Just as guitar riffs drift over the stage, a cool Mediterranean breeze ushers away the afternoon heat. The low sun casts a glaze over the crowd, creating haloes of yellow light on a wheat field of nodding heads. Even an overpriced, watery beer tastes good at a moment like this. This slice of festival perfection doesn't last long: An hour later, the sun sets behind Tibidabo Mountain, night descends, and under a rising moon the event transforms into a wilder and altogether more savage beast. For many, that means the best bits of Primavera Sound are still to come, but I most enjoy that first cool beer in the gentle evening glow. It feels like a toast, not only to the start of the festival, but also to the start of summer, and the promise of many more fiestas, parties, and concerts to come.
For fellow mavens heading to Barcelona, here are some not-to-miss festivals:
Hip music lovers travel from around the world to this giant showcase of pioneering talent that seems to get bigger and bigger every year. Apart from the three mammoth days of audio-binging at the gigantic Parc del Forum (where late-night headliners might include the likes of Blur, Arcade Fire or The Cure) there are scores of free concerts (for ticket holders) taking place in clubs and bars around the city before and after the main event. Later at night, the music gets progressively more electronic, with DJs keeping the crowds dancing until dawn. Consider yourself an honorary Barcelonian if you make it this far.
Hot on the heels of Primavera is Sonar Festival every June, another hugely important event in the cultural life of the city, exhibiting creative electronic beats. Up-and-coming artists and turntablists entertain a hedonistic crowd of clubbers in Hawaiian shirts and flip flops at Sonar by Day. Sonar by Night is where things get a little messy with a football stadium worth of wide-eyed ravers dancing to acts like Chemical Brothers, Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran, along with DJ superstars, until 7 a.m. In the days surrounding the festival, virtually every bar, club, hotel, and chiringuito (beach bar) in the city throws unofficial “Off Sonar” parties, turning the Catalan capital into a giant urban arena of electronica for a week every summer.
While the previous two beat-tastic behemoths bring the world's best DJs and bands to Barcelona, there is a much more informal (and cheaper!) way to enjoy the city's music scene with a cold cerveza: by attending one of the city's many festes majors– street parties thrown by each individual district throughout summer. Makeshift stages are erected in scenic plazas, and local bands of varying fame belt out Spanish and Catalan rock for grandmothers and toddlers alike. Many will also incorporate regional traditions such as the castells (castles), where specialized teams form human towers up to seven or eight stories tall, or correfocs (fire runs), when pyromaniacs in demonic garb take perverse pleasure in showering the crowds with sparks... get too close and you will get singed, trust me!
The festa major to end all festes majors, La Merce is Barcelona's citywide grand festival and Europe's biggest street party. Street theatre, light shows, wine tasting, kids' workshops, the aforementioned castells and correfocs, and much more fill out an agenda fit to burst. Audiophiles will want to keep an ear out for BAM, the music segment of the program, which invites world famous acts to the city to play free concerts for the masses. Standout La Merce moments for me include oo-ee-oo-ee-oo-ing along to the Klaxons at the former Estrella Damm factory and partying to The Go! Team under the palm fronds of Placa Reial on a balmy September night. Oh Barcelona, you great enchantress!
About this Music Maven
Duncan Rhodes is a freelance travel journalist with a serious city fetish. He loves street art, quirky sights, underground bars/clubs, craft beer, and reading books in cafes. If you do too, then you might enjoy his blog.