As you probably know, the Harmonicas sur Cher Festival will take place in Saint-Aignan -Sur-Cher, France, from the 25th to the 27th may, 2017. Planet Harmonica takes this opportunity to interview Christophe Minier on the history and organisation of this festival, occurring every two years.
Chat with a committed enthusiast.
As the organiser of the only harmonica festival in France, please tell us how long this festival has gone on now, and how did you decide to create it ?
The Harmonicas Sur Cher festival was created in may 2003. Initially, I intended to call it “Harmonica Sur Terre” (“Harmonica on Earth”), but some buddies of mine told me it sounded a bit megalomaniac. And it seemed to me that “Sur Cher” (meaning “on the river Cher”) would probably better show how the festival was close to our land, since we all live in Saint-Aignan-Sur-Cher, in the Cher valley, in the “Loir et Cher” region !
Eventually, I agreed to change the name of the festival although I feel more like I’m a citizen of the world rather than someone definitely stuck in my own small town.
To go back to the beginning of the story : two years before the first festival, I had organized a gig in a bar called Le Chiquito, in Noyers-Sur-Cher, with three bands, each of them lining up a harmonica player. There were a jazz band, a blues band and a rock band. Julien Cormier played with the Kevin Texas Band, I played both with Metal (the rock band) and with the jazz workshop of the Association Mediator. We had about thirty people in the audience, the gigs were really nice, and I guess this is clearly this event that led me to think about setting up a festival.
The following year, I organized another gig in the same village, but now at the community hall, with Julien Cormier’s band (“Little Bad Monkey”), featuring Benoît Felten on harp (by the way, Benoît is the founder of Planet Harmonica magazine) and Patrice Champaroux on the guitar. Believe me or not, I also got in touch with Jean-Jacques Milteau and asked him to headline at the festival. I was quite an amateur organiser at the time, and Jean-Jacques kindly referred me to the young and brilliant Greg Szlapczynski (and his quintet), who used to compose so many stunning melodies.
The gig was a great success, and many were turned away for lack of space. I called the event “Harmonic’all” (= all harmonicas). But, at the time, I didn’t know there was another festival in Condat, France, called “Les Harmonicales”. Laurent Cagnon suggested me to find another name in order to avoid any confusion, and I came up with “Harmonicas Sur Cher”.
The first attempt was so successful and rewarding that I decided to take a step forward by organizing a true festival, over two days, in a bigger venue. On the first year, the festival took place on the 1rst of may week-end, then, in 2004, on a three day bank holiday at the end of may : three days full of gigs (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), saving Sunday to ground, and go back home. Indeed, the issue is this bank holiday week-end occurs every year, but not on the same dates every year, which is a bit tricky.
Even if I’m the founder of the festival, I’ve been strongly supported over the time to make this festival happen.
Notably, I’d like to highlight the Association Mediator founded by Simon Tardieu, a young, energizing and versatile person, who taught me jazz and event organisation and management. Thanks to this association, I also met people who became key members of the team over the time and who fully supported me and gave me strength when I was tired and about to give up. They are really key to the success of this festival.
How would you describe your festival compared to others worldwide ?
Unfortunately, I don’t know all the harmonica festivals in the world. I knew the Harmonicales in Condat and Harmoliège in Belgium, but sadly they had to given up.
I went to the Bristol festival once, in England.
I never attended the Trossingen festival or any other one. Of course, artists who play in different festivals usually give me some insight and their feedback concerning ours is generally very positive (all hypocrites ! :-)).
As far as Harmonicas Sur Cher is concerned, the goal is crystal clear : I want to get good and nice gigs and plenty of happy people. People I’m talking about are the audience, the artists, our staff, including myself !
We are lucky enough to get public grants so that we can stay independent (grants from the city of Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, the urban community of Val de Cher – Controis, the Loire et Cher county council and the Centre region). This is very important to me. I’ve already been offered to relocate the festival in a bigger town, to get bigger venues and sell more tickets ! I don’t give a shit. I just want to stay in my valley and make positive stuff.
I also remember a guy who came to me saying he had boosted a festival in southern France, increasing the audience by thousands…I wonder where we could cram all these people… On top of that, a bigger organisation is way more difficult to manage. It’s definitely not my thing ! What I like in this stuff is meeting people face to face, and have fun !
How do people interact with each other when the festival is running (inhabitants, artists, festival-goers..) ?
