2023 Al Ras Bluegrass & Old Time Festival in Barcelona

Red Wine at the 2023 Al Ras Bluegrass & Old Time Festival – photo © Josep Pons

Hello Bluegrass Friends!

Earlier this month we celebrated the 22nd edition of the Al Ras Bluegrass & Old Time Festival, with bands from Barcelona, Spain, and Italy, and musicians from all over Europe and the United States. It is held each year in Barcelona, the capitol of Spain’s Catalon region.

The festival started on Thursday night with a show by the Bib Ramblers at the Black Lab Brewery in Barceloneta, followed by a jam with visiting and local musicians. The Black Lab has become our new home for the jams, and they were kind enough to let us open the festival there. The Bib Ramblers are an exciting old-time band from Granada. Well, they all met in Granada, but they are from all over. