden, Oslo, anywhere.

The legendary Notodden Blues Band would play a concert in North Norway on Saturday, and then on Monday would turn up for another show in Oslo 1,000 miles to the south.

Notodden Blues Band (1983), courtesy of NRK

Bluestown Rises

Then in 1987, the factories closed, leaving nothing.

Just a few weeks later a small group of young women and men met a stone’s throw from the dark factory buildings. They shared one idea – to create a blues festival. With their talent and energy they took their savings, borrowed money, and put their futures on the line.

Now, 30 years later the Notodden Blues Festival is one of the best in the world. The Bluestown Rising documentary tells the story.

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