Every June 21 – the Summer Solstice – Paris celebrates with an enormous music festival: the Fete de la Musique. Some years ago our late friend Barbara was in Paris on June 21, but she didn’t know ahead of time about the celebration. She told us ,”There was music everywhere in Paris.” and raved about the experience. Ever since, we’ve wanted to be here for the fete and yesterday, it worked out; we were there!
Now, about this festival: the official website lists about 500 musical performances in Paris, all free. They range from the most classical of classical music to the most avant-garde of avant-garde music. But the fact is that the official website lists maybe ten percent of the actual performances; there must have been thousands in total. We walked through a tiny slice the city and saw, oh, twenty different performances. Places des Vosges alone had probably ten going at any time, and they kept changing during the evening.
What did we see and hear? Well…here goes. (I apologize for the not-very-good pictures; it’s hard to get a decent shot with a big crowd in the way). These are our favorites, in the order we saw them (we also saw quite a few more for a few minutes each.):
Organ Recital in Eglise Saint-Louis en l’Ile.
No program and announcements in French, so we don’t know what we heard, but it was beautiful. Not a lot of people when we got there at the beginning, but the recital started at 4:30 and was to continue until 10 pm, and it was filling up when we left after 45 minutes, so I think they had lots of people there over the evening:
As we left, we saw crowds at two stores: Berthillon Ice Cream
And Carolyn’s favorite store in all of Paris:
And a puppeteer on the bridge between Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Citè.
A Couple Street Bands
At the west end of Ile Saint-Louis is a beautiful, quiet, tiny park. No so quiet today. This band wasn’t the best, but they had lots of people dancing.
Then we bumped into this band playing at an imprompu beer/wine bar on the river. First song was Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” sung in French with a reggae beat. Different…
Place des Vosges
Then on to Places des Vosges. Place des Vosges deserves a post of its own, but that’s another day. It’s a beautiful arcaded square (about 500 years old) and there was a lot of music going on under those arcades.
We never figured out what type of music this group was playing, but there were a bunch people who knew the dances to go with the music and they danced and danced and danced.
Then, after several other stops, we discovered Margot Varret:
Margot Varret trained as a classical harpist and then fell in love with jazz. She now has a quartet, but yesterday she was solo. Jazz harp: now there’s something you don’t see every day. She was fabulous; we hope to catch her with her quartet while we’re here.
After a few more stops, another highlight. I’d read about this group on the website, but it was way more fun than we expected: the Tigresses. Six women – five of them our age; old, that is – and two men, all playing accordions. For each song, they handed out sheets with the words and everyone sang along; then they collected the sheets and did it again with the next song. Before they started they had over a hundred people waiting and when we left, probably triple that. A woman standing next to us said they’re there every year, same place, same time, so they have a following. This was just crazy, and great fun.
By this time we’d been standing or walking for almost five hours and we were pooped. So we started back toward the flat, but got delayed. First, this small jazz group playing in a side street. We listened to them for half an hour. They unfortunately were in competition with four guys playing BIG and LOUD drums not too far away.
Then the topper. If you look at the top balcony of this apartment building – which is on a main street of Paris – you’ll see three guys: two guitarists and a drummer. What you don’t see are the amplifiers and speakers that filled that whole street with…good old American Rock ‘n’ Roll. Well, okay the “good” part might be a stretch; these guys are not going to make a living at this. But somehow, this summed up the Fete de la Musique: want to make some music? Find a place and start playing; a crowd will gather to hear you.
After five hours of standing and walking, we returned to the flat for a re-invigorating glass or two of wine and something to eat, figuring we’d re-charge and go back out. The re-invigorating part didn’t work; we never got out the door again. We opened a bottle of wine, toasted Barbara and thanked her for getting us to the Fete de la Musique. This evening was definitely one of the most enjoyable times we’ve had in Paris over the twenty-five years we’ve been coming here.