Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Norway’s Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra

Better known as the land of the midnight sun than as a place where the grass grows blue, Norway has nevertheless managed to spawn a band that stays true to tradition despite the seeming disparity between Scandinavia and Appalachia. Based in Oslo, the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra found initial inspiration from an Oscar-nominated Belgian film titled Broken Circle Breakdown, and quickly made preparation to put a band together that could emulate the music heard in the movie. They were so enthused about the concept that the band’s founders even managed to persuade one of their friends to actually acquire a double bass by promising a position in a bluegrass band that didn’t even exist… at least not at that point.

Once the group actually coalesced and found their footing, the musicians — Rebekka Nilsson (vocals), Joakim Borgen (mandolin), Ole Enggrav (guitar), Moa Meinich (fiddle), Magnus Eriksrud (banjo), Emil Brattested (dobro), Sjur Marqvardsen (accordion), and the aforementioned recruit Jonas Wøien Olsen (upright bass, later replaced by David Buverud) — made it their mission to first learn songs from the film. Yet they also draw from a number of disparate individual influences as well, among them, Watchhouse (formerly known as Mandolin Orange), Tim O’Brien, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Early on, one of the first songs they opted to record was the classic Wayfaring Stranger, and to their delight, it quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of plays on YouTube, and introduced the group to a substantial-size audience. To date, they’ve surpassed seven million plays online, with their channel attracting over 30,000 subscribers. 

It’s not surprising then that Hayden’s debut album, Migrants released this part March — has been received with an outpour of enthusiasm. A collection that includes ten original songs and two covers, debuted at number four on the official Billboard Bluegrass Album chart, nothing less than a remarkable feat for a brand new, all but unknown Norwegian band attempting to make their mark in that most American of musical styles, bluegrass. It sold out on Amazon for almost three weeks, but still retains its placement on the charts.

What’s more, the album gandered an array of critical kudos. One critic hailed it as, “one of the best albums this year,” while another raved, “The album by Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra is so solid that it is almost unbelievable.” Yet another insisted, “Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra is something like a impossible dream of what Norwegian musicians can achieve – in American.” Meanwhile, Music News Norway exclaimed, “Migrants is a good debut album that shows that Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra has originality,” before going on to compare them to Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station.

The band defines their sound as being solidly seeped in bluegrass and grassicana, but also admits to including influences of folk rock, and pop, along with other influences that span Irish, Celtic, and Norwegian folk music as well. “We tend to do covers live, and make sure to have video and sound that we can record and then drop it on YouTube shortly after,” they insist. “We like the mix.” Norwegian bluegrass might be the easiest way to describe the sound, they suggest, pointing to the beautiful harmonies, infectious melodies, and a mix of driving, uptempo tunes and delicate yet demonstrative ballads. 

To date, the band has played dozens of dates throughout Norway, and also made appearance in Ireland as well. Prior to the pandemic, the band had plans to perform at a number of major festivals. They had been booked to travel to the US to serve as the house band at Dollywood, where they were slated to perform six days a week during a five week period. Although those plans fell through, the band was handpicked to play the digital version of the IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards in September and to be part of IBMA’s Rumble at Folk Unlocked this past February.

Happily then, the group has more music planned, including some live recordings that they plan to release online in the near future.  They include a performance from Oslo Concert Hall which finds the group revisiting the album with a New Orleans flavor, incorporating  drums, piano and a full horn section.

“People often tell us that they love the musical combination of fun, fast, pulsating music with the feeling of tenderness and melancholia,” they reflect. “You can laugh, dance and cry at our concerts.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.