I got married a few weeks ago. We kept our stress level pretty well under control but I don’t think either of us really took a minute to relax until this weekend. That’s when we took a long drive up north to the beautiful shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a bed and breakfast getaway in Marquette, Michigan.
We stayed at a lovely lakeside B&B called “Nestledown” (even the name is relaxing) and tried really hard to unwind. This Scandinavian bed and breakfast, hosted by a lovely innkeeper couple offered a proper Finnish sauna for guests to enjoy. In the Finnish-heritage Upper Peninsula of Michigan, locals take great pride in educating everyone about the proper pronunciation “SOW-nuh”, not the Americanized “saw-NUH” and are very well-versed in the old and beautiful traditions of the sauna. The quiet warmth of this special cedar room is deeply rooted in the history of the northern countries, especially Finland. When Finnish immigrants came to the Upper Peninsula in the 1800s and 1900s, they brought with them their healthful and relaxing sauna traditions.
The Finnish sauna really helped me to unwind. Sadly, I don’t have a sauna in my yard but I think I can find deep, quiet, warm relaxation in other ways. I’ve thought about my sauna experience and I think I can try to relax with the help of music. These are the artists and songs that I turn to when I need to relax.
I’ll start with a self-described, “Neo-Acoustic Celtic Post-Rock” band with members from Michigan and Ireland called The Olllam(three L’s, from an old Irish word referring to a master of a particular trade or skill). We found this trio on Spotify earlier this year and their buttery use of the uilleann pipes (sort of an Irish bagpipe), whistles and drums are the soundtrack of relaxing warm summer days drinking vinho verde on the deck with my wife. They have just one album but their songs work wonders to soothe my jangled nerves.
This is a live recording of “The Tryst After Death” from a pub in Clonakilty, Ireland. I love watching these guys live to see the control and mastery they have over their instruments. I can’t listen to these tunes without smiling and feeling very chill.
If you like The Olllam, you can learn more about them and their music in this mini-documentary:
Since I moved to Michigan in February, it’s been fun to hear new artists from the state and region. I’ve found a really special place in my soul for a beautiful folk band from Michigan called Red Tail Ring. They are absolutely some of the best musicians I have ever heard and their mastery of the fiddle and the banjo, with an ethereal ability to conjure emotion with vocals, turns my tense spine to a relaxed puddle of jelly. Their song, “A Clearing in the Wild” is really a special song for me, my wife and my new extended family. It always stirs a lot of heavy emotions in me. Personal meaning aside, this song is incredibly moving and very, very special. Watch and listen to this song and allow relaxation to enter your soul.
I’ll end with another artist with an otherworldly ability to help me relax, Bon Iver. The musical brainchild of the ever-evolving Justin Vernon (with strong roots to the Great Lakes in Eau Claire, Wisconsin), Bon Iver’s albums are on heavy rotation for those moments when I need to relax. I bonded very early with my now wife over our mutual love and admiration for Justin Vernon and his ability to conjure emotions with his many musical iterations. “Towers”, a track from a self-titled album in 2011 is one of my favorites and has a really special and emotional place in my life.
Aside from the beauty lyrical poetry that this song offers, the video for “Towers” is both stirring and visually stunning, and it captures the mood of this song really well.
Take a breath. Close your eyes. Smell the cedar and feel the warmth of the hot steam. Listen to the music. Just relax.