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J’Aime La Vlie: Eurovision on a magical island

From left to right: Anja (Eurovision Universe), Hans, Esther and Dennis (J’aime La Vlie), Martijn (Eurovision Universe)

Niamh Kavanagh

Niamh Kavanagh, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993 and also a participant in 2010, will perform during J’aime La Vlie. And as we now know, Anabel Conde, the 1995 runner up, will also be there. But what is J’aime La Vlie? The event is held annually on the Dutch Wadden island of Vlieland. We spoke with Dennis, Esther and Hans, three members of the organizing team.

And we call it: J’aime La Vlie

How did the idea behind J’aime La Vlie come about? For that, we have to go back to 2016, to a Eurovision event in Berlin. Organizer Dennis says: “In Germany they organize an annual Eurovision weekend and they ask a different OGAE to organize it every year.
They asked if the Netherlands wanted to participate and they asked to bring one or two Dutch participants. And then we asked Esther Hart and Sandra Reemer. However, we found the weekend in Berlin a bit too full.” Hans adds: “On that basis, the idea was born. We can also organize something like that, only without press moments and photo shoots.”

Dennis continues: “Esther brought her good friend Judith (Olthuis, ed.) with her. I was talking to Judith. I said: I heard you live on Vlieland. That is such a nice island. We went on vacation there once. Oh, she says, then you must have been to Camping Stortemelk? And yes, we were at Stortemelk. I am married to Jan, the director of the campsite, Judith said then.”, to which Hans adds: “Dennis and I knew what Camping Stortemelk looked like and so did Esther. And Jan and Judith of course too. So the five of us were actually very enthusiastic because De Stortemelk just has a very cool stage: De Bolder. All facilities are there and all summer long the crème de la crème of Dutch artists perform there. That idea actually originated in a cafe together with Dennis and Judith.” “And Louis (Klomp, co-organiser, ed.) was also there. He immediately said: then we call it J’aime la Vlie.”, Esther explained.

“The first edition was of course very exciting,” says Dennis, “We had no money, we just had to wait and see whether the passe partouts were sold. It was also just waiting to see if it was all going to work. We naturally wanted to combine the island experience with Eurovision music. We may think that Vlieland is something magical, but then the visitor who has never been there should also experience it that way.”
J’Aime La Vlie certainly distinguishes itself from other Eurovision events in Europe, Esther notes. “It is a multiple day event anyway. And you’re all on an island together. So you have a lot of contact with each other, with all visitors, but also with the artists. They also just cycle across that island, so you will encounter them everywhere. You run into each other all the time and there is something very friendly about that.”

Cycling across the island

Which brings us to the artists who perform there. Because how do you choose them? “No blue M&Ms,” Dennis jokes. Esther explains: “There are some artists who keep a little more distance or who don’t really feel the need for contact with fans. That’s fine too, but we are really looking for someone you can imagine cycling across that island, you understand? And that it’s just fun. Of course I’m in the dressing room at events with the others. And then you have a great time and so that feels kind of like-minded. And you have less of that with others.” Hans adds: “So we try to make use of Esther’s network from Esther, but also, for example, from fellow fans. Dennis says about this: And in the press center at the Eurovision Song Contest you can already taste it a bit. For example, we brought Ary Olafsson from Iceland three years ago. I loved that one in the press center so much. He would then sit down and do a Eurovision medley himself, yes we must have it.”

Hans recalls that Glen Vella also had been on the island. Esther immediately gets to it: “I had already met him in Sweden, in Stockholm and that was very nice. I thought: we just have to ask him. He came along with his boyfriend. He rode a bike for the first time in ten years. And Ryan O’Shaugnessy was the same story. I met Ryan in Munich . That was also such a nice guy that I immediately thought: I can totally imagine it.

Hans adds: “We are looking for the singer songwriter kind of singers. They also fit well with into event anyway, because they fit into the island, I think they  have that kind of vibe. We try to look at that. But of course we also try to get some bigger names to join us. The first year we had a winner, Lenny Kuhr.” And now we can also add Niamh Kavanagh to it.

“We also look for people who have their own musical path to follow outside of Euro music”, says Esther, “Either with their own songs or with their own CDs. Or with a theater program what they organized where we also give space to Eurovision artists to play their own repertoire.”

Eurovision without the histery of Eurovision

Hans remembers getting Axel Hirsoux to sing only French chansons. “That was the question, French chansons, and he himself came up with the idea of having eighteen songs. seventeen are French Eurovision entries and one is not. We didn’t ask for that, that was an extra treat for us.

By the way, I think there is also an important difference with other events: we have a live band. That is also a world of difference in performances.”

Dennis remembers a nice statement from one of the visitors: “It is Eurovision, but without the hysteria of Eurovision. You will return home rested. Even people in the organization.”

photo credits: Jan-Willem Bullée/

A small holiday for the artists

During J’Aime La Vlie, Saturday night is always the same: a Big Eurovision Concert. What happens around it depends on what the artists have to bring, it is not a fixed pattern. “Maybe that’s the advantage of having a Eurovision artist in the organisation.”, Esther agrees. “I can indicate a bit: the artists are not always waiting for one press conference after another. They want to make music and we want it to be beautiful and fun for everyone. Not just for the artists.” Hans responds: “For the artist it should actually be a kind of holiday weekend. That is of course also very difficult to transfer to artists: just consider it a kind of a small holiday and enjoy it. And you can also sing something.”

