It began hastily, spontaneously, with only a few posters announcing its arrival.
The response was nearly overwhelming: thousands of musicians and attendees turned up all over France to celebrate the first annual Fete de la Musique (a festival of music).
That was in 1982; the fest was launched by then-Minister of Culture Jack Lang, and the country’s director of music and dance, Maurice Fleuret, in response to a national survey that found “five million people, and one young person out of two,” played an instrument.
“Music will be everywhere, and the concert will be nowhere!” Fleuret declared of the democratic spirit that pervaded the first Fete, whose sole requirement was that all performances must be free to the public. Those initial concerts were held at the same time they’ve taken place ever since — during the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Today, World Music Day (as it’s become known) is celebrated in hundreds of countries, dozens of U.S. cities, and at least one town in the San Juans — Ridgway.
It’s in Ridgway because Doug Price, the chairman of Citizens State Bank of Ouray, knew about it, and spoke up. The bank is “a big supporter of Weehawken Arts and the Sherbino Theater,” said the theater’s programs director, Trisha Oakland. “A couple of years ago, Doug said, ‘There’s this thing in France during the solstice” — performances by street musicians of every description — that might translate well to downtown Ridgway.
“Ashley (King-Grambley, the theater’s executive director) and I looked at each other and said, ‘That sounds really cool. We should circle back to it,’” Oakland recalled. “Then there was Covid.”
Fast forward an additional 12 months, “And I turned to Ashley, and said, ‘Am I crazy, or does the Fete de la Musique seem like a good idea for this year?’”
King-Grambley’s reply: “You are crazy, for adding something else to an overpacked schedule. But I agree with you.”
Oakland got back in touch with Price, who agreed that Citizens State Bank would be the Fete’s presenting sponsor.
“That was the easy part,” she said. “The next part was getting all these musicians to sign on, and securing the support of additional businesses and families to step forward and help with this.”
The result can be seen — and most importantly, heard — Sunday at 5 p.m., when live music begins wafting through the streets of downtown Ridgway. A total of 15 acts will perform at over a dozen sites scattered along North Cora Street — from the Colorado Boy Depot and the Ouray County Food Pantry to tents set up by Citizens State Bank and Full Tilt Saloon, which is sponsoring an appearance by acoustic-guitar player Sawyer Firkins, who performs often at the saloon in Ouray.
There’ll be musicians playing in front of the Voyager Youth Program’s office, and the Sherbino Theater where Mariachi San Jose will perform from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Saxophonist Yaz Ishikawa will perform for passersby in front of Billings Artworks. Douglas and Heather will serenade audiences from the Citizen State Bank’s tent, at 379 North Cora Street.
A number of duos, trios and quartets from the Valley Youth Orchestra will perform in Ridgway Town Park. “A few of the kids’ conductors will jump in and play along with them,” Oakland said. The classical selections “will be a continuous flow over the hours. The other musicians will perform sets.”
For a list of which musicians will perform, where and when, visit sherbino.org
Though the players will be paid stipends, the hope is that appreciative passersby will reward these hard-working troubadours not only with applause, but generous tips.
The evening will conclude with a free performance by Durango’s Stillhouse Junkies at around 8:15 p.m. or so on the Town Park stage.
“We hope this will become an annual event,” Oakland said. “We’d really love to see the community come out and be a big part of it. One of our biggest motivators is the fact that the year 2020 was incredibly hard on musicians. It’s been hard on theaters and independent venues, too,” but at least settings like the Sherbino could keep staging socially distanced events outdoors, or inviting deep-pocketed producers such as National Geographic Live in to offer exclusive, livestreamed broadcasts.
Many musicians had no such luck. There was simply nowhere for them to play.
“The year was in some ways much harder on musicians, who lost every bit of their income,” Oakland said. “If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s how much we’ve all missed live music and the arts. And the musicians have missed performing. That’s their passion. These are their careers.”