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Thursday, December 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Fall in love with Django this Valentine's Day
Paris, je t'aime
Harmonious Wail helps keep the Reinhardt legacy vital.
Harmonious Wail helps keep the Reinhardt legacy vital.

Which style of music is best suited for Feb. 14? Last year, many locals made a valentine of the Alliant Energy Center's Mötley Crüe concert. Others found Journey on the jukebox, locked lips to Iron & Wine or serenaded a sweetie with a Neil Diamond karaoke tune.

No matter how you spent last V-Day weekend, romance is in the air this year. On Friday and Saturday, the Brink Lounge will transcend the laws of time and geography by morphing into a slice of 1930s Paris. It's the Midwinter Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival, and it wouldn't be possible without the City of Love.

That amorous metropolis, Paris, is where legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt popularized the gypsy swing sound with his band, Quintette du Hot Club de France, more than 75 years ago. Ever since, this charming brand of jazz has been transforming clubs, basements and cars into satellites of love with its fast, swinging tempos and beautiful, unusual chords.

But that's not all: It's also been making love-struck musicians out of everyday people. Two of them are Sims and Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, founders of the festival and members of Madison-based, internationally recognized gypsy swing ensemble Harmonious Wail.

"I think [this festival] is about the most unique way to go out on Valentine's weekend," says Maggie. "The way this music moves and pulls at your heartstrings, there's nothing else like it in the world."

This year's festival will highlight musicians who are experimenting with the traditional guitar-driven formula. Some of these groups add vocals and instruments like mandolin, accordion, soprano saxophone and harmonica, while others incorporate sounds from places far beyond the Parisian gypsy camps where Django grew up.

For seven years the fest's summer barn parties and now winter love celebrations have drawn performers and fans from around the world. This year's lineup includes the world-renowned Amsterdam Gypsy Swing Quartet, Minneapolis' Cafe Accordion Orchestra, a trio fronted by Chicago mandolin star Don Stiernberg, Madison's own Stellanovas and, of course, the Wail.

Unlike some concerts, this show is likely to have a salon-style atmosphere, complete with fancy snacks, fancy drinks and plenty of opportunities to chat with the musicians during set breaks. If the event unfolds like the Delaney-Potthoffs expect, there will also be impromptu jam sessions and lively conversations about wine, music and travels around the world.

But it won't just be the booze or chocolate, or even the tales of Paris, that will make the mood so passionate. It'll be the musicians' undying love for the songs they play and, by extension, Django.

It's like being in a love haze, Sims explains.

"These players all connect to one source, the love of music, and that love permeates like a cloud," he says.

In other words, it's likely to be even more intense than Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee. Or, as Maggie puts it: "It's completely lush and romantic and indulgent - way beyond your ordinary heart-shaped pizza."

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