The French Are Different…

from Americans, in many ways.  Up front there is the fact that a small community like Rochefort, France puts on a well supported festival at all.  We have cities here in the US that don’t do half as much despite much larger populations and more financial resources.  The way the arts are integral to daily life in much of Europe is still a shock to me after many festivals and experiences.  Artists we modestly paid, well fed, and the festival was well organized.  Not rocket science.  But the people volunteering were residents, people who lived and worked in Rochefort and were going beyond the typical “taxpayer support” we get here, and putting their shoulder to the wheel to make the festival happen.

There was also the question of how artists were treated, and received.  I am a guy with a bass who had this gig land in my lap.  Still, I was not given any less due than anyone else, and there were some MONSTER players at this festival.  Working my ass off was the *least* I could do in return for the honor of playing here.  As well, we had small audiences of volunteers and passersby during some rehearsals, and they even dug that.  If you don’t know, real rehearsals are kinda painful events filled with a lot of repetition (the French word for rehearsal is “repetition”) and to anyone on the outside it usually loses its charm after about two minutes.  In one case it was Napoleon Murphy Brock running us through critical cues and timing, which took a lot of work over the course of at least an hour straight, and the crowd wasn’t spacing out.  When we nailed it, finally, they applauded.  They got it.  I’ve never been around anything like that before.  The same thing repeated itself with rehearsals of Beefheart material, and even running through blues shuffles with Innes Sibun!

The approach to a daily routine was different as well.  When we work, we work hard,  Time to take a break, that is the TIME to take a BREAK.  Yes, it could be frustrating for an American who measures things by punctuality and productivity (which I am not really one of), but the work got done, and since many of my days ended at 1:00am with my ears ringing, it was nice to have that spot of downtime at lunch or dinner time, and maybe a short break and a glass of wine at about 10:00pm, before tackling the “home stretch”.  Much as the way the Germans would riot if the beer concessions was bad, I have a feeling that the whole operation would have failed if not for good wine and good food.

Then there was the case of the children.  I encountered a lot of polite and attentive kids at Rochefort.  Some were outright amazing, like Leo, the kid who played all kinds of instruments and played some very well.  Some were intent on saturating me with questions, or making me a crayon sketch, or just trying out a phrase in English and slapping me five.  You don’t want to set anything other than a good example for kids like these.  Even if they are still running around at 1:00am, they are not out of control or whining or looking for someone to entertain them.

OK, there has to be a “downside” and that was the shock that everyone, it seems, smokes!  I don’t think it was as much of a shock going in as it was when I got home.  I arrived in Charlotte for my connection and was expecting to see smoking teenagers drinking wine in the airport!  What?  No public smoking?  It was a bit of a shock.  Still, it was not as hard to take as smoking here in the states… not sure why.  I have no idea what their public health stats are like, but as in much of Europe, smokes are everywhere.

All told, for my first time in France, I could not have asked for a better experience.  I could get used to that routine… really.

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