Fete de la Musique in Clermont-Ferrand
This lovely old city in the Auvergne in central France really puts on a show for the festival, and it becomes a huge street party, mainly centered on the squares in the old city center of Clermont.
This 24-hour nationwide music festival has grown more and more successful over the last two decades, and is one of the only nights in the year when, under French law, there are no sound restrictions at nighttime. The festival celebrates music in two ways: by encouraging amateur musicians to perform in the streets, and by organizing many free concerts, so all genres of music are accessible to the public. In Clermont-Ferrand, the given times for the official music on the stages was 2pm-1am, depending on the stage location.
Launched in France in 1982, Fête de la Musique, or Feast of Music, has become an international event. Why? Because it’s fun, because music knows no language or cultural barriers and is usually free from politics, because of the huge variety of “events” and participants, and because everyone likes music of some kind.
Christian Dupavillon was a high-ranking civil servant in the French Ministry of Culture. In January 1982, the Director of Music at the Ministry, Maurice Fleuret, sent him a memo saying that the French owned more than four million musical instruments. Three quarters of these instruments lay dusty in cupboards, attics and cellars. The memo spawned a great idea. Why couldn’t those cellos, guitars, trombones, kettledrums, triangles and big bass drums wake up, one day a year, find someone to play them and enchant anyone who cared to listen? Why, on that day, couldn’t performers, professionals and amateurs alike, play completely freely indoors and out, everywhere, in public squares, under porches and on covered walkways, areas of school playgrounds and hospital gardens, at entrances to churches or music academies or under café awnings, just for the sheer pleasure of playing, freely without feeling self-conscious?
So, they made it happen and the first festival took place on 21st June 1982. It was given the name “Faites de la musique”, “Make music”, which in French is a homonym of “Fete de la Musique”, its name today. Since then, it has grown tremendously in popularity.
Every year now it is celebrated in more than 110 countries worldwide, including the countries of the European Union, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Congo, Cameroon, Togo, Chile, Nicaragua, and Japan. One could hear the “Ode to Joy” at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, electronic music on Brussels’ Place de la Monnaie, over 200 concerts in the Barcelona streets, musical parades along Athens avenues, “musical lorries” in the streets of Istanbul, concerts in New York City, the Spirit of Music in San Francisco, and much more.
On this day, from sunset till sunrise in some places, musicians take over the streets and play and dance to their heart’s content. Musicians of all genres, amateurs or professionals, are invited to perform voluntarily, and the public can strum and hum along. Musicians do not pay to take part, nor is the public expected to pay to watch.
In France: Each year more than 800,000 musicians from different parts of the world participate in more than 10,000 concerts. It is estimated that 10 to 12 million visitors travel to France for this event.
Set-up starts the day before, especially where big stages will be, such as at Parc Champ de Mars by the Eiffel Tower, at Defense, and in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris.
This year in Clermont-Ferrand, early in the day on June 21, we saw many music stages being set up, such as at Place Jaude and Place de la Victoire. Wandering in the old city, we came upon a really poignant “concert” by a group of primary school children, singing so sweetly in the circular ‘place’ of the Cultural Communication Building. For us, that was probably the highlight of the day of music.
In the late afternoon, people started to mill around, and traffic to back up, as many streets are blocked off, and the trams that usually run through Place Jaude were stopped and the whole area was just for pedestrians. In the evening, all the streets around Place Jaude and Place de la Victoire were thronged with people, lots with kids even though it was pretty late. Restaurants, bars and cafes were packed to the hilt, but it’s permissible to walk around with alcohol. Police presence was very strong, so we didn’t see any untoward behavior, but we didn’t stay out very late!
That night, more informal dining is also possible: On the streets, edges of squares, or next to the top and bottom of steps people set up tables to sell beers and juice, and prepare hot-dogs or hamburgers—there’s a smell of smoke and of cooking in the air, and you can see the smoke too. Apparently one can’t normally sell/buy at such informal stations, but it seems anything goes this night.
We saw and heard musicians and music of all kinds. It’s noisy, colorful, stimulating. Stop and listen, sing along, dance.