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July 17, 2009
One of the best parts of attending a Norwegian festival is the incredible hospitality and generosity afforded to its guests. From Tuesday through Friday during the course of Molde Jazz, there's the opportunity to take a boat out to Hjertøya, an island not far off the coast of Molde, where it's possible to relax, have a bite for lunch, meet everyone from media to festival sponsors and volunteers and enjoy some local students performing in a marching banda Norwegian musical tradition. In the case of Molde Jazz 2009, it's also a chance to enjoy the fine weather that's been hovering over the town since the beginning of the festival, apart from one brief rainfall.
Getting out onto the water also provides an opportunity to see a broader picture of the more than 200 mountains surrounding Molde. Some of these are relatively small, but plenty still sport snowcaps even mid-summer, and there's even the chance to ski for those ambitious enough to make the trip. The water in the fjord is clear, clean and cold, though there were some intrepid locals diving into the waters around Hjertøya. But for the most part, Molde guestsand other tourists who also came to the islandwere more interested in enjoying the sun, enjoying the company and enjoying the free food, beer and wine that was served.
Sitting outside on a covered patio for those wanting to stay in the shadewith temperatures hitting comfortable highs of around the 20-22 Celsius mark, it was hot enough to think about protection from the sun, though plenty of the island's visitors preferred to enjoy the warmth on the rocks near the dockspeople mingled and learned a little bit about each other. With media attending Molde from places abroad including England, Japan, Estonia and North America, there was plenty to talk about by the festival's fifth day and, as always, new connections were made that will continue long after the festival is over.
Returning to Molde after a couple of hours, despite the work and long hours involved in covering the festival, it felt like being on a real vacation. Of course, getting the chance to see so many outstanding performances in a concentrated period doesn't exactly feel like work, and for the festival's second-to-last day the outdoor party continued on the grounds of the town's museum, where singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen's eagerly anticipated performance was to take place that evening.
The Norwegian way of blending modernity with nature is remarkable, but part of it is enforced by the inescapable landscape. Whether it's because of waterways winding their way through cities like Bergen or because of the rolling topography of Molde, one thing is certain: any requirement to go anywhere will almost invariably involve having to climb at least one hillusually a good, steep one. The walk to Romsdamuseet was no different; the 15-minute walk seeming to go nowhere but up. In the case of Cohen's performance, it was well worth the effort.
With over 11,000 people still winding their way through the gates 20 minutes before the 7:00 PM show time, it was Molde Jazz's most heavily attended showeven more remarkable, when considering it represented nearly half of the town's entire population. Still, as ever, people were courteous as alcohol flowed freely with an audience made up of fans ranging from teenagers to seniors.
When Cohen took the stage---literally jogging on after his nine-piece band took their places ahead of himhe was clearly happy to be there. No surprise, given that this tourdespite being born out of necessity after millions of dollars was stolen from Cohen by a previous managerhas turned out to be the crowning achievement of his career. He may be close to hitting 75 later this year, but Cohen has never sounded better. His voice has truly aged like a fine wine, assuming a richness and depth that made definitive his delivery of many songs that are such a part of the social fabric that it's impossible not to have heard most of them, even without following his career.