Skip to main content

JUNE 21-25 2023

Our Story

How it all began, developed and became The Riverboat Jazz Festival

In the 60's and 70's, the jazz clubs popped up all over Denmark. Mainly due to the so-called New Orleans revival jazz band's popularity, like Chris Barber's Jazz Band and Papa Bue Jazz Band, but also because of the discovery of old New Orleans musicians like Bunk Johnson, George Lewis and of course Louis Armstrong, whom Danish jazz fans considered as the jazz ambassador.

Since the beginning of the 60's, The Down Town Jazz Club in Silkeborg had arranged jazz concerts. At one point, one of the club's members (Kurt Jacobsen) spent a holiday in London, where he participated in a jazz cruise on the river Thames, with a live jazz band on board - like on the Mississippi. Great experience! And the idea came immediately: If New Orleans jazz can be played on the river Thames, why not on Gudenåen back home in Silkeborg? - the only Danish watercourse with official status of river, and where there were already "riverboats" on a regular route to Himmelbjerget. When Kurt came home, he quickly met the other Down Town members on the idea, and in June 1966 the first Riverboat Jazz Festival took place.

It was a modest start with three small boats (100-120 passengers) departing from Havnen in Silkeborg, 2 hours cruise on Gudenåen and in the lakes with live traditional jazz on board. The fleet met at Hattenæs, a summer restaurant 5-6 km. outside of Silkeborg. 3 jazz bands played that evening and the crowd danced the night away and made their way back to Silkeborg on foot. No doubt: It was a success!

The jazz club was invited to continue the festival and for the next 10-12 years it continued to grow. The boat fleet had grown to eight, and each year the number of orchestras increased. Now the festival had also spread to the city centre and two whole days filled with jazz all over town.  

Down Town Jazz Club closed, but a private restaurateur (Ebbe Johnsen) continued the festival for some years, and an organization (Stalden) managed the festival for a couple of years. The interest in jazz and in the festival in general fell, and in the late 70's and 80's, the interest in jazz was so low that it was a poor business to go continue the festival. Despite the fact that all involved were volunteers, unpaid, there were deficits in both 1984 and 1985. But the idea was too good to just let it go so Kurt Jacobsen got back on the track and persuaded some friends and musicians to continue.

With only three hardworking board members and limited economy, but with many incredibly helpful volunteers, it managed to get out of the 86 festival without loss and with increased public interest. - A new era had begun.

The Riverboat Jazz Festival got two main sponsors: Tuborg, who entered a decent amount of money and the local newspaper Midtjyllands Avis, who supported the advertisements, press coverage and marketing know-how. Since then, the festival has grown year by year and has since 1986 been able to call itself an international festival. For the first 20 years, only Danish orchestras played at the festival, but now there are annual highlights with internationally renowned orchestras and soloists. From approx. 30 orchestras / soloists in 1986, the number of orchestras has grown year by year to 70-80, who perform for 40,000-50,000 people during the 5 festival days.

The Riverboat Jazz Festival is considered to be the largest Scandinavian festival in terms of New Orleans Dixieland and swing jazz music, the so-called classic jazz. The Riverboat Jazz Festival has been held both during the first weekend of August and the first weekend of school summer vacation, usually third or fourth weekend in June. Since 1986, however, it takes place around the weekend when schools end and summer holidays begin.