It’s 4:45 a.m., and I’m sitting on the steps outside the “Boulogne - Jean Jaurès” Métro station in Paris, France. My legs are covered with goosebumps the size of quarters and I’m so tired I can scarcely think. As I wait for the metal gates to open, I try desperately to tune out the sound of my own teeth chattering from the cold. What am I doing here?
There is good reason for my momentary misery. I have just attended the talent-packed Solidays, an annual Parisian festival dating back to 1999. Over the course of one evening, I have witnessed four incredible performances in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, supplemented by great conversation and beer underneath a clear, blue sky. I suppose I have little to complain about.
Despite growing up in the northwest with its constant stream of musical events, I had never been to a music festival before. I was studying abroad in Paris this summer, attending class and living with a host family, so I had begun to feel like a local by the time I saw the advertisement dans la rue one day. On a whim, I looked up the dates and artists online, bought tickets for Friday, and convinced a friend in my class to come with me. I had little idea of what to expect; I’d not planned much further than printing out the tickets and finding directions to the venue.
We arrived at Boulogne - Jean Jaurès at around 5:30pm on Friday, and not a moment too soon. The line to enter already stretched several blocks, and that wasn’t counting the separate line for people planning to camp out for the whole weekend (which in retrospect, probably would’ve been a good idea), sleeping bags and coolers in tow. By the time we made it through security an hour later we were sweating a good deal in the evening sun.
After purchasing some falafel, we realized that it was almost time for Ben Howard to come on stage. We wolfed down our food, scampered over, and managed to find a place to stand underneath the tent. Although he has only just released his first album, Howard, a sandy-haired, British acoustic singer-songwriter, has already exploded throughout Europe. He demonstrated his good-natured English humor through his witty banter during sound malfunctions and his energetic jams at the end of every song. I was thoroughly disappointed when his set was over, no encore.
We then caught a glimpse of Miles Kane, who looked comically foppish in a cobalt blue suit, black turtleneck and Beatles-esque mop of hair. His poppy ballads were a bit too sugar-sweet for my taste, but he did liven up the overly serious atmosphere. Despite hippie attire and low-grade beer, these were Parisians, after all, and their bohemian vibe appeared to be more vogue than vagabond.
Then it was off to see Selah Sue, a relatively new discovery for me. The petite blonde from Belgium belted and beatboxed with a soulful, brash style reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. Pretty soon the crowd was bobbing their heads and swaying their shoulders along with the beat.
By now it had gotten dark (finally, at 11pm), and we trekked across the grassy field yet again to see the main draw for me: Metronomy, a band whose spring concert in Boston I had missed. They did not disappoint. Their eccentric electronic beats and falsetto vocal lines perfectly suited the blasé mood of the chain-smoking crowd, and when they asked (in shaky French) if anybody had a light, the audience became a sea of flames. Given the infectious energy and enthusiasm, their hour-long set was certainly insufficient.
We decided to stay at the same scene to get spots close to the stage for the next act, The Kills. I wasn’t too familiar with the rock duo, I didn’t need to know their cutting lyrics by heart in order to take pleasure in the sharp guitar riffs and perfect pairing of male and female voices. The duo paraded around the stage and wailed into the same microphone with youthful enthusiasm. Upon the first note of “Future Starts Show,” every living soul within earshot went wild. Everyone—French and foreign—was dancing and singing without restraint, to the point where a tiny girl in glasses was bumping forcibly along with the beat into the backs of our knees. By the time the concert ended, it was 2am, and we were reeling from sheer adrenaline. “Aren’t they just the greatest ever?” my friend gasped. Perhaps “the greatest ever” would be a stretch, but it was definitely not a bad way to finish the night.
Three hours later, I sat shivering and waiting for the Métro to open so we could finally go home—it had proved impossible to hail a taxi on the outskirts of Paris. Although I wanted nothing more than to be safe underneath the warm sheets of my bed, I couldn’t help but feel grateful to walk away with pulsating veins and the bass of several talented bands still bumping in my ears. It may have been my first concert festival, but it certainly won’t be my last.