Ask any American how to properly celebrate the summer solstice – the first day of summer – and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some might want to host a party, others might want to go shopping or grill out and of course spending a lazy day at the lake is always a good idea. But if you ask the same question to people in France, they’ll tell you to go straight to the Fête de la Musique and spend the weekend visiting free, live concerts.
Maurice Fleuret, formerly the director of music and dance under the Ministry of Culture in France, wanted to promote accessible music for the general populace, so he started the Fête de la Musique as a way to bring people together through the medium of music. On June 21, 1982, Fleuret organized free, live concerts in Paris, and the Fête de la Musique was born.
This year, the Fête de la Musique, also called World Music Day, was celebrated in more than 110 countries, including Switzerland, where the French-speaking city of Geneva hosted its own version consisting of a whopping 572 concerts between June 20-22, with styles all across the board, from baroque to urban rap to reggae to house to folk to heavy metal to jazz, drawing huge crowds to the city.
Pianist Pierre Vincent was one of the many fantastic performers. Wowing the crowd with his impressive speed and power, nimbly racing through tricky passages, Vincent gave an emotional performance. One of his biggest fans was his longtime friend Lorise Amelie, who, from her front-row seat, found Vincent’s performance deeply moving “I like him very much,” she said as tears streamed down her cheek.
Amelie first discovered the Fête de la Musique five years ago, and has come every year since then.
“I really enjoyed it. It was magic.”
The next day, she decided to switch it up.
“I like techno music, house,” she said. She decided to watch Big T, an electro DJ, and there she reflected on what about the Fête de la Musique she finds appealing.
"For me, what is nice is that it’s open, that it’s free. You can walk around, change the kinds of music you can listen to. You can go from jazz to drum and bass. You can discover stuff, new artists.”
As Amelie noted, there are two different sections of the festival, comprising 33 concert venues between two large parks in the old part of town. Fans found it easy to amble between venues until finding just the right style of music to enjoy during the night.
Some of those fans visited Pape Diop’s traveling food stall, waiting just outside one of the parks for fans to satisfy their hunger. He relishes working at the Fête because of the added perks.
“It’s good for me. I can listen to music and watch bands.”
Since moving to Geneva three years ago, he’s been to the Fête de la Musique every year and fully intends to keep coming back.
“I like all the music here. The little artists, all the instruments.”
As the sun set on the final day and the last concerts wound down, Michael Annecy was relaxing next to a fountain, listening to a DJ. He’s come every year since the early 1990s, and to hear him enthusiastically explain the virtues of the Fête de la Musique, one can see why.
“Here, you have a potpourri of bands. Yesterday, there was a concert of communists. I don’t like to [follow] the program – I stop where I find things interesting.”
And he always finds plenty of groups interesting. Besides going to classical musicians and looking to the past, he said he likes getting a taste of the future and seeing the hot new bands in town.
“Here, you have a large spectrum, from classical to hard rock for people to enjoy it as they wish. You have three days and you can get a taste of what’s the next trend.”
He was visibly disappointed to see the concerts end. But while the bands may pack up and the crowds may leave, because of Fleuret’s vision, live music fans like Annecy will always be able to look forward to the first day of summer and that annual rockin’ music party, the singular Fête de la Musique.