By Panny Mayfield, Sunflower River Blues Festival Publicist

   “I feel extremely enthusiastic about playing at your Sunflower River Blues Festival; this is a really big thing for us to do,” comments Jens Haugen, bass player for the celebrated Norwegian band, Spoonful of Blues.

   In a cultural exchange funded by Coahoma Community College, the band’s four musicians from Notodden, Norway, Clarksdale’s European sister city in blues, will be special performers on the Blues Alley stage at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10.

“I feel it is like a pilgrimage to go to Mississippi, to sense some of the atmosphere of ‘the cradle of blues,’” continues Haugen who recently toured Holland, Switzerland and Germany with Ike Turner.

A champion of Norwegian blues since 1961 when his mother bought him his first record player, Haugen recalls standing on a box to reach the store counter and making his first record purchase, “St. Louis Blues.”

   “The band’s music is deeply rooted in the hard-hitting and hypnotizing grooves and rhythms of Mississippi blues,” says harp player Jostein Forsberg describing the group’s latest CD, Three Car Garage,

He attributes the CD’s rave media reviews including high praise from Norway’s top blues programmer Geir Hovig to the band’s knowledge of “sacred music” (from Mississippi).

“That’s why they can mix elements of old Norwegian culture from their home area of Telemark and West African elements in their blues with natural elegance and turn it into a kind of world music,” Forsberg said.

Since 1989, Forsberg has worked with the Notodden Blues Festival, the largest in northern Europe. He and his family have visited Clarksdale several times, and Forsberg was surprised once on his birthday with a special party at Evelyn Turner’s Crossroads Club.

“I have really good feelings for Clarksdale; it has sort of become my home away from home,” says Forsberg.

“When times are getting tough, I want to go to Clarksdale; it is the whole Mississippi atmosphere and the warmth of the people that makes me keep on coming back,” he continued. “For my music and work with European Blues Centre, it is really a refill of energy for me.”

Asked if he can explain why Scandinavians and Mississippians share a love blues, Forsberg says, “I believe it must have something to do with the way we express our feelings and the way we produce and consume music.”

“There is a long tradition in Scandinavian use of music for social gatherings, dancing and to get away from it all on weekends – to get rid of the exhaustion of the working week of hard manual labor and just let go,” he explains.

“It’s easy for us to relate to the atmosphere of the juke joints; it’s just like home, just the music is different,” he says.

Forsberg says Norway has a long tradition of folk music, and he believes Norwegian fiddle players have much in common with old bluesmen.

For five years Forsberg was board chairman of the Notodden Festival, continued later as developer of special projects and was instrumental in establishing the Norwegian Blues Union. Working today to establish the European Blues Centre in Notodden, he received the festival’s prestigious Blues Award in 1999 and was presented the Scandinavian Blues Association’s top award.

For 15 years he has been a singer and song writer for the blues band, The R&B Express that has toured Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the U.S.A.

Spoonful’s veteran guitarist Morten Omlid serves as manager of the Norwegian Blues Union, a consolidation of more than 70 blues societies in Norway.

“Morten is one of Norway’s all-around best blues guitar players,” says Forsberg. “His fine skills have made him a very sought-after guitarist by Norwegian and international band leaders.”

For the past three years he has also been traveling in Norway teaching blues history and blues guitar styles.

The youngest musician in the band is drummer Oyvind Kloeveroed

“Despite his young age, he is unbelievably skilled as a drummer,” says Forsberg. “He loves to play the blues and his playing fits like gravy on rice with Spoonful’s concept of the blues.”

Spoonful of Blues is looking forward also to playing in Clarksdale’s blues club also during the 48-hour blues marathon.

Also attending the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival will be a contingent from Notodden’s city government.

Since Clarksdale and Notodden’s “adoption” of each other in 1996, there have been numerous visitor exchanges among government and festival dignitaries.

However, 2001 is the first year Norwegian musicians have been invited to perform on the Sunflower Fest stage.

“We’re really looking forward to their being part of our festival,” commented Nat McMullen and Melville Tillis, festival co-chairmen.

Clarksdale musicians who have performed in Notodden include Big Jack Johnson, Super Chikan Johnson, Jerry Ricks, and The Myles Family Singers. Blues students Vanessia Young, Fazenda Young, Anthony Sherard and Carlyn Mangle have attended Notodden’s Student Blues Seminar.

Some of their festival headliners have included B.B. King, Robert Cray, Luther Allison, Bo Diddley, Charlie Musselwhite, the Blues Brothers, Ike Turner, Bobby Rush, the Soul Stirrers, and the Five Blind Boys from Alabama.

Other area musicians who have played Notodden include R.L. Burnside, Kenny Brown, James Cotton, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets and Sam Myers