Bark Beetle Blues to return

By Jason Ferguson


Saturday, Jan. 20, will be crawling with bugs, as the annual Bark Beetle Blues event will take place in Custer with the burning of the beetle, fireworks, variety show and bug crawl in downtown Custer.

Hank Fridell, a Bark Beetle Blues committee member and organizer, came before the Custer City Council at the council’s Nov. 6 meeting to request Pageant Hill’s use for the annual event, saying the event has grown from two sponsors in the first year to 18 sponsors so far this year.

The events begin at 3 p.m. that day with the Burning Beetle Variety Show at the Custer Jr./Sr. High School Theatre. The show will feature beetle-themed acts ranging from music, dance, readings, magic, skits and juggling, with each act set to perform for five minutes.

The variety show will be followed by a 5 p.m. march from the school to Pageant Hill, with marchers carrying torches for use on burning the beetle, which will take place at around 5:15 p.m. Fridell said the committee would once again like to have people bring their old Christmas trees to Pageant Hill to assist in the burning in the giant effigy beetle that will be at Pageant Hill.

City public works director Bob Morrison said at the council meeting that he would like to see the site of the fire moved, as in the past it has been put directly on top of a water main that runs under Pageant Hill. Morrison said he would be willing to work with the committee to designate a new area. The torch march, fireworks and burning of the beetle are all conducted under the supervision of the Custer Volunteer Fire Department.

The burning of the beetle will once again include a fireworks show and will be followed by the bug crawl downtown in which music will be played at seven to 10 locations, including a venue for teens at the Begging Burro. The bug crawl will run until around 8:30 p.m. Those who are interested in performing for the variety show or the bug crawl can fill out a sign-up sheet that can be obtained from committee members.

The variety show may be attended by giving a donation and the torch march and burning beetle are both free. The bug crawl is $5 to attend or a lanyard can be purchased that provides entry into every venue for $10.

The 18 event sponsors have offered support ranging from $150 to $1,500. The money raised from the events will go toward a permanent art installation that focuses on the impact of the last beetle infestation to help bring understanding to the environment in which we live. The plan is to work with the City of Custer to have the art placed within city limits.

A request for proposals is being submitted to artists to solicit ideas for the art. The total project art budget is between $50,000 and $75,000, and submitted artwork should include a complete budget. Proposals must be received by June 1 to be considered and a burning beetle artists reception will be held at the Kleemann House Jan. 19 that will include a short introduction to the history of the Bark Beetle Blues and the purpose of the art proposal. The winning proposal will be unveiled at the 2019 Bark Beetle Blues event and dedicated at the 2020 event.

It is that latter year, 2020, that could be the end of the Bark Beetle Blues event, as the infestation is drawing to a close. Fridell told the council it’s possible that year could be the end of the event, depending on whether there is still a  desire from businesses and volunteers to continue doing the event.

“We live in a place where the environment changes,” he said. “The beetles will be back, and will probably always be back.”

For more information on the request for proposals for art to commemorate the outbreak, contact Phil Abernathy at Dacotah Bank at 673-5800 ext. 8502 or visit

The Bark Beetle Blues’s public art program is a project of the Custer Area Arts Council. Bark Beetle Blues is a subcommittee of the arts council and is an ad hoc group of people who want to talk about the massive landscape change occurring in the Black Hills due to the mountain pine beetle by encouraging dialogue about this change through the arts.