Fans Get in the Swing of DjangoFest Northwest, 9/17-21

Fans Get in the Swing of DjangoFest Northwest, 9/17-21

Each September, Bill and Kathy Small leave their home in central Kansas and drive to Langley, Washington for DjangoFest Northwest, presented by Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA). Dwight Deason from Iowa does the same because, as he puts it, "DjangoFest is the 'daddy' of gypsy jazz festivals in the U.S."

Deason, the Smalls and other Django Reinhart fans from across the country, Canada and Europe all make the annual pilgrimage to this small seaside village, located on Whidbey Island about an hour north of Seattle. Now in its fourteenth season, DjangoFest Northwest is the premier showcase of gypsy jazz music in North America and one of the genre's top festivals in the world, ranking among Festival Django Reinhardt in Samois-sur-Seine, France-where the revered musician lived-along with others held in Holland, Germany, Sweden and New York.

During the 1930s and 40s, Django Reinhardt and fellow musicians created gypsy jazz in the cafés of Paris. Also known as gypsy swing, gitan swing and hot club, this unique musical style blends Eastern European melodies, Parisian Musette, Spanish Flamenco and American Swing. The genre has experienced a renaissance of late, and devotees-known as "Djangophiles"-migrate to Langley to hear some of its biggest names.

This year, DjangoFest's stellar lineup includes Stochelo Rosenberg of Holland's renowned Rosenberg Trio and his brother, Mozes, who will be joined by Romanian violinist Florin Niculescu. Belgian phenom Tcha Limberger returns for his third year, this time with his trio, while guitarist Gonzalo Bergara and his quartet bring their sweet sounds up from Argentina. They and fifteen other musical acts are set to play eight concerts over the five-day event. The musicians also will take part in seventeen guitar and fiddle workshops, which provide attendees an opportunity to interact with the artists on a more intimate level.

"One of my favorite things about DjangoFest is hearing all of these different languages around the center," says WICA Executive Director Stacie Burgua. "French, Dutch, Spanish ... Although the musicians don't speak the same tongue, as soon as they start playing, they understand each other perfectly."

Meeting musicians from around the world is one of the reasons that, in addition to sponsoring the festival, Spencer Cubage volunteers to escort the performers around town. "My wife and I attended our first DjangoFest in 2004," he says, "and ended up giving one of the musicians a ride to the airport. We've remained good friends, and I've gotten to know a number of others over the years through Nick [Lehr, DjangoFest's brainchild and artistic director]." The couple makes the annual trek from their Texas farm not only to hear these musicians play, but also because of where the festival is held. "Langley is a wonderful place to have [the festival]," states Cubage. "I believe the reason a lot of people return year after year has to do with the whole environment."

That environment includes impromptu "djam" sessions, which spring up at various cafés and other venues around town. All of Langley gets on "Django time," as Burgua calls it, with businesses setting up special awning-covered areas and staying open late so the music can continue long into the night. "The setting [for DjangoFest] is absolutely phenomenal, as are the 'djam' sessions that pop up," says Kathy Small. "The oceanside and mountain views, combined with the world's finest gypsy jazz, make an unbeatable combo."

Sheryl-Anne Atkinson of British Columbia, Canada also relishes theses improvised sessions. "With Langley being so intimate, you can walk down the streets and, at every turn, you will find musicians jamming," says Atkinson. Attending the festival has brought her closer to her mother, who joins her each year, as well as other fans. "DjangoFest Northwest is not just a music festival, it is a family reunion," she continues. "I have become good friends with other attendees from Alaska, California, Oregon ... we all have the common love of gypsy jazz." That community can stay in touch using Lens, an interactive iPhone app that lets festivalgoers interact with each other.

DjangoFest Northwest 2014 runs from September 17 through 21. Evening performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, and matinee performances are Friday through Sunday at 3pm, with a final Sunday evening performance at 7pm. For more festival details, visit

About Whidbey Island Center for the Arts
Created by a consortium of artists, business people and local families, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) brings arts and arts education to Whidbey Island. Since opening its doors in May 1996, WICA has been dedicated to developing and presenting a diverse offering of high-quality theatre, music, dance, literature and visual arts to the community. Between October and June each year, the 246-seat theatre hosts more than 85 performances that produce educational and participation opportunities for upwards of 900 volunteers of all ages.

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