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The world's most Northern most Blues Festival Dark Season Blues 2008 was launched for the 6th time during the weekend, 23-26 of October. The local Blues Club Longyearbyen Bluesclub started in 2001 and is the proud organizer of this beautiful adventure of Blues music and people.
There were various artists this year and of high quality as it always is here.
Out there is beautiful nature, polar night, biting cold and dry winter weather
that causes frostbites on your skin. Inside the hotel and at the concerts, the audience and the artists are living side by side. New contacts are get acquainted, new relations are made, and the music room is expanding. For those who are afraid of the cold or
the freezing weather (frost), they still can survive inside. The local taxis are on the spot when needed and they drive fast to take you from place to place. The intimacy of the festival combined with long distance artists make this a special blues festival that has to be experienced.
The flight from Oslo took about 4 hours and stopped over at Tromsø City. There is only one departure per day. In the plane are blues artists and potential audience. Nice blues enthusiasts were all over. There was still some light and we had this extra "sightseeing" while the plane quit with jet fuel before we land in Longyearbyen, 78 degrees north.
Concert Revue from Dark Season Blues 2008 at Svalbard:
SVALBARD IN A BLUES-ECSTASY!
The time is 11am and is still "ligth" out there..
Thursday evening there were 3 places of concert to choose from. It seemed like all would attend to Kroa where super Chikan, Rita Engedalen and Billy Gibson would play. James Super Chickan Johnson, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, was backed by Alexander Pettersen on drums and Bill Troiani on bass, 2 musicians who had the most playing jobs at the festival, many times each day. Super Chikan did a superb concert, and of course, on his homemade, and self-decorated guitars as people will remember him at Notodden Festival. He took the audience straight all the whole way into the juke joint and home to the Chikan farm in Mississippi. There were big smiles, energy, and humour, yodels, cackling and "shake ass". It was also fun when harmonica player Billy Gibson jumped in and jammed to some of the tunes at the end.
Rita Engedalen & Backbone was the next artist. The Norwegian "Grammy" award winner of Spellemannsprisen", Rita Engedalen who has just released her new CD "The Tree Still Standing", appeared straightforward, strong and genuine. She sang and played tunes from all her records and got the audience to "shake" in the best hill-country style. Her band Backbone include members Morten Omlid on guitars, Alex Peterson, drums, Bill Troiani, bass, and Knut Nyheim on fiddle. It hit us that this was an amazingly good musical meeting between Oslo, New York and Telemark/Mississippi. Rita's voice and the guitarist Morten Omlid, IS Mississippi Hill-Country "to the bone". It gave us goosebumps when Nyheim on the fiddle joined in to play the tune "Yellow Moon". Billy Gibson was the last man standing at Kroa backed again by the solid Billy T Band. Gibson lives in Memphis and the concert was not far from his cd title "Prince of Beal Street". In addition to being an excellent harmonica player and singer, he fired up the audience with his literally spoken jumping energy.
At Svalbar, Bedrock Bluesband played, former winner of the Union Blues Cup, for a small audience, but the number of audience increased when the Swedish group Little Jennie & The Blue Beans went onstage. They are a very good band and the harmonica player Jenny Bohman, and the girls gave the iron, a tough blues rock with obvious blues roots. Lotta on guitar - wow! This was a magnificent tummy crackling performance. Svalsbar, was into the festival for the second year and is a superb concert place.
At Barentz Pub, at SAS hotel, Monika Nordli played. She is currently out with a new album "Shipping Out" and she was followed by Blackbirds from Oslo, the band whose name super Chikan wants to change into "Bluebirds" after jamming together during the weekend.
From L.: Morten Omlid, Rita Engedalen, Knut Nyheim, Alex Pettersen.
Billy Gibson and Rita Engedalen, at Kroa Thursday.
James "Super Chikan" Johnson, Kroa Thursday.
Rita Engedalen & Backbone, at Kroa Thursday.
Little Jenny & the Blue Beans, Thursday at Svalbar.
Anne-Berit and Nina from Asker Bluesclub, had fun.
Friday morning Bedrock Bluesband played at the Comprehensive school and Espen Liland & Tom Erik Holmlund (from Greasy Gravy) at the Kindergarten. The others proceeded to the Blues lunch at Barentz Pub, where Billy Gibson & The Billy T Band was playing. Billy Gibson was the first man out performing with the same energy as the day before, he knows his blues and knows how to entertain the audience. He played the whole way until the air transfer bus was to leave the hotel. He had to catch the plane that was to take him to the Color Blues Festival boat. Billy T Band continued at the blues lunch.
Billy T Band at Kroa: Ian Fr. Johannesen, Alex Pettersen, Billy T and Stian Sveen.
We must emphasize, there are many possibilities for outdoor activities such as sightseeing, dogsledding, and boat trips, a.s.o, for those that will combine the festival with outdoor life. But many use the intermission for shopping and socializing indoors.
Friday evening. James Super Chikan and Rita Engedalen met for what is dubbed as "From the Deep South to the Far North" in the program. The venue was at Funken Hotel along with concert and dinner. Knut Nyheim that played fiddle with Rita, joined in and here someone commented that Nyheim and Super Chikan have achieved a special bond. Super Chikam later said that Knut (or "Nut" as he pronounced his name) sounded just as "Grandpa's fiddle" as when they played fiddle and diddle bow at the porch back home in Mississippi.
