Lucca is the epicenter of a fantastic series of concerts every July. The Lucca Summer Festival, now in its second decade, hosts musicians from around the world. Top names come to Lucca to perform in Piazzale Napoleone. The Lucchesi call this elegant square “Piazza Grande”. And though it is the largest piazza within the Renaissance walls, it is an intimate space for a performer. No more than 7000 people, most of them standing (or dancing), can squeeze into the area in front of the stage.
2014 is the fifth summer that Pepper and I have been in Ghivizzano. We hadn’t yet made it to any of the concerts. There have certainly been acts that we’d love to have seen: Burt Bacharach and Alicia Keys come immediately to mind. And I was despondent at missing Eros Ramazzotti, who was in Lucca in 2010, immediately after our arrival. But we were knee-deep in paint, varnish, silicon, etc., and dead-tired at the end of long days of house renovation.
This year, we finally attended our first concert in Lucca. And if our experience was typical, I can’t recommend the Lucca Summer Festival highly enough.
When Nile Rodgers and Chic strode onto the stage, it was truly nighttime. But the lights from the stage illuminated the entire piazza. From the first chords Nile strummed on his guitar, I knew this was going to be great fun.
Anyone who knows me can attest that I am not a dancer, and indeed do not like to dance normally. I’d be happy to have “two left feet”, as I seem to have no feet, only legs of lead. But when the music began, I couldn’t resist the urge to move and clap and sing along. It was a fantastic string of songs from every decade since the 1970s.
I knew a little bit about Nile Rodgers. He was a prolific music producer, helping Madonna and Diana Ross create some of the biggest hits of their careers. But I wasn’t expecting a mind-blowing show, full of energy and fun. Nile doesn’t sing, leaving that to the female singers and the occasional male solo by various band members. For example, his drummer did a memorable rendition of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Niles is an amazing guitar player, too, with a distinctive ‘funkiness’ that is immediately recognizable. Think of the guitar licks in “Notorious” by Duran Duran, “Upside Down” by Diana Ross, and “China Girl” by David Bowie.
But Nile Rodgers is more than a nostalgia act. In fact, he has produced or written several smash hits in this decade, including “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.
From beginning to end, Pepper and I were dancing with crowds, singing and jumping around like teenagers. And the crowd at Summer Music was much more relax and happy than at other concerts I’ve attended. In the back of the piazza, serious dancers were moving like they were possessed.
We were in the “standing only” area, the cheapest tickets in “the house”. For the first half of the show, seatholders had prime position in rows of chairs close to the stage. But about midway through, the bouncers allowed us to move past the barriers and crowd the stage. For the remainder of the concert, it was more mosh pit than concert hall in Piazzale Napoleone.
I think that Nile enjoyed himself that night and appreciated the screaming fans and laid-back feel of Lucca Summer Festival. At the end, after the other musicians left the stage, he stayed. He put down his guitar, strolled back and forth across the stage, waving and playing air guitar. Even as the roadies began to disassemble the drums and electronics, Nile continued to wave and smile.
Here is a bit of the concert. I challenge you to stay still: