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A new blues and jazz festival takes root in Poulsbo's Little Norway

Clockwise from top left: Eugenie Jones, Polly O'Keary and the Rhythm Method, Jacqueline Tabor and Lady A are among the lineup for the first-ever Poulsbo Blues and Jazz Festival, Feb. 23-24, 2024.
KNKX Graphic via Canva
Clockwise from top left: Eugenie Jones, Polly O'Keary and the Rhythm Method, Jacqueline Tabor, and Lady A are among the lineup for the first-ever Poulsbo Blues and Jazz Festival, Feb. 23-24, 2024.

It would be an understatement, perhaps, to say that Poulsbo, Washington, couple Joe Hulsey and Mary Gorman are live music lovers.

Last year alone, Hulsey, a retired naval officer, and Gorman, a realtor, traveled to 43 music festivals throughout the United States and lived in New Orleans for four months, just to drink in the city’s vibrant music scene. The pair still weren’t ready to shake their festival fever when they returned home last spring to Poulsbo, where they’ve lived for 16 years.

“Our dogs had already died. Our kids are on their own. We're kind of stuck at home because our son had twins coming...So we said, ‘Well, we got time, let's do a music festival,’” Hulsey said.

On February 23-24, Hulsey and Gorman’s inaugural Poulsbo Blues and Jazz Festival (PB&J) will take place in the city's Scandinavian-themed downtown, known as “Little Norway.” It’s an exciting time for the organizers and the rest of the Poulsbo community, whose early and overwhelming support helped sell out the 500-ticket festival two months in advance.

The 12 act festival includes a variety of local musicians, like jazz singer Eugenie Jones and Poulsbo-based group Dave Carson and the Jazzaholics, as well as stand-out artists from out of town, like San Diego-based singer Steph Johnson, who recently appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show.

The music will kick off on Friday night with a party hosted by Rockin’ Ruby’s Records at local watering hole, Slippery Pig Brewery. On Saturday, the Slippery Pig and three other local venues, Western Red Brewing, One Ten Lounge, and The Brass Kraken Pub, will host music from 5:45 p.m. until midnight. A professional musicians jam at the One Ten Lounge will close out the festival on Saturday, from midnight to 2 a.m.

Festival performances are staggered and will overlap some. Instead of electronic tickets, festival attendees will have wristbands that will allow them to wander freely from venue to venue.

“It’s based on how SXSW does it,” said Hulsey, adding that Upstream Music Festival, Paul Allen’s short-lived event in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, was also an inspiration.

“There's music playing all over the place. There's never a time from 5:45 to midnight, when there isn't music in our festival.”

Poulsbo, a town on the Kitsap peninsula with a population of approximately 11,000, is close-knit. That’s why Hulsey knew the first thing they needed to do to get their festival off the ground was to bounce it off the community and generate local support.

So, back in August, Hulsey went to the 125-member Poulsbo Rotary Club, to see if they liked the idea. They were immediately onboard. Soon after, it was decided that the festival would benefit the Rotary Club to help support their community programs, like academic scholarships and a foreign exchange for youth. Then, Hulsey brought up PB&J with Mayor Becky Erickson, and she was enthusiastic too.

Since those early conversations, ongoing community support has allowed Hulsey and Gorman, who “started with zero dollars,” to raise the funds they needed to bring the two-night festival to fruition. Along with partnering with the four bars that will serve as festival venues, PB&J is sponsored by a variety of local businesses and organizations, including the Suquamish Foundation, ADM Architecture, and Kitsap Bank.

Likewise, most festival ticketholders are from the area, and many Poulsbo residents gave additional money to support the cause.

“[Poulsbo's] just a nice town.... we’re just a pretty cohesive group,” Hulsey said. “So, when we said we're going to put on a festival, we got a lot of support. We’d have people calling us and saying, ‘Can we give you money?’”

A woman in a red shirt and a man with a white beard in a blue shirt smile for a selfie.
Poulsbo Jazz & Blues
Mary Gorman, left, and Joe Hulsey are music festival fans turned music festival organizers.

Hulsey said there are two other reasons locals were all in about the festival. For one, February is generally a dark, dreary time in the Pacific Northwest when people could use a fun, all-indoors event. It’s also a slow time for any other events in Poulsbo, so the local economy is hungry for the business.

“February, obviously, is a pretty slow time for most businesses. So, it's going to bring us business when we need it,” said Shawna Lambert, co-owner of Slippery Pig Brewery. “I think she sold 500 tickets. [It will] bring in all those people to town when we need it the most. The hotel across the street is all booked out. It's good for everyone.”

It’s fun, too. Lambert is hosting the festival’s kick-off party at Slippery Pig Brewery on Friday and she’s going all out with fun drink and food specials, including gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that nod to the festival’s coincidentally delicious initials.

Shelley Long, a Poulsbo resident who bought tickets for PB&J as soon as they went on sale, is impressed by the caliber of talent PB&J will feature. Long is especially excited to see blues singer Lady A. So excited that she and other friends from the community have considered arriving early to the Slippery Pig on Saturday, where Lady A is performing at 10:30 p.m., and camping out in their seats.

“I'm going to tell you what I'm most concerned about: It’s going be so packed I'm not going to be able to get into the bands I want to see,” Long said. “People are coming up with strategies. Some people are like, ‘Well, I want to see such and such, so I'm going to that venue and I'm not going anywhere else.’”

Tickets for the inaugural PB&J are sold out, and there is no standby list. That said, Hulsey and Gorman are already planning the festival’s second year, which will be expanded in size to accommodate about 1000 attendees.

The interest in the festival has been so great, Gorman and Hulsey also decided to start an ongoing monthly jazz and blues concert series, affiliated with the festival, at the Slippery Pig. Tickets for the first two shows in that series, Marcel Smith on April 18 and Ben Rice & The PDX Hustle on June 27, are on sale now.

As for the concert series, and by extension, the festival, Hulsey said he hopes this is just the beginning and it helps Poulsbo become a music destination.

“I’s going to go on forever and ever."

Alexa Peters is a Seattle-based freelance writer with a focus on arts & culture. Her journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Downbeat, and The Seattle Times, among others. She’s currently co-authoring a book on the Seattle jazz community with jazz critic Paul de Barros, due to be published by The History Press in 2026.