I’ve just returned from Piacenza, Italy, where the organizers of the “Dal Mississippi al Po” Blues Festival were kind enough to include me in their proceedings. Now, when I first learned I was being invited to a blues festival, my reaction was, “Huh?” But it turns out that the festival is about bringing things together—in particular, blues, folk music, country, jazz, and crime fiction. And you’d be surprised by how effortlessly they blend in the lovely open spaces of Piacenza, Milano, and Genova.

Among the musical guests I met (I was only around for the first few days) were Kasey Lansdale (daughter of novelist Joe R. Lansdale) singing country tunes from Nacogdoches, TX, Grayson Capps (son of novelist Ronald Everett Capps) making dirty and addictive blues on his acoustic guitar, and Sarah Lee Guthrie (granddaughter of Woody and daughter of Arlo Guthrie) with her husband Johnny Irion picking folk-rock with the occasional accompaniment of their daughter on vocals.

[caption id=”attachment_963” align=”aligncenter” width=”516” caption=”(Kasey Lansdale performing sweet country music)”]Kasey Lansdale performing sweet country music[/caption]

The writers, though, were larger in number. The aforementioned Lansdale and Capps were in attendance, as were Joe Cottonwood, Tim Willocks, music writer and jazz specialist Ashley Kahn, Michael Jecks (the Master of Medieval Murder to you, and patriarch of an exquisitely charming family), James Grady (of Six Days of the Condor fame, as well as a famous smile), and David Liss (one of those rare people who’ve actually won an Edgar). I also had the pleasure of talking to and sharing a panel with Serge Quadruppani, a French translator and thriller writer with perhaps the world’s coolest name, which still matches his ever-sunglassed persona (sitting, left, in picture above, beside our panel host, the famous journalist Beppe Sebaste).

Take into account that I didn’t meet most of the people there, and you get the idea that the festival is packed with talent. And as many writers confess after returning from such events, it was a pleasure to find myself among people not only talented but incredibly nice and accessible. David Liss and I got on particularly well, and I quickly got that creepy but pleasant separated-at-birth feeling when trading stories and barbs with him.

But what did I do there? Just gab with new friends and eat pizza? Well, it sometimes felt that way, but each day was packed with events. We herded onto busses to hit nearby towns and answer questions in front of audiences. Bookstores, cafes, restaurants and radio stations—our first day we crowded into the Rai studios in Milano for some live radio time. A real blast.

Since my publisher, Neri Pozza’s Giano Editore had brought me over, they lined me up with a plethora of interviewers—I think I had ten interviews in all—at which my lovely publicity contact, Chiara Voleno, performed translations. I even got my own radio spot, when Radio Popolare interviewed me live. And of course the most wonderful thing about these interviews is that, without exception, the interviewers walked in as fans of The Tourist. One even carried a copy of The Bridge of Sighs (my only other translated work there) and told me it was among her top-10 reads of all time (this from a book reviewer!).

Suffice to say, the trip was a great success and wonderful fun. Even the family enjoyed it all. It reminded me of the year I spent in Firenze, and all the things I’d loved about life in Italy. And I’d like to publicly thank the organizers, in particular that master of organization under pressure, Seba Pezzani—a real gentleman. So if any of you writers or musicians out there are invited to Piacenza for the festival in future years, take my advice and go.

(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)