A French Celebration: the Music Fest

If you were to visit France right now, you would have barely missed -- by a week or two -- one of France’s biggest summer celebration. The “fete de la musique,” or Music Fest in English, takes place every year on June 21st across towns and cities in France. It is a manifestation celebrating the beginning of summer, on the year’s longest day; usually, the sun sets around 10pm on June 21st in France, allowing for a long night of festivities.

While this festival has now also spread to other countries across the globe, it started in France in 1976. An American composer, John Cohen, proposed to his employers at Radio France the idea of organizing two dates with  free concerts all across France: one on June 21st, during the evening, and one on December 21st, during the day. Initially named “Music Saturnalia,” the project was intended to celebrate two solstices of the year.

While the first Music Fest occurred in France in 1981, then minister of culture Jack Lang officially declared it in 1983. In 2014, after just over 30 years of existence, the festival had spread to more than 120 countries.

Around 7pm, performers come out to play on the streets of virtually every city in France. From famous artists that have sold millions of albums to simply music aficionados some of whom, have been playing for only a year or two, countless musicians come out to the streets  to perform. Traditionally, residents of the city and visitors will walk around for the night listening to music from all the different players, stopping to hear more when they find something they like.

In the meantime, teenagers meet up in another area of the city and have shaving foam battles amongst themselves, before joining everyone else to appreciate the music. For one night, everything slows down in the country, terraces of bars fill up, and everyone has a great time, enjoying free performances with friends, family, or on their own.

by Alexandre Bucquet