Tradition had always dictated that we spend Mayday in the mountains with Uncle Nino and the family – the usual thirty-odd waifs and strays that settle along the long table for homemade bread, pizza, pasta and anything else you care to collect from the farm, as summer beckons. But, this year, regretfully no. The mountains are unusually cool at the moment and hey, we’ve got wind of the first open-air music fest of the season…at one of the much-nearer and considerably warmer surfing clubs on Punta Pellaro Beach, the aptly-named Free Spirits.
When we arrived in the early afternoon, we approached from the beach-side and the place was already buzzing. A number of very large tepees were casually placed across the sand, on wooden bases, covered with scatter cushions and Moroccan lamps which only added to the distinct Sahara feel that you often get in the Southern Med. The BBQ was already fired-up, spitting and hissing the sweet smell of Italian sausages and red onion while the shelves of the fridges behind the bar were being rapidly emptied of their chilled elixir. “Grab a couple of beers and I’ll see you by the sound-desk.” Said Maria, shoving me in the right direction. Maria was heading towards Teresa Mascianà, the opening act and our main reason for coming.
By the time I’d queued, bought the refreshments and weaved my way back, avoiding the psychedelic surf boards that were passing through the crowd on their route to the sea, the sound check was complete. Warm greetings from familiar faces around the stage made me feel as if I belonged at last…..one of the crew. I settled down on the sand, laid back and sighed. The sound of “Good Vibrations” meandered through my head. No need to wonder why!
The crowd grew….and grew. Some people slipped off only to come back with more. Word was getting round. Teresa and The Organ Donors fired up and fairly ripped through their set. This band was on-song. The mood was having its effect, with the guitarist unchained from his effects board and Enzo, with his red bass looking like a toy against his big frame, moved and generated gleeful energy. Faultlessly smooth and inspiring, the audience applauded with enthusiasm and appreciation. It was the audience’s reaction to the following acts however, that really took me by surprise.
Teresa had taken over “desk” duties as her experience was going to be sorely tested by a local folk group, “Skunchiuruti” (skoonquirooty) which might translate as “someone illogical” or “ploughs their own furrow.” Typically these bands of merry men will vary in numbers and in instrument choice as the performance goes on, giving the appearance of total chaos……swapping positions, a clattering of mics, (una due, una due) the tuning and retuning of ancient stringed-things, and the inevitable delays between one song and the next. The simplicity of this type of music (usually just two chords) means that virtually anyone can join in…. and invariably they do. After a couple of tentative starts the group got going…….like a train. Suddenly, we witnessed something that would have been unthinkable even five years ago, a time when most young people would have turned a lofty nose down at this sort of music. En masse, the audience were up on their feet….. dancing, spinning, reeling like a Scottish Ceilidh on speed……on the beach! Very strange!
Whether it was the sun, the beer or the simple joy of a mid-week holiday I couldn’t say, but there I was, up and spinning with the best of them. The music was infectious…..it must have been because dancing on sand is not the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re just recovering from a badly sprained ankle. All the while, surf boards shuffled back and forth through the mayhem to perform their own pas de deux on the sea. Multi-coloured wind kites swooped and rallied across the sky blue….airborne dancers round invisible maypoles.
This was guilt-free celebration, and not organised to the nearest Monday, just a day of hope….on the day it should. So, I hope you’ll take a little time to listen to those who made the day the perfect overture to summer 2014.