“Porretta belongs on every serious blues and soul festival-goer's bucket list, a confluence of positive forces to be honored and treasured.”
Dick Shurman, Paul Harris Living Blues 2017

ART DIRECTOR Graziano Uliani

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A summer in Porretta by Andrea Piazza

Perhaps not all roads lead to Porretta Terme. But mine do it often. Like that time when, returning from holidays in Garfagnana, I let myself be driven by the car, choosing the road at random. Eventually I found myself in Porretta which, to return to my house, is not exactly on the road. I discovered that it works like this: the first few times you go to Porretta Terme, you choose. Then, after a while, it is this town with its charm, its mountain sobriety, its music … that attracts you like the siren song.

This summer too went like this. I had made up my mind to tackle the Via Francesca della Sambuca: 100 km of route. 5 days of walking, from Bologna to Pistoia, with a backpack. In Porretta I shouldn’t even have gone through, however, in the stretch after Riola, I took a detour which, for the umpteenth time, brought me here to the banks of the Reno river.

Putting everything together (experiences, places, people met…) would be difficult. So I thought I’d tell this “Porretto summer” by points.

WALKING ON THE VIA FRANCESCA: A SOUL JOURNEY

Maybe not everyone knows that… there is also a Via Francesca della Sambuca. It is a branch of the Francigena towards Pistoia.
And so, along the way, it may happen to hear you say: “Watch out! if you are looking for the Way of the Gods, go to the wrong side! ” and you, trying to stay calm, answer “Noooo, I’m on Via Francesca”. Or “Take the Wool and Silk Road towards Prato?” and you, after a deep breath, “Nooooo! I’m going to Pistoia! ”. In short, the pilgrim’s life is not always easy.

For my “pilgrimage” I have chosen a “secular” style. I left aside the story of the sacred places and I dedicated myself to the profane. Thanks to the support of Radio Frequency Appennino I tried to tell, in an artisanal podcast, the places, events and people who meet in this wonderful territory. And among these, of course, the Porretta Soul could not be missing.

Telling my story I was inspired by the words of Guccini, one who lives there in Via Francesca. And so my pilgrimage became an “Epaphanic Way”, a sort of revelation of this very rich territory.

PORRETTA CENTRE OF THE STREET ART

We have known for some time that this was the “capital of Soul”. Now, thanks to his murals, he is a candidate to become a capital of Street Art. I am convinced that Porretta has given a lot to Soul and that the Festival, in turn, has given a lot to this small city. Today, thanks to these murals, that “midsummer dream” that is the Porretta Soul is renewing the face of this mountain town. The History of the Soul Festival teaches us to “daydream”. So I want to dream of itineraries that bring tourists here to discover, in addition to the naturalistic beauties of these mountains, also the art that colors the streets of Porretta. Not only on the days of the Festival but throughout the year.

MAURIZIO CIONI: THE END OF TRAVELING IS TRAVELING, NOT ARRIVING

I walked on Via Francesca from 3 to 7 July. But I went through these parts even before (for the inspections) and even after (perhaps out of nostalgia). On Sunday 27 June I met Maurizio Cioni for the first time. I came to prepare some interviews for my Podcast. That day the new murals were presented. When I learned that one was dedicated to the Blues Brothers I couldn’t resist: I had to photograph it. And that too was a “revelation”. I discovered the beautiful via Falcone which, before then, I had never traveled.

Arriving near the mural, I see the artist at work. I think: “Good! So I can photograph him while he is at work “. Then I look at the drawing and I still see it very incomplete. I tell Cioni: “Listen, I have to go through here next week. Can you finish it by July 5th? No, because I would like to photograph it complete ”. And he replies: “Quiet! I’ll finish it by 11:00 this morning ”. It was Sunday June 27th.

The following week, while I was walking on the Via Francesca, I returned, as I had promised. The mural was not finished yet and, to protect himself from the sun, the artist had set up camp with a tent. I went back again in late July. That time, with the drawing still to be completed, I met Cioni, in front of his work, at 1.30 am. And it was there that I realized: now what mattered to him was not seeing the finished painting but the artist at work. A bit like Tiziano Terzani said: the purpose of travel is to travel itself and not to arrive.

GRAZIANO ULIANI: PASSION, DETERMINATION AND… A TINT OF MADNESS

He is crazy! We all know. On the other hand, it only takes a “crazy dreamer” to set up what he has achieved in Porretta in these 34 years. And the most fascinating thing is that it is a person like many others. Ultimately, Uliani was a “nobody” who, at a certain point in his life, took it into his head to break the boxes to the myths of Soul. He was happy that the law on stalking did not yet exist. In the end, however, he managed to realize a dream in which, in one way or another, he involved us all.

When they gave me his number to interview him I couldn’t believe it. I had always seen him from afar: I on the steps of the Park Rufus Thomas and him on the stage. It seemed impossible to me (only later did I realize that, between the stage and the steps of the arena, there is no distance, no barrier). But I should have imagined it when they told me: “Uliani is so passionate about his Porretta Soul that he would also be interviewed by the elementary school magazine”. But perhaps this “passion”, as can be seen from the documentary film of the Festival, is the secret of everything.

A SOUL JOURNEY: A JOURNEY FOR THE SOUL, A DREAM FOR EVERYONE

During my “Porrettano-centric” summer I saw, for the first time, the film “A Soul Journey”. It was very informative and interesting. It really made me think. When you come to Porretta in the days of Soul you have the feeling of “living in a dream”. In fact, you feel like you yourself are helping to make that dream come true. Maybe it will be the non-existent separation between the audience and the stage. Or rather the strange feeling of buying a CD from the hands of the singer who, a few minutes earlier, was performing on stage. In those days you may happen to meet, on the street, in a restaurant, in an ice cream parlor… the artists of the Festival. It is a sense of involvement, of fusion between the audience and musicians, which is not experienced in other musical events. The artists of the Festival tell it well in the film: Soul does not speak to the ears or to the mind but addresses the heart, it goes directly to the emotions of the listener.

So I thought about my case. I am not a music expert. I am not a STAX record collector. I didn’t go to the Conservatory and, to be honest, I never learned to play, not even the guitar. Yet, the Porretta Soul always manages to involve me, to excite me. But this is normal.

Maybe not all of us have a diploma from the Conservatory, but we all have a heart and a soul: and that is what Soul is aimed at.