After Oak Harbor festival, it’s off to Ireland for Whidbey’s Hot Club of Troy

Greenbank bassist returns to her roots to play gypsy jazz

Hot Club of Troy is known for its gypsy jazz sound around Whidbey Island where the band has played from Langley stages to Captain Whidbey Inn’s lagoon.

The quartet includes guitarists Troy Chapman and Keith Bowers, Kristi O’Donnell on bass and Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews who plays saxophone, piano and clarinet.

The acoustic ensemble is one of a half-dozen local bands selected to be in the Oak Harbor Music Festival, Sept. 1-3. Others include Broken Banjo, Backyard Bison, The SeaNotes and Island Jazz Collective.

“Lots of people have never heard of gypsy jazz or anything like this style of music,” Chapman said. “The audience really liked it last year so we’re really looking forward to playing again at Oak Harbor Music Festival.”

In October, Hot Club of Troy heads to a very different festival — one to which no other American band has been invited.

The four-member band is slated to perform at this year’s Django Sur Lennon Gypsy Jazz Festival in Ramelton, Ireland.

The festival, held from Oct. 27-30, features mostly European groups inspired by French three-fingered guitarist Django Reinhardt, the founder of the gypsy jazz genre. Hot Club of Troy is also performing at 3 p.m. on Sept. 22 at DjangoFest Northwest in Langley, known as one of the best American celebrations of gypsy jazz.

Django Sur Lennon, set in the small town of Ramelton, is situated in County Donegal in Northwest Ireland.

Greenbank resident and musician Kristi O’Donnell has traditional ties to County Donegal that go far beyond the usual family tree.

From the 13th to the early 17th centuries, the O’Donnell clan ruled as County Donegal chieftains.

“It’s an incredible feeling because both sides of my family have deep, deep roots in music that are vital to our culture,” O’Donnell said. “To be able to play music in the county of my grandfather’s birth gives me goosebumps.”

One of Ramelton’s popular sites is the ruins of the medieval castle that housed the O’Donnells. Her family had a number of other castles that range from rubble to the well-preserved Donegal Castle. O’Donnell has visited the county several times, including at last year’s Django Sur Lennon.

“When I brought it up with Troy and the band, they said, ‘This is your dream, we’re in,’” O’Donnell said. “I knew I had to eventually perform there. You can’t underestimate the will of an O’Donnell.”

Band members Keith Bowers also has ancestral roots in Ireland in County Galway as does Vanderbuilt-Mathews in County Clare.

Although she wasn’t officially in the 2016 Irish festival, O’Donnell managed to hop in on a few jam sessions, performing alongside other gypsy jazz musicians in pubs around town. She even played in a pub named after her family.

“They asked if I wanted to play, so I borrowed a bass and played at Conway’s Bay, which was really what you’d imagine an Irish pub would be like,” O’Donnell said.

In order to pay for the trip across the pond, Hot Club of Troy has played several fundraising gigs around Whidbey.

O’Donnell has also set up a GoFundMe campaign at www.gofundme.com/Kristio.

Any additional funds beyond travel will likely go toward a live recording while in County Donegal. The band says any recording might have a bit of a different flavor, as they prepare to pay homage to American jazz while in Ireland.

“As it was the American music of Louis Armstrong that inspired Django Reinhardt to create a new type of string band jazz, it is nice to bring an Americanized version of the music back to Europe for more cross fertilization,” Bowers said.

For the band members, it’s an honor to represent Whidbey Island, the Pacific Northwest and even the United States at the Irish gypsy jazz festival. But for O’Donnell, it’s also an opportunity to represent her clan and a full circle experience.

“Honestly, I pinch myself every day for being in this band; they’ve been so supportive of me,” O’Donnell said. “Playing at DjangoFest, America’s premier gypsy jazz festival right here on Whidbey, was a dream. This is the next step, especially for me as an O’Donnell.”

Kristi O’Donnell photo — In her last visit, Kristi O’Donnell went to her ancestor’s sites, including the O’Donnell Abbey ruins in Rathmullan, Ireland.

Kristi O’Donnell photo — Bridge Bar in Ramelton, Ireland hosts performers and jam sessions during Django Sur Lennon.

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