Summer Jamboree Festival bring its truly vintage soul to Senigallia, Italy
As every summer, from 29th July to 6th August for the 23rd edition, the enchanting coastal village of Senigallia, Italy, was alive with the “hottest rockin’ holiday on Earth”: the Summer Jamboree Festival. For nine days and nights, 40,000 rock ‘n’ roll and swing aficionados from all over the world came to the Italian east coast to unleash their love for 40s and 50s American culture, in a total immersion of music and dance.
The atmosphere was magical, both timeless and a leap back in time, like reliving a scene from Back to the Future. Pastel-hued fedora hats, elegant three-piece suits, slicked, side-parted hair with a wave, short-box or pencil-thin moustaches for men, together with colourful high-waist skirts, sleeves shirts tied up, pin-up shorts, stunning silk scarves as headbands and gloves for women, populated the crowded streets of the city.
It all started originally in 2000 as a one-day party in a school courtyard as a passion project of Angelo Di Liberto. In the years since, and with the arrival of Alessandro Piccinini and his daring vision in 2002, the festival has grown to become the biggest international celebration of rock ‘n’ roll culture in the world.
From music concerts to dance boot camp lessons, burlesque shows to a motordrome, the schedule is jam-packed with entertaining activities spread across several venues in the city, against the background of incredible historical landmarks, such as “La Rocca”, the ancient castle in the city centre, the majestic Garibaldi Square for the main stage, the famous “La Rotonda” on the pier or the joyful and relaxing “Mascalzone” and “Hawaiian Beach” by the sea.
This year, Summer Jamboree hosted an incredible roster of international artists keeping alive the history of rock ‘n’ roll in all its forms, including swing, country, rockabilly, rhythm ‘n’ blues, hillbilly, doo-wop and western swing. The most important special guest was Pokey LaFarge, American singer-songwriter of the class of 1983, also known as Andrew Heissler. He performed a mixture of pieces from his melancholic Rock Bottom Rhapsody album to his more upbeat In the Blossom of Their Shade record, which showcases the positivity of coming out of the darkness and into the light, with melodies that can glide throughout a composition from the swing and blues-infused songs of his earlier work.
In the evenings, a full lineup of free-entry concerts were presented on the main stage by the extravagant American performer with curly moustaches and striped suites, Russell Bruner, and bump and grind pioneer from Italy, Bianca Nevius. Acts included British Glenn Doran, who had people’s boots tapping playing authentic hillbilly bop, country and western and a touch of blues, and El Paso-born Pachuco Jose, accompanied by the house band The Good Fellas, who together they played a rare and explosive original mix of Latin jazz, mambo, rhumba, bebop, rhythm ‘n’ blues and jump blues. Up-and-coming Italian band, Cosimo and The Hot Coals, sparkled with a unique style, which combined a passion for hot jazz and New Orleans jazz, all fused in the charm of Italian music. Finally, audiences could enjoy the reunion of The Di Maggio Bros, the only Italian band featured in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, at the Rocca Roveresca, all the evenings started in the late afternoon with a free dance class open to everybody, which then continued with a full bill of performers and DJs. In between gigs, women could get their full retro-style looks done, while men could get their 50s-style haircuts and moustaches at the barber shop, or all could purchase collectible memorabilia at the Rockin’ Village Vintage Market, featuring more than 70 selected exhibitors of vintage clothing, shoes, accessories, gifts and modern antiques.
Amongst the show highlights at the Rocca were The Kabooms from Spain, with lead Matt Olivera giving an electrifying performance that mixed rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly and surf, Dylan Kirk from the UK, a tremendous pianist resembling an early-years Jerry Lee Lewis, while Jay Ernest from the US played an incredible tribute to Johnny Cash.
There were no idle times for those also after some daytime stimulation: the “Hawaiian Beach” transformed a piece of the Velvet Beach (known for its fine sand), into an evocative, exotic, joyful rock ‘n’ roll DJ setting, while the historical beach establishment The Mascalazone (The Scoundrel) was the place to be for some light-hearted dancing in Hawaiian shirts and vintage swimming suits.
The brand-new event for this edition was the Fearless Devid Motordrome. Built in 1937 in the Netherlands, it’s one of the few surviving motordromes existing worldwide. The over 100-year-old spectacle features motorcycles stunt-riding inside a giant wooden barrel, with a diameter of ten metres and a height of five metres. They were created because, at that time, not everybody could afford to go to watch motorcycle races, and could only see them in wooden-track velodromes. After years of restoration and work, the Fearless Devid Motordrome has been brought back to life, and spectators can see pristine original 1926 Indian motorcycles whiz around the track in a unique and not-to-be-missed experience. The loud rumble of the vintage motors made the walls vibrate powerfully, so much so that some of the audience would suddenly retreat in fright, while the most audacious ones would offer tip money, which the riders were literally snapping from their fingers, fearlessly reaching the top edge of the barrel at full speed. Rock ‘n’ roll friends and devotees will also remember that Elvis Presley also tried his hand at being a motordrome pilot in the 1964 film Roustabout…
For motor lovers, this was not the only treat: the Foro Annonario offered the base for an exhibition with exclusively pre-1969 American cars from the prestigious collection of Nicola Bulgari, patron of the legendary Roman jewellery and lifestyle firm. Shiny, voluptuous fenders and hand-waxed finishes gleamed in the sunshine, while the American sedans and cabriolets and convertibles, with impeccable leather interiors, seemed just out of a classic Hollywood film. “Cars are sculptures that should be seen, be touched, and be driven,” so says Nicola Bulgari, and rumour has it that in each of his cars, there must always be two things: keys in the ignition and a pocket-handkerchief, to drive away on a whim.
But that wasn’t all. At the Fenice theatre, there were international icons of the burlesque and cabaret world, such as mesmerising jazz, swing, rhythm ‘n’ blues, chanson Française French singer Ô De Mon Chéri, supported by the Good Fellas, and sensual retro performers, including Eliza DeLite from the UK, Ruby Rudy from Spain and American Russell Bruner, who each enchanted the audience with incredible shows.
On the Piazza Garibaldi dance floor, the Hera Dance Contest gave the opportunity to people from every level to compete and showcase their dance skills, judged by the wonderful dance school teachers. The Walk-In Tattoo corner, in collaboration with Adriatik Ink Tattoo Studio, returned to the Foro Annonario to leave an indelible mark by tattoo wizards.
And for those who love watching shows but don’t feel like taking the plunge into dancing, there was the Dance Show performed by professional dancers. The irresistible Record Hop, with international DJs, also returned to keep the crowds dancing nonstop from midnight until early morning, thanks to the much-loved, and often-sold-out, after parties at the Rotonda on the pier.
As the organisers say: “Rock ’n’ roll is for everybody!” and they made sure their festival truly embraced this motto, offering a wide range of activities and entertainment suitable for everyone. Senigallia is also a wonderful holiday destination for an international crowd (especially from the UK, with Ancona airport only 20 mins away) who particularly love to dress up and party, giving the festival a cosmopolitan flair.
Most importantly, Summer Jamboree has a truly vintage soul for those who love a “blast from the past”!
Don’t miss out on their Winter Jamboree Festival in Parma in December, and book your next holidays in Senigallia in August 2024. This one comes highly recommended.
Photos: Ambra Vernuccio
For further information and future events visit Summer Jamboree Festival’s website here.