11th Annual American Festival

Isn’t it fascinating to view American culture through the eyes of others? When we lived in Carcassonne, there was a Gitano family across the street from us. Their young daughter had a boyfriend who was obsessed with 70s disco music and would blast Disco Inferno from the car every time he stopped by to pick  her up. It always made Sami howl. But 70s and 80s music is very popular here and we hear it on the bus, businesses and at the music festivals. For Argeles-sur-Mer’s 11th annual Fête Américaine they reach back a bit further and include 50s and 60s music as well.

With American flags draped from every available surface, a crowd of 10,000+ people showed up for the two-day event to enjoy live American Rock-and-Roll, Jazz, Country-Western music, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, American classic and muscle cars, Civil War re-enactments, a Native American village, horseback riding, a mechanical bull, American cuisine and more. Yup, hamburgers, hot dogs and beer served along with Moules-frites and local rosé wine. We went counter-culture the first day and had shawarma for lunch, but did enjoy burgers and fries the following day.

The day before the event we were sitting on the patio having wine with our downstairs neighbors, Denis and Isabelle. Afterwards we went for a walk to check out the progress the crew was having in setting up the event. Tents were going up everywhere, the enormous stage was already set up along with several smaller venues for bands, cars and motorcycles were already making an appearance, as were the people. The day before the entire area was a ghost town. We walk the dogs out there every morning and most days only see the odd jogger or fisherman.

The event is held on a Sunday and Monday of a three-day weekend. After getting our laundry done for the day and getting Sami and Lou settled in their crate, we headed over to the festival. The weather was cooperating and it was sunny and warm. We passed by the first of the four smaller bandstands and heard a band playing AC/DC. The female singer was very good and sang without an accent. Wandering around we eventually the other three bandstands and enjoyed everything from Elvis to the Eagles. The expected souvenir and “stuff” vendors were there, all grouped together at the south end of the promenade. Browsing through the tents, we met a local artist from Elne who had some really creative pieces.

Her name is Christine Roy and she does both fine art and digital art. The pieces she had on display were her new digital art mandalas. I stopped into the booth because I liked the colors and the design. Christina LOVED the fact that we were Americans and that I was a graphic designer. She and I discussed her work, how she came up with the idea, the programs she used for the digital work, the number of hours she worked on each piece (100+ for each design). Only the digital art pieces were for sale, but she also paints in oils and acrylics. On her phone she had another 30 or 40 pieces that she showed me. She gave me one of the 4″ prints of the blue horse mandala and then showed me the inspiration for the piece, a horse that she loved that was stolen 10 years ago.

Christina and I chatted for a quite a while. She shared her belief that she should have been born in the US, France was just the wrong country for her personality. Being fascinated with all things American, but most especially the culture, the ease with which Americans make friends, and the language.  During our chat, the headliner for the event stopped by and she introduced me (though I don’t remember his name). We had just seen him on the event poster and I had commented to Alan that he looked a bit like the actor Ben Affleck.

After leaving Christina, we headed to the north end of the promenade and wandered through the American classic and muscle cars. Quite a few were at last year’s event, but a few were new this year. And not all of the cars were American, some were just classic like the 1961 Renault that was beautifully restored. My favorite though was actually a non-restored 70s Cadillac, because of the elderly couple who were probably the original owners. They were adorable!

We passed the Civil War re-enactors encampment while they were having lunch and it brought a smile to my lips when I noticed the bottles of Jack Daniels on the table rather than wine, getting into character I suppose.

We stopped at the mechanical bull to watch a young woman attempting to ride. She managed to stay on for about 3 seconds and after falling off, stood up and took a bow . . . her audience roared with laughter.

Day 2 of the event we went with the dogs as the crowds are usually smaller after the opening day. Sami was handling the smaller crowds pretty well and Lou is just a love and kept his barking to a minimum. Even the music wasn’t bothering Sami. We had lunch at one of the burger places and saw a tractor pulling a wagon that held a band who were playing Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achey-Breaky Heart.”  There are no words for just how funny I found this particular group of men.

After lunch we wandered out toward the promenade and listened to bands playing songs by the Eagles, Thin Lizzy and Steppenwolf. As we were leaving the Civil War re-enactors were just starting. We were wandering past them just as one of them fired a gun. Sami panicked, Lou panicked . . . the four of us had to immediately vacate the area and find a quiet spot. We headed to the Indian Village and a sunny patch of grass so that they could calm down a little before continuing. It took them a few minutes but finally “happy tail” happened and we were able to continue walking through the event without overly upsetting the dogs.

Stopping for an espresso at one of the many restaurants along the Esplande we listened to the headliner singing Elvis songs at the main stage a few alleys away. Following that we headed to the main stage and watched the country line dancing. One group had blended the Irish clog dancing with country line dancing. Their performance hit a snag, what is surely every performers worst nightmare. One of the dancers turned the wrong way and sent half the dancers off in the wrong direction. They regrouped and restarted the music and managed to nail it the second time through.

What’s interesting about this event is how they portray American culture — the Indian Village which is so stereo-typical as to be laughable, the Harley riders in black leather, the “cowboy” attire including fringed leather jackets, the Civil War re-enactors with the men in uniforms and women in dresses straight from “Gone with the Wind,” all the vendors selling a large variety of items with the Stars and Stripes and skull and cross bone motifs and the American-style hotdogs. Makes me wonder if everything they know of American culture is what they’ve seen on television; and if that’s true than how correct is everything I’ve seen on television about other cultures. Guess the best way is to experience it ourselves and find out!

Despite all of the stereotypical and iconic Americana, the music, cars, motorcycles, food and clothing does bring a feeling of nostalgia.


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