Apart from meeting polar bears, this year's blues festival at Svalbard - from 21 to 24 October - offered all kinds of experiences. The lineup included local, national and international artists and bands. Visitors could take sightseeing tours, check out the kennels, watch a curious polar fox listen to the music outside the main venue, or behold the spectacular northern lights. Longyearbyen was bathed in moonlight most of the time, and the always smiling organizers did everything in their power to satisfy their guests. The picture shows the festival artist Bill Sims Jr.
Excited musicians from Memphis, New York, England and Ireland were heard to say, "This is awesome", everywhere they went. Both first timers and more "experienced" visitors were impressed by how well the festival was organized. It's quite a challenge to organize transportation, food, housing and backline for musicians - in 15 different bands - out here in the "wilderness".
Lavvo concert with the Norwegian Westby Band. (Photo: M. Eide).
On the first festival day, Thursday, all the musicians and staff were invited to a dinner of reindeer steak, on the outskirts of the little festival town. Everybody was reminded that they were in the middle of nowhere, when all power suddenly went out for several minutes. The organizers made the best out of the situation ; serving dinner and drinks in candle light, until the artists had to leave for the different venues and the first concerts : Victor Wainwright, Reba Russell Band, Tim Ledfoot Scott and The Cadillac Kings, opened the Eighth Dark Season Blues Festival.
On Friday afternoon there was Kindergarden Blues with Rita Engedalen and Margit Bakken, a school concert with Deadwood, a bar concert with the Westby Band and a lunchtime jam session with the Cadillac Kings.
Friday evening there was an exclusive dinner show at Spitsbergen Hotel, with gourmet food and acoustic music from Knut Reiersrud, Noora Noor, Bill Sims Jr. and Tim Ledfoot Scott. Later that night, there were club gigs all over Longyearbyen. You could choose between Knut Reiersrud, Grainne Duffy, Bill Sims Jr., Women in Blues, (with Rita Engedalen and Margit Bakken and feat. Tuva Syvertsen), Susanne Hansen, Dave Fields, Linda Gail Lewis, or the local band Blaamyra.
Noora Noor and Palle Wagnberg with Longyearbyen Big Band at Huset. (Photo: Thor Lønning).
On Saturday night, almost everyone in Longyearbyen gathered at the venue "Huset", for a musical marathon. The Longyearbyen Big Band opened up with guests Palle Wagnberg, Susanne Hansen and Noora Noor.
On Sunday there was the traditional church concert. This year, a crowded Svalbard Church experienced Rita Engedalen and Margit Bakken with guests Susanne Hansen, Joakim Engedalen Nilsen, and the Longyearbyen Mixed Choir.
The festival ended that same night at the hotel bar, with a big jam session led by Dave Fields.
On the phone from Svalbard, two days after the festival, booking agent Gry Sneltvedt said that ticket sales were pretty much like last year. This, and all the good feedback from both artists and audience, has inspired the organizers of the Longyearbyen Blues Club to start planning a new festival for next year.
Rita Engedalen, Margit Bakken and the choir at the church concert Sunday. (Photo: M. Eide).
Text/photo: Merete Eide