Winter of our Swedish fiddler

Everyone should live the dream Joel Bremer lived over the past three months. Everyone should pick a spot on the map, fall in love with its music and people, soak up every last bit of it until bursting and exhausted, and then spend the rest of your life dream-bragging about it to anyone who’ll listen, and forever wanting to do it again.

As you read this, Bremer is winging his way back to his hometown of Vasteras, Sweden. He landed in South Minneapolis a few weeks before his 31st birthday on Dec. 13, and it’s no exaggeration to say that his time here made for as magical a mutual admiration society as I’ve been witness to, one that undoubtedly inspired my friend Melissa Stordahl to post as her Facebook status update the other morning, “‘I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.’ — Vincent Van Gogh.”

To that end, Mr. Sweden has been a gift to many of us who suspect that we live in a rare city and rare time but who also sometimes take it for granted. Which is to say he inspired a lot of us; so much so that his loving Swede-Gone-Wild spirit is already the stuff of legend, song, and Facebook fan page (“Joel Bremer Is My Shaman”; 31 fans and counting).

“He took this town by storm and he stole our hearts with his sweet nature, upbeat attitude, superb musical talent, and genuine smile,” wrote songwriter Jennifer Markey in a post-Bremer Valentine’s Day gig note. “He also gives great hugs, and he’ll tell you if your instrument is out of tune. Joel and friends gave me my Kick In The Pants, and it won’t be soon that their footprints wear off my ass, too.”

The Minneapolis-Bremer love fest started in February of 2007, when Bremer came to America for the first time. He played a Swedish folk fest in Sonoma, Calif., and the festival’s organizer suggested he travel to Minneapolis to play the Midwinter Folk Fest at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. There, Bremer became fast friends of Paul Dahlin, a Kingfield musician, husband, and father who in 1985 founded the American Swedish Institute Spelmanslag.

Bremer knew little about Minneapolis before visiting. He loved the Replacements, Prince, the Jayhawks, and the touring Swedish fiddlers from Minnesota he’d met at gigs in Sweden. He knew the town had a reputation for “good alternative culture” and he’d seen “Fargo.” But it was his meeting with local fiddle fairy Eliza Blue in 2007 that ignited Bremer’s love affair with the Minneapolis music scene.  

“I was thinking about my own playing when I played with Eliza at Palmer’s two weeks ago: ‘Wow, this is some beautiful stuff I’m playing, and it’s all because I met Eliza and started to play with her. It would’ve never had happened otherwise,’” said Bremer the morning before his flight out Wednesday. “Musically, I have discovered a, for me, new way of playing music. I had never played with any singer-songwriters or any bands before I met Eliza. I mostly just played traditional Swedish music before that. To just stumble into a new way of playing after many years as a musician and to feel that you’re good at it has been very exciting. It’s been liberating and exhilarating. I’ve taken big chances, it has paid off and I’ve learned so much from it.”

Bremer was inspired to play violin when he was 6 years old, after his parents took him to see the local classical symphony, though he hasn’t played much classical music. During his visit to Minneapolis this time, he performed and/or recorded with Eliza Blue, Brianna Lane, Romantica, The Bitter Spills, St. Dominic’s Trio, Charlie Parr, Teague Alexy, Slim Dunlap, and David De Young. He frequented the Electric Fetus, Treehouse Records, Cheapo’s, and Roadrunner for “50 or 70” CDs by local artists.  

How do you say “carpe diem” in Swedish?

“I’ve seen more incredible music in three months than… I’ve never gone out to see this many shows ever,” he stammered. “And it’s been local stuff all the time. The musicianship and quality is higher and you can see it in small bands that put out records by themselves, and in my mind there are so many bands like that that are among the best things I’ve heard and should be well-known internationally.

“That is one part and the other is the amazing community. It seems to be a big enough place to have this big variety and lots of different stuff going on and it’s small enough so it’s real easy to connect. Everyone knows each other in a real good way, and it’s big enough so you don’t have to be in each other’s faces all the time. It’s just this fantastic community feeling and this amazing thing going on here and everybody should know about it.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.