When you’re a rock musician, it can be grueling traveling the world’s cities to play for sold-out arenas. So it’s nice when you have a place to relax and unwind after the tour ends.
For Max Weinberg, drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, that place is Cortona. “Italy in general is our favorite place,” he said. “Tuscany, specifically, is a little slice of heaven on earth.”
Weinberg will be back in his adopted hometown this month, headlining the Cortona Mix festival, which runs July 19-23. In its sixth year, the festival is a purposeful mix of art forms—music, literature, film, dance, politics, philosophy, food and wine. Over five days, more than 40 events take place.
The festival aims to entertain and educate. It’s a modern celebration set against an ancient backdrop that intends to generate conversation and provoke creativity while having fun. As the organizers explain, in an era where people, goods, content and ideas travel in increasingly rapid and global networks, the festival offers a cultural event highlighting the interconnectedness of the arts.
Other headliners include the Irish rock band Boomtown Rats, Oscar-winning Italian composer Nicola Piovani, British author Hanif Kureishi, and Italian writer Elena Favilli, co-creator of Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls. Several documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro, will be screened. The indie rock band Baustelle, founded in nearby Montepulciano, will play the closing concert. The complete schedule can be found on the festival calendar.
Coinciding with Cortona Mix is another event dedicated to the arts, Cortona on the Move, the renowned international photography exhibition that runs July 13-October 1. Like Cortona Mix, it emphasizes creativity and discovery, capitalizing on the juxtaposition of current events set in a historic venue that dates to Etruscan times.
Weinberg has been involved with Cortona Mix for several years. “It’s an amazing week of events covering everything from art to politics to literature to music, thankfully, and I’ve had the fortune of being the last concert of the event several years in a row,” he said. “So we’re doing it again.”
This year he’ll be playing July 21 with the Siena Jazz University, joined by Italian singer and songwriter Marina Rei as well as Canadian actress and singer Jill Hennessy, who once put out her guitar case and sang Springsteen tunes for money on the New York subway.
Weinberg explained in a 2015 interview with Oonagh Stransky for The Tuscan Times how, as a drummer, he likes to help other musicians reach their full potential. That motivation will be behind this year’s performance. “They’re a very, very good band,” he said. “It’s composed of professionals and students.” It will be, he promised, an evening of high-energy, big-band jazz: “If you want to make a trip to Italy, this is the premier event, in the green heart of Italy.”
Weinberg has played with his own band throughout Italy, and he’s played with Springsteen. He missed last year’s Cortona Mix because he was on tour with The Boss, which took them to Milan and Rome. For a musician, the atmosphere in Italy—with its deeply embedded artistic tradition—is incredible, Weinberg said. He noted that both Springsteen and guitarist Steven Van Zandt have Italian ancestry: “It’s wild when we go over there.”
Weinberg has owned a home since the early 2000s that straddles the border of Tuscany and Umbria. Now that his two children are grown, he’s selling that villa and downsizing. He and his wife, Becky, have opted instead for an apartment inside the walls of nearby Cortona that looks westward over the Val di Chiana.
Living in town has many perks, Weinberg said, not the least of which is that “you never have to leave. Everything is right there.” Careful observers might see him zipping around the narrow streets in his classic Fiat.
During the 2013 Cortona Mix Festival, Weinberg became an honorary citizen. “I feel like I have a second home over there,” he said. “You walk down the main street of Cortona, and, if you’re living there, you know everybody. You see the shopkeepers; you see the same people at vino time, which can be anytime of the day, particularly at 5 o’clock in the afternoon when everybody comes out to the square.”
The admiration between the town and the musician is mutual. The Cortona Mix program notes that Weinberg “needs no introduction” for this audience, while he acknowledges that “I keep coming back to Cortona, so there’s got to be something about it.”
That’s high praise from someone who’s literally traveled the world. It’s easy to reach, and it’s beautiful to see. But when you’re looking for a respite from life on the road, Cortona offers something more. “You know they talk about Italian time, and within about two days, if you come from the United States, you’re on Italian time,” he said. “I just find it extraordinarily relaxing.”