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LA STAMPA

Rock Concert v. Summer Festival? It's Like Catholics v. Protestants

A view from Italy, where the Protestant revival-style musical festival never had a chance...

Rock 'n roll masses
Rock 'n roll masses
Piero Negri

MILAN - The rock concert is really quite a recent invention, dating back just forty years to the 1970s. It is therefore no surprise that its basic form is still being interpreted in many different ways.

“We saw the greats of Black music,” Bruce Springsteen said recently, “and from them we learned how it is done. Who did they learn from? From ministers and preachers.” Indeed, the origins of the modern-day rock concert can be traced all the way back to the traditional church service.

Concerts – the successful ones at least – are often portrayed as an almost religious experience. And this time, that is not far from the truth. Maybe that’s the reason why we Italians never fell in love with the Protestant invention that is the music festival? We dislike it so much, in fact, that this year we’ve closed them all down.

Instead our live musical allegiance is clearly in the camp of the much more Catholic ritual of the stadium concert – everyone brought together by a single mass offered by our favorite rock god, where we are encouraged to participate by singing back the words of our favorite songs.

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Madonna concert in Milan - Photo: Aristotele Strobe

In the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and even in Hungary in recent years, the festival reigns supreme. You go in a group, you sleep in large camps which spring up for the occasion, you are there for three or four days, and you choose from 60-odd groups and artists per day (Coachella-style) or a handful of different stages on which a dozen bands take turns from Friday to Sunday (Glastonbury-style). You need an adventurous spirit, a willingness to try new things, and an eclectic and varied taste (especially in music).

Here in bella Italia, the closest we ever got to the Anglo-Saxon model was the Heineken Jammin’ Festival. However, it always needed a sponsor to balance the books, and the format was quickly adapted to suit our Catholic rites, with a great priest who took center stage and other smaller artists who played the altar boys. The kiss of death came when the festival was relocated to the new Fiera di Milano exhibition center – a venue that would kill even Woodstock – and that also witnessed the end of the Gods of Metal and Rock in IdRho festivals last year, which were removed from the 2013 calendar.

The festival concept is as good as dead in Italy, but it seems that the story of the rock concert is only just beginning. There can be no doubt that these musical gods will be performing their rituals in cathedrals of rock all over Italy for a long time to come.

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