Sanremo Music Festival: Then and Now

Sanremo Music Festival: Sanremo in Liguria
Art & Culture Music

Sanremo Music Festival Then and Now: Background and 2018 Info

It’s February and (on top of the famous carnival in Venice) that means it’s time for Sanremo. Millions of Italians will soon be rooting for their favorite Italian musicians in one of the most popular televised song contests in Europe, the Sanremo Music Festival 2018! Its official name is Festival della Canzone Italiana which translates to Festival of the Italian Song in English. This event gathers a huge TV and live audience every year. It gives a chance to both newcomers as well as veteran musicians to put on a show for their old and new fans.

It’s very much a part of everyday conversations in Italy. Before and during the event, newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and bloggers all over the country cover participating artists and speculate about potential winners. And those who don’t, talk about Sanremo anyways and complain about the coverage of the festival or the festival itself. Nobody can really ignore it. Wanna get in on the fun? Here’s what it’s all about.

The Basics of the Sanremo Music Festival

How It All Began

Sanremo is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast in Italy’s Northwest. The Sanremo Music Festival has been held here for more than 65 years now. It was first brought to life as a post-war cultural and economic boost as a collaboration between broadcaster RAI and a local casino owner. The first event in 1951 was rather small. Only 3 singers participated. The performances were broadcast by one of RAI’s radio stations. In 1955, the Italian TV station RAI 1 took over and has produced live broadcasts ever since. It has been held almost exclusively at Teatro Ariston in Sanremo every year around late February since 1977. You can find a lot more detail about its history on the dedicated Wikipedia page if you are curious.

Here are some of the Best Of from previous years:


The Sanremo Music Festival includes live musicOver the years, the Sanremo Music Festival has become more and more popular. With the increased amount of attention came the involvement of bigger and also more internationally recognized stars. This reinforced its popularity. Accordingly, the rules and format of the festival have changed quite a bit over the years. Early on, all artists competed against each other. In some years, different artists sang the same songs and were compared on their performances. In other years, every artist had to perform a different song and was judged on their singing only. For a while, there were numerous different categories in which artists competed against each other (e.g., women, men, groups, single acts). Lately it has boiled down to a group of established artists who compete against each other and a second group of newcomers who compete against each other.

Star Power at Sanremo

Since its inception this event has acted as a launching pad for many young musicians. By now, it has brought fame to numerous artists. Did you know for example that Eros Ramazzotti got a big boost from this festival? It has also helped launch the careers of other incredibly famous Italian singers including Andrea Bocelli and Zucchero. Less internationally famous, but a huge star in Italy, is Laura Pausini, who also gained popularity by competing in the Sanremo Music Festival.

Since the 50s and 60s, international artists have starred as special guests at the Sanremo Music Festival. The list is long. Some of the early participants included Stevie Wonder, Paul Anka, and Shirley Bassey. In 2017, Ricky Martin and Robbie Williams made an appearance. It makes you wonder who will be this year’s famous visitors!

The Eurovision Song Contest

Did you know that the famous Eurovision Song Contest was inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival? Both of these festivals give viewers a chance to vote for their favorite contestants which encourages audience engagement. While the Sanremo Music Festival is all about Italian music, the Eurovision Song Contest lets each European country send one of their artists to represent their country. Another major difference is that the live performances for the audience go on for 5 days in a row in Sanremo. The Eurovision Song Contest instead has only one big live show.

The Sanremo Music Festival 2018

The 2018 Sanremo Music Festival will start on February 6, 2018 and will continue every day until the grand finale on February 10, 2018. This year, as in the previous years, not only young talents are brought to the show, but famous musicians and celebrities participate as well. The 2018 Sanremo Music Festival contains a Big Artists section with 20 entries and a Newcomers section with 8 entries. Special guests are also expected to perform. Among the ones who have confirmed attendance this year are Laura Pausini and Sting! Not all special guests are revealed in advance. So, there might be some surprises. You can find all the most current information on the official Sanremo festival website.

This year’s Sanremo Music Festival will be presented by Claudio Baglioni who also acts as the artistic director of the event as a whole. Supporting him will be Michelle Hunziker and Pierfrancesco Favino.

Competing Artists

In 2018, 20 established stars and 8 newcomers will compete. The big artists are well known in Italy while probably not easily recognized abroad. Among them are Annalisa, Decibel, Le Vibrazioni, and Luca Barbarossa just to name a few. I had mentioned some of them in an earlier post about popular Italian singers already. The official Sanremo festival website has a full list of this year’s artists. The winner of the established artists group will get the chance to represent Italy at the next Eurovision Song Contest. Among the listed newcomers are Alice Caioli, Eva, Giulia Casieri, and Lorenzo Baglioni. Personally, I am rooting for Lorenzo Baglioni and his entry Il Congiuntivo. I really like it! It’s very catchy – and more importantly, it’s funny! The whole song is about how to use a specific grammar tense. Seriously. It’s hilarious. Check out the video on YouTube below.

Voting at Sanremo

One of the reasons the Sanremo Music Festival is so popular is because it gives viewers the power to influence the results. Viewers can cast their vote from either a landline or a cell phone. They can also use the festival’s official app to vote online. Voting is a big part of the Sanremo Music FestivalBut these are only two of the many ways the winners are determined.  Another contributing factor are the votes of 300 previously selected fans who vote directly from their homes to influence the final winners. Sanremo also involves expert voting and press voting. Famous music personalities and celebrities can take part in the expert voting and assign points to each artist’s performance. Press voting consists of groups of journalists who watch the competition closely and assign points according to their preferences.

See the Show

Watch Sanremo on RAI 1If you haven’t bought tickets yet, you can still do so here:  If they are already sold out or you are too far away, you can watch the show on TV. As usual, RAI 1 will broadcast all the most important acts. People from all corners of the world can tune it to follow this festival by finding the right TV station as Rai Italia is collaborating with many TV stations across North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. If you prefer to watch it online, you can access the Eurovision Song Contest website and root for your favorite contestants in front of your computer.

So, now that you know what the Sanremo Music Festival is all about, you can join in the conversation with your Italian friends or fellow Italophiles and gossip about who might win or who might make a special guest appearance. Enjoy the 2018 edition! And let me know on Facebook who your favorites are! And of course I would love for you to sign up for my newsletter.