A Little Night Music

photo: showtime ar denfert

The band with green hair does its stuff, loudly.

With a Bit of Amplification

Paris:- Wednesday, 21. June 2000:- Taking in the Fête de la Musique in Paris depends heavily on being in Paris on one particular day of the year - today in fact. In the past, I have only come across it by accident.

This is one 'fête' that gets quite a bit of advance notice. I used to think that everybody who could play and sing would down tools for the day, and Paris would be full of music. I was in the city one 21. June and had been all over, before finding one lone bandstand off the Rue de Rivoli - which reminded me it was a 'jour de fête.'

By chance I got yesterday's Le Monde which has today's 'fête' program. This is lucky becausephoto: garage rockers Le Parisien I get this morning does not contain its advertised central section with today's program.

First first group seems to be a 'garage' band, playing outside in the street for a change.

Today's musical fête is not just an annual Paris event to celebrate the summer solstice, but a France-wide one-day festival. It was to have started this morning at low tide, at 01:37 in Brest, with the Biniou Koz leading the crowds to the back and forth of the waves, or the incoming tide, or both.

Many hours later when I first see my street, I do not hear any music. There does not seem to be an accordionist on every corner.

A glance at Le Monde's program does tell me that they are giving number-one spot and five stars to 'Tahiti 80,' 'Blankass' and 'Ignatus,' who will be appearing on the stage set up at Denfert-Rochereau, behind the Lion statue, facing towards Orléans. This is classified as 'rock.'

Also on the same bill are the 'Uncommonmenfrommars' which sounds like a new Dot-Com, but is supposed to be florescent green hair, with 'its punk-nouveau California sound,' which was a big hit at 'Fair 2000.'

The guide is divided by music types. But its most important division is by areas - for those who want to take in as much music as possible.

Since tonight's big show will be only a couple of blocks away, I do a wider afternoon tour; over to Avenue du Maine, down to the Montparnasse station, glance at Edgar Quinet, take the Boulevard Montparnasse and come back by the Boulevard Raspail.

The 'non-exhaustive' guide says there is 'chanson Française' at the Square Auguste-Blanqui - where? - ancient Czech music at the Reformed Church in the Boulevard Arago, rock and songs at the Couvent in the Rue de Broca, a Bach organ recital at the Saint-Pierre church in the Avenue Leclerc, a classic repertory at the Protestant church in the Rue de Alésia, the Cuban Los del Monte at the Entrepôt, all-night rock at the Place Brancusi, and a whole hostphoto: drummer of well-known French pop names in a courtyard at the Hôpital Neckar - and if I look under 'Groove,' 'Techno,' 'World' and 'Jazz'' I will find some more.

At least three of the peniches tied up at the Quai de la Gare on the far side of the 13th arondissement are having their thing too, but it is a bit out of my near neighborhood.

Only 50 metres away, this drummer rattles windows...

I made a mistake about the Boulevard Edgar Quinet, and nothing is listed for it; which explains seeing nothing near it. Not much other than cheap t-shirt sales in front of the Gare Montparnasse does surprise me though. It has a big open space and it has had musical events before.

On the way back, halfway up the Boulevard Raspail, the first evidence of the Fête de la Musique is the traffic jam. Normally the Place Denfert-Rochereau doesn't seem overwhelmed with traffic; because of its size.

But if you block it off by putting a big stage in the middle of it and don't stop or divert traffic away from it, then you get a lot of muddled drivers - many of whom become completely flustered by finding a plug in their tunnel-vision. In case anybody gets upset, there are three full busloads of riot police. Traffic police are rare though.

My first seven hours of the Fête de la Musique mainly features honking cars. My second outing finds some guitar kids in the Rue Boulard, about 300 metres away. Their audience is annoying drivers coming along Boulard, trying for a sneaky shortcut to avoid Denfert.

Fifteen metres from the guitar kids, some jazz guys are wailing away on the terrace of the Café d'Enfer; both with full amplification. Halfway to the Avenue in the Rue Daguerre, there is another - very percussive, also amplified - rock group with a very lively singer.

Sometimes all are performing at once, and sometimes they all take a breather at once. On the avenue it is quieter. Only a few motorists are wondering how to get past Denfert, while pedestrians are not paying much attention to traffic lights.

A small crowd is in front of the big stage. Just after 20:00 - as advertised - the group with florescent green hair comes out to do its thing. The huge amplification works fine;photo: rock lady much better than their guitars.

Some spectators right up against the barriers in front of the stage try out being frenzied, but these are easily handled by the hired gorillas. It all looks half-hearted, but the night is young.

...while Mademoiselle Rock twists the evening away.

I go back to my apartment to do the half-hearted photos, figuring I can come back and photograph some five-star music later. At home, Arte-TV has a program called 'Rock'n'Roll Circus' and I turn this on, hoping to see elephants cranking around with electric guitars.

Arte's idea is to make good video of circus acts, with good music instead of the usual circus music. I hit it just when Catherine Ringer of 'Rita Mitsouko' is doing 'Andy' while the juggler Rusian Fomenko is successfully keeping a bunch of rings in the air. Some go above the upper level of the camera's vision.

'Andy' isn't one of the best 'Rita Mitsouko' pieces. It is a pop number, designed for audience hand-clapping and not like some of Catherine Ringer more vividly insane numbers. Fred, who is the musical brains of 'Rita Mitsouko' looks more like 'Joe-next-door' these days, but is just as impassive as when they began.

All well and good, but it doesn't help the photos. Jazz in the dark is more introspective or more joyous, and there has been none of this around me.

Around Town

During the evening, the French 'Bleus' were beat up by the Dutch, 2 to 3, and after this people poured into the streets. The Orchestre Nationale de Barbès took over the steps of the Assembly National, and played to 10,000 on the Pont de la Concorde.

Both the President's Elysée palace and the Prime Minister's Hôtel Matignon were musical scenes; butphoto: waiting for showtime for the invited only. The city-organized tour of the Marais' Bibliothèque Historique and the Musée Carnavalet were well-attended, if a bit suffocating on account of the crowds and the heavy air.

In the Place Denfert-Rochereau, shortly before showtime.

The Rue des Abbesses on Montmartre started early and went on late, with every café and bistro having a band; be it samba, jazz or rock. It was the same at Bastille and out at the Cité de la Musique.

At République, 30,000 gathered to see David Hallyday and Oasis, and to be deafened by amplification. The kids at the Neckar hospital got to hear Patricia Kaas and 'M' alias Maithieu Chedid.

Wearing shades and a cigar, Jacques Dutronc left the Palais des Congrés in a taxi early in the afternoon. He said the Fête de la Musique should be all year around; adding that he was going home for a nap. What else, from the composer of 'Paris s'éveilla.'

Next year, I'll try to wake up enough to remember that Abbesses is a good address.

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