Fête de la Musique - Make Music Festival
June 24, 2014
After the long, cold and gloomy days of winter, what better way to celebrate the arrival of summer than to sing, dance and make music? Trading our long black coats, heavy boots and umbrellas with T-shirts, flip flops and an ice cream is always a relief. And that’s exactly the way we should all enjoy the first day of summer. On the 21st of June every year, the Fête de la Musique (“Music Festival” with a French word play meaning “make music”) rhythms the evening of millions of people gathered in the streets of Paris to enjoy free live music played by professionals and amateurs alike. Being a spectator is great, but being a musician is something else. I have had a good look at both sides of the hill and have always had great moments…
Every Parisian knows that the weather in the French capital can be quite tricky. Although the 2014 edition of the Fête de la Musique happened under a clear blue sky and temperatures a local would probably qualify as “tropical”, this has not always been the case… One thing everyone does know here is that resistance is useless. Come hell or high water, there is only one way to enjoy the Fête de la Musique, and that is by hitting the streets of lively areas in Paris such as Montmartre, the Marais or the Latin Quarter and listening to the countless music bands that play outdoors. The whole point about being a spectator is also to spend a good time with a group of friends. And might as well do it the old fashioned way: just bite the cork off that Rosé bottle you just purchased in a small grocery store, spit it out and drink from the bottle! Keep your eyes and ears wide open though, but being tipsy is not a big deal (au contraire!) as everyone marches at a slow pace, stopping every 30m to listen to the playing bands.
As a musician, I can only say this: don’t expect all the bands to be great. After all, it’s an amateur public musical event and the only one where everyone can play in the streets and crank it up without getting complaints from neighbors. And technically, unlike the rest of the year, there is no need to pay royalties to the covered artists (but avoiding payment is a national sport in France, so this is only secondary!). If you dislike a type of musical expression you stumble upon in the street, just move along. You will surely find what you like somewhere further up the road. Although most of the outside bands tend to play rock and roll. A program is always listed on the internet, with the performances of the professional bands as well as many of the amateur bands.
But for me, being a spectator has temporarily been abandoned for the last couple of years, I have had the privilege to participate as a musician, and what an experience that is! I have to admit that installing the gear (speakers, amps, drums etc.) is not the funniest part of playing for the Fête de la Musique (where are the roadies?) but the hassle and rush is definitely worth it when 100 pairs of eyes are staring at you as you hit the first note of your 2h set list. (Important remark for non-drummers: the 100 pairs of eyes usually look at the singer / guitarists, which I have also been, but this year, as the drummer, the only pairs of eyes looking at me were my band mates’. The perks and cons of being a drummers).
And now, a bit of history. The idea of having live music performed on the summer solstice was brought forth by American musician Joel Cohen when working for a French radio station. After the presidential election in 1981, the Minister of Culture Jack Lang decided to take this idea and push it further and 2 years later, in 1983, the first real Fête de la Musique was officially launched everywhere in France. Since then, 110 countries worldwide have decided to celebrate this day with music performed at every street corner.
Once again, the 2014 edition was a blast, and this time, I was both a musician and a spectator. After a few stick twirls and pounds on my bass drum (and a few fails here and there, I admit), I brought back the electronic drum kit to the generous person that offered to lend it to me and head out to Montmartre for a bit of “sightseeing”. The streets were packed and I had to use a bit of elbow grease to make my way through the dense and dancing crowd before spotting my friends, bottle of rosé in hand and cork in mouth. A bit of hard rock and a bit of electro music, a few words exchanged and it was already time to head back home. Now I lay my ears to sleep, pray the Lord my “soul” to keep…