Since this is my first and only time I have visited all 50 US states, I decided to write some words about them. It is mostly for my own sake, going down the memory lane. But hopefully you will also enjoy reading about this and some of the adventures I have had over the years in this crazy country. So without further ado, here it is in alphabetical order.
1. Alabama: I have actually played in Alabama. It happened in 2011 together with the International Opera Institute of California where I was musical director at the time. We did a staged version of Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni at the Auburn University with piano and singers. It was a great show, and Auburn was a really nice university town. We also hit the bars big time afterwards, student-style. Good times!
2. Alaska: I guess it is most common to visits the lower 48 states first, then the two “outcasts” Alaska and Hawaii. Anyway, that it what happened with me. I went to Alaska first time in 2014 because I was invited to perform at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival together with Skogen Sallstrom. He is from Fairbanks, but lives in Trondheim where I live. He has a bachelor in classical violin and masters in folk music, including hardanger fiddle. So with my background both with accordion and classical piano, we are able to put together some pretty cool and diverse programs. I went back last summer, and will attend the same festival for a third time in about 3 weeks from now. Alaska is like a turbo charged version of Norway. Bigger, wider, taller and more extreme in every way… We had a pretty spectacular drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Anchorage is such a party town by the way. Last summer we also did a nice concert through Sons of Norway also featuring another collaborator from the Fairbanks Festival, the singer-songwriter Ann Marita Garsed. Born and raised in various places in Norway, gave up her Norwegian citizenship to become a Swedish and American dual citizen, living in California, together with a hard-rock musician from Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s complicated! But awesome and fascinating!
3. Arizona: Ah! Arizona. Strangely, Arizona was the first state where I ever gave a solo piano recital! It is true. It happened February 1st 2007. I have fond memories from Arizona, made good friends there, and have performed there several times. First time was Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale, a wonderful event co-sponsored by the local Sons of Norway. I returned to the same venue later, and also did solo recitals at the Steinway Gallery. I have driven through the state going i40 cross country, I have gone back and forth on i10 through the southern parts. But best of all, we drove north-south from Utah once. I say “we” because my parents were with me on that trip. The landscape of Arizona is one of my favorites. Utterly fascinating. Why would I want to see pine trees and fiords when I could see cacti and desert? But further north we say the splendor of the splendor, the Grand Canyon. And we also stopped for a night in the very special Sedona with all the red rocks and the immense attraction it has on the spiritual, shamanistic culture. And I have to admit I was fascinated by the extreme temperatures you get in Phoenix, one of the warmest cities in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, I also remember going to the very special and controversial exhibit Body Works in Phoenix during my first visit. I also went hiking there. But I would like to go back Grand Canyon and do some hiking up there.
4. Arkansas: When I told a good friend of mine that I had been to almost all US states, he asked: “even Arkansas”? Yes, even Arkansas! First time was on my way cross country on my last big tour in 2012 after I had packed everything from California and was ultimately moving back to Norway. I was going from a concert in Texas to a concert in Memphis, Tennessee. I had enough gas to drive through Arkansas without stopping. And it bothered me, because in the back of my mind, I knew that had been to a lot of states and wanted to cross it off my list. My criteria for having visited a state is that I have put my feet on the ground (airports don’t count), and bought something or left something there. As I got close to Memphis I realized I had to stop. So I stopped at a rest area and went to the bathroom, walked around a bit, then drove to Tennessee. Hah! At least I left SOMETHING there! But two years later I was invited to do a recital at Arkansas State University. It was a great event, and I posted several clips on YouTube, including the newly written piano sonata by Staale Kleiberg.
5. California. Oh. Before you ask.. California is my favorite state of them all. No real doubt about that. The diversity of nature and climate is unparalleled. I think it is the best state to visit also. I called California home for almost 3 years when I lived in Palm Springs. You could drive up the Mohave desert, come to the cowboy town Lone Pine where they shot some movies, have a good look at Mt. Whitney which is the tallest peak in the US except for Denali in Alaska. Then take a right turn, drive a couple of hours and be at the lowest point, Death Valley, also one of the hottest places on earth. And definitely one of the most unique ones. I have seen A LOT of California. But not Yosemite. I haven’t seen Yosemite. But aside from that.. you name it. Of concerts, I have played in Encinitas, Vista, Redlands, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, Rancho Mirage, San Pedro, Anaheim, LA, Glendale, Newport Beach, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Modesto, Lodi, Sacramento, San Fransisco, San Jose, Hayward, Grass Valley, Clear Lake, Santa Rosa…. I think that’s it. Maybe. I still like to go back to Palm Springs, visit old friends and do my beloved Desert Hikes. I have been to the San Jacinto peak many many times. When it is 110 fahrenheit in the valley, you can take the tram up and enjoy much cooler weather, forests and mountains. That is California. In the winter you could hang out in the pool and enjoy 70-75 degree temperatures, then drive less than two hours up to big bear to go skiing. I am however less interested in the Hollywood sights. LA is a pain in the ass for many reasons. If residents were to calculate how many years they have been in a traffic jam in LA, it would be cringeworthy for sure. But I did all that at least once, gotta do it at least once.. Hollywood stars, Hollywood bowl, googling addresses of movie stars in Beverly Hills, driving up there to look at their nice big fences… yeah… and dipping your toe in the Pacific for the first time on Santa Monica Beach. A quick ride into Malibu. Yeah. San Francisco on the other hand, is a much more tourist friendly city. More compressed, public transportation, progressive, and just great.. if you like Asian tourists *slap*.. no really. Go there. And definitely do the Hwy1 between LA and San Fran. It is one of my two favorite drives in the US. More on the other one soon…
6. Colorado: I love Colorado. It was also part of the first solo piano tour I did in 2007. I played for 450 people in Loveland, one of the biggest crowds of them all. Later I played a few times in Denver and the highest elevation one in the Rockies, Granby. I bought downhill skis in Colorado that I brought back to Norway without ever using them in the US. The state has a nice combo of the flat plains and the amazing Rocky Mountains. It is actually one of the states I could see myself living in. I meet some really cool people there too.
