Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How the Italians do festivals

When I visited Italy a year ago to publicise my book my excellent translator was Seba Pezzani. Seba helps run an annual festival in Fiorenzuola d'Arda, a small town south of Milan in Emilia-Romagna. This year we were there for it. The festival goes under the name Dal Mississippi Al Po to emphasise the link between two famous rivers and it brings together Seba's two passions, edgy fiction, particularly the kind that deals with crime, and blues-flavoured rock and roll music.

We had a most civilised weekend. In the mornings we visited ancient hill towns like Castell'Arquato, then repaired for one of those long lunches on the verandah of a vineyard that are usually only seen on TV cookery shows, then, following a nap at the hotel, a discussion about Creedence Clearwater Revival or noir detective novels in the courtyard of some old civic building and finally, following a meat feast in the town square, a show on the steps of the local church by the evening's headliner which was attended by pretty much everyone in the town who fancied an evening's entertainment.

The headliners ranged from the American country blues singer Keb' Mo' to the young Tuareg singer Bombino while also finding room for Bobby Solo, one of Italy's many Cliff Richard figures, who satisfied the full range of people gathered in the square with a set that combined his favoured blues warhorses with a few of the romantic tunes that graced the juke boxes of Italy in the mid-60s. They've managed to keep it going for fifteen years now, with a combination of sponsorship from small businesses, support from the local council and volunteer help.

One of its most charming features is that it takes place in the middle of town without seeming to interfere with the traffic of normal life. As the acts play in the square elderly ladies amble past exercising small dogs, teenage girls give each other lifts on bikes before going home to change into something more eye-catching and small children drag parents in the direction of a bedtime gelato. Of course that's helped by the weather, which is generally reliable. On the final night, when rain was forecast, the show was immediately switched to the tiny opera house which they just happened to have ready for just such an eventuality.

It was a lovely weekend, even if it meant catching up on the cricket via the BBC Sport app.