There’s a famous band celebrating its 50th anniversary by making a comeback. An obscure local one celebrating maybe its 50-day anniversary. And some visiting veterans sharing the stage with a new group of local youths.
Some very familiar faces a lot of new ones will be among the 15 bands performing during the four-day Dark Season Blues festival starting Thursday. The festival, now in its 14th year, is sticking mostly to the schedule that has made it Svalbard’s most popular music event, although a first-ever alcohol-free concert scheduled at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Kroa will feature the Tito Lausteen Quartet performing with a group of local students.
“They’ve been doing workshops that started Monday,” said Espen Helgesen, the festival’s director. “The results of that will be presented at the concert.”
The Norwegian quartet – described as a blend of jam rock, groups like the Grateful Dead and traces of Eric Clapton – will also perform with the youths as part of the festival’s official opening at 6 p.m. Thursday at Kulturhuset, a free show featuring mini-sets by several bands performing during the next four days.
Two artists with vastly different backgrounds are the headliners for this year’s festival.
Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack is celebrating its 50th anniversary after its namesake player, now 70, recruited new members for the British band after several years of inactivity. The other headliner is Laurence Jones, 25, winner of British Blues Awards’ “Young Artist of the Year” in both 2014 and 2015. The latter’s 2014 album “Temptations” was produced by Svalbard resident Mike Zito, who is also an accompanist.
Both headliners will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Kroa, but tickets are sold out. They will also perform Saturday night during the two-stage blues marathon at Huset, for which tickets remain available.
Individual tickets are also available to nearly all other concerts. Festival passes, in what has become a tradition, sold out a couple of months before the event started. As usual, the shows Thursday and Friday evening will take place in a trio of pubs, but pass holders are not guaranteed access since admission is on a space-available basis.
This year’s concert in Mine 3 will feature the Advent Bay Poolboys, a Svalbard blues band formed earlier this fall. Band members include Thomas Nilsen (vocals), Trond Breen (guitar/vocals), Ørjan Vingen (bass), Jon Gunnar Hansen (guitar) and Andreas Hegermann Riis (drums).
Besides the musicians listed above, other performers at the festival include:
• JW Jones, a Canadian who performed at Dark Season Blues in 2011. at DSB in 2011. He is described as “a mixture of T-Bone Walker’s luminous chords, Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s slashing solos and Clarence “Gate Mouth” Brown’s jazz feeling.”
• Robert “Freighttrain” Parker, the first Native America in the Buffalo (New York) Music Hall of Fame. He will perform American roots music with Little Andrew (Andreas Stamnes).
• Billy T. Band, an Oslo group that has appeared annually for many years, performing blues, R&B, soul, funk and rock.
• JT Lauritsen, another annual visiting performer from the mainland specializing in soul blues and rock.
• Richard Gjems (harmonica), Øyvind Støle Mountain (piano/vocals), Ronnie Jacobsen (guitar/vocals) and Robert Skoglund (drums), a young Norwegian group hat plays ’50s style Chicago blues.
• Victor Puertas and The Mellow Tones, with the lead performing touted as “the blues king of Barcelona,” supplementing his singing with a harmonica and other instruments.
• Egidio “Juke” Ingala and The Jacknives, an Italian “old school blues” band who lead singer also fancies the harmonica.
• Micke Björklöf! & Blue Strip, another harmonica-happy band, this one from Finland specializing in “electric blues, rock and a touch of New Orleans.”
• Geir Bertheussen Blues Express, a Senja native now living in Tromsø who rounds out the harp players. Nicknamed the “Milkman,” Bertheussen has been a blues musician for 25 years “and sings in the rather fuzzy ‘Howlin’ Wolf tradition,'” combining elements of Chicago blues, jump blues, Delta blues and swamp rock.
• Tina Lie, a Norway singer who performed at Dark Season Blues five years ago. Her most recent work has mixed elements of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell in a roots/Americana soundscape.
• Dr. Bekken, a Norwegian described as being a unique “pianist, composer and entertainer” who draws on various jazz, blues and boogie woogie traditions in coming up with his own works.
• Mighty Magnolias, a Norwegian band that mixes “country, country rock, Americana, ’60s pop and White Stripes-like blues.”
6 p.m.: Official opening w/ preview performances by various bands. Kulturhuset. Free.
9 p.m.: Dr Bekken, Egidio Juke Ingala & The Jacknives at Barentz Pub; Mighty Magnolias, Victor Puertas & The Mellow Tones at Svalbar; Robert “Freightrain” Parker feat. Little Andrew, JW-Jones at Kroa.
Noon: Blues lunch w/ Billy T Band. Free.
4:30 p.m.: Alcohol-free concert featuring the Tito Lausteen Quartet and local youths. Kroa. Free.
5:30 p.m.: Three-course dinner and acoustic blues by Tina Lie, Dr Bekken and Richard Gjems. Spitsbergen Hotel. Sold out.
8 p.m.: Gjems, Stølefjell, Jacobsen & Skoglund, Tito Lausteen Quartet, Geir Bertheussen Blues Express at Barentz Pub; Advent Bay Poolboys, Tina Lie, Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip at Svalbar; Billy T Band, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack, Laurence Jones at Kroa.
Noon: Blues lunch w/ JT Lauritsen with friends and artist interview by Øyvind Rønning. Baretnz Pub. Free.
1 p.m.: Acoustic blues by Gjems, Stølefjell, Jacobsen and Skoglund. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. Festival passes not valid.
3 p.m.: Advent Bay Poolboys. Mine 3. Bus leaves from Mix Kiosk at 2:30 p.m. Festival passes not valid.
3 p.m.: Bertheussen & Fjellberg Duo. KarlsBerger Pub. Festival passes not valid.
7 p.m.: Two-stage blues marathon. Main stage on upper floor features Victor Puertas & The Mellow Tones, Laurence Jones, Robert “Freightrain” Parker feat. Little Andrew, Tina Lie, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack and JW-Jones. First-floor performers include Mighty Magnolias, Tito Lausteen Quartet, Egidio Juke Ingala & The Jacknives, Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip, Billy T Band and Geir Bertheussen Blues Express. Huset. Busses to and from center of town available beginning 6:40 p.m.
6 p.m.: Gospel and blues concert featuring Robert “Freightrain” Parker with friends. Svalbard Church. Festival passes not valid.
8 p.m.: Jam session hosted by Billy T. Radisson. Free.
Can’t afford tickets, or need to make the most of what you can afford? Besides the free events (make sure to go to Sunday’s jam session), here’s a couple of tips:
• If you don’t mind staying up late, keep a watch on Dark Season Blues’ Facebook page. Many venues offered free access toward the end of their shows.
• Also for the nocturnals, jam sessions often occur at one of the pubs when all the night’s concerts are over. Again keep a watch on the festival’s Facebook page.
• For wanting a preview of the bands, nearly all can be heard and seen in YouTube videos at the festival’s website.