7. Connecticut: over to the east side! I have two specific memories from this state. I was investigating the Belle Gunnes story, you know the female serial killer from Norway that lived in Indiana. Speculations said that she might have ended up changing her identity to Esther Carlson years after she supposedly died in a fire. I investigated that part of the story. Esther claimed she lived in Hartford, Connecticut for many years and had a family there. During my last big tour, the 2012 one up cross country, then up the east coast and over to the mid west, I went to Hartford historic society to dig. And I was successful with the help of the staff there. We found documents there backing up the story of Esther Carlson, leading me to conclude that she was NOT Belle Gunnes. The other memory I have from this state is right after hurricane Sandy. I was stuck in Massachusetts for a couple of days because of it, and had a concert in Long Island the following week. But the situation was horrible down there with flooding and power loss. Connecticut being directly north of New York City, I booked a motel there for a few nights. It was in darkness when I arrived, but regained the power that same day. People drove up from NYC to try to get gas in Connecticut. Strange situation to witness. And a reminder of how fragile our society really is. Remove power for a few days… remove it for weeks or months.. what would happen?
8. Delaware: at some point in 2012 as I was about to drive up the east coast for the first time, I realized that I had been to a lot of states and wanted to see what was missing. If I planned my days off between concerts, I could cover all the missing ones, even though I weren’t supposed to go there in the first place. Delaware was one of those states. I drove over after a concert in Maryland. I had about 3 days off and found the most amazing place by the Atlantic Ocean, Rehoboth Beach. Lovely place to visit, and I bet a major tourist destination in the summer season. I distinctly remember discovering the Dog Fish Head brewery there. They had a special “Ancient Ale” backengineered from archeological findings in pottery from the Etruscans. This is the most amazing taste experiences I think I ever had. Crazy.
9. Florida: I played a concert in Florida in 2009 in Jacksonville. But I spent quite some time there. We drove down the east coast, lingering in Fort Lauderdale for a few days, then went all the way down to Key West. Then back up the west coast to spent a good week on the white beaches in St. Petersburg. This is also the first time I met with my guru Nithyananda that made me go to India later. He had a weekend workshop in Phoenix, AZ, and I left my parents in Florida to go there. This was the end of a very long and successful tour, so we really enjoyed the beach life in Florida. We left the country from Orlando on British Airways and distinctly remember that this is the ONLY time I have travelled across the Atlantic where I actually had a 3-seat for myself. (Why is at always so packed…)
10. Georgia: A real southern state. I played at the Emory University in Atlanta in 2009. They had to rent a baby grand and placed it on a revolving circle on stage.. you know, one of those theatre solutions. It was great fun. Not a great piano.. But great event. We saw some sights around, like the big rock in the middle of the flatlands, created by some volcanic activities in the past. Later I visited Savannah and played for the Unitarian Universalist church there. I really liked Savannah! Charming town. And they are known for their ghost tours and haunted houses. I actually went one on of those tours. The aquarium in Atlanta was a also quite an experience.
11. Hawaii: writing this from a balcony on the beach in Maui. I have only been here for a few hours. What to say? I guess for Americans, going to Hawaii is pretty common. They go to Hawaii exactly like Norwegians go to the Canary Islands. But for Norwegians to go to Hawaii…. that is like the ultimate childhood dream fantasy exotic magic vacation paradise! It is the perfect conclusion, or culmination of the US-journeys. I am in a for a very nice 2 week vacation here!
12. Idaho: I played in Idaho twice, one in Boise, the biggest town and Coeur d’Alene, the town with the strange name in the strange handle of Idaho that boarders with Canada. I also drove through once on my way back to California. I don’t know what to say about this state. The concerts where really well organized by the Sons of Norway lodges. The family I stayed with in Boise were like progressive outcasts in a conservative community. I remember the parents were teaching the children how to respond when confronted at school about religion. They were agnostics. Perfectly straight forward. But maybe not there. Aside from that I remember lush green fields and potatoes.
13. Illinois: The first time I ever came to the US was in 1995 together with 3 bussloads of people from Selbu, Norway. It was a Sons of Norway 100th anniversary. And we landed in Chicago, Illinois. I have landed in Chicago many times since, and have also seen the city. The boat tour is great! However, I was amazed to realize that I haven’t performed in this state. At least I can’t remember doing so. It is a city with great architecture and interesting history. It is worthy of a visit!
14. Indiana: usually I have landed in Chicago to go to Indiana. Back to Belle Gunnes, this is where she lived at the end and killed all these people. It happened in La Porte. The foremost expert on the case is Bruce Johnson, who was also on the board of the Performing Arts program in town. It was a match made in heave so to speak. And I have done two recitals there, working on another one, and even gave a lecture on Belle Gunness and Esther Carlson at the museum. Full house!
15. Iowa: My performance in Iowa was together with the Selbu Accordion club back in 95, my first trip to the US. The culmination of the tour was to visit Nordic Fest in Decorah. The temperature in July was at least 95 F and the humidity was ridiculous. And the crazy Norwegian visitors danced in the street with thick bunads, and we played the accordion. I have been back to Decorah later also, plus driving through the state a couple of times on my way to Minneapolis. Corn fields.
