There are lots of holidays in France; national holidays like Bastille Day, religious holidays like Pentecost, commemorative holidays like Armistice Day. And there are the entirely made-up holidays. These are usually cultural events, like Nuit Blanche, when certain museums are open all night to encourage young people to go. Or just recently, the Fête de la Musique, a day and night set aside to celebrate - you got it - music.
Yes, every June 21, Paris and other cities in France get their groove on. Concerts are scheduled in theaters, cafés and squares and makeshift bandstands pop up on every street corner. In the suburb where we live, things are a bit quieter. There are plenty of musical activities, but you have to seek them out and I admit in the last few years, I've been happy to stay home with the kids. But this year, we were invited by a friend to the center of Paris to hear a 'house concert' by the English folk-rock band, "Sweet Billy Pilgrim."
Sweet Billy Pilgrim are a foursome from the London area who have just released their third, highly acclaimed album, "Crown and Treaty". As I mentioned, the concert was organized by a friend of mine in her sister's 5th arrondissement apartment and I wasn't that familiar with the group beforehand. Therefore, it was a special thrill to discover how great they are. I don't think I've ever been in such as small space with such a good band - it was a bit like that scene in the movie "Once" where the sound engineer realizes the rag-tag unsigned band he's recording is actually totally awesome.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim lead singer and songwriter Tim Elsenburg has a voice that ranges from sweet to powerful and his intelligent, poetic lyrics were catnip to a word-oriented person like me. Elsenberg was beautifully backed up by vocalist Jana Carpenter, Anthony Bishop on what I think was an electric banjo (love it!) and Dan Garland on keyboards (regular drummer Alistair Hamer was absent). The chemistry between the four was evident and it was a pleasure to see a group of people so clearly enjoy playing music together.
I was reminded of the kind of buzz I used to get in my 20's seeing a good band with friends and a drink in my hand (only this time, the quality of the alcohol was way better). Unfortunately, the buzz was slightly dampened when we descended back down to the Paris streets teeming with drunk teenagers. Suddenly, the fun amateur bands we heard on the way over just sounded loud and sloppy. And since I'm not 20 any more, I was actually pretty relieved to return to our quiet suburb with a copy of "Crown and Treaty" in hand.
Has anyone else been pumped recently by the discovery of a band? Spread the word!