Nøkken + The Grim at Austin Witchfest

AUSTIN, Texas – Pioneer Farms again hosted Austin Witchfest on a windy Saturday, March 5. As more arrivals began to file through the gates, the topics of conversation varied between, “Where did you get that witch hat?” to reminiscing about the first Austin Witchfest held in 2020. The 2020 event took place just one week before the mandatory COVID-19 shutdown began throughout the country.

The members of Nøkken + The Grim, left to right: Karoline Leal, Stephen Ian Savage, and Fehérló Gortva – Image credit: A. West

This year, however, there was another topic of crisis that crept into the most jovial of conversations. The Russian invasion of Ukraine provoked overall feelings of frustration, heartache, and fear in those attendees TWH had the chance to speak with between interviews. For one person in particular, the calling to perform a folk song, left the audience in still contemplation.

“I’m sure all of you are aware of what is happening in Ukraine right now. And it is something that I wanted to talk a little bit about and then perform a little song for you.” Fehérló Gortva’s voice rings past his masked face and into the mic.

Fehérló is part of the Austin-based band, Nøkken + The Grim. A return alumnus of Austin Witchfest.

As the wind whipped the long horsehair that is attached to the black shroud over their face, Gortva presses on. The family history floating on the air as it’s being told to the gathering crowd.

“So what is happening right now with Russian invading Ukraine right now is actually very personal for me because my family is Hungarian. And we were refugees during the Cold War. My grandfather participated in the student revolts and in response to this, Stalin drove tanks through our village and hunted down anyone that participated in that.”

Fehérló Gortva at Austin Witchfest performance – Image credit: Azure West

The Magyar descendant explains, “The song that I am going to perform for you is actually a Hungarian song in a really old style….you will not hear very much of this style of singing these days. It has kind of been overtaken by other kinds of Hungarian Folk song.”

The Magyar originated in the Ural Mountains and migrated westward to settle in what is now Hungary in the 9th century C.E.

With a brief and sincere description of the pre-Christian Hungarian Shamanic religion, the violinist continued to expand the discussion. Going on to explain that the Hungarian people are related to the indigenous Siberian people known as the Mansi and Khanty who still practice Shamanism today.

The lamentation-style chant rang through the speakers. Accompanied with a láncosbot, which translates to “chain stick” or “rattle stick,” the chanter goes on to expand upon the excerpt of the chant:

My rotting body lies in the bush,

My red blood cools in the snow,

My blood cools, cools in the snow,

My red blood cools in the snow.

Stephen Ian Savage, Karoline Leal, and Fehérló Gortva sat down with TWH after their performance. They conversed about returning to Austin Witchfest, the band’s achievements over the last couple of years, and how they passed the time during the pandemic.

Savage began by explaining that while the three are teachers and had continued to teach remotely, the musicians also worked on inner band projects and completed a few musical releases. “We also did a film score for a film called “Blight” that will be out in May 2…. It [the film] is out now on Spectrum and Xfinity streaming.”

Leal expands upon the recent song release titled “Nøkken Sang om Elven” which is based on a Danish poem, “…giving life to everything around it.” The performers nodded in agreement after Fehérló mentions that the soundtrack for “Blight” was out on the first of April, 2022.

Diving into the topic of Austin Witchfest, Leal expressed her excitement for the new stage and stated, “It looks great.” The sentiment was echoed by her bandmates as they looked forward to meeting attendees over the remaining festival hours.

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