16. Kansas: this is a state where I haven’t performed. But I have driven through the state several times, and spent nights in motels for instance in Topeka, home to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, you know the people who would demonstrate and yell hate slogans at funerals etc. I didn’t realize until later. So aside from stop-overs during long road trips, I don’t have anything particular to say about Kansas.
17. Kentucky: I have even less to say about Kentucky! This is the state where I visited the shortest time of them all. It barely counts, but it counts.. I visited this state because I did a performance in Cincinnati, Ohio. This city is right on the border to Kentucky, separated by the Ohio river. As my host took me on a local road trip around the city, we crossed the bridge. And I vaguely remember that we did so partly so I could “cross it off my list” of states. I think we stopped for lunch or at least coffee and ice cream or something. So according to my criteria I have actually been there.
18. Louisiana: Ah, the Deep South. In 2009 we drove cross country all the way from LA to Key West through the southern states. And I did 20 concerts along the way. Norway has a seamen’s church in New Orleans. And of course, I was happy to be able to visit New Orleans! I did a program at the church and I remember we had a small audience, but a good audience of musicians from the University. The church also has nice housing for guests. We did the touristy things, listened to the jazz street musicians, walked around etc. I remember trying to be a vegetarian which was quite a challenge there. I clearly remember a romaine salad which consisted of… romaine lettuce and possibly some croutons. Possibly the least nutritious meal I ever had in a restaurant. We also didn’t participate hardcore in any parties, but rather observed the atmosphere from the outside. It is a special place, and crazy place. Fun to visit, but I would never live there.
19. Maine: Maine was one of those states where I shouldn’t really visit, but decided to do it when I realized that I could cover everything if I planned my 2012 tour well. I had some space between concerts in the Pennsylvania and New Hampshire area, so I decided to spend a few days in Portland, Maine. And it was really nice! This is kind of like Norway again – woods, coast line. I didn’t perform there, but came as a tourist. Portland is known for its harbor and lobster culture. So of course I had to do that. I had a full lobster rustic style, outside, on the pier, ordering it with coleslaw in paper baskets and plastic glass from a hole in the wall. Awesome!
20. Maryland: in my 2012 tour I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at the UU-church in Annapolis. This is a place with a long history in US standards. One of the first settlements was here in the mid 1600s. This city served as the seat of Confederation Congress (former Second Continental Congress) and temporary national capital of the United States in 1783–1784. At that time, General George Washington came before the body convened in the new Maryland State House and resigned his commission of commander of the Continental Army. (Wikipedia). And I learned a lot from my host at the church. We also had a lovely sea food dinner on the pier after the concert. I got to see a little more of the state as I drove through it afterwards.
21. Massachusetts: the state where Boston is located. I have performed here, also for Unitarian Universalists. These people were highly educated and that is the kind of people you meet a lot of in this area. No wonder with a number of major Universities, Cambridge, MiT, Berklee college of music… And a very progressive state. New England has a unique charm of its own. After the concert, which I think was in Wellesley, a suburb of Boston, I realized from the news that there was a big hurricane coming. My first visit to downtown Boston was the day before Sandy hit. The weather was getting rough, but I was still able to go in for a good visit. I did the Freedom Trail, which is a downtown historic walk where you follow lines in the street that will take you to all the major historic sites in Boston. I highly recommend this!! I did it again with my parents last fall as we spent a few days there to get ready for my big concert on Cape Cod. My biggest single musical success so far was probably to be invited by Cape Symphony to be their soloist in the Grieg a-minor concerto. Maybe not quite as crazy as when the Moldova National Philharmonic sent me an e-mail out of the blue in 2008 inviting me to do the same the following year… I didn’t lift a finger to make this happen. They invited me after listening to my videos and visiting my website. So that is the special part for me. With the exception of one tour, I booked all my concerts myself and planned the itineraries. I did get more and more invitations also as the years went along, but for the most part this was hard work and determination from my side. Cape Cod is a great place also, very touristy in the summer, but for good reasons. Oh! About hurricane Sandy. I had to stay in the house of my hosts during the hurricane. They lived in a big, very nice, New England style wooden house. And I had the top floor to myself. During the peak of the hurricane, which was pretty darn intense even up there (it was sort of the outskirts of the hurricane), I just saw a falling shadow in the corner of my eye as I was on my computer. A loud THUD later, I looked out the window and saw the big tree next to the house lying across the stairs of the entrance door. It had fallen parallel to the house and smashed the entrance – instead of directly onto the house where I was sitting in the top floor…. It was spectactular. I made a film using my iPad and sent it to Norwegian national media. They made a story out of it and showed it in the online newspapers. I think I have performed close to 200 concerts in the US and Canada now, but I had to film and report about a fallen tree in Massachusetts that missed me to get my name and picture in there. That is how it is these days. Priorities, priorities..
22. Michigan: this state has a kind of weird layout being both on the east side and partly on the west side of Lake Michigan. I first visited the state on a personal visit to one of my American cousins Suzanne in Menominee. It was a nice little town and I remember we went on a boat ride on the Menominee river. We also visited a small privately owned zoo. But I have also performed in Michigan. This was a concert through a UU church in a town west of Detroit. But I can’t remember the name of the place… But I do have great memories from the event. It was a good crowd, good venue and a very appreciative audience. I also remember my host being a very nice woman. In my many tours, I have usually accepted offers of private stays to save money. And I have been able to meet a lot of nice, friendly people that way. There have also been some.. rather interesting characters! Which is good too.
