For 342 days of the year, the medieval cobbled streets of Pistoia, a small town near Florence, are stage to the quiet affairs of country life and small family businesses. Between 1st-24th of July every year however, the roads make way for rock stars such as Alex Turner or Noel Gallagher, and the quiet murmur of rural Italian life is replaced by iconic guitar hooks and piercing screams that only fan girls can achieve at the month long Pistoia Blues Festival.
Held in the Piazza Duomo, a traditional 16th Century square dominated by a grand cathedral, the beauty of the festival emanates from both the monumental buildings encompassing the stage and the gleaming Tuscan night sky above it.
Each date is graced by a different act appearing in the square, with ticket prices varying depending on the popularity of the artist. This years festival boasted big names such as the folksy Mumford and Sons and the legend that is Sting. Irish newcomer Hozier, performed on the 7th of July with tickets costing €30.
Arriving early in the day the town is ghostly but for the square, where the fan girls and a few puzzled tourists are lucky enough to witness the sound check, with Hozier teasing the small crowd with familiar tunes as security moodily moves everyone away from the stage. As the night draws closer the Piazza is closed, and the streets leading towards it flood with arty stalls, street food, and a tour T-shirt clad army forming a queue to get the best seats when the gates open. Seats are, however, ultimately irrelevant as upon his arrival to the stage the audience swarm forward screaming and dancing, disregarding any chairs or walk ways. It is this vivacious Italian temperament that electrifies the concert, the foreign words cried out into the night as passionately as the national anthem.
Pistoia offers charmingly authentic accommodation such as B&B’s in period buildings or rooms above trattorias, however you could catch the last train back to neighbouring Florence if you run from the stage to the station (the first train back being at 4:45am if you miss it). That seems a dauntingly high risk, but if you do miss the train the night becomes abundant with possibility. The few bars that exist in Pistoia heave with trendy young Italians, travelled from Rome or Bologna, who are more than willing to make friends and teach some slurred Italian.
Even after the disheartening hail of last orders, that after-gig buzz continues to hum over the cobbles into the break of dawn. There even stands a solitary all night take-away in the town, down a quiet residential street opening from 9pm-5am. Unlike the English equivalent, however, the delicacies are not greasy chips or fatty kebabs, but instead freshly baked croissants oozing with nutella and mascarpone cheese. Comforted by such a heavenly smell, and supported by several espressos, your final moments in Pistoia pass until the train comes and sleep prevails after a uniquely Italian festival experience.
• Pistoia Blues Festival takes place from the 1st-24th of Luglio (that’s July for you non-Italians out there). Tickets will be available on their website (it’s in English).