Esther mentions Glen Vella and Bojana Stamenov: “They still say: we will return if you need us. They had such a good time, they just want to come again. Boyana hadn’t cycled for a long time, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. He had lost thirty pounds. And when she was at her heaviest, of course she couldn’t cycle and now she could do that again. So that was kind of an emotional moment for her.

Cycling is a common thread anyway: Vlieland is a car-free island. As a result, almost everyone travels by bicycle.

A magical sing Along

And although there is a lot to tell about the artists, J’Aime La Vlie brings much more beauty. A Sing Along in a church for example. With the acoustics inside, and a beautiful choir. It has something very magical. “Yes, sure, but singing together is also something. It connects a lot,” says Esther, who is leading this church event together with Judith Olthuis. “People are sitting around the choir, very cozy. The acoustics are of course fantastic in that church. It is in fact a very beautiful church,” Dennis confirms.

In addition, there are other activities on the island that belong to J’aime La Vlie. “That is the question every year: do we still have something, or do we come up with something?” Dennis says about this. “We visit Vlieland 1, 2, 3 times every year and every time I am surprised with something that I did not know existed. After each time, Jan and Judithcome up with a new activity again, of which I think: oh, does that also exist? I think you can go to the island for three months and do something different every day.” Esther explains how everyone’s network is used here again. “Of course we have regular meetings and we are just brainstorming about things we can do that would be fun.” One of us knows someone who can give a dance workshop, another one knows someone from the theater or something with singing. And the next edition there will definitely bring new things!”

Hans responds: ‘What we do try is to organize island-oriented extra activities and we try to organize Eurovision-related activities outside the concerts. So that’s how we organized that Eurovision dance workshop, but also Eurovision polyphonic singing. That was with Hans Kassa who was a member of Montezuma’s Revenge, who was also in a national final. And which Judith and Esther went to the conservatory with.”

The islanders

“I can say that we are now working on slightly more island-related things, more on the history and crafts and also actually the future of the island of Vlieland,” Dennis promises.

The team experiences the cooperation with the islanders as positive, although they sometimes encounter cultural differences. “It sometimes works a bit different on the island. We are a festival that will start in September and then you want to be able to go all the way. But because the islanders are used to switch for next week at the latest, that sometimes doesn’t work. The islanders are used to do it differently. It’s a different way of working. They don’t think planning is necessary at all. They think it’s fine to give such a hotel discount. And then something has to be arranged for a tour. If I call someone now for next week, that is also possible. But of course we want to promote the tour, so I want to set it now. I think that’s difficult for them. They’re just not used to that. That is really a different way of thinking! Now I’m used to it.
“It always works out. But that might make us a little nervous, because we don’t live on the island,” Esther adds.

Relaxed atmosphere

Hans also concludes something else: “We hope that we also bring that relaxed atmosphere at the festival. What the island actually has, the residents have that themselves. Dennis agrees: “You can also see us sitting at the outdoor cafe. That also says something, of course there are peak times and of course we have quite a bit of stress behind the scenes, but all in all we just have a weekend off.”

If you arrive by boat from the Dutch mainland, you can see this immediately, because the team is waiting for you at the quay. “It is very nice to welcome everyone and to wave them goodbye”, says Esther. “What I also think is worth saying”, responds Hans, “that is of course because Jan and Judith live there: Almost every entrepreneur who asks Jan for something tries to think along. That is also the charm of such an island. And certainly because they naturally have such a very direct impact. They really think along with us to arrange something.”

photo credits: Jan-Willem Bullée/


Ticket sales for the new edition, with Niamh Kavanagh, Anabel Conde and Esther Hart, Olaf Croon and Mark Snijders with their musical project Play Me A Memory, have started. The passe partouts are back, there are hotels affiliated where you can get a discount and Camping Stortemelk is available. “And we have incorporated a number of tents and forest houses into the package deals,” Dennis adds enthusiastically, “. There will be tents that you can rent at a discount, which are not included in the package deals, but then you can rent a tent with a 30% discount.” Hans adds: “That’s just like with the hotels. That a number of hotels participate where you get a discount on your hotel stays with your passe partout. That also comes for a number of tents at Camping Stortemelk, but that’s what Dennis just said, everything goes at a different rhythm on the island. I also think that if you go so often, apart from the island, there is something magical about it: it is also a bit like coming home.”

The night of your life

We from team Eurovision Universe have been to J’aime La Vlie several times. So we know how much fun it is, but how do you convince others? Why, for example, should people with a small fair or a small network come to the festival? Dennis has an answer to that: “If you like music and you like holidays or everything an island has, or you like the Wadden Islands then I say: you should come. Because it’s not always so much about whether it’s your taste in music. You actually want to be able to say: but I still have the night of my life. Because the atmosphere is there. And you can come alone because you will be admitted somewhere. Surely someone will say: come and stand with me.”

We at Eurovision Universe are happy to agree with this: come to that magical island for a beautiful Eurovision experience.

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