23. Minnesota: Minnesota was the second state I ever visited, as we drove our 3 buses up from Chicago in 1995. Needless to say, Minneapolis is a center point to the Norwegian American community. This is also the general area where many of my American relatives live, and we have good contact with them. In 95, one of the big things was to visit the Mall of America – the largest mall in the world at the time. It had, and still has a roller coaster inside of it – two now, and I have tried them both. HAH! I have done several concerts in this state, both with accordion and piano. I also went to the big amusement park and did some serious rides together with my relatives, Serena and her kids, and also her neighbor Jennifer and her son. What else do I remember.. Strangely I tend to remember meals I have had. We did go to a seafood place – this could have been in 95 actually – and had the king crab. First time for me.. and I remember it because we got nutcrackers to get the meat out. Anyway… Minnesota is flat with roads straight as arrows. And cornfields you loose sight of because of the curvature of the earth. Very fascinating to a young Norwegian living among mountains, waters, narrow curvy roads and trees. Professionally I remember a formal meeting in downtown Minneapolis, in a glass sky scraper at the Norwegian Consulate. There I met with core members of the Edvard Grieg Society (also core people from St. Olaf College) to introduce myself and explain to them what I was doing. I think it was a nice meeting. Nothing came out of it. Yet! Because when seeds are planted you never know when they will sprout.
24. Mississippi: we drove through this state on the way east after performing in New Orleans. We stopped and got gas. That’s about it!
25. Missouri: I almost performed in Missouri through the UU church, but it didn’t manifest. So I remember this state because of the time I did most of Route 66 between Chicago and LA. (I left the travel party in Texas and drove straight to California on the i10). St. Louis is famous because of the big arch that welcomes you as you go from east to west. And doing Route 66 there are certain sites and business you are encouraged to visit. So I do remember our milk shake stop in St. Louis. I think we went to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, which is a historic place. It was so thick that you could literally turn it upside down. So it is mainly I state I remember for driving through on historic Route 66.
26. Montana: I actually performed three places in Montana: Missoula, Helena and Great Falls. I have a very distinct memory from this. For the majority of my touring I have been by myself. So I have driven for hours between towns, then performed. I almost missed the concert at one occasion, and that was in Helena. Before this concert I had performed in Walla Walla, Washington. There are two ways of driving between those places. Either you can go north to i90 or you could go Hwy 12 further east, a bit shorter and more scenic. It is a long drive, some 7,5 hours. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I left Walla Walla the same day as the concert in Helena. And I let my GPS decide the route. And it chose Hwy12… I thought I had plenty of time. It went great at first and I got to see some interesting Indian reservations. But then as the road started following the river in the valley towards Missoula, I hit major road construction, you know, the kind where you might have to wait up to 20 minutes at certain points. And it is a single lane road, and once you are there you are stuck. As I grew more and more nervous, trying to calculate my timing, I suddenly realized that Washington and Montana has a different time zones! This meant that I had an hour LESS than I thought on top of this. I was also running out of gas. Finally through the construction, I drove like a mad man up the valley where they fortunately have pull outs. And my experience on curvy, narrow Norwegian roads came in handy. As I finally made it to the first gas station close to Missoula, I bought the only meal I had before the concert: an apple and a small bag of cashew nuts. Finally reaching i90 i did go faster than the speed limit to catch up, hoping that highway patrol was on a siesta that day. I made it to the venue as the audience started arriving. The poor organizers had been looking for me at other Lutheran Churches in case I went to the wrong one. But I made it! I think I even managed to test the piano before the concert started. I remember the performance went quite well. But it felt like you do after being on a plane for 10 hours across the Atlantic or something. You know that feeling when you are bloated and feel kinda shaky and awkward. I also remember that it was really hard to find a motel that night. Why? Because there was this huge dog-show the next day. I found a room at Motel6, but the place was full of dogs. What a day! Great Falls was also quite an experience! My host for the night was quite an original. And his house was only half done. It was the weirdest and most interesting home stay I have ever had. Montana is also the gateway to Yellowstone National park! And I have spent a night in Gardiner before my experience of it.
27. Nebraska: this is also a state where I have just driven through on my way from Colorado to Minnesota. I remember having lunch in North Platte, I believe it was Thai or possibly Indian food. I also spent a night there, I believe it was in Lincoln, before moving east the next day. That’s it.
28. Nevada: The land of Casinos! I remember being very exited about my first visit to Las Vegas. I actually did a concert there through Sons of Norway. And I later did another one in Henderson. The first time we had a room at South Point hotel and casino. A new casino that looks like a piece of gold at night. I also stayed in Luxor, the black pyramid with a blue light beam shooting off the top, in a suite overlooking Mandala Bay, one of the most beautiful hotels in Vegas. I have also been there a few other times. On the surface of it, you get tired of Vegas very quickly. But if you decide to explore theme hotels more thoroughly, maybe visit their concerts and shows, you can spend weeks there. A capitalist fairytale city in the middle of a friggin’ desert! I also visited Hoover Dam a few times. The first time, we were invited to meet with the owner/boss of the visitor center and gift shop. He was of Norwegian descent. It is not a nice story, but I remember it so vividly that I have to say a few words about it. He was a huge man, obese. And quite early into our meeting, as he was telling about the dam and the building of it, he got into a rant that was so up front racist that we were left pretty much speechless. He obviously carried a lot of anger with him. He was invited to the concert, but couldn’t come because he said he was a hermit. A while into his horrible racist hate rant, it was like he woke up from his own mind and realized that we were left in an awkward situation. “I am sorry guys, you didn’t come here for this.” Then he proceeded to give us a book, a dvd and a nice backpack for free from the history of the Hoover Dam. I love the desert, and really enjoyed driving from Las Vegas to Death Valley a couple of times. I have also played in Reno at the Steinway Gallery a couple of times. Very good memories of that! Especially the one time I drove there from Palm Springs, CA east side of the Sierras. I got to see the very interesting Mono Lake for instance (that is in California btw..) A place that is very interesting to scientists. Reno is also a pretty cool place, with lots of casinos.
