From left to right: Troy Chapman, Kristi O’Donnell and Keith Bowers are three of five members of the Hot Club of Troy. The band is the opening act at DjangoFest Northwest. (David Welton)

From left to right: Troy Chapman, Kristi O’Donnell and Keith Bowers are three of five members of the Hot Club of Troy. The band is the opening act at DjangoFest Northwest. (David Welton)

Django music festival returns to Whidbey Island this week

DjangoFest is taking place from Sept. 21-25 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

LANGLEY — Langley music festival DjangoFest Northwest will be in full swing this year for the first time since 2019.

DjangoFest is taking place from Sept. 21-25 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. In 2020, the festival was completely virtual due to COVID-19 concerns and it was a lot smaller than normal last year.

The festival is dedicated to Django music, a genre invented by a French and Romani musician named Django Reinhardt in the mid-1930s. The genre blends American jazz with Romani folk music.

The Langley-based Hot Club of Troy is the only Whidbey Island band playing the festival this year. Other talent hails from Seattle, Argentina and several countries in Europe.

“This is not a regional thing,” said Troy Chapman, guitarist and band leader of Hot Club of Troy. “We’re extremely lucky to be able to play here at all because this is an international festival.”

The Hot Club of Troy is kicking off the festival at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21, as they have done since 2015. Six other acts are playing on the following days. A detailed schedule can be found at djangofest.com/schedule-2022.

Chapman explained how guitarist Django Reinhardt created the genre by blending jazz music, which incorporates horn instruments like trumpets and saxophones, with Romani, or gypsy, music. The Romani people did not traditionally play horns. Instead they played stringed instruments like violins and guitars.

“They played instruments that were much more portable because they traveled around in their own caravans,” Chapman said.

Reinhardt heard Louis Armstrong on a record one day and had a revelation that this was the type of music he wanted to play — but with a guitar. In 1934, Reinhardt formed his band, the Paris-based Quintette du Hot Club de France with violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

“What made it so special was that there were no horns in the band, there were no drums in the band,” Chapman said. “The rhythm was provided by rhythm guitars.”

Chapman said it’s rare that a genre of music can be credited almost entirely to one person.

“It’s a music that is solely traceable, to one, possibly, two people,” he said. “Django Reinhardt is the founder of this music, unquestionably. He had influences but everything leads directly to him.”

Chapman said the genre fell out of favor in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but in the ‘70s, there were a lot of people, especially in the Romani community, who kept the music alive. Despite Reinhardt only traveling to the United States one time in 1946, DjangoFest NW has been happening in Langley since the year 2000.

Kristi O’Donnell, bassist for the Hot Club of Troy, credits the popularity of the genre in the Northwest to the Tacoma band Pearl Django that formed in 1994. Pearl Django is playing the festival from 2-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24.

“It skipped a generation, almost,” she said. “It was being kept alive by very small groups of musicians in a couple of pods around the world that didn’t even know each other.”

Chapman coincidentally moved to Langely about one month before the first DjangoFest. He has played at the fest every year since 2003 and believes it brings the best musicians people can hear in this region.

“They’re in for one of the great musical experiences of their life for sure,” Chapman said of those who attend the festival.

He said he thinks the style of music is so popular because of its high energy and danceability.

Chapman said the band will mostly be playing songs composed by himself and Reinhardt, along with other musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Cole Porter.

Along with the acts on the main stage, there will be plenty of other opportunities to hear live music over the five-day period. It’s traditional for jam sessions to pop up on the streets of Langley during the festival.

“People come from all over just so they can hang out on the streets of Langley and play guitar,” Chapman said.

Along with jam sessions, O’Donnell’s all-female band Café Impromptu is performing at a few venues. The band formed after a late-night jam session in 2014 when O’Donnell saw around a dozen female musicians playing together.

“I just said ‘This is fantastic,’” O’Donnell recalled. “This many women playing this genre of music.”

She said the name Café Impromptu means a “place that is welcoming and safe for female musicians who want to play this genre of music.”

The band is playing on Friday, Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Sno-Isle Freeland Library. They will perform acoustic Django-inspired music and library staff will present a program on the history and importance of Django Reinhardt in the musical world. This program is free and open to the public.

Then, the band is playing from 3-6 p.m. on Sept. 23 and on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Double Bluff Brewery. There will be an all-female jam session from 4-5 p.m., followed by a jam session open to anyone. This is a free event but tipping is encouraged. Attendees are welcome to bring food.

Lastly, Café Impromptu is performing from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25 at Ott and Hunter with special guest guitarists Lisa Liu and Christi Lao with Tobi Stone on reed instruments. Tickets are $25 per person. To reserve, call 360-221-3171.

Tickets for DjangoFest Northwest can be purchased at djangofest.com/box-office.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

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