Date nights: Fête de la Musique and Promenade en Fête

It’s official, summer’s arrived. To be more specific, it arrived last Friday with the summer solstice which kicked off a week-end of entertainment locally which we always enjoy.  Every year, bands, artists and plenty of crowds show up on the evening of 21st June, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, to celebrate Fête de la Musique (“Music Festival”) and one of the loveliest nationwide celebrations in France, a country that does not skimp when it throws a party.

It’s even better when the summer solstice falls on a Friday as it heralds a week-end of celebrations which showcases not just music, but the community’s potential for organising its collective resources into something from which everyone can benefit – the public, the musicians and the local businesses.

Although it started in France, it’s no longer just a French celebration. Nearing its fourth decade, Fête de la Musique is a celebration all over the globe and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, which loosely oversees it, estimates that the Fête de la Musique celebration now spans 120 countries, often with multiple cities participating. In recent years, those cities have ranged from Beijing to New York.

The first Fête de la Musique was held on 21st June, 1982. The date isn’t just significant for being the summer solstice, it’s also close to the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, a day historically marked by celebrations in France, and which was partly chosen by the church to coincide with summer solstice celebrations. So the inclination to celebrate around this date has existed for centuries; Fête de la Musique just extends that impulse.

The only rule – besides not breaking any laws – is that all the concerts must be free to the public. And that, honestly, is what makes Fête de la Musique (and Promenade en Fête) so terrific. It’s not because of the music itself; if you’re wandering around a participating town, you’re just as likely to hear a middling cover band as anything else. But who cares? You’re out in the warm summer air and you’re inevitably surrounded by a bunch of other people who are enjoying themselves. And it just becomes more fun when you realise there are people all over the world experiencing the same thing.

Lasting peace won’t come from a worldwide musical celebration. But it’s nice to be reminded that it’s possible. Just for a little while.