29. New Hampshire: going to the far north east we have New Hampshire north of Massachusetts and west of Maine. I performed in Concord for the Unitarian Universalists. They were a nice group to work with, they are progressive, very much into the arts, and Edvard Grieg was a Unitarian! Grieg didn’t like the rigid authority of the clergymen, so he and his wife found a nice group to share thoughts and ideas on the larger questions in life. I don’t really have any specific memories about New Hampshire. It was green, maybe a bit like Wisconsin?
30. New Jersey: what do I remember about New Jersey other than being on the way to New York? Well, at least two things. After I moved out of my apartment in Palm Springs I went on my 2012 monster tour. It went from Palm Springs, all the way cross country to Savannah, Georgia, then all the way up the east coast with all the twists and turns than made me visit all the states, then turning left going all the way to Minneapolis! In Palm Springs I had sold or given away the furniture and as anything I couldn’t stuff into my Mitsubishi Galant. But somehow I had to bring all of that back to Norway. This was done through a Norwegian shipping company based out of New Jersey. I picked it up again weeks later in Halden, Norway where it arrived on a ship. Lots of people buy big things from the US, like cars for instance. This is the company that would likely bring it to you. But the best memory from New Jersey was definitely to visit Princeton and the famous university. I didn’t perform at the university itself, but at the nearby UU church. They had a nice music program. I remember a fairly small audience, but a very skilled and interested one.
31. New Mexico: I have driven through this state several times on i40. It is a beautiful state with open landscapes, very few trees, and huge land masses. And you can kind of see those landmasses in layers as you drive through. The Rocky Mountains also ends here. I haven’t played here, but they do have a very interesting town with a well known opera festival in Santa Fe. This is a place I would like to spend a bit more time. I only drove through and stopped for lunch once. On this particular trip I was heading back to California, and I decided to go south to i10 instead of i40 which I had done before. Going through Albuquerque and south you have a town with this amazing name Truth or Consequences. I was deeply fascinated about what kind of place that would be! And later I found out that this was the home town of one of the most vicious sadistic serial killers in US history: David Parker Ray. I guess the name of the place doesn’t have anything to do with that. But still… Just south of this I drove through Hatch, a small town which is widely known as the “Chile Capital of the World”. And at the time I came through here, they had their big annual Chili Festival. This was like coming to Mexico. The Latino population is close to 80%, they had wide Mexican hats and sold bunches of chilies on the street. It was a very nice and charming experience.
32. New York: like many other Norwegians, I have performed at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church on Manhattan. I did this with two American musicians with Scandinavian backgrounds. We did a memorial concert after the horrific terrorist attacks in Norway. So this is what brought me to New York City for the first time. One of them lived there and gave me a nice tour around town, including some awesome New York style pizza in one of the legendary locations. I have returned a couple of times later staying with piano friends of mine that I met in Banff, Canada during my stay up there. I went to the Metropolitan opera twice – once to see my favorite opera Turandot in the old Zeffirelli production. I have never experienced audible gasps of awe from the audience because of scenography and stage changes, but there were a couple of stunning moments. The following night I came back to see a contemporary opera by Thomas Ades – The Tempest. The most dramatic experience I had in NYC was in 2012. I had my car parked on upper Manhattan, packed full of stuff from my Palm Springs apartment. But it was too much to move in and out so I had to take the chance. After a couple of nights, I was going to move it south to stay with another friend of mine for the last night. It was a blizzard that day, heavy snow, wind and quite late at night. And I found my car broken into with glass all over the inside. They were after small electronics, so my GPS and video camera was gone, and oddly my Elvis Presley sunglasses that I bough as a souvenir at Graceland earlier in the tour… What a situation. The funny part was that they did NOT steal my expensive accordion which was right there. I ended up parking it over night as it was in a underground valet parking location close by. Then had a new window installed the next day. But there are much more to New York State than New York City. The most powerful experience I had was performing on Long Island just days after Hurricane Sandy. The UU church had a service that day because it was a Sunday concert. Many members had lost a lot, didn’t have power, and it was a nice service where I did a few pieces on the piano. Then the power in the church actually came back as we sat there. And we did the piano recital as planned. I stayed in a private home that night that didn’t have power. The cars lined up for blocks and blocks to get gas, and several places were empty already. I actually had to plan my departure carefully to make it out of the area with the gas I still had left. After Long Island I performed in Brooklyn. I met some very cool people there and we celebrated Halloween that night. My plan was to get a motel room in the area, but that was impossible because of the hurricane and New York Marathon taking place at the same time. So I was invited last minute to crash with one of the attendees from the concert and party. It was a special time. I also distinctly remember waking up that morning, checking the news on my phone and reading about the death of Anne Lise Berntsen, which came as a big surprise to me. New York also has its upstate, and I have been up there to see Niagara Falls! Quite spectacular, especially seen from the Canadian side.
33. North Carolina: I have done two concerts in this state, in Charlotte and Greensboro. I was shown around Charlotte by the parents of a singer that I coached at the opera school in Palm Springs. While here I also had time to go hiking in the nearby woods. I remember Greensboro for the great crowd they had at the concert, which was through the UU church. They had a strong music program and invited me back later.
