The good news: tickets that usually hard to come by, including those multi-day passes, are still readily available as the annual four-day Dark Season Blues begins today. The bad news: if those tickets go unsold, there may not be a chance to buy any next year.
Longyearbyen’s biggest annual music festival still features its bright vibe for its 17th year as the town begins the polar night this weekend, with a largely familiar event schedule and a lineup of 16 returning/new performers from Norway and abroad. But lurking beneath are difficulties that last year caused organizers to question if the festival can continue.
The biggest problem remains the growing number of festivals and other events, which during the past few years have competed for the limited money and time of residents and visitors, said Espen Helgesen, the festival’s longtime director.
“A few years ago we were the only thing,” he said. “If we are going to continue the festival – and that’s a big if – then we need to talk to the others and work something out.”
Last-minute ticket sales helped last year, although Helgesen said so far this pace this year is slower.
“We need more people buying tickets,” he said. “Hopefully local people will come.”
Another emerging problem is it is getting more costly to book musicians, a complication for organizers who try to cope with a limited budget by wooing artists with the lure of a unique setting, Helgesen said.
“The price is going up because they don’t sell CDs any more,” he said, noting most performers are emphasizing streaming and other online formats. “Still, we have lots of artists that want to come here.”
Among the noteworthy newcomers is “Monster” Mike Welch, 40, a U.S. musician who’s already had a 25-year professional career and this year was named best guitarist at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Others include Sari Schorr, another U.S. performer described by Blues In Britain as “an unstoppable tsunami that has stormed the blues rock world;” the acclaimed Norwegian acoustic blues/country Amund Maarud & Lucky Lips; and the Brazilian swing/R&B band Igor Prado & Just Groove.
Familiar faces from many previous local festivals are Norway’s JT Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters and U.S. guitarist Dave Fields, both of whom favor the rocking side of the blues. A more subdued familiar face is Jon Gunnar Hansen, a Longyearbyen resident with a relatively short, but highly acclaimed tenure as an acoustic blues/folk performer.
The festival, following its traditional format, will feature a free official opening with mini-sets by featured performers at 6 p.m. Thursday at Kulturhuset. Full concerts will be performed afterward and on Friday night at three pubs within short range of each other – although this year the usual venues of Kroa and Svalbar are being joined by Karlsberger Pub instead of Radisson Blu Polar Hotel since Hurtigruten Svalbard is no longer a sponsor for the shows.
Several special shows (which festival passes are not valid at) are again scheduled, including a sold-out performance by multiple musicians and a formal meal at Gruvelageret on Friday evening, a concert in Mine 3 at 2 p.m. Saturday (only a few tickets were left at presstime) and a gospel blues concert at 6 p.m. Sunday at Svalbard Church.
There are also several free events besides the official opening, including “blues lunch” events featuring music and interviews at noon Friday and Saturday, and a jam session to close out the festival beginning at 9 p.m. Sunday at Kroa.
DARK SEASON BLUES 2019 SCHEDULE
• 11 p.m.: Kickstart jam hosted by Jostein Forsberg. Svalbar. FREE.
• 11 a.m.: Concert for students by Igor Prado & Just Groove. Longyearbyen School.
• 6 p.m.: Official opening w/ mini-sets by select performers. Kulturhuset. FREE
• 8:30 p.m.: Tora; Frode Alnæs & The Frogs. Svalbar.
• 9 p.m.: JT Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters w/ Trez Gregory; Danielle Nicole Band. Kroa.
• 10:30 a.m.: Concert for kindergarteners by Dr. Bekken. Kulturhuset.
• Noon: Blues lunch featuring Frode Alnæs & The Frogs, Trond Olsen Band, and artist interview by Øyvind Rønning. Svalbar. FREE.
• 5 p.m.: JG Hansen. Svalbard Bryggeri. Festival pass not valid.
• 5:30 p.m.: “Boogie Woogie Experience” featuring Dr. Bekken, Trez Gregory and Sari Schorr and three-course formal meal. Gruvelageret. SOLD OUT.
• 8:30 p.m.: Earl Thomas with Igor Prado & Just Groove; Sari Schorr. Kroa.
• 9 p.m.: Buddy Whittington & Trond Olsen Band; Monster Mike Welch. Kroa.
• 9 p.m.: Dave Fields; Joakim Tinderholt & His Band. Karlsberger Pub.
• Noon: Blues lunch featuring JTLauritsen w/ friends and artist interview by Øyvind Rønning. Kroa. FREE.
• 2 p.m.: McDowells Bakgård. Mine 3. Bus from Lompensentret at 1:30 p.m. Festival passes not valid; nearly sold out.
• 3 p.m.: Igor Prado & Just Groove. Karlsberger Pub. Festival passes not valid.
• 7:30 p.m.: Blues marathon on two stages. First floor features Joakim Tinderholt & His Band; Tora; Monster Mike Welch; and Danielle Nicole Band. Upper floor features Amund Maarud & Lucky Lips; Buddy Whittington & Trond Olsen Band; Earl Thomas w/ Igor Prado & Just Groove; and Sari Schorr. Huset.
• 8 p.m.: JG Hansen; Dr. Bekken; McDowells Bakgård. Karlsberger Pub.
(Free bus between Huset and Karlsberger Pub starting at 7 p.m.)
• 6 p.m.: “Gospel and Soul” featuring Earl Thomas & Trez Gregory. Svalbard Church. Festival passes not valid.
• 9 p.m.: Jam session hosted by Dave Fields. Kroa.