Let the good times roll

Pistoia Blues Festival 2012

Sarah Humphreys
July 12, 2012

Each year, around the second weekend of July, the quiet medieval town of Pistoia  starts to transform. Cowboy hats and boots are sported around town, guitars slung over shoulders and even the smallest grocers set up beer pumps and vats of sangria outside their shops. Strains of guitars and drum beats fill the air, hot dog vans roll into town and ethnic market stalls spring up in every available space along the main streets. It's time for The Blues.


Pistoia Blues was originally organised by local resident Giovanni Tafuro and a group of Blues devotees. The premier edition, held in 1980, was the first Blues festival in Italy and featured such illustrious names as B.B.King, Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie and Muddy Waters. Since then Blues artists such as  John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, The Blues Brothers Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan have played. Economic problems caused the organisers to call on musicians from other genres such as Deep Purple, Patti Smith, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Ben Harper, Skunk Anansie and Lou Reed, many of whom have been strongly influenced by the blues. This expansion has disappointed some Blues fans but has no doubt boosted attendance numbers.

The 33rd edition will take place  from 13-15th July, with a "preview" concert on the 12th July, played by the Italian rock band Subsonica. Each evening  the concert will be opened at 6.30pm by a winner of the "Obiettivo Blues", a "Battle of the Bands" contest held on Pistoia's local television channel, TVL.

On Friday 13th Chicago Blues Revue from Pistoia and the Maurizio Geri Swingtet will be followed by Paul Ubana Jones, an acoustic guitar player with British and Nigerian origins. Gerry McAvoy's Band of Friends will play a set celebrating the music of Irish blues-rock musician Rory Gallagher. The band will warm up the stage for the "Reigning King of the Blues", B.B.King. Despite his 87 years, B.B.King is still considered one of the greatest performers of all times. He is ranked Number 6 on Rolling Stones' list of 100 greatest guitarists and is certain to give yet another warm, enthusiastic performance.


Last Standing, a gospel blues band and Pistoia's Sergio Montaleni, who will be playing a set dedicated to The Beatles, start off Saturday night. Piers Faccini, an English songwriter, whose father is Italian, will play songs from his last album "My Wilderness", before Paolo Nutini takes the stage. The Scottish 25-year old has Italian associations: his father was from Barga, Tuscany. Despite being expected to take over the family's fish and chip business, he developed his love for music. His blend of folk, indie, soul and pop has produced two albums so far. "These Streets" in 2006 featured the single "Last Request" which reached Number 5 in the UK charts. His second album, "Sunny Side Up" won "Best International Album" at the 2010 Meteor Awards. He is currently working on material for a third album and has recently been announced as a headliner at the concert at the opening of the Olympics ceremony in London.


The final evening kicks off with Funk Four, a funky blues band and is followed by Le Blanc, featuring the only female vocalist in this edition of the festival. Ty Le Blanc, a young American singer performs a range of Blues, Jazz, R&B and Country numbers. She will be accompanied by Pippo Guarner, Vince Vallicelli and Pistoia's own Nick Becattini. The last two bands are playing their only Italian dates this year. Gov'T Mule,a Southern rock jam band, were formed in 1994 as a side project of The Allman Brothers Band. Their influences include Neil Young, Free, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. John Hiatt and The Combo close the festival. Hiatt, an American rock guitarist, plays a blend of New Wave, Blues and Country and will no doubt be promoting his new album "Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns."

For those who do not attend the official concerts, there is still plenty of entertainment. Events such as art and photography exhibitions take place at various venues including the Galleria Vannucci and the Orange Jazz Club, which will be holding jam sessions hosting, among others, Paul Ubana Jones. Itinerant musicians are to be found all around town.  A series of music "clinics" are available. These consist of a 4-day course in guitar, bass, Hammond-organ or drums taught by professional musicians, ending with a jam session at the Marino Marini Museum Cafè. Shopping in the street market, which sets up in the late afternoon and is dismantled around 2am, you can find everything from African statues to second-hand records, pan pipes and glow-in-the-dark earrings. Palm-reading, hair-beading and henna tattooing are also all prominent. There is certainly no lack of refreshment and you won't have to walk far to find a cool drink or a sausage sandwich, the best of which are to be found in Piazza della Sala.


Like all Festivals, Pistoia Blues is not without its problems. Financial difficulties caused the 1984 edition to be suspended part-way through. In 2009 the official festival campsite was closed. According to the comune it was too chaotic to run, not economically viable and caused too many complaints from locals. General festivities tend to continue until the early hours and residents in the centre annually complain about the disruption caused by festival-goers and the rubbish and unpleasant odours which are part of the aftermath.


Tickets can be bought from box-offices in Via Roma which open shortly before the concerts and are also available online. If you are in search of something a bit different you are bound to be entertained and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of this unique festival.


For further information and prices visit www.pistoiablues.com.


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