Last week we drove to the remote village of Skagaströnd in north Iceland to meet Hallbjörn Hjartarson, famous all over Iceland as the “Icelandic Cowboy.” Now 76 years old, he showed me around his Kántrýbær and radio studio. He spoke in Icelandic and I in Konkani, and communication was flawless.
The youngest of 16 children, Hallbjörn Hjartarson developed his mania for country music in the late 1950s, while working at the American military base in Keflavík. In 1963 he returned home to tiny Skagaströnd, and in 1983, after singing in various bands, founded Kántrýbær (Country Town), his restaurant, bar, radio studio, and all-around country-and-western shrine. (He lives across the street, and is rarely seen without a ten-gallon hat.) He has only visited the U.S. once — in 1988, to record an album in Nashville — but never ventured outside Tennessee. For several years he organized a C&W festival in Skagaströnd, complete with barn dancing, rodeo stunts, and can-shootin’ competitions, but unfortunately it’s been on hiatus since 2002. Hallbjörn’s 24-hour radio show, usually hosted live from 2 to 6pm and 8pm to midnight, airs on FM 96.7, 102.2, and 107.0; it can be heard from as far as Akureyri and the Strandir coast. On air he insists on thanking Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and other favorites each time their music is played. The request line is tel. 452-4774. To listen online, visit www.kantry.is and find the “Hérna getur ?ú smellt á á Kántrýútvarpið á Netinu” link.
Here’s a sample of Hallbjörn‘s music –