So far so good ! Inhabitants really love the mood of the festival. They say the festival-goers are nice, quiet and joyful. On their side, festival-goers say the villagers are welcoming and friendly, that the village is beautiful and very pleasant. Welcome to La La Land ! 🙂
This is very positive anyway, because our village sometimes looks like a ghost-town, where nothing happens and suddenly these aliens come in and tell us it’s wrong ! It’s true this small town really wakes up during the festival and believe me I would like it to be that way all along the year, for sure !
I have to emphasize how supportive the elected representatives are, they like our association very much, we provide a nice event and the three mayors, each in their turn, also gave us a strong support.
Artists gave us a hand too, as Paul Lassey for example, who composed a piece called « Saint Aignan ». Also Thierry Crommen, who took some pics of him and his musicians in the streets of the city and used them for completing one of his album artwork. I also remember a very funny Lucas Rocher’s video. Some artists became good friends over the time, like Michel Herblin, JJ Milteau or Dam Dekwak, and many others, who almost became family members.
How do you choose the bands to perform at the festival ? Is there some kind of expectations in terms of style, or aesthetics ?
I actually choose the bands, mostly with the help of Julien Cormier. I also receive lots of proposals, and I stay tuned for anything I can get on the internet. By the way, I miss the former online discussion list we had on « Harmonicaland » (not the online shop which uses the same name, I know this is not prohibited but it is a bit unfair, guys), because it was far simpler and less time consuming than the forums or Facebook (okay, I’m an old fart).
So how do I choose ?
I set up a first list with all the artists that I like, those who asked me if they could play the festival and those I’ve been talked about.
If possible, I try to see the bands live or to chat with some mates who saw them performing.
Then, I draw up a shorter list of about twenty bands. Next, I have a look to musical styles, artist availability, technical stuff and of course budget.
At the end of the day, I come up with a list of about ten artists I finally call to tell them they’re playing the festival, and this is the nicer part of the job ! I also have to call the other ten to tell them they won’t play this year, and this is clearly a nightmare ! If I could, I’d make all my favorite bands play…
And having this festival only every two years make it still more difficult.
Toots never came, maybe Stevie Wonder one of these days…
We’re always looking for eclecticism and quality.
As many people in the festival audience, I like different kind of styles and it’s really nice to have this opportunity to listen to music we don’t usually get to know. We all could vibrate thanks to japanese, african, gipsy and Québec musics over the time, it felt like we were travelling the world.
As far as quality is concerned, to be honest, some band’s proposals don’t really meet our requirements so I try to make them understand, without hurting anyone, that there’s still some work to deliver before playing the festival. But it’s true there are many very good artists both in France and worldwide.
I’m very curious, and I like to find completely new stuff, and I’ve got lots this year !
I try to get on board honest and generous artists, to help new comers, to see how they’re doing and then to make them play the festival again. I try to avoid boring and nerve-racking guys, but fortunately it’s pretty rare over here.
So, what will be the line-up and the extra events this year ?
I really like the programme this year ! Here it is (still in progress), with the web links to artists web pages. Our own website is about to be updated (www.harmonicasurcher.com).
Extra events are still in progress too, there will be for sure masterclasses, music flea market, jam sessions, exhibition, maybe harp makers, shops etc.
Programme : 25th to 27th may 2017
Thursday 25th may, 2017 :
6:00 pm : exhibition preview at La Prévôté, and festival grand opening.
8:00 pm : ZANELLA TRIO (Jazz & World Music)
10:00 pm: CORY SEZNEC (Folk-Blues) live at the Salle Des Fêtes.
12:00 pm : jam session.
Vendredi 26 mai 2017
10:00 pm : WILLIAM GALISON & KARIM MAURICE (Jazz) live at the Salle Des Fêtes.
12:00 pm : jam session.
Samedi 27 mai 2017
3:00 pm : SOUFFLES DU MONDE (Manu Bosser – harmo voyageur), live show at the cinema
4:30 pm : JEAN SABOT & LAURENT LE BOT (Trad) live at La Collégiale.
6:00 pm : 2J’s & SEE (Blues), Ormeau Square
8:00 pm : LIOUANE live at the Salle Des Fêtes.
10:00 pm : MOUNTAIN MEN (Blues) live at the Salle Des Fêtes.
12:00 pm : jam session.
Anything else to add ?
Come and have fun with us ! :-))