Fête de la Musique rocks on in spite of security fears

BEIRUT: Hundreds of music lovers shrugged off the tense security situation in Lebanon Saturday, flocking to Downtown Beirut to enjoy the dozens of live concerts organized by the French Cultural Institute as part of the annual Fête de la Musique.

Founded by France’s then-Culture Minister Jack Lang in 1982, the nightlong program of music to celebrate the arrival of summer has since been adopted in more than 340 cities in close to a hundred countries. Organizers braved the tension generated by Friday’s suicide bombing and subsequent raids and road closures throughout the country to continue with the free festival for the 14th consecutive year.

Close to 50 performances spread across six Downtown stages took place Saturday, attended by crowds that shifted from one spot to another as the night drew on. Security forces were on high alert but audience turnout appeared undiminished by the atmosphere of tension that enveloped the country the day before the event.

“Thank you all for being here despite the sh--ty situation in the country,” Allen Seif, guitarist and lead singer of folk rock band OAK, told the crowd of around 150 gathered to watch his performance at the Roman baths. “It shows that you’ve got real heart.”

Roads were jammed with traffic near Martyrs’ Square soon after 6 p.m., when the first performances began. Many drivers struggled to find parking spaces, as lots quickly filled up, surprising those who had expected a lighter-than-average turnout.

“There was no apparent difference in the turnout compared to last year,” one event attendee told The Daily Star.

“I expected many Lebanese to be here,” a festivalgoer called Ahmad added. “They bounce back from any situation.”

Several hundred fans gathered in front of the stage in Martyrs’ Square to watch a performance by local group Pindoll, and the crowd swelled in the lead-up to a much-anticipated appearance by blues-rock duo The Wanton Bishops, who came on half an hour later than scheduled, at around 11p.m.

Young fans pogoed in a frenzy at the front while others swayed more sedately behind them as Nader Mansour belted out the lyrics to songs including “Whoopy,” “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” and the band’s hit single “Sleep With the Lights On,” encouraging the audience to sing along with the group during “Oh Wee.”

Two stages at the Beirut Souks featured rock, metal and hip hop acts, Romanian classical quartet Amadeus and Lebanese soprano Maya Hobeika drew crowds at Zaitunay Bay, while at the picturesque setup in the Samir Kassir Gardens, the focus was on funk and blues.

Uruguay Street’s trendy bars were overflowing with patrons who chose to skip the World Cup match and instead feast their eyes and ears on live music. Crowd sizes increased at around midnight in the wake of the Germany-Ghana game, when many fans chose to migrate to the Samir Kassir Gardens stage in time to catch the laid-back fusion performance of Afrobeat Collective.

While other events, including the Live Achrafieh Music and Street Festival, were canceled in light of the security situation, most festivalgoers seemed dismissive the threats.

One attendee told The Daily Star that the security alert couldn’t keep her from coming, adding that she was “used to it.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2014, on page 16.




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