Fete de la Musique

France revs up for a ‘socially-distanced’ Fête de la Musique

Fete de la Musique promises to be different this year, but no less important for musicians hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic
Fete de la Musique promises to be different this year, but no less important for musicians hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic © Ministry of Culture

Thousands of people are expected to come out on Sunday for France’s annual music festival. But limits on public gatherings due to coronavirus are set up hamper this year's fiesta. 

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The annual Fête de la Musique usually brings millions of people out on the streets across the country with a mix of major, organised events and impromptu concerts in cafés and on street corners.

But this year, with Covid-19 health measures limiting public gatherings to no more than 10 people, the big set-piece extravaganzas are few and far between.

One exception is French electronic music legend Jean-Michel Jarre. He’s performing “Seuls ensemble” – a live virtual “avatar” concert “like in the Matrix” from his “Alone Together” studio at 21:30 on Sunday.

Billed as a world first, it was created by the French start up VRrOOm.

The veteran performer hopes to outshine the lockdown gig performed by US rapper Travis Scott inside the shooter game Fortnite in April, which was watched by more than 12 million players.

French public radio France Inter meanwhile will be hosting a full day of live concerts from the mythic L’Olympia concert hall in Paris. Kicking off at 11 am they include big French names like Louise Attaque, Philippe Katerine and Pomme.

Concerts are also being held in hospitals across the country to say thank you to health workers and their families for helping the country get through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Artists include Tim Dup, Cyril Mokaiesh and Angélique Kidjo.

Rock fans could check out Louis Bertignac's “rock marathon” live on Facebook from 16h onwards on Sunday.

Stars for an evening

The keystone, and sometimes downside, of Fête de la Musique is that anyone can get out on the streets and play, regardless of their instrumental skills or lack of pitch.

There will undoubtedly be fewer impromptu sessions this year. Budding buskers will need advance authorisation from the local Préfet and mayor to perform, Culture Minister Franck Riester said.

But he also claimed police would be tolerant with outdoor jamming sessions on the night, providing people keep their minimum 1 metre distance apart.

As for live music inside cafés, restaurants and bars, Riester said it was "up to the owner’s discretion" but advised them “not to go ahead if it was likely to lead to unmanageable gatherings in public spaces”.

First real concert since lockdown

On Friday, Paris held its first major concert since lockdown ended in front of an audience of 2,000 at the AccordArena in Paris. Tous ensemble pour la musique featured a stellar line-up of francophone talent including, Christine and the Queens, LEJ, Dadju, Benjamin Biolay, Benabar…

The hall welcomed a tenth of its normal capacity and the audience had to wear masks.

Little to celebrate

Some might question whether France should be marking Fête de la musique at all given the rules on social distancing and the difficulties of having a drink while wearing a mask.

And musicians themselves are not necessarily in a party mood.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the music industry hard. Some 150,000 concerts in France have been cancelled this year depriving musicians and concert organisers of their main source of revenue.

Most album releases are digital.

Overall, the industry has lost €4 billion euros so far this year.

But in the face of such challenging times, keeping the party going in whatever form could serve as a reminder of just how important music is.

During lockdown many an amateur musician lifted their neighbours’ spirits by singing or playing an instrument on balconies and rooftops, especially in big cities.

That may be where most of the music is on Sunday

Full programme on the Culture Ministry website.

 

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