Music on every corner
Celebration of the solstice brings out the best and worst
ON JUNE 21 every year all over France, music fills the air. It is the Fete de la Musique celebration, which takes place on the longest day of the year every summer. In the decade or more we have been visiting France we have enjoyed this colourful celebration of music in the streets.
To our knowledge Fete de la Musique is celebrated in large cities, small towns and tiny villages, some in grand style, others in their own unique way.
From professional musicians to those who like to jam with their mates in the back room or garage, from school children learning the guitar or piano, from emerging artists to evergreen entertainers … everyone is welcome to come out into the streets and sing, play, entertain. No money is involved.
Street corners become pop-up nightclubs as crooners stand on makeshift stages and sing. Footpaths become concert venues as bands do their own thing. Mick Jagger impersonating is popular.
One year we watched rappers, another year opera recitals, yet another a piano concert.
It is the mix that makes it so fascinating. All against the backdrop of graceful old buildings, charming restaurants and distinctive lanes, streets and alleys.
While we have not attended the celebration in a big city, we certainly have been privileged to be part of the celebration in small towns – once in probably one of the smallest villages in France, Vers, in the south near the Pont du Gard.
The local pizza maker in his tiny shop in this tiny village decided his contribution to celebrating La Fete de la Musique would be to hire a karaoke machine for the night.
As we were staying in the village and loathe to drive anywhere we decided pizza and karaoke it would be.
“When will he start?” I kept nagging to the small group I had befriended in the shop. “He’s taking forever. Nobody order another pizza or he will never get started.” Finally, with the last pizza out of the oven and onto the small tables, he looked about to start. But no, he was not yet ready to turn on the karaoke machine. Cleaning up had to be attended to first.
After what seemed like a lifetime he finally made his way out from behind the counter. “At last,” I said, prepared to be first in line with my off-key version of I Will Survive. But what did our pizza man do? He commandeered the microphone himself.
So this year we celebrated Fete de la Musique in the Place aux Herbes in the large town of Uzes, where we stayed for many weeks. We watched as the crowds started to filter into the leafy square, sit by the fountain or in one of the surrounding cafes, and then we watched as a scruffy old bloke took to the makeshift stage and began a roaring impersonation of Joe Cocker. As I said, it is all about the variety.
◗ Musicians perform during the Fete de la Musique Music event in Paris.