International celebration with a Whidbey twist
— Created September 14, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
DjangoFest Northwest is back in all its musical glory next week in Langley. The celebration of the gypsy jazz style music – now in its 22nd year – opens Wednesday, Sept. 21 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley and will run through Sunday, Sept. 25. This year’s event marks a return to a full, in-person DjangoFest and organizers are excited about it.
“[DjangoFest Northwest] has become a source of great community pride,” said Deana Duncan, WICA executive artistic director. “Entirely virtual in 2020 and a hybrid event in 2021, we are thrilled to host the first full DjangoFest Northwest since 2019. This festival may well be the only true DjangoFest in the states this year and features international artists flying in from France.”
The event is scaled back only slightly this year, as the world copes with the lingering effects of COVID. But that has not kept organizers from putting together a world class festival.
“WICA will be abuzz with live music,” said Simon Planting, DjangoFest Northwest artistic director. “I’m so happy to welcome the festival back, with all the performances on WICA’s Main Stage.”
“We have some festival favorites, a few new faces and Samson Schmitt and Ludovic Beier flying in from France just for the festival,” shared Duncan. “Hot Club of Cowtown is a great new sound and we are so excited to hear Leah Zeger with her new group, New West Guitars. The entire line up is stellar.”
Even though DjangoFest Northwest is in its 22nd year, there may still be some people who find they are familiar with the Django sound, but not the terminology. Duncan offered this response when asked why the term “Hot Club” is a popular one among Django groups.
“’Manouche’ jazz is the basis for ‘Gypsy’ jazz, and began in Paris in the early 1930s,” she explained. “Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappeli led the Hot Club de France and created a sound where drums are absent and the guitar and bass play the percussive rhythm. It was a new sound and one that has endured and become a tradition.”
Speaking of traditions, that is how Duncan describes the opening night party preceding the first concert. The Django Lounge in Zech Hall on the WICA campus will open at 6:30 p.m. and will feature new DjangoFest merchandise along with the sale of food and adult beverages.
“This is a Whidbey Island tradition,” said Duncan. “It’s basically a Django-themed happy hour before the first concert, a way to kick off the festival by raising a toast to the artists and the town for supporting the music.”
The opening act this year is something of a Whidbey Island legend, too. The Hot Club of Troy kicks things off at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
“Troy Chapman is a local treasure,” said Duncan. “While he is a talented Django player, what I really love about his guitar talent is how he brings his soul and heart to the music. I’ve seen him just shut his eyes and lean into the group and play like he was sharing his soul. He blows me away. Yes, we are extremely lucky that the Hot Club of Troy is a hometown group – world-class!”
Even as organizers deal with the slow climb out of the pandemic and the difficulty that has presented with travel, DjangoFest Northwest is still an international festival.
“DjangoFest Northwest still attracts performers and audiences from around the world,” Duncan said. “It’s harder now; the artist VISAs are tighter and international travel is still very expensive. We had to limit it to two international artists due to timing and money, but they are coming! Lingering COVID travel and VISA worries will hinder the number of international and traveling artists and patrons. That is why we are keeping the festival a bit smaller, with only seven concerts, all at WICA.”
But the heart of the festival remains the same, no matter how many artists come together or how many concerts there are.
“It means so much to the music community to perform live music again and to get up close to our audience, so they can experience world class musicians in an intimate setting,” said Planting, who is a musician himself. Planting, a double bassist originally from the Netherlands who now lives near San Francisco, will perform with Samson Schmitt and Ludovic Beier Saturday evening, Sept. 24.
Workshops, another integral part of DjangoFest Northwest, are also slightly scaled back this year, according to Duncan.
“There are less workshops this year with less artists and they are traveling in and out of town more quickly,” she said. “Not as many are staying all week. The workshops are geared for musicians, though not necessarily full-time artists/performers. The workshops are a GREAT way to have one-on-one time with these world-class musicians and we have workshops geared to all abilities.”
So, while there are some small changes, the bottom line remains the same: DjangoFest Northwest is back. Its return to a fully live, in person event is more proof the world is inching its way back to normalcy.
“We hear from merchants, residents, and visitors how much this festival means to them,” said Duncan. “We know DjangoFest kicks off the entire ‘shoulder season’ of tourist activities for Island County and is a major economic and cultural driver for our region.
“Honestly, [I think people are looking forward to] the opportunity to gather safely together and share this music and family feeling,” she continued. “DjangoFest Northwest is a very special festival and often feels like a family reunion.”
Tickets to DjangoFest Northwest and more information on this year’s workshops and artists can be found at djangofest.com or at wicaonline.org. Festival passes and tickets to individual performances are available.
“There is nothing like DjangoFest Northwest. NOTHING,” described Duncan. “If you like jazz, swing, world-class guitar, bass, violin and accordion, if you like the mix of European and American talent and you love a party, you’re going to love this! Plus, you don’t have to travel halfway across the world, we are bringing the artists right here.”