La Fête de la Musique – France’s National Music Festival

I love the music festival !!!

Since 1982, on the evening of the Summer Solstice (longest day of the year), I savor the free concerts generously offered by local musicians while bouncing around from street to street.

“A wholly not-for-profit festival meant to celebrate music in all its diversity”…  Every June 21st.

Each year, to the delight of hundreds of thousands of spectators, thousands of free concerts are given by amateur musicians whether on street corners, back alleys, open spaces, town squares, or the public buildings that are open throughout France just for the event. The music can be anything from original works, to renditions of known pieces, or a joining of both. The energy emanating from this event is just amazing, both from the musicians and from the crowds.

All kinds of music can be heard. Anything goes – from classical to folk, from to pop to jazz, from to rock to techno, from local to world music and everything in between. In fact, this venue is an awesome way to explore some of the new emerging music styles that have not yet made it mainstream. You can go from a traditional folk music concert, and then walk around the corner to hear the latest techno music…

Restaurants and bars are open late into the night to provide food and drink to the crowds. They will also often have their own professional venues for the customers, but I prefer the street music; in its most raw and natural state – the good, and even the not so good… It doesn’t matter that the quality varies, I delight in the energy regardless.

The music festival has become over the years one of the most popular and important community events of the year, well over the festivities of Bastille Day (France’s Independence Day). In the smaller villages and towns of France, the festival can be the one and only important cultural event of the year.


The festival was originally an idea by American Joel Cohen who was at the time working for Radio France. Cohen proposed an evening of music for the two solstices, June 21st in the summer, and December 21st in the winter. The idea, put to fruition in the town of Toulouse with the help of Jack Lang, was a great success. When Jack Lang later became Minister of Culture in France, he sought out ways to bring music to the people. Remembering the success of the Toulouse event, he instigated on June 21st, 1982 the very first “Fête de la Musique” day in Paris.

Since then, the event has grown not only to just about every town, village, and city throughout France – but also internationally counting participation from 120 countries worldwide and over 340 cities. Known as “World Music Day”, it doesn’t yet have the same ampler and importance found in France, but grows with popularity each and every year, particularly in francophone countries (Switzerland, Belgium,Quebec). In Geneva, it has even been adopted as a three-day event. You will also find festivals in other European countries such as Luxemburg, Italy, Greece, Germany and the Latin countries of Peru, Columbia, Mexico. New York has had an event every year since 2006 with hundreds a different amateur groups playing the streets.

The goal of the festival is to promote music in two ways: 1) Encouraging emerging artists of all genres to express their unique voice and share their talents with the rest of the world, (« Faites de la Musique ! »), and 2) exposing the general public to music that they might not otherwise hear or have access to (« Fête de la Musique ! »).  Two important caveats to remember: the street musicians must not be paid, and they must provide the concerts for free.

“Living together in Music”

Every year brings a new theme to the festival, for 2015 it was “Living together in Music” – an occasion to celebrate sharing and promote living together. Other organizations join together to make this a memorable event. In Aix-en-Provence “Aix’Qui?” in association with “Stage Europe Network” sponsored the 25th edition of “Class’Eurock”.



As with all things, there is some controversy and another side to this festival. The festivities are most active in the evening, and not all are tolerant to the noise and chaos that ensues. Certain cities are more apt to cancel or reduce the allowed concerts in sound volume and in quantity due to the numerous complaints coming from those living directly in the middle of the venue.

Just imagine music – such as techno or hard rock – at high volume… late into the night.. right under your windows at 2am in the morning. Since it is the same day every year, when it falls on a Tuesday evening and you have a big meeting the next day, it must be a little annoying.

And then of course, let’s not forget there is a lot of drinking and depending on the crowd population and it can be a little disconcerting. The techno area around Place des Prêcheurs in Aix-in-Provence is mostly inhabited by the younger crowd and by nights end is a sea of broken glass and debris…

I can somewhat understand the dilemma, but in my mind the benefits largely outshine any negatives.  What do you think ?

Happy Travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic

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