If you happen to be in the historic town of Bourges in April, seize the chance to enjoy its celebrated spring music festival as it marks its 40th birthday.
Le Printemps de Bourges started in the 1970s as a small Franco-centric affair but has become an international festival, featuring 200 acts performing in venues as diverse as a circus big top, a renaissance palace and a medieval church.
Nestling in the heart of France, Bourges is a provincial backwater of 70,000 residents. This is the place where a scooter theft is headline news. Then between April 12-17 the rock‘n’roll circus comes to town, followed by 100,000 festival goers, and the sedate backwater is engulfed in humanity and music for six days.
France’s largest and longest-running rock festival, it kicks off the country’s long festival season. The Printemps is the first such event of the year and “a tantalizing foretaste of what is to come” as one organiser puts it – the groups and singers you see here will be performing across the country throughout the coming months.
Pauline Curel, a spokesman for the festival, said: “The Printemps is special because, since its earliest days, it has given immense importance to discovering and nurturing new talent.”
Moreover, unlike other major festivals, held at single-site outdoor locations, Printemps de Bourges happens in the heart of town in covered seated venues.
Daniel Colling, co-founder and director of the festival until last year, said: “Ever since Woodstock, a lot of festivals have been out-of-town events. In Bourges the festival is all around the town. This makes Bourges unique, because for the duration of the Printemps, the town and the festival are in total symbiosis.
“What makes the festival unique is also its generational appeal and its ability to reinvent itself. Every year there is something new, and now the festival is attracting the children and the grandchildren of those first festival-goers.”
Concerts are staged at half a dozen main venues spread throughout the town as well as in numerous bars.
What is more, Bourges has all the prerequisite charms for the perfect sojourn in itself: a medieval town centre with half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, and a 13th-century cathedral classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also has chic boutiques, excellent hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Perhaps the most special thing about the festival is this juxtaposition of old and new – rock, funk, rap and electro played out against the historic backdrop of Bourges. To put it another way: the Black Prince, Julius Caesar and Joan of Arc have all been to Bourges, but other visitors have included Sting, Blur, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Iron Maiden.
Headlining this year is Anglo-Lebanese popster Mika, performing on Tuesday April 12, familiar to millions as one of the judges on the French version of the TV talent show The Voice. Other star attractions include the dubiously named pop duo Lilly Wood and the Prick, electro folk rockers Louise Attaque, the enigmatic Emily Loizeau, and the eccentric Dionysos.
The festival closes on Sunday April 17 with a performance by French rap star Maître Gims. Festival organisers have also promised a 40th anniversary concert with a special guest appearance from singer Bernard Lavilliers.