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Europe Votes for Swing

photo, cafe d'enfer

Poor view but good sound at Hell's Café.

Roll Out for Partytime

Paris:– Tuesday, 21. June 2005:– Give Parisians five days of summer weather with the last day of spring tapping out at 35 degrees and then lay the Fête de la Musique on them after a relatively cool day with azure skies and 28 degrees, and you'll get what we got – grandmas and grandads, babies in strollers, pregnant ladies and their husbands in wide shorts, aunts and bald uncles, teenagers on rollers, pouring out of the Métro exit in hundreds, cloggingphoto, rue daguerre all of Daguerre for the music and thousands bopping at Denfert's live concert stage, hey! Fête de la Musique – it's the first day of summer, shortest night of the year, and let's roll for partytime in France again.

All of the 'daguerréotypes' out at once.

My guess is that half of the past 23 editions of this annual musical day have been rained out, or were greeted with towering indifference by skeptical Parisians. For my plan of the evening I even considered hiking down to Saint–Sulpice, to the fire station there. Luckily I remembered this is a party address for Bastille Day on 14. July, but my local place Denfert–Rochereau always has a bandstand on 21. June.

Out I go to Daguerre, around the corner. At first I don't hear anything except TV audio coming out of all the open windows. It probably is from the big stage set up in Louis' front yard out at Versailles, the show that France–2 TV was plugging at the end of the news. I am missing Zazie at the palace.

At Daguerre I hear accordions. Is it from the Bistro 48, the Penguins or mostly likely, from Paris Accordéon? Motto – 'since 1948.' There are eight people standing in the street listening to the accordion players inside the shop. Next, there is a musical pause happening at the café Naguère, but all its terraces are full. At this time it's normally been closed an hour.

Then I see a musician I know hauling down the street, not carrying his drum kit. As I'm catching up he loops back to the Zango and takes a quick peep inside at the band. Zango has set up a street–sales counter, mostly inside the café because the sidewalk is so narrow.

Daguerre hasn't been closed to traffic but between Gassendi and Boulard there are a lot of folks walking in the street. The setting sun is blazing down it, perfectly lined up this one day a year. My musician takes off south on Boulard and I see the lady accordionist doing the standards in the Bouquet. Almost the entire audience is outside.

It sounds a bit like a crazy midway. The fastfood place half a block away has a short–circuit stereo cranked to max, there's another band over by Vin des Rues, and the electric guitars in the café d'Enfer are... forceful.

Cars hesitate and sift through carefully along Boulard, while hundreds of sunset and music fans stroll in both directions. Several hundred are grouped around the restaurant, leaning overphoto, denfert, rock stage diners exiled to the sidewalk who are trying to fill up. Further along a Joe is running hip hop off two turntables by the fancy cheese boutique, and there is a choral group singing in front of the bookshop.

Organized, big‐time sounds at Denfert.

Fruit and veg is closed, fish is finished, the other cheese is closed and there's another dual turntable Joe in the butcher's between the terraces of Caves Perez and the Café Daguerre, and there's all these folks in the air with sundown red faces, ignoring TV's show in Versailles.

On the Avenue Leclerc there are two cops at the intersection, not doing much. Cars are coming around the corner but are having a hard time turning into the wide avenue because teenagers have decided it's a pedestrian zone. There's nothing coming up from Alésia except more teenagers and red lights.

The other way, beyond the intersection, the place Denfert is full of trucks and barriers, hiding the lion statue. I can't get around by the Métro exit – there are too many coming out of it and jammed there in a narrow space because of the snack caravan, so I go back over by way of the RER station.

Riot cops are standing well back in groups of six. The space between them and the Ricard 'Live' stage is filling up, being fed from the five streets leading in. This year the stage has turned 90 degrees so that its back is to the west, facing a vaster area.

The other big French rock show is in the 13th arrondissement, up on the platform of the Bibliothèquephoto, monoprix, gen leclerc Nationale, with a program called 'Playground, Extra, Extra.' In the 14th we've got French rock too, with Deportivo, trying to take over from Noir Désir. For crowd size, the 14th has the lion's share. And for once the sound isn't badly distorted, just loud.

'Crowd of young guys in their platforms...'

I shouldn't say I'm too old to be standing around on cobbles after sundown with thousands of teenagers and the golden youth of Paris getting my ears battered, so I won't. Going around to the left I see the Lion of Belfort poking up in the midst of the crew trucks and buses, and the jam by the Métro exit hasn't diminished.

The cops are still not doing much to help bewildered drivers get where they want to go and there are even more teenagers all over the avenue, in front of their McDo shrine, and there's another gang of them in front of the Monoprix which has used the opportunity to peddle drinks and cookies. Streetlights haven't come on, the cafés have open doors and their terraces are full of blue smoke and smell of yellow pastis.

Guitars are still driving at the Enfer, still with a big audience in front. Further up Daguerre the mystery band at the Naguère seems to be having another pause, but the accordions are more visible at the shop, with a small audience in the near dark. Open doors at the Bistro 48 but the sign isn't illuminated. Ink sky in the dark over the cemetery, but I hear a live broadcastphoto, paris accordion from a bandstand on Radio FIP. Later on TV, tennisman Yannick Noah on stage at Versailles, rocking at 3 in the morning. Louis would have had more sopranos.

Blame all of this on Jack Lang, France's onetime minister of culture. This year he was in London to help Les Anglais get in tune with the Continent, where several cities held their versions. Prague said its musicians were too poor to play for free.

Daguerre's 'Monsieur Accordion' gives a concert.

According to the story there was a gang of Brazilian musicians rolling around in an antique RATP bus with an open rear platform, that there are five million amateur musicians in France and this was their day to play, that in the Senat's courtyard of honor there were 100 drummers with a samba school from north Rio, and that 'French rock' has been a joke since Johnny Hallyday.

Yeah, and Paddy Sherlock and his franco–anglo big band, Les Swing Lovers, was a hit at the Irish Cultural Centre in the 5th. Europeans will always vote for swing if nothing else.

Speak French? Speak it Better!
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