Nothing, not even the school bell, could stop Bjro Haaland's love of country music when he was a boy.
The 66-year-old Norwegian singing legend said he was probably around nine years old when he got his first taste of country music in the form of some records he was listening to one morning before school.
"I remember that because I turned in just a little late at school," Haaland said. "We walked to school from where I was born and being late, that wasn't too great, you know."
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Some might argue that Bjøro Haaland is even better at appreciating his fans than he is at singing. Haaland signs autographs after every show at Norsk Høstfest and is more than pleased to pose for pictures with any fans who ask him.
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Bjøro Haaland sings for the crowd in Oslo Hall Wednesday morning during his opening act at Norsk Høstfest. Haaland will perform at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. through Saturday.
Haaland showed up to school only a few minutes late and made up some story he doesn't even remember now. After being excused for his tardiness he didn't dare say it was because he was listening to music.
While he doesn't remember the excuse he made up, he still recalls the sweet sounds coming from the record player. Hank Williams and Doris Day were some of the artists Haaland remembers vividly.
"It was some beautiful songs," Haaland said. "I'd never heard anything like it."
After World War II Haaland had only one choice to listen to on the radio, a government-run station that decided what people would hear. There was a lot of fiddle playing, which a young Haaland didn't like, and some accordion, which he did enjoy.
"Then they had different songs, other artists that I liked, but not as much as when I heard that country music, because it had a totally different sound," Haaland said.
"The way they performed it was just great," he added.
His entire family loved country music, and Haaland's father played the fiddle, guitar and even a bit of accordion, and taught his son some chords. Haaland's grandfather was a troubadour, a travelling entertainer, and sang as well as played accordion and harmonica.
Everyone in the family could sing, and that's where Haaland found his true calling. His mother had always thought he had a wonderful singing voice, and encouraged her son to sing as often as possible at family get-togethers and other events. His family's wishes that he let everyone hear his strong and clear voice didn't always fall in line with what he wanted, however.
At around 6 years old he was asked to sing at the funeral of his father's aunt. A cousin of his father pulled Haaland up onto a chair and asked him to sing. While he did sing a few songs, it took some bribery to make the performance happen.
"I wasn't that easy to get going, I didn't want to do it. But he had a way of doing it. He showed me some nickels and dimes and said, 'This is for you if you sing this song,'" Haaland said with his trademark smile and a laugh. "I sang."
Haaland has sung in many venues during his lengthy career, and one of his most memorable performances undoubtedly has to be his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1984.
"They had put me in the program and I was under Jack Greene's section, when he had his set and he could have guests. ... I had been recording at Pete Drake's studio, 'Pete's Place' as they called it," Haaland said. "He was a great steel guitar (musician) that always played with George Jones, so he would always play on the big hits of George.
"So they thought I had to be at the Grand Ole Opry because I'd been Male Singer (of the Year) in '83 and '84 in Europe. And also I had been the Europe Male Vocalist (of the Year) back in '82."
Haaland had played in Wembley Arena in London and received a standing ovation, so he was definitely known to the Grand Ole Opry. Haaland was told he had a good voice people might like, and to have a second song ready to sing just in case it was needed. Haaland thought no more of the comment, but was glad he heeded the advice once on stage.
"When I stood there and as I started singing this song people started applauding in between the verse and the chorus and the applause started going more, and when I finished they roared and stood up from the chairs and they screamed for more," Haaland said. "And when Jack Greene came out to take me off he said, 'Well, I understand what you're saying. How about it, come out again and do a verse or two, Bjro.'"
Those were about the only words Greene could get out over the roar of the crowd, and Haaland obliged them with a second song.
"So I dashed out again and I said, 'Key of A,' and 'I Can't Stop Loving You,' and I said 'From me to you.' And they kept on roaring and between the verse and the chorus again it was huge, they stood up and it was amazing."
On top of all that, Haaland was singing over sponsor time, which was usually a financial no-no at the Opry, but neither the crowd nor Greene seemed to care too much about missing an ad while Haaland sang.
"Skeeter Davis, she came later on with a tape to me and she said, 'This is amazing. Nothing like this has happened in many, many years,' because sponsor time is so accurate, and all I got was a lot of good friends after the show," he said.
Haaland has also gotten standing ovations in Switzerland, where the custom is for fans to first get on chairs, and then tables while stomping their feet to show their approval. Haaland said it took three songs to get everybody out of their seats during one performance there, and the sound of an entire crowd stomping its feet on heavy oak tables was something else.
Among his legions of fans is fellow Hstfest singer Daniel O'Donnell, who listened to Haaland when the Norwegian played in Ireland.
Haaland didn't set out to be a big star in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter. Early in his career he had a day job as an excavator salesman while he sang on the side. Though he loved touring, he always had to go back to Norway for not only his family, but his job.
Normally he would only be away one month during the year, but when he toured for three months one year Haaland thought that might be a bit too long to be away from a job that required a lot of attention to current industry trends.
While he now concentrates on his singing, the salesman in Haaland never truly went away. He mentioned he actually sold two five-ton Bobcats from the Fargo plant, the biggest models made, to a factory in Norway.
"So I'm helping North Dakota a little that way as well," he said.
This marks Haaland's 25th year at Norsk Hstfest, and the reason he keeps coming back is as clear as his distinguished voice.
"You saw it yesterday (Wednesday during his opening concert), the way they greet me, the way they accept me, the way everybody thinks it is good and the words I get through the week that I'm here is wonderful," he said.
The crowd that greeted him in Oslo Hall was so massive it got the attention of the fire marshal, who had to reiterate the fire code to the stage manager.
Haaland plays twice daily in Oslo Hall, at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., through Saturday.
Haaland said that kind of passion in the crowd is what keeps him so inspired to sing. Even though performing before that many people is old hat to him by now, he admitted that doesn't keep him from being a bit nervous every time he takes the stage.
"I've been jumping on skis, I know what that is. When you stand on the top and you say you're not nervous, but you're nervous anyway, never mind how many times you do it," Haaland said. "And this is the same way."
Haaland has been singing for decades, and has no plans to quit anytime soon. Haaland's wife of more than 40 years, Liv, sets up his performances and knows when her husband needs a break. Doing a few less concerts here and there helps ensure Haaland will be able to keep singing for the long haul, which is something he very much desires.
He equated this to a sprinter trying to run a marathon. You can't keep up a fast pace for very long before you start to wear yourself out, so Liv paces his performances to keep him in top form.
When not on tour the couple live in Kristiansand, in southern Norway.
Haaland said as long as people keep coming to his concerts and he is physically able, he will continue to sing. Norsk Hstfest will undoubtedly keep inviting him because crowds will continue giving the fire marshal fits whenever he sings, so it comes down to his health, which is about the only thing that could keep him off the stage.
"As long as I'm healthy and people like what I'm doing and want me, I can't quit as long as I can sing," Haaland said.
"I really appreciate them, all of them, every one of them. I just love when they sit there at my shows and listen. They listen to the words of the songs and it's a lot of memories," he added. "And when I see them they give me memories because I remember a lot of faces. They're the reason (I sing), they're the reason."