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Advice on my first trip to Festival Django Reinhardt?

Ian StenlundIan Stenlund Minnesota, USA Gallato Django
in Europe Posts: 15

Hello kind souls,

I am seriously considering going to Festival Django Reinhardt July 2nd-5th, 2020. Traveling from USA. I am just starting my research and have just read Denis Chang's Samois Festival Guide from 2015, which was very helpful:

First, I'll get my probably stupid questions out of the way:

OK, now on to more general questions.

On the link above, you can add "Fontaineblhostel Hostel & Camping" for your accommodation. Is this the main campground? I don't see this camp ground mentioned in Denis's article, but I see it is about 14km from Fontainebleau. So are there shuttles from these locations?

Other than that, I'm just curious if anyone who has been to the Fest in the last couple of years has any advice or helpful tips for me? I do like the idea of camping, and renting a bike, but I am open to private room ideas and possibly renting a car. But generally I am frugal.





  • stuologystuology New
    edited December 2019 Posts: 111

    To answer your first three questions directly:

    • Yes
    • Yes - it used to be on a small island next to Samois but was moved when the island flooded a few years ago and has been at Fontainebleau. It's never been called the Samois festival, that's just a nickname that's stuck (see also Woodstock, which was not called Woodstock and was nowhere near Woodstock, and in the UK Glastonbury etc.) Some say the festival hasn't been quite the same since the move - and they're right.
    • Yes, they are an official partner for the festival. You can also buy direct from the Festival website and you can also buy when you get there, it doesn't tend to be a sell out
    • I couldn't see the campsite on the accommodation options on the festicket website but avoid the 14km one, it won't be one of the main festival campsites as they can't be booked in such a simple way. However, there are shuttles to Samois and Samoreau.

    And it's at this point that things start getting complicated and hard to explain. So, first of all, there is an official, organised festival which takes place in Fontainbleau over 4 days with a series of acts, only a small number of which are Gypsy Jazz, plus a collection of Luthier tents and some food stalls. A week before, there is also a small, free festival in Samois itself which tends to be more traditional Django stuff and there is a semi-organised fringe festival running through Samois during the week.

    Other than that, though, most of the festival is not organised at all, it's more a collection of things that sort of happen when you bring a few hundred gypsy jazzers together in one place. The real action is at the Samoreau campsite, which is about 3 miles away from both the Festival and Samois (in either direction). This is a small municipal campsite which turns into something resembling a refugee camp during the festival. It can't be booked easily online, you have to email direct (in French) and hope for the best when you turn up. They will do their best to fit everyone in and for some years now the camp has spread out on to the banks of the Seine. If the weather is good it's an idyllic spot but if the heat goes up, or it gets cold or wet, it's an exposed spot and can be hard going. The campsite has good facilities and there is a bakery nearby, a pizza van and a cafe that serves food, so you only really need a tent and a sleeping bag. It's pretty cheap too. This is 'the place to be.' In fact, many people just go for the campsite and don't bother with the Festival. This is where you will experience jams through the night, until the sun rises, where you can walk about and see Adrien Moignard playing at 3am, or Paulus Schafer jamming with Stochelo etc. Sometimes the festival headliners turn up too. Also, quite a few gypsies who you have never heard of but play beautifully. All those videos you see on youtube of jams, they are from here. You do not need a festival ticket to camp here by the way. Don't expect to get any sleep, especially at the weekend.

    There is also a campsite on the other side of Samois called Petit Barbeau. I'm not sure I've spelt that right. This was a kind of over-spill campsite for many years, some people prefer it because it is in the woods so has a lot of natural shade, and it's a bit closer to Samois plus a bit less intense than Samoreau. It closed a few years ago and has become a bit of a ruin - for the last couple of years the Reinhardt family have set up camp here and David Reinhardt has run a very good 3-day workshop with Denis Chang which if it runs again next year is well-worth going to. I've heard that they are planning to restore and re-open the campsite though.

    And this is the final point, the one hardest to get your head around until you've seen it. This might all change. Because it is not an organised festival (I mean, the broader activities, camps, jams etc.) pretty much anything anyone tells you now could change for next year. There's no website which brings all this stuff together, no overall ticket which gets you into everything, it's all very loose, a bit informal, a bit 'in the know.' It's different every time, sometimes a bit different, sometimes a lot different. And it's hard to do everything. Most people have their thing - they go for the Festival, for the campsite, for the workshop or just to hang out in Samois.

    My advice is to get some accommodation in Samoreau that's walkable to the campsite, you can then get a shuttle from there to the Festival or walk along the river to get to Samois.

    MichaelHorowitzIan StenlundadrianterrassierBuco
  • Ian StenlundIan Stenlund Minnesota, USA Gallato Django
    Posts: 15

    "So, first of all, there is an official, organised festival which takes place in Fontainbleau over 4 days with a series of acts, only a small number of which are Gypsy Jazz"

    So, this "official, organised festival" is Festival Django Reinhardt? And actually only a small amount of GJ? If so, how odd!

    Now, what I gather from your description (which is very thorough and informative btw so thank you for your time), is that the fringe festival in Samois sounds more ... authentic? And since the Festival Django Reinhardt is not purely Gypsy Jazz, and does not sell out, it also sounds like a good plan would be to plan to be in the Samois/Fontainebleau area for those two weeks, and bounce between them?