34. North Dakota: this is the flattest state you can imagine. We went here in 95 with the accordion club because Fargo is the biggest Norwegian community in the US (at least with the biggest Sons of Norway Lodge). But I also went here in 2007 to attend Norsk Hostfest which is the biggest Scandinavian Festival in the US. We arrived from Canada actually. But it was quite a big deal, because the Minot Symphony had invited me to be their soloist for their season opening that weekend. So I got to do the Grieg concerto for the first time with an American orchestra. It was packed! And such a great success. In the Festival itself I attended together with American folk musicians and dancers (Toby Weinberg, Ginnie Lee and Mikkel Thompson). We did a concert/play on Grieg op 72 where I played the part of Edvard Grieg. We basically told the story on the Norwegian Peasant dances and played original fiddle tunes followed by Grieg arrangements on piano. We also did the outreach program to several schools in the district. Norsk Hostfest was a pretty crazy event. Huge, with lots of vendors, musicians everywhere, concerts in the middle of food courts. It was darn noisy and crowded. But something to experience at least once.
35. Ohio: I did a concert for Sons of Norway of Cincinnati and remember that it was very nicely put together. I think it was through a concert series actually. I remember staying at Red Roof Inn (random..) and as I said already, visited Kentucky simply by crossing the river. I also visited Columbus where they have Nithyananda Vedic Temple. I attended a program and satsang while I was up there and met with spiritual friends that I had met in LA earlier. It was so nice. The temple is located in the cross between two intersecting creeks/rivers, making it a mini version of the meeting of Ganges and Saraswati.
36. Oklahoma: the land of tornadoes! The first time I visited Oklahoma I remember driving in from west. My parents were with me, so it must have been the 2009 monster tour which ended up on the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was early March when we got to Oklahoma. It was 88 F when we arrived, damping hot. I did a recital through the university/Sons of Norway in Norman, just south of Oklahoma City. The thunder exploded right before the concert and I played the concert while on a “Tornado Watch”… yikes! No tornado.. fortunately. But this is right south of Moore, that was absolutely blasted by an F5 tornado. When we left the next day the temperature was 35 F. It was summer one day and winter the next. Spectacular. And the residents were so cool about this. I remember one guy at the concert saying “oh yeah, we might have an ice storm tomorrow you know.” Actually I have another great memory from this guy. This guy was not particularly into classical music, or had much knowledge about it. But Rustle of Spring by Sinding was included in this program, and he knew that one! And he said something that I have quoted many times from the stage ever since. He said that he learned that tune because he heard it on the Merry Melodies cartoon back when he was growing up. That is powerful, because other people have come to appreciate classical music from early exposure through cartoons and television. The pianist Lang Lang comes to mind. One of his earliest memories where he was inspired to start playing the piano – becoming one of the biggest stars in the classical field – was when he watched Tom&Jerry where Tom plays Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody no 2. I later returned to Oklahoma City for a second performance. We also drove through on our way down Route 66, again through a spectacular thunder storm that had the weather helicopters take to the air. I think we were really close to a possible tornado that time, but we were blissfully unaware. But the mammatus clouds that followed as we checked into our crappy motel were absolutely stunning.
37. Oregon: I like Oregon. I have performed at the Norse Hall twice. First time in 2007 in a candlelight event with the piano on a platform in the middle of the room. It was so nicely done. Portland is a great city, and one of the few cities where I could see myself living. I later realized that I visited Portland back in 99 when we did our second accordion tour to the pacific north-west. I distinctly remember the two-story bridge coming into town. I also remember a big party that night that left us pretty hungover for the concert the following day. But we did a sight seeing during the day, to the rose gardens etc. I am currently involved in a concert series in Portland since we are doing the complete songs by Edvard Grieg. We did the first concert at the new and great Nordia House, and we are scheduled to do it again on July 10th. Hopefully the remaining 5 concerts will be scheduled there as well. I have also driven Hwy 1 along the coast through most of Oregon. It is most famous between San Francisco and LA, but it continues north, and we did that, at least for a while. I have also driven Oregon west-east. One of my most fun memories from Portland is doing a ride-a-long in a police car. One of the organizers husband was a cop. So I did that. It was a very quiet night though, just some minor events. So he decided to take me up to Mt. Hood! We went to Timberline Lodge, which is famous for being the exterior overlook from the amazing horror movie “The Shining.” That was great. But I would have liked more action with crime that night.. So after a few hours we decided it was time for his wife to pick me up. One minute later, a call came in and they blasted off with sirens and everything. Darn it!!!
38. Pennsylvania: I first visited this state in 2012 on my last major tour. I think I did three concerts there. Lancaster and York comes to mind because they are in Amish country. These are concerts through the UU church. I met wonderful people that I still have contact with through facebook. I did go out to the heart of Amish country to have a closer look. It is fascinating stuff. Not my first time since we did a tour back in the 90s which seemed pretty commercial. But this time I drove out to the fields myself and got a feel for it.
39. Rhode Island: this small state in the heart of New England is also a place with fond memories. When I stayed in Banff, I got good contact with a violinist who was on a sabbatical, Sebastian Ruth. He had founded something called Community MusicWorks in Providence. And he won a huge grant through the McArthur foundation for this. It is a “living experiment in forming new roles for musicians in today’s society. At one level, we are focused on creating a viable and satisfying career option for musicians to perform at a high level, teach in a community-based setting, and become positive contributors to community life. At a broader level, this model emphasizes that musicians can play critical roles in our society–in performances, creating spaces for people of diverse backgrounds to connect in community; in teaching, opening opportunities for young people to develop a voice and participate in democratic practices; and in the community, to have musical participation become part of the everyday–instead of rarified–experiences of people, regardless of financial or geographic barriers.” I was invited to be a guest in residence in 2011. We did wonderful chamber music and many concerts. I lived in Providence for a couple of weeks and it was an incredible event in my life as a professional musician. It has a major Univerisity also. Just last fall we drove by to have lunch on our way to the Boston airport. Very New England!
