Winning Over Italy

How To Find Out What’s On In Calabria


Saturday and there’s something in the air, Reggio is waking up again.  I took Maria into work a little earlier than usual so we could check out a table and a chair or two for the balcony (yes, the same one I fell off  and broke my neck before Christmas).  There wasn’t much to see so we found ourselves on Reggio Calabria’s Lungomare (the promenade) with a little time to kill.

“Mmm that’s interesting.” I said, pointing out into the Straits.  “They’re laying marker buoys for something.  Must be a little sailing race about to happen.”

“You don’t read much do you.”  Maria responded.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s the Windsurfing World Cup this weekend.  Haven’t you seen the hoardings all round the city?”  You know, it never occurred to me till now how little you take in of posters in a foreign language, even huge ones.  It’s as if they can’t really be important unless they’re in your own.

“Yea but…….”

“And when was the last time you read an Italian newspaper?” Maria continued.  “And what about the fact that the Via Marina is closed to traffic at the far end, with exhibition marquees and big signs saying ‘Windsurfing World Cup’  A clue perhaps!”

“But I never drive up that end of the town.” I pleaded in my defence.  “What you’re saying is that unless there’s a road block you wouldn’t know something was happening.”

“O.K. I suppose it’s true to a point.”  She confessed.

“In fact when you think about it, how did we ever get to discover about all the great music gigs we’ve been to see….word of mouth or a traffic queue.”

If I’d known just how amazing Calabria is for music, especially in July and August, I would have had my rucksack on my back years ago.  Two whole months of great festival camping.  From world-music folk festivals to blues weekends and jazz jamborees, every little town by the sea or in the mountains has something going on.  Big names too…. From The States, Africa, Europe and up the road in Milan they come.  In one evening you can drive up to Gambarie, a little ski resort in the forested mountains, and help fill the town square with a thousand others to watch Bandabardò and then drive back down to the city to watch another act, courtesy of the RTL road show.  Over the last few years Italy’s main ‘rock’ station has decamped to Reggio and broadcast everyone from Edoardo Bennato to Van Morrison.  All this and I mean ALL…..FOR FLAMIN’ FREE!!!   Not a penny to spend, except the odd Euro for a cold beer and a sausage Panini.  You couldn’t find a better area or better weather to dance along the shoreline or boogie till dawn.

The most amazing part is that nobody seems to know anything about it..well until about an hour after the sound-check or just before the stage lights up.  “Calabria’s so boring” say my teenage students, “There’s nothing to do.”  They’re so wrong but I can understand their problem.  Calabria doesn’t exactly shout from the rooftops when it comes to marketing.  Coordination is not its strongest point either.  It’s as if each village tries to outdo the others on the concert stakes by cunningly disguising the fact that they’re putting on a show at all…..until that is, someone like Lorenzo passes the word.  “Psst. Wanna see a cool gig tonight?”  I confess that the impromptu nature of gig-going adds something special to the experience.  There’s no time to think about whether it’s your scene or not and certainly no need to queue for tickets.  So how come it’s all free?  It would seem that the local councils pay for it all and I suspect top dollar too.  A musician friend of mine recently confided that he’d managed to obtain quite a substantial fee to put his band on stage with a well-known tribute band from Rome, to celebrate next year’s 50 years of the Rolling Stones (including film, lighting, sound crews etc.) all courtesy of the city coffers.  You certainly can’t accuse the Italian authorities of skimping when it comes to putting on a show for the culture vulture.  I just hope the Euro crisis doesn’t put too much of a damper on things.  For me it is particularly refreshing to see musicians and performers actually getting paid, even at the smokier winter clubs and venues, rather than relying on their own facebook-based promotional abilities and the honesty of the money-taker at the door.  Even at these gigs the punter rarely has to pay, except for the beer perhaps.  Of course if you feel you must, you can grab the ferry to Sicily and catch Santana or Lou Reed play at Taormina’s ancient Greek amphitheatre under a star-studded sky.  But again, you often don’t find out there’s something on until the tickets are all gone.  I’m sure there are plenty of musicians out there who won’t agree with me – work can be thin on the winter ground for some of the local musos when the competition is so fierce – but this is just another indication of the amount of exceptional talent that exists in these parts.

So, I kissed Maria goodbye and wandered along the promenade towards the lido area at the far end of the bay, clutching my camera.  “Windsurfing World Cup eh?”  I thought.  “Hope the breeze picks up a little.  Make a mental note to self… time there’s a road blocked off, go down it and see what’s on!”