One of the things I have missed the most living in Djibouti (after friends, family, and the fabulous selection of restaurants of NYC – though Djibouti does have some good options for dining out, just not very many of them) is the opportunity to see shows. I love to see live music – preferably either outdoor at a festival or at a relatively small venue, as opposed to those giant shows in sports arenas. Those are good too, but there’s something special about seeing a great band in a small venue, full of people who are all true fans and not just jumping on the latest mega-pop bandwagon. Or discovering a new band you didn’t know, before they really “make it big”, just because they are the opening act or on a smaller secondary stage at a festival. Nothing quite like that!
Here in Djibouti, there are some live music options, but to say that they are limited is a HUGE understatement! They opened a club called Blue Moon, where I saw a one-man band play one night, but apparently, less than 2 months after it opened, it closed, so there goes that. It’s too bad, because I liked the idea of a live music venue here, and the building was perfect for it. It was a former cinema, and though the decor (complete with disco-ball and laser lights) called to mind a middle school dance, there was a good set up for shows. But, alas, that was not meant to be, and so far, I’ve only been able to see live music when friends have parties, and other friends bust out their guitars, keyboard and mic to belt out some tunes. At least I know some very musical folks out here!!
This lack of live music and of anything on the radio (I have found all of 3 FM radio stations on the radio in my car) other than euro-influenced techno and mainstream dance music has got me reminiscing about shows I have seen in the past, and fantasizing about venues and festivals I hope to attend in the future. Here is my take on the best of the best in this arena.
Top 10 Music Festivals and/or Concerts I’ve been to:
- Ottawa Bluesfest – Ottawa, Ontario
This music festival contains a surprisingly wide variety of performers each year. Over the course of the 10+ days of the festival, you can see anyone from Akon to James Taylor. The Black Crowes to Feist. Great Big Sea to Wyclef Jean. All on one reasonably priced festival pass. You can discover a talented new young artist like Jenn Grant. Or a great blues band like Nick Moss & the Flip Tops, who have been around for ages, but you might never have stumbled across before. It’s this great mix of the mainstream and the not-so-mainstream, so there’s really something for everyone. I DEFINITELY plan to get back to Ottawa for another Bluesfest sometime in the next few years!
- Montreal Jazz festival – Montreal, Quebec. I haven’t really seen too many acts at the Jazz Festival, and I haven’t gone to it since I was a University student, but I always love the way that Jazz Fest transforms the city of Montreal. I will always have a very special place in my heart for Montreal, and anything that makes the city even more vibrant than usual is welcomed. Whether it’s the Jazz Festival, Le Mondial de la Biere (Beer Festival) or even Grand Prix weekend (though that one is my least favorite, and I usually avoid being in Montreal for that weekend), I welcome anything that brings Montreal even more to life! Plus, like Ottawa Bluesfest, you can catch a wide variety of acts. Unlike Ottawa Bluesfest though, the various stages are not in one central area, but rather are scattered around the city in a way that forces the whole city to embrace the festival and get caught up in it – like it or not! As with everything else, Montrealers embrace the festival with passion and fervor, making me love Montreal even more.
- Carnegie Hall – New York City
As the old saying/joke goes: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!
As far as classical music goes, this is where you go to see the best of the best!
- Handel’s Messiah at Riverside Church – New York City
Seeing the Messiah whenever possible is a tradition that I share with my best friend from high school (we try for once a year, but as we’ve gotten older and moved farther apart it has become more difficult). Over the years, we’ve seen it in different cities and different venues, but I think Riverside Church is my favorite.
- Teatro San Carlo in Napoli. Super-cool opera house, I visited with my friends A & V when we spent a few days in a hostel in Napoli back when we were grad school students. Ah, the memories! What a beautiful place!
- Mardi Gras in New Orleans (OK, maybe more about the party, but also about the music!) Laissez les bons temps roulez!! I went a few years back, during my last year as a full-time student in Philadelphia. My good friend C’s now-husband-then-boyfriend G was in New Orleans for grad school, and we flew down to see him and experience the party. I loved New Orleans, and while I am eager to go back, I don’t think I’ll be back for Mardi Gras – much like Spring Break in Florida, I feel like Mardi Gras is best left to the student set. I’m so glad I went and had the experience, but I am not sure I’ll ever go again….. though they say that New Orleans Jazzfest is like Mardi Gras for grownups, so you’ll notice it makes the list below! 🙂
- Free New Year’s Eve concert at Praca do Comercio in Lisbon. A fun time, on the water at the port in Lisbon, and totally free. Plus, at least in my experience, it isn’t a problem to bring your bottle of champagne along with you and drink right out of it! Apparently, if there are any open container laws there, they are not enforced on New Year’s Eve! I have no idea who the acts were that we saw, as I never did get my hands on a program, but my friend B and I had a great time just going with the flow and enjoying the festive atmosphere.
- All Points West – Liberty State Park, NJ
This one is a great, slightly hippie-ish, music festival, that for me, is conveniently close to home. It’s allowed me to see some favorites, like Jack Johnson, who I stood out in the rain through his whole amazing set to watch. Totally worth getting soaked for! Other acts the year I went included Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and Trey Anastasio (of Phish fame). You can get a one-day pass if there’s someone specific you want to see (like I did for Jack), or you can get a 3-day festival pass, with or without camping options as well.
- Summer Stage/Central Park – New York City. I’ve been going to Summer Stage shows since I was in high school. Summer Stage puts on all kinds of music & arts shows all around NYC. It’s a fantastic nonprofit. I’ve seen a lot of their free shows in addition to other paid shows in Central Park. I’ve seen everyone from They Might Be Giants, to Juliana Hatfield, to NRBQ, to Duran Duran (fantastic live show – even in the pouring rain, they and the whole audience, stuck it out and rocked out during the 2008 Red Carpet Massacre Tour). There’s just something magical about Central Park, especially as a music venue. Very cool experience – everyone should see at least one show in Central Park in their life!
- Reggae Fest – Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine. Admittedly, this festival signifies less about the music, and more about a fun tradition with friends for me. My friend K’s family is from Maine, and have a ski cabin by Sugarloaf, so some of us have used Reggae Fest as an excuse for a meet-up. The skiing is pretty hit or miss as it is always late in the season, but the Reggae makes for great background music for a friendly gathering and a Bag Burger (you haven’t lived until you’ve had one) & Beer, and the atmosphere is always great!
Festivals I most want to go to next/go to again:
- Repeat trip to Ottawa Bluesfest
- New Orleans Jazzfest (aka Mardi Gras for grownups)
- SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas
- Oktoberfest in Munich
- Carnevale in Venice
- Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day, in Amsterdam)
- Winter Carnival, Quebec City
- Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) in Edinburgh, Scotland