Blues-collared: Passes for biggest-ever Dark Season Blues sell out faster than ever to mostly non-local listeners


The kind of blues you’re feeling this week may have a lot to do with your inclination to plan ahead or be spontaneous. In this case, the former are least likely to be the glum type.

Festival passes for the biggest Dark Season Blues ever sold out earlier than ever because of a decision to offer them much sooner than usual, said Espen Helgesen, the festival’s director and chairman of the Longyearbyen Blues Club. He said the request came from visitors “because they’ve already bought their hotel and flight up here, so they want to make sure they’re getting into the festival.”

“We had a lot of pressure from audience members who wanted to buy festival passes early,” he said. “We started in June and we were sold out in late August.”

Tickets to many individual events remain available at the festival’s website and the Mix kiosk, and more may be available at the venues at showtime if space permits, Helgesen said.

The four-day festival that starts Thursday, now in its 13th year, is Longyearbyen’s biggest music event of the year, featuring a roughly even mix of Norwegian and foreign bands, with most of the latter coming from the United States.

Numerous musicians who have become regulars are returning, including the Billy T Band and J.T. Lauritsen. Many of the newcomers will find themselves at events with equally long traditions, including an opening gala with speeches and mini-sets by numerous bands Thursday night at Kulturhuset, concerts for local students and kindergarteners, and a gospel concert Sunday evening at Svalbard Church.

The festival spent more on marketing compared to past years, luring nearly 300 people from the mainland – accounting for most of the festival passes sold, Helgesen said. Similarly, he said at least 50 people from the mainland bought tickets just to Saturday evening’s 12-concert, two-stage blues marathon at Huset.

“With the artists and technicians, we are talking about almost 400 people coming up from the mainland,” he said.

Scandinavian Airlines scheduled an extra inbound and outgoing flight for festival attendees, many of whom booked most of the hotel rooms and other lodging in town months ago. The weather forecast is favorable for this week’s flights, although visitors will be wandering between venues and exploring the town on icy surfaces in sub-zero temperatures, with strong winds and occasional snow.

In addition to the huge influx of visitors, this is also the biggest festival in terms of events – if just barely.

“We have on Friday three bands at all the pubs,” Helgesen said. “Last year there was not three at one of them, only two concerts.”

Also new this year is a collaboration with the recently opened Svalbard Bryggeri, which will debut a new “dark season” brown ale during the festival.

“It’s not meant only for the blues festival,” Helgesen said. “It’s meant for the whole dark season.”

This year’s festival did suffer one setback when Store Norske, usually one of the festival’s biggest sponsors, cancelled its support due to the crippling coal price crisis that is forcing the company to shut down nearly all of its mining operations and lay off all but 100 of its 270 employees.

“That’s 100,000 kroner we didn’t have, but the Svalbard Business Association was really supportive so it was not much of a loss,” Helgesen said.

Schedule of events

• 6 p.m.: Official opening ceremony, featuring performances by multiple bands. Kulturhuset. FREE.
• 9 p.m.: Blueskollektivet, Joakim Tinderholt and His Band at Barentz Pub; Lisa Lystam Family Band, Beatles & Stones at Svalbar; J.T. Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters, Nick Moss Band at Kroa.

• Noon: Billy T Band. Barentz Pub. FREE.
• 5:30 p.m.: Formal three-course dinner w/ concert by Mike Zito and Lisa Lystam. Spitsbergen Hotel. PASSES NOT VALID.
• 9 p.m.: Jolly Jumper & Big Moe, MK’s Marvellous Medicine, Erik Harstad w/Band at Barentz Pub; Magnus Berg Band, Spoonful of Blues, Mike Zito and The Wheel at Svalbar; Greasy Gravy & Linda Kvam, Jai Malano, Kirk Fletcher & Josh Smith at Kroa.

• 11:30 a.m.: Blues concert for kids. Kulturhuset cafe. FREE
• Noon: J.T. Lauristen w/ friends, artist interview by Øyvind Rønning. Barentz Pub. FREE.
• 1 p.m.: Acoustic blues by Jolly Jumper & Big Moe. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. PASSES NOT VALID.
• 3 p.m.: Billy T Band. Mine 3. Bus from Mix kiosk at 2:30 p.m. PASSES NOT VALID.
• 3 p.m.: Jostein Forsberg, Morten Omlid og Eskil Aasland. Karlsberger Pub. PASSES NOT VALID.
• 7 p.m.: Blues marathon featuring 12 concerts on two stages. Huset.

• 6 p.m.: Gospel and blues by Nick Moss, Michael Ledbetter, Mike Zito, Jai Malano and J.T. Lauritsen. Svalbard Church. PASSES NOT VALID.
• 9 p.m.: Jam session hosted by Jostein Forsberg. Radisson. FREE.