At Kroa, Billy T Band played before Greasy Gravy took over. Billy T Band members are Bill Troiani, bass and vocals, Alex Pettersen, drums, Stian Jorgen, guitar, and Ian Frederick Johannsen also on guitar. The latter made a great impression with his honed sound and guitar playing. The band released their CD "Little Mixed Up" at the festival last year.
Greasy Gravy performed passionate soul and blues, while the bunch of Holmlund, Endal, Liland, Furulund, Erstad together with the brass musicians known as "The Car Keys", showed that they are maybe one of the tightest and the most compact live blues band today.
At Svalbar on Friday, the local heroes Howlin' Huskies, played. This is Longyearbyen's own blues band. They are some of the most exceptional rocking blues folks you have to experience. It was solid bluesrock, driven and intense. The bar was full to the brim. Afterwards, Louisiana-born Sherman Robertson took the stage. The guitarist was also in the Dark Season Festival in 2006 and had played together with great artists as Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker and Paul Simon.
Down at Barentz Pub, there was New Orleans and boogie with Dr. Bekken. Blaamyra Bluegrass had to cancel. After having played at Kroa, the Billy T Band rushed and threw themselves to their band bus for another concert with Dr. Bekken. It turned to be a great experience with many guest artists, Super Chikan for one, came onstage.
Saturday's first concert was blues lunch at Barentz Pub, with Greasy Gravy w/friends. They were bottom solid again. It was Saturday and "all" had become friends. This happens at festivals like this. Dark Season Blues Festival is a social festival that is very close and compact. And the grand dining hall at the SAS-hotel and various nachspiel also have its meaning.
Dr. Bekken, Barentz Pub friday evening, Bill Troiani behind.
Blueslunch with Greasy Gravy, Saturday.
Saturday night's big event:
Huset (the House).
This is the town's "public house", it can accommodate 600 people, has two floors for a nonstop concerts with 11 bands listed in its program starting at 8:30pm until early morning. Everybody was to go there, the whole city. Tickets were sold-out. Some blues enthusiasts who traveled from far away weren't able to get in. It was very strict, not even the partners could be on the guest list. To add to the frustration and disappointment, there were only 2 bars at the event so patience was the word to get a cold one. Almost every artist was in the program Saturday night. Dr. Bekken opened on the first floor while Rita Engedalen & Backbone opened on the second floor. Monika Nordli impressed us a lot with her fine, distinctive voice and original compositions. Together with bandmembers Andy Nesblom, bass, and Torgeir Kopsland, guitar, she was also supported by The Blackbirds. Next on the first floor was Blackbirds, Blaamyra, Howlin' Huskies and Little Jenny & The Blue Beans. On the second floor went Super Chikam after Rita, whereafter Bedrock Blues Band, Greasy Gravy and at the end, Sherman Robertson with band. Sherman delivered the strongest concert for the evening with smashing guitar playing, good vocals and his excellent interaction with the audience.
Huset is a superb "assembly room", in the best sense of the word; a good place to move around, a place to dance and others; a gourmet restaurant at the first floor with its own wine cellar that one has to try. It was hot and jampacked at the little stage on the first but it had a supreme club atmosphere and a bar wth no restrictions. Jenny Bohman and the girls concluded the evening with style and a lot of girl power.
Little Jenny & the Blue Beans.
Church concert. At Sunday a lot of artists and audience were on their way home. We, the others took it calmly and we recharged for the concert at Svalbard concert in the afternoon. This went to be a great session, down-to-earth and moving. Monika Nordli started together with the Svalbarg choir. The girl from Treungen in Telemark, made tunes in the alcoves of roots- and country, and in the church with her was Nesblom and Kopsland. Rita Engedalen delivered an awesome version of "Amazing Grace" that was strengthened by Knut Nyheim's fiddle and hit right through the heart of the audience. Rita and the Svalbard Choir sang Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Lord Help the Poor and Needy" while Morten Omlid played acoustic guitar. The next artist was Tor Einar "Dr. Bekken", who delivered a high-class piano performance which was rousing and suggestive. Super Chikan, alone on vocal and guitar, did some of his tunes on his own self-decorated "St. Blues" electric guitar from Memphis, and he was joined by Rita Engedalen and Knut Nyheim for a number of songs. At the end all artists together with the choir came onstage for the finale.
Knut Nyheim, was for a lot of bluesfolks, a new acquaintance. He played fiddle with Rita Engedalen on her latest CD, and he is originally from Rjukan, Telemark. Comes from a musical family where his mother played organ for the Rjukan Church. He usually plays keyboard with the Remme Brothers Band.
Svalbard church: Monika Nordli with the local Svalbard Choir.
Svalbard Church: Super Chikan and Knut Nyheim.
Back at the hotel, it was time for dinner before Blues Jam Session at the hotel. It started at 9pm and lasted until early morning. The base of the jam was Billy T Band and the jam host Bill called for Morten Omlid, Dr. Bekken and also surprisingly, the soundman Peter Lundell, gave us powerful drums and the bass player Ellen Pettersen was superb as reliever for Bill.
From L.: Super Chikan, Knut Nyheim and Bill Troiani.
Knut Nyheim "the fiddler".
Dark Season offers a strong, nature experience and diversity. All honor to the festival committee that they are able to accomplish and combine high, artistic quality and win the hearts of the audience. The quality in the booking of artists can attract faraway blues travelers who can afford this relatively expensive weekend. It was great to mingle with the locals who were very sociable at the concert places. The Festival is highly recommended.
Text/Photos: ©Elisabeth Solum