It all started in 1966 when three small ships - each of them accommodating approx. 100 passengers – left Silkeborg Harbour for a 2-hours excursion on the lake areas. Each ship’s crew included a band playing jazz en route. The fleet moored at a summer restaurant 5 – 6 kilometres from Silkeborg town– and the 3 bands played for dancing.
Since then, the Festival has grown and has become an event of considerable dimensions – in terms of both quality and number of venues. Since the late 1980s, when the Festival turned international, it is regarded as one of Northern Europe’s major festivals for classic jazz.
During the five festival days, up to 80 bands and soloists entertain more than 40.000 jazz fans. The music profile of the Riverboat Jazz Festival is still classic jazz i.e. New Orleans, Dixieland, swing, and mainstream – but in recent years the festival has made room also for young jazz as performed by young talents.
Three large tents, each of them with room for 800-1000 people, the majority of mid-town restaurants, pubs, streets, and yards reverberate with happy and catching jazz- and nearly all venues are free!
The festival is based on generous contributions – partly from 4 main sponsors (Nordea-fonden, Tuborg, Energi Midt and the local newspaper, Midtjyllands Avis) and partly via the sponsorships of a large number of other companies and organisations. The support from such friends and from the City of Silkeborg is the Festival’s financial backbone. The balance is covered by purchases the festival guests make at the bars in the tents and onboard the ships.
The festival also organizes jobs for the 400 unpaid helpers, each of whom puts in 5- to 48 hours working days during the festival! These volunteers are the people that make the Festival possible in practical terms!
Generally, admission to arrangements in tents, restaurants, squares, streets, and pubs is free. Tickets are required only for riverboat sailings, for the church concert and for the special concerts in three smaller venues.