(Festival blog by Staff Writer Marion Prudhon, 1:40 a.m. Friday): The sun disappeared from Longyearbyen just a few hours before Sugaray Rayford took the stage for the first of two times Thursday night. But he wasn’t about to let the audience sit quietly in the dark.
“I know Norwegians dance, I’ve seen them,” he said, imploring the crowd to get out of their seats while performing a trio of songs during the official opening of the festival at Kulturhuset.
Rayford, a U.S. electric blues singer, was among several featured artists performing short sets during the first major show of the 15th annual Dark Season Blues. The opening showed off the wide range of blues scheduled to be performed during the five-day festival that ends Sunday, with five subsequent full-length concerts at a trio of venues setting the mood for the rest of the long weekend.
JT Lauritsen & the Buckshot Hunters, who have performed at many previous DSB festivals, got things off to a good vibe at Kroa, but there were few people dancing due to lack of room.
Rayford, who during his Kulturhuset gig lamented “‘I want to go home, but I don’t have sufficient clothes,” arrived at Kroa in a down jacket (the first one he said to have). He was seen on the dance floor for the last song of Lauritsen’s set and offered a glimpse of what would be the second part of the show.
“This is not a concert, this is a party,” he told the crowd.
During his finale in particular he pointed specifically at several men: “Who are you with?” he asked. To one who did not have a partner he implored “there are two women here in front, this is just one dance.”
Rayford himself was hardly still: interacting with the crowd and his band he was a whole theater troupe. Exuberant on the stage, he could not stick to the program and theme of the festival. That’s how, in the middle of the show, the band performed “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd), beautifully sang by Drake Shining, who also accompanied him on keyboard.
“Here is Drake Shining, from Deep Purple,” Rayford said humorously after his first break. “I know we are here for the blues, but we can also play good music.”
Later, he shared a few more sobering words about the world, including a moment to think of those aboard a helicopter that crashed near Barentsburg only hours earlier, reminding the audience how life is short and we should not forget to be happy.
“You know, what is happening in the world is crazy,” he said. “There is only one thing that matters. There is only human race. We are only one people.”
From the following silence his voice came deep when he performed “What A Wonderful World,” joined by the public and later by the musicians.