40. South Carolina: I had a brief encounter with South Carolina on my way between Savannah, GA and North Carolina. But what I did was to stop at one of the nicest southern cities you can imagine, Charleston. I went there and did the tourist thing – a guided tour around town. And I was lucky because we had the coolest, most knowledgeable man you could ever wish for. Charleston is home town of one of my favorite TV comedians Stephen Colbert btw. It is a very pretty town and we got a lot of history from him, and I can’t remember anything of it… I just remember the nice, big southern style wooden houses and the water. But it was a great tour.
41. South Dakota: Back to the Midwest! My memories of this state are quite vague. They revolve around the city Sioux Falls. We did do an outdoor concert there in 95. This I remember. I also remember going from North Dakota to South Dakota in the tour bus, they talked about the South Dakota hills! From no hills whatsoever in ND we had a bit of variation here. Another memory I have of this town is the extreme weather they can get in the summer. On a later bus ride we were having lunch there, at a Perkins. It was 97 F coming out of a heavily air conditioned bus. It was like hitting a brick wall of heat and humidity. We then drove north and I believe we spent the night in Watertown. Because the next day we crossed into Madison, Minnesota to see the Lutefisk Capitol of the world. Oh yes! I even did a recital there. I think the humidity was about 100% that day. I remember apologizing to the audience because the grand piano was out of tune. But nobody had noticed…
42. Tennessee: I visited Memphis and did a concert at the UU church there. Great people and great event. This is also where I went to Elvis Presley’s Graceland and did a full tour. This included his airplane which was right there. Memphis was pretty cool and I went downtown to see the street artists and performers. But I also did something else in Tennessee that was quite special. I went to visit and interview a guy from Selbu, Norway called Asmundur. He grew up at the same time as my dad in Selbu in the 50s and 60s. And there are many stories about him. He was a wild cat, and he at one point climbed to the top of the church spear. He became a sailor and spent his career at sea before he settled in the US and moved to Tennessee where he just passed away. I did close to an hour audio interview that was later broadcast on radio. The following day he took me on an off-road truck drive on his rural property which was one of the scariest moments of my life! Haha. I am happy and lucky to have met him and create this short document of his life before he passed away. On my way to Georgia I passed by Nashville, but didn’t experience that famous town.
43. Texas: surprisingly, Texas is the state where I perhaps performed the most, and had the best venues. It started in 2007 when I was invited by the Norwegian Consulate to perform at the Grieg anniversary celebration. I did the first half of the concert followed by Ole Bøhn and Geir Henning Braathen at Rice University. This is kind of a big deal. I distinctly remember Rice, because they gave me a choice of two Steinway D grand pianos, one made in Hamburg and one made in New York. I chose Hamburg without hesitation. Their instruments have always been better to my opinion, more powerful. But there are always exceptions. I also had a very nice relationship with the University of Dallas where I performed two times and did masterclasses for their piano students. In 2014 I was also invited to Stephenville (home to a major UFO sighting btw) to be the guest artist for the Tarleton piano festival. Also with a recital and masterclasses. The consulate in Houston also invited me back a second time. I did several other concerts both through UU and Sons of Norway, including Austin. I have also spent a night in a real Texas ranch with local steaks etc. south of Amarillo.
44. Utah: This is a state where I have not performed. But I have visited several times. I have driven north-south on my way to California and visited for sight seeing. There are a couple of awesome national parks there, Zion and Bryce Canyon. I have been to Bryce two times. And it is spectacular! The red rocks and columns are very special. It almost gave me a greater impression than Grand Canyon. Utah is home to one of the greatest stretches of road in the entire country. And this is i70 between Richfield and Grand Junction, Colorado. I spent a night in Richfield as I was heading east towards Colorado. I was advised to fill gas before going into the desert. And as it turns out, this is the longest stretch of road without a gas station, 100 miles. The landscape is unbelievable. Almost like being on another planet. It caught me off guard. Of course, Utah is a Mormon state. But you don’t notice that much when you just drive through like I have. However, following a shocking news story about multiple wives and child abuse featuring Warren Jeffs, head of a fundamentalist outbreak group, I did drive through Hilldale and Colorado City on the boarder of Arizona. I didn’t stop though.
45. Vermont: another state I planned to visit so that I could cross it off my list. On my way to New Hampshire from Pennsylvania, I drove north to Brattleboro, Vermont, had lunch at a nice Thai restaurant, then headed east across state lines. So I visited Vermont for a short time. But I remember the charm of Brattleboro. I later fount out that a well known classical pianist, John Bell Young, lived there until he recently passed away. I hired him to write my bio which can be found on my website right now. He took a liking to my interpretations on the music of Scriabin.
46. Virginia: Aside from driving through in 2012, I was invited to perform at the Sons of Norway District convention in Virginia Beach. I think that was the year before, or perhaps right before summer 2012. Anyway, they flew me in there and I did a recital for them. It was a nice hotel! I guess Washington DC is a separate Federal District, but I will include it here anyway. I did visit DC two times. The first time we flew in to do a memorial concert after the Norwegian terrorist attacks. We stayed in a private home which was pretty close to the CIA headquarters and, apparently, Dick Cheneys house. We did the concert at a Lutheran Church. I did get a chance to do the touristy stuff in DC, meaning the Lincoln memorial and a walk in the park towards the monument. But I wouldn’t mind going back there to visit the big museums, Smithsonian etc. Aside from that I feel that Washington DC is one of the scariest places on earth. But let’s not get into militarism and politics, shall we.
