Gypsy Jazz Festivals Keep the Music Alive

DjangoFest Northwest. Photo courtesy of WICA

DjangoFest Northwest. Photo courtesy of WICA


Above: DjangoFest Northwest. Photo courtesy of WICA

Story by Igor Guryashkin

Igor's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Salon and ESPN The Magazine. He lives in Louisville with his cats.

Across North America, music lovers celebrate artists such as the legendary Django Reinhardt.

The lilting, freewheeling style of guitar-heavy jazz made popular by legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt is known by many names: gypsy jazz, hot club jazz, manouche. Whatever you call it, there are perhaps few forms of music that are as easy on the ear — and ripe for a night of revelry — as gypsy jazz. The biggest festival of its kind is in France, but the United States and Canada are not far behind when it comes to worshipping at the altar Django. Compiled here is a list of the best gypsy jazz festivals around North America.

 The Victoria Django Festival- British Columbia, February

The Victoria Django Festival is just a quick ferry ride from Seattle to Canada. This is a classy affair, conjuring Paris on the Pacific coast, with highlights like a faux-speakeasy and lots and lots of swing dancing. So what better excuse to bring your car on a boat to one of Canada’s most visually arresting ports?

Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest - Wisconsin, February and September

Held in a picturesque barn on a horse farm outside of Madison, the Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest might be one of the more authentic festivals in terms of setting — as intimate as it is fun. In 2015, just under 1,000 people turned out over two days. The mid-winter outpost of the festival is held in February in Madison’s sophisticated Brink Lounge (warmer than a barn!)

Django in June - Massachusetts, June

Django in June truly shines because it gives gypsy jazz enthusiasts a chance to get better at playing the actual music during its annual “Django Camp.” After several days of learning from world-renowned experts and musicians at Smith College in Northampton, the public then comes for the weekend and watches dozens of performances at the town’s gorgeous Academy of Music.

DjangoFest Northwest - Washington, September

Now in its 17th year, there is no bigger Django Reinhardt festival in the country than DjangoFest Northwest. The festival is fully embraced by the community, it and takes over the whole town of Whidbey Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle. While there are only 246 seats in the main theater, attendance in the town rises into the thousands as every bar and cafe is taken over by musicians. Think SXSW (South by Southwest), Django-style.

Crested Butte Music Festival - Colorado, September

Look at picturesque Crested Butte and try to come up with a reason not to go hear the carefree, twangy sound of gypsy jazz with that truly majestic backdrop. It’s impossible — the view is just too stunning. And if you want to expand your musical horizons a bit, there’s bluegrass, chamber music, even opera to check out.

Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival - Illinois, September

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is a legendary jazz club in the Windy City, so much so it’s been featured in 12 movies and countless documentaries. So what better place to hold the Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival, soon to be in its 15th year? The festival is organized by Alfonso Ponticelli who typically plays with his nationally renowned trio.

Django By the Sea - New Hampshire and Maine, October

The quirky, sprawling Django By The Sea festival splits its time between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine. What’s so special about this festival? Well aside from the fact that it’s held in two of the most picturesque seaside communities in New England, there are also jam sessions and clinics for beginners and masters alike.

St. Louis Gypsy Jazz Festival - Missouri, October

St. Louis is already a great town — barbecue, blues, the Arch, and of course, baseball. But what about a gypsy jazz festival at famed Cajun hotspot, Evangeline’s Bistro? That’s right; you can wash down the hot jams with some spicy southern fare like Tabasco butter shrimp and “championship” jambalaya (you be the judge if it’s worthy of the title).

Django Jamboree - Kentucky, November

Louisville might be the home of bluegrass music but why not mix things up by heading over to St John’s Church — a stunning old Victorian cathedral in the heart of the city’s NuLu district — for the city’s annual Django Jamboree? Bonus: The jamboree also has a day of music lessons for guitarists and violinists alike.

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