Telemark was Norway's 'Wild West', full of mystery, music and fairytales, a land of natural beauty from the rugged mountains in the north to the rocky coastline in the south.
The settlement that later became Notodden was located
in Upper Telemark, a defiantly independent region. Here, small farm and landowners honored their Norse Viking tradition and rituals as they had for many centuries - with protection and vegeance.
This was a land of legend, respected – and feared.
Taming the Wild Waterfalls
In 1905, this world changed forever when Industrialist Sam Eyde arrived in Notodden and declared he was going to tame the thundering waterfalls of the region of Notodden and Rjukan to the north to create new industries driven by hydroelectric power - a radical new concept.
Money was a challenge. Norway had gained independence in that same year of 1905, and was one of Europe's poorest countries. Searching for investors, Sam Eyde travelled to Paris, to New York, to Stockholm. He raised more money than all the Norwegian banks combined.
Eyde and Professor Kristian Birkeland tamed the waterfalls, built the hydroelectric power plants, transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer. Their work marked a turning point for humanity - so important in ending the massive hunger disaster of the early 1900s.
The 2nd Industrial Revolution - Powered by Nature - began here in Notodden and neighboring Rjukan, Norway.
Time to Create
In just a few years, the world's most modern industries were employing thousands in these boomtowns. A melting pot of people came from all over Norway and beyond with their cultures, their music and their traditions to work for the major industries of Norsk Hydro and Tinnfoss.
Norway's first unions were created. Jobs were safe as black smoke filled the skies. Notodden and Rjukan were the first with unionization, the 8-hour work day, all taking place at the first industrial hydroelectric driven factories in the world.
The Sound of Notodden - Music and Machinery
Now for the first time, workers had time at the end of their work shifts to pursue their own interests as prosperity and creativity went hand in hand with hard work.
The traditional music of legendary musicians such as the Myllergutten fiddler (Millerboy) from the mountains of Telemark were now brought together with the music being made in the new industrial boomtown.
The Sound of Notodden was taking form.
They worked the fiery furnaces by day, then played hard by night in the young and vibrant town of Notodden. Whenever and wherever they could, they played music.
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.
American Music Calling
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.
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.
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. This is their story.