Perfect weather and high-quality bands have got the International Bluegrass Festival in La Roche sur Foron, France, off to a great start.
Some 35 bands from more than a dozen countries are playing -- and all the concerts are free.
I drove up from Italy on Thursday, arriving at La Roche after midnight. I made my way to the school at the edge of town where a lot of the participating bands and other people connected with the festival are staying... there were jam sessions going on in the hallways and in the dark grounds of the building; very nice to hear the music floating across the blackness.
Yesterday, as last year, various bands performed informal lunchtime sets outside cafes in the town; the festival proper began last night.
There were a number of highlights -- the English group Toy Hearts (which includes two sisters and their father), and the American band Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain (notable for the amazing virtuousity (and youth!) of its members -- the banjo player is only 17!) played particularly strong sets. I was also pleased to hear the Hungarian group Acouticure, one of the very few bluegrass groups from Hungary.
There's the usual mix of stands set up around the perimeter of the festival site (a parking lot that's part of a school complex), selling western, country music and motorcycle themed T-shirts and other junk -- I mean stuff. This year there seem to be fewer rebel flags on show than last year! There's also a big CD and vinyl market in a huge roofed square in town.
The first night drew a crowd of thousands (or so it seemed). It was a pretty identical set-up from last year -- including the food....highlight was rotisserie barbecued ham, served over pommes frites. The volunteers who staffed the kitchen did a heroic job.... Today I sampled the Jambalaya.
More later (with pictures).