Patrimonio is a small village in the north of Corsica that is known for two things: its wine, and the “Nights of the Guitar,” a festival that lasts for about two weeks in July and that regularly features some of the best guitarists in the world.
Depending on when we come and who’s playing, I try to get up to Patrimonio (a good two and a half hours by car from where we stay) for at least one concert during the festival, but these last couple of years have been unlucky for me. This is extremely unfortunate, because the concert venue for the Patrimonio festival might well lay claim to being the best imaginable place to see a concert.
A major factor here is that Patrimonio is in Corsica, which is, as we established years ago, the most beautiful place in the world. The village itself is located on one of Corsica’s typical windy mountain roads, with your standard Corsican stunning scenery and hairpin turns. The concerts take place in a kind of natural amphitheater, centered on the village’s monument to its war dead. (All French villages, no matter how small, have a monument to their war dead, primarily from the First and Second World Wars, that is mind-boggling—the village might look like it holds 100 inhabitants and some chickens, and yet there will be endless lists of the fallen inscribed in stone. But I digress.) For the festival, most of this monument is hidden by the stage, which is open, and the stone arch that tops the monument serves as a backdrop.
The stage is flanked by trees. In fact, there are trees all over. The natural bowl has been carefully terraced, and about 1,500 plastic chairs are set up on the little grass terraces, in 10 rows. One thousand five hundred sounds like a lot, but looks like very little, and there’s really no place that’s more than 30 meters or so from the stage. Behind the stage the land falls off sharply, with low mountains rising a few miles off, and through a cut in the mountains you can see an inlet of the sea far below.
The last time I was at Patrimonio I saw Popa Chubby, who loves playing there. If you don’t know him, Popa Chubby is a large man who plays hard, electric, New York blues. He’s so large that his guitar looks like a ukulele when he’s onstage. I’ve seen him a few times, and he’s always remarkable, but something happens to musicians at Patrimonio … they play even better. When I saw him, he rocked the place to the ground for three hours. I was there in the company of a Corsican friend, who took great pleasure announcing to the other spectators, in Corsican, that I, too, was a New York guitarist—as though I were Popa Chubby’s less voluminous brother.
Needless to say, as soon as we arrive in Corsica, I check out the lineup, and this year we arrived early enough to make a trip to Patrimonio a possibility. What’s more, it turned out that on one blessed night, both Tuck & Patti and Jeff Beck were going to be playing.
I’ll assume you know who Jeff Beck is, and I’ll further assume you’ll understand why no guitarist of my generation could possibly not want to go see Jeff Beck play. You may not know who Tuck & Patti are, though, and that’s a shame. Personally, I consider Tuck Andress to be one of the best guitarists in the world, and the duo he forms with his wife, Patti Cathcart, who has the voice of an alto angel, is beauty incarnate.
What’s more, my two sons are now at the age where they have started to appreciate real music (as opposed to the crap my wife listens to—and I’ll point out here that my wife doesn’t like reading in English and therefore I won’t get in trouble for having written that, but, either way, she knows my views about the commercial drivel with which she floods the car when she’s driving). Where was I? Ah, yes, my sons.
At 12 and 14, both my sons are musicians: the younger one is turning into a kick-ass drummer and the older one plays keyboards. Both of them wanted to see the concert, despite the five hours of travel and the late, late night, so off we went across Corsica to Patrimonio.
The town itself is probably worth the detour. Most Corsican towns are, particularly those that produce so much wine. Patrimonio also boasts a weird menhir from the Torre civilization, one that’s about 5,000 years old, and looks something like a large dagger, about 2 meters tall, topped with a scary-looking human face of unspecific gender. As with most things dealing with the Torre civilization, no one knows much about it or what it represents. The menhir has its own little stone shelter near the stage, and copies of the menhir flank the stone arch behind the musicians.
We arrived early for the concert and took seats near the front. The spectators are a varied lot, and, as can be expected in a place that sees its population increase roughly tenfold during the summer, there are many tourists: Italians, Germans, and, of course, Continental French. However, there are also a lot of Corsican natives. Corsicans tend to have a deep-rooted affinity for music. Traditional Corsican music consists largely of harmonic male vocal groups singing haunting and very complex polyphonic pieces, but music of all kinds is greatly appreciated. Until a few years ago, even a city as small as Porto Vecchio boasted a top-rate blues club. The audience at the festival is always varied, attentive, and very happy to be there. They are dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and as we wait for the musicians, people are eating ice cream and Corsican pastries sold from little stands over near the menhir. A few people with guitars are playing jazz manouche, à la Django Reinhardt, on a small side stage nearby. No one is jostling for position; no one is stamping steel-toed boots in anticipation of pogoing on their neighbors’ feet. They are licking fig-flavored ice cream instead.
The concerts always start just before 10 p.m. At that time, the sun has just set behind the mountains that can be seen in the distance behind the stage, and the sea, far below, has taken a metallic-gray hue. The sky has turned my very favorite color—white on the edges, dipping to a darker and darker blue as you look up, until it’s black overhead, with the more robust stars already shining through. The Corsican maquie, that thick tangle of sweet-smelling vegetation that lines the slopes behind the spectators, is buzzing with crickets and cicadas.
Tuck & Patti came on to enthusiastic applause, and wielded magic for over an hour. Tuck explained that they had wanted to play Patrimonio for some time, and they were very happy to be there—and it was obvious that they were, indeed, very happy to be there. Every song produced frenzied appreciation, as Tuck did things on his Gibson that really shouldn’t be possible, his guitar sounding like an orchestra. Patti sang with her soul on her lips, actually managing to get the entire crowd to sing in harmony for their encore rendition of “Time After Time.” I can’t even get my bassist to sing harmony, but she managed three-part harmony with 15 hundred people. Despite the promise of the legendary Jeff Beck, the crowd didn’t want them to leave.
Once they did, though, Jeff Beck lived up to his legend, playing his fusion with a vengeance. The band was fantastic, and included a female bassist who looked to be no older than about 16, but who played like she’d been doing this for 50 years.
It was then that my older son yelled into my ear, “I’m in love.”
I informed him that I would not be at all averse to him marrying Jeff Beck’s bassist. It sounds kind of weird, but what the hell. Unfortunately, despite my best Net-based research, I haven’t figured out who the girl was. If anyone has a clue, I’d be most grateful for the information—as would my son.
After a number of encores, Jeff Beck came to the mike and thanked us: “You’re wonderful, and it’s great to be back in this place—it’s so beautiful …” He waved his arm over the mountains and the sky and the trees and the sea in the distance. “Make sure you keep it that way.”
I can now safely affirm that Jeff Beck and I share certain important opinions.