47. Washington: This is, like California, a state where I have too much to tell really. I have been there a lot, and I have seen a lot, and I have performed a lot of concerts here. Right now I have a very fruitful cooperation with organizers and musicians from Seattle. We are doing the complete Edvard Grieg songs in a 7 concert series spanning three years. And I just did the Grieg Gala through Bergen-Seattle sister city association. I have been the guest artist at Mostly Nordic 3 years in a row while I lived in the US. And I will do it again next year. Hopefully with a string orchestra. I have done numerous concerts in the surrounding areas of Seattle, including Port Angeles on the Olympic peninsula and at Steinway in Spokane to the east. I have played at the University in Walla Walla twice, Kennewick, Yakima where the booming wine district is. One of the highlights was a soloist in the Grieg Concerto with Saratoga Symphony on Whidbey Island. I have done a meditation retreat on Whidbey. I have driven across the Cascade mountains. I have performed in the stunning Lagerquist Concert Hall at Pacific Lutheran University. Here I discovered that I am related to the violin professor and concert master of the Tacoma Symphony, Sven Ronning. I also did a recital together with him at Mostly Nordic. When it comes to sight seeing, nothing can beat what I experienced in Yakima. I did a concert here for Sons of Norway in September 2009, right before I went to Banff, Canada for a long-term residency in the Rocky Mountains. My hosts just remembered that they won a lottery a while back. It was a private sight seeing tour in a Cessna! And they could bring someone. They thought hosting a Norwegian pianist was the perfect occasion for this. So we took off from Yakima airport in a small Cessna and it was up to us to decide the route. We made the best of it and went to Mt. Adams (really close to it actually), then on to Mt. Helens, the volcano that blew up in 1980. We got a good look down the crater and the surrounding area which is totally changed after this event. Then we took a right turn and went towards Mt. Rainier. I even got to fly a little bit as I sat up front together with the pilot. Yaaaay! And on our way back with got a good look at the forest fires that was raging in the area. It was awesome. But i visited Washington first time in 99 with the accordion club. One particular memory was our visit to the small town of La Crosse. It had 380 people living there in 2000 and even less today. It must have been founded by Norwegian settlers, because the church there is called Selbu Church (same as the Norwegian town I grew up in). And sure enough, at the cemetery people found their relatives and common names from Selbu. We participated in a service in the church where I remember performing with my sister. We later did a concert outdoor in the downtown area. I remember we were told that they were so religious that they might be negative towards dancing. But some of the Norwegians started dancing anyway. Nobody complained! So yeah. I will keep returning to Washington for years to come, doing concerts in established concert series. They recently started a Edvard Grieg society there, and it is a great thing.
48. West Virginia: People ask me: why would you visit West Virginia? This heavily industrial state. They have hills and mountains, but blow the tops off of them. I haven’t seen much of the state, but I am sure it has a natural beauty to it. I went there simply to cross it off my list in 2012. After my 3 day beach vacation in Delaware, I drove east and found a Super8 motel close to Martinsburg. I had some Mexican food and stayed over night. Next morning I drove into Martinsburg to have a quick look. I remember the heavy, old fashioned style buildings, and it was quite charming in a way. I then turned north again and went to Pennsylvania.
49. Wisconsin: I have relatives in this state. And at one point I stayed in my cousin Serena’s house for quite a while, using it as a home base for a mid west tour. Hudson is a nice little town with a river with recreational possibilities. Great in the summer time. I also visited her parents in Woodville. I did recitals at Serena’s church a couple of times. I also performed in Green Bay, home of the Packers football team. I even went to their stadium. But one of the gems of Wisconsin is the lovely Door County stretching into Lake Michigan. Here I did a recital for the UU in Sister Bay in a very established concert series. They had a wonderful grand piano and it was one of my last concert in the US before moving back to Norway (after 3 months in India and Thailand.) I also have great memories from La Crosse, WI next to the Mississippi River. I remember it partly because I did a river tour on an old fashioned boat, which is my only time on the mighty Mississippi River. But I also remember it because of the concert I did. Afterwards I was approached by a 95 year old woman who told me that this was the best concert experience she had ever had in her life. That made a solid impression on me. We took a picture and I think it is on facebook somewhere. I also had a very surprising and wonderful experience in Minocqua. Now, this is in the middle of the woods, and it is a recreational area where people go hiking and fishing. But they had a nice performing arts center there with a full size concert Yamaha. You don’t see those very often! Actually, it is the only one I have ever played on. It was a great event, and I recorded it. The Rachmaninov Moment Musicals can be found on YouTube from this concert. After the concert I drove way up north to Lake Superior to visit the vacation home of my relatives.
50. Wyoming: Last state! I am sure Wyoming has some scary people, Dick Cheney comes to mind. But this is a state of immense natural beauty and wonder. In 2009 I drove north-south through the amazing Yellowstone National Park. I stopped for lots of pictures. I saw the geysers and did all the touristy stuff. Afterwards you get to Grand Teton which is another amazing spot along the Rocky Mountains. It has the lakes and mountains and all that jazz. We spent the night in Jackson before heading west across the mountains to continue the journey towards California. So this was after the monster tour in 2007 that took me all the way up the west coast (actually the beginning was cut short because of visa issues. Don’t get me started on visa issues.. but I learned. You just have to spend a lot of money and let other people do it for you, that’s all.) I also did several concerts in Canada that time. Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George. Then we went into the Canadian rockies, Jasper hot springs, then down to Banff. Then over to Calgary where I have also performed. I have also performed in Red Deer and Edmonton. We then drove through Saskatchewan and entered North Dakota for Norsk Hostfest. Wyoming and Yellowstone was visited heading back home to California. Out of all my tours and concerts, this is the one I didn’t book myself. It was done by a woman living in LA who worked/volunteered as my agent for a short while.
Many people have asked me how I have organized all of this. And I will write about it here. But not right now. I am in Hawaii. Time to go to the beach!!