2020 Barcelona Bluegrass Camp report

Tony Trischka leads a banjo workshop at the 2020 Barcelona Bluegrass Camp

This report on the 5th annual Barcelona Bluegrass Camp is a contribution from Xavier Cardús, a banjo player and bluegrass enthusiast in Barcelona.

The temperature was pleasantly perfect and the clear sky was pale blue this past March 6th and 7th for the fifth annual Barcelona Bluegrass Camp, held in sunny Barcelona, Spain. We had more than 120 participants (and more than 40 banjos!), including students from the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Andorra, Holland, Belgium, Greece, and Spain.

The Camp began on Friday night with a great big jam and the Teachers Concert, attended by participants with their family and friends. Grammy-nominated artist Tony Trischka and French fiddler Rapaël Maillet opened the concert with an energizing duet. Afterwards, all the teachers took the stage, playing and improvising classic bluegrass songs. Of course, once the concert was over, the jams resumed in the bar and spilt onto the street. All Camp activities were carried out in La Sedeta, the historic building that housed an old factory of woolen fabrics, artificial silk, and synthetic fibers. This factory had an important role in the labor movements of the early 20th century. Today this building has been repurposed as a civic center and is part of the industrial heritage of Barcelona.

Camp continued in earnest first thing Saturday morning with the presentation of the teachers and Camp organizers. The students were then dismissed and followed their teacher to a classroom to work on this year’s Bluegrass Camp songs (My Walking Shoes and Red Prairie Dawn).

For this year, we had the following classes and instructors:

  • Bluegrass Banjo: Tony Trischka, Eugene O’Brian, and Lluís Gómez
  • Old Time Banjo: David Prat
  • Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar: Phil Fernback
  • Finger-picking Bluegrass Guitar: Miguel Talavera
  • Mandolin: Paul Van Vlodrop
  • Bluegrass Fiddle: Raphaël Maillet
  • Old Time Fiddle: Mitch Depew
  • Vocal Harmony: Sharon Lombardi and Jean Marie Redon
  • Double Bass: Josemi Moraleda
  • Harmonica: John Pau Cumellas

In addition, the camp also included the Bluegrass Kids Workshop, taught by Maribel Rivero, for introducing bluegrass music to kids age 6-11.

The presence of Tony Trischka at the Camp was quite meaningful for the banjo students this year. Banjo students from throughout Europe were eager to have the opportunity to work with him directly, to see him play first-hand, and to hear his expert advice.

Students worked with their instrument instructors up until lunch time, when we all gathered at a local restaurant for a big meal and a group photo.

After lunch, students were placed in two different combos with two different teachers. The first combo came up with arrangements for the Camp songs. The second combo learned a song specific to the group to be performed at the student concert. For example Paul Van Vlodrop, the fiddle instructor from Netherlands, taught Salty Dawg to an enthusiast band consisting of two bluegrass banjos, one from the Spanish capital city of Madrid and one from California, a guitarist from Canada and one from Appalachia, a dentist playing old time banjo, and his uncle, a traditional Danish shipbuilder who plays harmonica, along with two fiddlers, one bassist, and a harmonica player from right here in Catalonia.

After a great time working up songs with our new bands, the musicians were summoned to the auditorium. First, the children who participated in the Bluegrass Kids Workshop appeared and played an easy Bluegrass song. It was wonderful to see the children playing with their small violins and banjos. Maribel did a great job organizing the kids, who were of various levels, giving them the opportunity to play onstage in a relaxed and familiar setting. Of course, the crowd loved it!.

Next up, the combos took the stage. One after another, they presented the song they had worked on earlier in the day. Students of all ages and levels worked together in musical fellowship, with lots of great instrumental and vocal numbers. After the last band played, the organizers came on stage and drew two raffle tickets from a bag. The prize was a free ArtistWorks membership for a year (a $279.00 value). The lucky winners were Santiago Gundín (a banjoist from Madrid) and Joana Gumí (a fiddle player from Barcelona).

Finally, all the teachers and students were invited to take the stage to play a song together, with the Bluegrass Kids in the front row, and Lluís Gómez directing the whole operation. Naturally, there was not enough room onstage for 120 people, and musicians stood on the side of the stage. Together, everyone — banjos, guitar, fiddle, bass, harmonicas, and the singers —- played Red Prairie Dawn and My Walking Shoes, the Bluegrass Camp songs. Once the audience started applauding, they did not stop for some time! And all the participants started applauding too. It was like a big Bluegrass Fiesta. Everybody was happy. The Fifth Barcelona Bluegrass Camp was over. And all the participants took home a wonderful memory.

The teachers were surprised by the student’s strong desire to learn and to play, and everyone agreed that the best part of the camp was the atmosphere of collaboration and friendship amongst musicians that was created. Many participants said they plan on returning next year to the Barcelona Bluegrass Camp.

The Sixth Barcelona Bluegrass Camp will be on March 5th and 6th, 2021, and we hope you can join us!.