From July 17th to 20th the deep notes of Soul music has echoed through the valleys of the Tosco-Emiliano's Appennines, starting in the little heart of the quiet village of PorrettaTerme, has created a strong call that has been challenging the generational and geographical boundaries over the last 27 years, bringing in Italy a taste of the music which made history in the southern of United States
We could not miss it, but curiosity has gone beyond the pleasure of the show, so we gave a sneek-peek at the backstage, and sat on the steps of the Rufus Thomas Park's arena we witnessed the soundcheck of the artists and we asked to the organizer, and director artistic, Graziano Uliani what are the gears that has been moving, for more than twenty years, the vibrant reality of PorrettaSoulFestival.
We meet "Mr. Graziano Uliani" as they call artists, from the street to the stage, with the Anglo-American accent, sitting at a table on the main road through the village. We gathered in front of an historic pastry shops where you can still find the owner in the backroom with the haircolor of the flour. And this is the symptomatic prelude to a conversation that will paint the true picture of the Festival, but is also about life as it is understood in the hamlets hidden within mountains and, again, reveals the nature of the innocent and sincere passion for a music so honest and unsettling such as the Soul.
Mr. Uliani, we start from the roots, how was the Porretta Soul Festival born?
"The Festival was born from my passion for this music, since I was your age, perhaps even younger, there were ranked in the music charts discs of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Then the trends changed but I have continued to love that kind of music, for 20 years has been a latent passion then, for a variety of combinations, I met in December 1987 one of my myths: Solomon Burke. He was coming out from the car to go to the soundcheck, and to capture his attention I said "I'm your fan, I founded the Solomon Burke Fanclub" and during the concert he called me on stage introducing me to the crowd, so when I got back home I really had to create an association to enhance the Rhythm 'n' Blues in Italy.
I organized the first edition of the Porretta Soul Festival exploiting the fact that Burke had come to Italy. The association has also grown because I worked in advertising and I was able to promote it properly. Many of these people have arrived in Italy and even in Europe for the first time, people who were legends, and now people from all over Europe come to Porretta for seeing them performing. There is someone who comes from the United States because he says "as we see these artists in Porretta, we do not see them in America in the same way"
In that moment some members of the famous Muscle Shoals All Star Band passed on the street, with dark glasses and a placid pace, if it was not for the pass dangling from their neck they could be easily mistaken for mere tourists.
Graziano Uliani greets "Hey, Hello", they smile back and mingle with the crowd. "These are myths" says immediately Uliani with his eyes a little sparkling, "they played in the originals by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys ... The Rolling Stones recorded Sticky Fingers in '72, you can see in the film on the Muscle Shoals, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Bono from U2 band, discussing them and lighten up because in a place unlucky and lost in the Alabama State, in the midst of gas stations, there is a place where people know how to play the legendary stuff. "
And the word myth always comes back in the mouth of Festival's patron, betraying a heartfelt emotion that despite perpetual decades remains fresh and iconic as the first time, and words sounds like those often spoken by the kids excited before their idols for an autograph.
This is a bit the spirit of the Porretta Soul Festival: to propose real things. "One year I hired Etta James, but then she became ill and canceled the tour so we brought Chaka Kahn, but the public did not answer, half the people on the last night before the end went away, because it wasn't the artist that Porretta likes, here audience wants to see rustic, genuine and true people, not made for a general public, here you'll never see an artist too massive.
Maybe the luck of the Festival is that it's not my job, otherwise I would have called Italian popular guests... here is the only place where the Italian artist is not an added value. "
Do you want to talk about the choice of the artists for this season?
"Unfortunately there is an anagraphic factor, tonight one of our myths, James Govan, who came 5 times to Porretta, from '93 to '97, beloved by the public, with an amazing voice, has left us, like the other week did Bobby Womack.
Unfortunately, the artists who come to Porretta were born in a time slot ranging from 1939 to '41 and have lived a wild life ... the new generations are more directed to Rap and Pop, they don't make Soul music as it is in the southern USA , so the choice is also conditioned by this fact.
Calling an artist who is in the hit parade does not interest us because it is not in the strings of Porretta. In a context of European Festivals as hypermarkets, where you find the same product anywhere, Porretta is different, ours is a workshop where you can find quality products, but this is the peculiarity and the audience is able to recognize the right things, good things. "
Do you have any particular anecdote among the memories?
"There are so many. For example, the first thing that Americans looks after: when they arrive and see that hotels do not have air conditioning they go crazy. Aside from that first moment of collective despair, when they immerse themselves in the environment of Porretta, with its clean air, everybody fall in love.
I remember the first time that Solomon Burke came here, we took him to sleep in a hotel that was new, but in which had been installed sanitary cabinets, and he weighed 240 kg ... Another good memory is about Rufus Thomas, he stayed here for 10 days back in 1988, we used to eat at Castelluccio and coming down from the curves of the Appennine mountain he asked me "Graziano, do you have good brakes?" because accustomed to American roads here is another thing"
In the discourse of memory with time shifts that move in flashback and almost surreal irony Uliani Graziano declares himself enthusiastic about the program set up for the 27th edition "we have the best of the best, artists who have played with all the major musicians in the industry, who are an example to all. "
Uliani leaves us with this sentence: "See what is the advantage of Porretta? Here, behind the Rufus Thomas Park, you go out and find the artist at the bar, you can go to get ice cream with him, to eat with him, there is no dispersion, and this can only happen in a small town "
High music, perhaps not very well known or understood, that manages to have a stage in a microworld that can stop time and remains intact and eternal. Porretta appears to be the most suitable stage reality, malleable, with tailored contours sew on the talent and uniqueness of musicians who live their art in a way now almost impossible to find. It is clearly perceived, ever since the first chords, the first violent note, the feeling with which they convey the Soul of an immortal music genre.