I decided to skip the major concerts of this annual music festival. Four years ago, I shot for two days and got a cool t-shirt in return but the t-shirt still fits and now everyone’s a photographer. I don’t think they needed me and I didn’t need another black t-shirt.
But I did want to take in the free festival events and brought a camera along. Les Femmes à Barbe do not wear beards at all, but they did manage a few costume changes during their performance in the sweltering Place de la Mairie. A high energy trio featuring lively harmonies and a variety of musical styles that began with some French Pop, segued quickly through a brief Marilyn Monroe interlude into an Almodóvar film. Bedsheet saris accompanied Polynesian rhythms and on to Africa by way of James Brown.
The heat drove most of the crowd away from the stage into the shade, but didn’t slow down the unbearded singers at all.
The lovely old Chapel of St. Roch was the venue for a duo known as NUT, a singer and guitarist performing vaguely folky tunes in French and English; a mélange of pop, reggae, soft blues and ballads. Pleasant enough to listen to, not compelling enough to keep me in the airless church with sweat in my eyes, while thinking of a cool shower and a glass of rosé.
Early November and the Festival of St. Brice returns to Maury. You remember Brice, a man of less than saintly youth transformed into holier than most. Pretty much the same program this year as last, small carnival, rock band, mass, tea dance, kind of something for everyone.
The carnival was much the same outfit: bumper cars, merry-go-round, cotton candy, all a bit worn and a year older, just like the rest of us.
Different band this time: last year we had a group who played in their underwear, this year we had a fashion show courtesy of a band named California, who also played and sang some stuff for a very small crowd. Last year there was a cross section of the town’s population: babies who fell asleep, kids who chased around the hall, teenagers studiously ignoring the opposite sex, the kids’ parents and some older people who left early. This year seemed to be all teenagers: girls dancing with girls, boys standing around looking uncomfortable. It’s universal.
Last weekend was the annual Voix de Femmes music festival, which for me was a bit of time-travel, for a little while. Like a number of other photographers who started working professionally in San Francisco in the late 60’s, I began shooting rock concerts. There wasn’t much money in it but there was plenty of music, lots of dope and the feeling that this was the best time in the best place in the world. A lot of great photographers came out of that scene, many stayed in it – none better than Jim Marshall who defied all expectations by dying in his sleep two years ago – but my life took a different turn and most of the next 20 years were spent in San Francisco’s Opera House, a very different scene, but one with numerous similarities: a diva is a diva after all, whether she’s singing Verdi or the blues.
After many more turns, here I was last weekend shooting a rock concert for the first time in about 40 years.
Voix de Femmes is a big deal in Maury, two days of diverse musical events plus theatrical events for the children, now in its twelfth year. Things got under way Friday night with Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, a band from Portland Oregon that cultivates an idiosyncratic retro image – actually Sallie has the image, the guys just have jeans and t-shirts – but rides on the strength of Sallie’s voice. Comparisons some have made to Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith are a bit out of line, but she can sing.
They were followed by Amadou and Mariam, two musicians from Mali with a kickass band that had the audience up and dancing. I’m up in front of the speakers, ears ringing, losing the rest of my hearing.
Saturday had four free afternoon events, two performances for the kids, an early music concert and a public chorale featuring a manic comedienne and the good citizens of Maury cajoled into singing in the Place de la Mairie.
Les Troubadours are part of a roving festival funded by the Regional Council that celebrates early music and Occitane and Catalan culture in Romanesque architectural sites. The Maury concert was held in the Chappelle de St. Roch, a Romanesque design built in the mid 19th century to honor St. Roch, to whom the commune had appealed to halt a cholera epidemic. This was a wonderful concert, great voices, early instruments, love songs dedicated to the female troubadours of the past.
The evening shows featured two young women: L, a poetic storyteller who reminded me a bit of Madeleine Peyroux, but still needs to grow into performance, and Anaïs, a versatile chanteuse with an amusing rap, accompanied by a DJ along with the band. It struck me that both might be much more interesting in a small venue.
My back was aching, my recaptured youth all but gone. I managed to get home, raised a glass to Jimmy Marshall, took four ibuprophen and three days to recover.
“I ache in the places where I used to play”, L. Cohen, Tower of Song.
This weekend marked the festival of Saint Brice, the patron saint of Maury. Brice was born in 370 and raised by St. Martin in Marmoutiers, near Strasbourg in Alsace.
According to the Catholic.org web site, he was a “vain, overly ambitious cleric”, who “neglected his duties, was several times accused of lackness and immorality.” He was exiled from his See and after seven years in Rome, “he returned and ruled with such humility, holiness and ability, he was venerated as a saint by the time of his death.”
He died in 444. It is unclear how he became the patron saint of Maury, but I like a town that will give a guy a second chance.
The form of the festival changes each year with the makeup of the organizing committee. A couple of years ago there was a Mexican theme, complete with a parade and mariachis marching up to the town square. This year we had a schedule of events that would not be out of place in any small town in America.
There was a mini carnival with bumper cars, a merry-go-round, a booth where you try to snag a prize from a bin, and cotton candy.
There was a dance last night with a band named Système sans Interdit, which roughly translates to a system without prohibitions, or total freedom, which is why, I suppose they chose to play in their underwear. Looking at their web site, it seems they do this quite often and it works with their self description: “French and Kitsch Music.” The crowd was mixed: older women who left early, young families with little girls dancing and little boys running in circles, and teenaged girls ignoring teenaged boys. It never quite reached the critical mass necessary for ignition but that didn’t seem to bother the band who played without a break for longer than I could take.
There was music at the mass too, a special event for St. Brice’s feast day. Cobla Nova Germanoris a Catalan band from Perpignan whose motto is “Long live the Sardana”. I was thinking of the guitar playing folk singers now an integral part of contemporary Jewish services, but this was different, here they provided some quiet background music to the procession, communion and collection. The mass began with an almost orderly procession of children to the altar and included readings by four of the more prominent women in town. It concluded with a short and warmly received speech by the mayor.
After the mass everyone went over to the Mairie for an aperitif and potato chips. The mayor poured wine, the band had a little more freedom and several women found just enough room to dance a Sardana while the men talked business.
The weekend concluded with a tea dance but worn out from all the unusual activity, I slept right through it. (No Photo)