There are not many blues festivals in the world where you have to check around the corner to make sure there are no polar bears around. Despite the darkness and cold and harsh conditions, the annual blues festival in Longyearbyen has grown to be one of the major blues festivals in Norway. Sold out concerts and a good artist line-up created a good atmosphere in the arctic town. With names like Lisa Lystam, Marie Kristin Dale and Magnus Berg younger artists were also well represented.
From the official festival opening in Kulturhuset Thursday night till the last tone silenced on Monday night there was held not less than 40 concerts. There were many different venues, for the youngest concerts both in one of the town's three kindergartens, in schools and at Kulturhuset. Both Thursday and Friday there were many concerts both during daytime and night at the clubs, not to forget the big event Saturday night at The House, with 12 bands from two stages. True to tradition, there was also a church concert Sunday. Here played musicians from Nick Moss Band, Mike Zito's band and Jan Tore Lauritsen and his Buckshot Hunters and Jai Malano under the working title "Gospel & Blues". A great concert, which for many is the very highlight of the Dark Season Blues. (Pictured below: The artists at the church concert).
Festival passes were sold out before the festival started, and remaining tickets were sold at the door to the concerts, most of them were sold out. In addition to the city's resident population of about 2.000, came around 400 visitors from mainland to experience the exotic festival.
Also musically the festival was a success. One of the most popular artists, Mike Zito, came this time with his own band, The Wheel. There were more fans for every concert, and we also had the pleasure of meeting the sympathetic Mike in Øyvind Rønning`s interview on stage Saturday afternoon.
From The United States also came an other hot band in the blues circuit therse days, Nick Moss Band. With Nick Moss himself on guitar and the fabulous singer Michael Ledbetter in front of the well-coordinated band, we were served both classic Chicago Blues, long improvised numbers and a touch of southern rock.
Guitar enthusiasts got their treat when the eminent players Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith (pictured above) entered the stage together with their Norwegian backing band consisting of Iver Olav Erstad, Per Øystein Erstad and Jon Reidar Furulund. It is very obvious that Kirk and Josh love playing together, and both the band and the audience seemed to enjoy very much. Ringside we could observe Nick Moss’ keyboard player digging Iver Olav Erstad’s organ skills.
Lisa Lystam Family Band also became a festival favourite. Led by young Lisa the band gave several top-notch concerts and won the heart of the audience. Younger artists were well represented on the program, and they did a good figure in competition with more experienced colleagues. Norwegian MK's Marvellous Medicine with Marie Kristin Dale surprised many and also gathered a younger audience. Magnus Berg recently received an award for best new artist/debut CD in a poll held by American Blues Blast, an amazing achievement for a young Norwegian artist. On Svalbard, we learned why. Another artist who was nominated in the same competition, was Joakim Tinderholt. He also gave great performances. Billy T Band has played most festivals at Svalbard, also this year. They backed up the festival's surprise, American Jai Malano. The lady from Austin, Texas, is still relatively unknown in the blues circuit, but it is perhaps not going to last long. She impressed with her wonderful voice and fine, original songs.
Greasy Gravy played with Linda Kvam on vocals, and took the audience back to the golden age of Soul music. JT Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters have also visited the festival before, and made sure to fill dance floors at Svalbard. Jolly Jumper & Big Moe brought Daniel Rossing on piano, and mixed the music with funny and juicy stories. (Picture below).
Spoonful of Blues always create a great atmosphere, the concerts on Svalbard was no exception. Erik Harstad was also booked to the festival, but unfortunately had to cancel in the last minute. Not so much connected to the blues, the band project Beatles & Stones performed songs most of us are familiar with.
The festival ended as always with a big jam session Sunday night. In a packed dining room at the hotel the festival's artists were united in new constellations. The jam was professionally led by Jostein Forsberg who also stepped in on harmonica when needed.
Marie Kristin Dale and Lisa Lystam rocked well together, and Marie Kristin was also in successful guitar «battles» with both Magnus Berg and Mike Zito. Jai Malano sang with Mike Zito and his band, two Texans far from home. A jam of this calibre is very entertaining and the highlights were many.
Some guests went directly from the jam to reach the early morning plane, while others found their beds and fell asleep happy and filled with music.
Read more about the festival in the December issue of Blue News.
Text and photo: Nina Hanssen
Marie Kristin Dale jamming with Mike Zito Sunday night.
Three guitar aces at Kroa: From left Nick Moss, Josh Smith and Kirk Fletcher.
Kindergarden blues with Jon Grimsby, Mike Zito, Arnfinn Tørrisen and Jan Tore Lauritsen.
The American singer Jai Malano was backed by Bill Troiani’s band.