French summer festivals: a cultural feast
Whether you prefer theatre, dance or music, summer is the ideal season to enjoy a taste of French culture, with a host of festivals nationwide.
After the Printemps festival in Cherbourg and the Nuits de Fourvière in Lyon in June, it is the Solidays festival in Paris which kicks off the French summer festival season, with events throughout the country to soak up the warm weather and holiday atmosphere.
According to 2012 figures from the French collecting society for composers, songwriters and music publishers (Sacem), one third of the year’s music festivals, i.e. 274 events, are held in July, with 125 in August and 138 in the autumn.
Such festivals began after World War II, but only properly took off in the 1980s following the French government’s decentralization policies. “Today, France is among the countries with the most festivals, thanks to the public policy of supporting cultural events,” says Bénédicte Dumeige, President of the France Festivals federation. In the area of music, 841 festivals were part of a Sacem study in 2012 and generated €12 million in royalties.
However, it is difficult to determine the exact number of festivals held in France each year as there is no generic or precise definition. Almost 2,200 festivals are organized each year, about 300 of which with the support of the Ministry of Culture. The difficulty in compiling a detailed list is in large part due to the wide diversity of festivals throughout France.
Alongside the landmark musical events such as Les Vieilles Charrues in Carhaix (Brittany) in July, or Rock en Seine in Saint-Cloud (near Paris) at the end of August, more specialized festivals with less resources have also achieved great success. Some are even world renowned, such as the Aurillac street theatre festival on 21-24 August and the international puppet theatre festival in Charleville-Mézières in September. Festivals with bigger budgets attract a wide audience by securing international stars such as the singer Sting at the Main Square Festival in Arras in July.
Jacqueline Franjou, President of the Ramatuelle Festival (Côte d’Azur), believes the French landscape is an added bonus for the festivals: “going to see artists at a festival is a very different experience to seeing them on tour. First of all, it is an inspiring setting for both the artist and spectator, and then there is the conviviality, the community spirit, the desire to share.” At Ramatuelle, the theatre overlooking the sea will play host to actors, musicians and singers. Meanwhile the Chorégies d’Orange, one of the most famous lyric art festivals, takes place in the town’s Roman Theatre.
Finally, for fans of contemporary performing arts, Avignon in July remains the benchmark. For the organizers, the Avignon Festival is “much more than a theatre festival, as the entire city becomes the backdrop for exchanges and shared experiences, with side events including exhibitions and debates.”
The quality and diversity of these summer festivals is recognized outside of France and some are even exported. For many years this has been the case for Francofolies in La Rochelle, which attracts about 100,000 people over five days, was first copied in Montreal 25 years ago and has also been reproduced in Argentina and Switzerland. Francofolies mainly owes its success to a line-up which combines styles and generations, showcasing up-and-coming talents as well as established artists.
For further information:
http://www.solidays.org/programmation/vendredi/ (in French)
http://www.vieillescharrues.asso.fr/2013/programmation (in French)
http://www.aurillac.net/index.php/en/le-festival-d-aurillac/aurillac-2013 http://www.festival-marionnette.com (in French)
http://www.festivalderamatuelle.com (in French)
http://www.festivaldanjou.com/edition2013/programmation-2013-2/ (in French)
http://www.francofolies.fr/festival/programmation/programme-2013.html (in French)