    I'm kind of at a loss as to the best strategy to plan the accommodations, since I don't speak French. Thus, it also sounds like it's perhaps a good idea (though more risky, granted), to just show up around the start of the fringe fest in Samois, and hope that Samoreau has space open?

    Thanks again, sound like quite the adventure!


  • stuologystuology New
    Posts: 111

    If you arrive for the fringe the campsite will be a bit quieter but I would still book - use google translate for emails.

    You will want to see the real Festival at least once just to make your own mind up. It’s a decent enough provincial jazz festival which pulls in some implausibly big headliners for its size, but it lacks atmosphere and isn’t worth travelling such a long way for.

    From what you’ve said, Samoreau is where you will want to be, that is where you will get the hardcore Samois experience that players talk about.

    Ian StenlundWim Glenn
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    edited December 2019 Posts: 655

    A little historic perspective might help explain.

    The original festival started in the late '60s and grew from that, I guess Samois was chosen back then as the place where Django is buried. In the intervening years the festival, the crowds and the world ranking of the acts has all grown exponentially.

    Traditionally it attracted a regular gathering of gypsy players and the campsites became as much of an attraction for people to hang out, watch, listen or even join in the jams, such that since the film 'Django Legacy' came out in 1990 this informal part of the festival became the major draw for some. Watch out for that film if you have not seen it, a lot of the mystery of Samois might make more sense.

    In later years the line up on stage does seem to have changed from a predominantly Django, GJ, or at least 'Gypsy' related mix to include other forms of jazz and the occasional taste of Flamenco or Klezmer.

    But, there had been talk a few years ago about security concerns when there were some terrorist atrocities in France (Bataclan, Nice etc) that the access to the island over one small narrow bridge was insufficient in the event of any need for a mass evacuation. Understandably at the time the authorities regarded any such large public gatherings as a potential target and there was a worry that the event would have to be cancelled. Then, conveniently, while that was being discussed there was a week of heavy rain, the river swelled and the island (and some of the campsites) became flooded, and a last minute deal was done to move the whole show to Fontainebleu which is why the geography is a bit more fragmented now. As stuology says it would now be like trying to hit a moving target as all of the fringe activities, ie those not included in the official ticketed show, do not officially exist.

    This year Stochelo is the headliner, performing with three different groups, but not the old Rosenberg Trio. The other two major name acts advertised, Cullum and Maalouf might not hold much to interest for the traditional Django fan. If I were planning for next year it sounds like the campsites should be the priority.

    Unfortunately I have never been to the festival; due to the various circumstances of my previous career in motor racing the dates always conflicted with major race events and since retirement and my move to Australia I have got too lazy to get back to Europe much but I have been to Samois a few times in the '80s and '90s. When the festival is not on it is just a quiet, and very charming, village by the river, and one can easily imagine why Django moved there. It does not seem to have changed much since, except last time I was there a lunchtime sandwich and a beer at Chez Fernand cost true Parisian tourist prices. The whole Django/Samois/Samoreau nightlife thing is still on my bucket list even if the Fontainebleu gig is not; I must make the effort one day.

    Meanwhile, no excuses about not speaking French, you still have six months to learn some basic tourist French and it will make any experience over there much more fun; if you only hang out with English speaking tourists you will miss out on a lot.

    There will be a few on this forum who will be able to share their experiences, maybe even one or two who will be going who can arrange to meet up?

    Ian StenlundBucorudolfochrist
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 655
  • Ian StenlundIan Stenlund Minnesota, USA Gallato Django
    edited December 2019 Posts: 15

    Hi Chris, thanks for the response! I like your perspective about the whole thing.

    Honestly, the Fontainebleu festival is sounding less and less of a "must" for me. It sounds fun, but my initial inspiration for going to the area was a sort of Pilgrimage to Django's grave, and focus on all things gypsy jazz around France. (I visited France several times the year I was studying abroad in the Netherlands, but I was not as involved with gypsy jazz at that time, and now feel like I really missed out.)

    If the main Fest was 100% traditional GJ, I'd probably be there the whole time. But now I'm leaning toward leaving my schedule open more than that, so I can go where the wind takes me. Fils du Vent!

    I will probably pop on here again if I can confirm my trip and ask about the cafes and bars in Paris, Samois, or even the Alsace regions where traditional GJ is likely to be heard.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,127

    A lot of questions have already been answered and I just want to say that my old blog is somewhat outdated. The festival is going through some kind of identity crisis and things are changing a lot every year so it s hard to say what s gonna happen. Therefore my guide is not always accurate anymore. I should update it

    next year the Reinhardt family might no longer have a place to stay... which is really sad.

  • Yeah based on what you hope to get out of your trip, I think skipping the festival and just spending some time in France and exploring the day to day gypsy jazz scene would serve you better (and save you a lot of money)

    you can always go visit Django’s grave site without the bother of the festival scene anyways.

    Just find a convenient time to travel to France and ask the forum what’s going on that particular week. You may even be better off scheduling your visit around local Parisian jams/shows than for the festival.

    Also for an American, Django in June or Django fest Northwest are both great and much closer.

  • stuologystuology New
    Posts: 111

    That is sad - what about the field opposite Samoreau? There were a lot of gypsies there last year.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,127

    I did ask him that but I forgot what he replied haha. He’s been trying to be more present in the scene but it isn’t easy for his family to reclaim certain things.. it’s very political

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