Well that was a big improvement! Last year’s festival was marred by the not-quite-finished construction of the Coulée Verte, the stretch of park and promenade that extends the Jardins Albert 1er where the festival is held. The festival space is much more attractive now that the landscaping is finished. Winding walkways lined with trees and flowering bushes open onto a new and spacious dining area, the Place Yitzhak Rabin, with food stalls and picnic tables. It’s a pleasant place to nibble and listen to the sounds coming from the Masséna stage. In fact, the music from the Masséna stage can be enjoyed from the bordering streets for those wishing to save €35 for a ticket! The ambiance is not the same though.
The other stage is the Théâtre de Verdure, a more traditional venue, where seats are arranged in a semi-circle around the stage. The two stages are set far apart in an effort to keep the sounds from the larger Masséna which hosts the more blockbuster acts, from bleeding onto the Verdure crowd. Much progress had been made on that front mainly because the acts start at different times.
Truly blockbuster acts were in short supply this year. (See the program here) The headliners at the Scene Masséna drew niche crowds: Deep Purple for nostalgic oldsters; Metronomy and Electro Deluxe for youngsters; Gipsy Kings and Ibrahim Maalouf for World Music fans. There was no major pop star either on the way down or on the way up to pull in the crowds. That may be one reason why attendance has slipped 15% since last year.
On the other hand, more people stuffed into the standing space of Scene Masséna is not a devoutly wished for pleasure. The space still seems much too crowded and reaching the back in search of more room seemed like an all night project.
The Théâtre de Verdure was much more comfortable and I had no problem finding a seat this year. Nice for the audience but not so nice for the festival’s bottom line. In addition to the usual reasons for this year’s relatively weak numbers–capricious weather, the World Cup, a gloomy economy–the festival could also use some new acts. By new, I mean new to the region. Artists such as Dr John, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Richard Galliano, Nikki Yanofsky have made regular appearances here and at the Jazz a Juan festival in nearby Juan-les-Pins over the last few years. Although they are great artists, there are others out there to enliven the program.
The word is that next year there will be an extra night of music which should bring some welcome surprises.