“I was in France in 1982 when they had the first every Fête de la Musique," said Maheas. "The Ministry of Culture decided to create a platform for musicians to perform any where in the city and for people to come and see them. It was a huge success.” Originally, the Ministry asked for only 30 minutes of music, but people’s enthusiasm went well beyond that.
By 1986, the event had spread to 40 countries and in 1989, the Lincoln Center in New York celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution with concerts, but the festival as a neighborhood happening didn’t until 2007 when Berkeley, California native Aaron Friedman, a composer and saxophonist who had previously founded the Silent Majority Citizens Against Car Alarms, organized 560 free outdoor concerts in New York City after seeing the festival in Paris in 2006.
He had spent a year in Bordeaux, but unfortunately left France before the annual celebration. He decided to go back to visit friends in Paris, specifically to see, hear and experience Fête de la Musique in Paris.
"It was like being on the set of a musical comedy," he recalled in a recent telephone interview. He was amazed that “people are actually willing to close down a city on behalf of musicians… It wasn’t professional musicians being showcased by their record labels.”
He decided to bring it to New York as Make Music New York and last year there were 560 free outdoor concerts. “Unlike in France, all the concerts were all outdoors and clearly different from anything else taking over public spaces… some neighborhoods had performers on every block,” he said.
This year Friedman said there are 760 performances in all five boroughs, including the entirety of Manhattan, on schedule as of the day of the interview. The Governors Island in New York Harbor will be used this year as a concert area for 80 punk rock bands so they can play as loudly as they want. He expects it to be more like France this year with whole streets blocked off since it is on a Saturday.
On the West Coast, the Laurel Village Association, a volunteer neighborhood association in the Laurel District of Oakland, CA, will be celebrating Fête for three years this June. Their third annual Summer Solstice Music Festival will be an official affiliate of Fête for the first time this year.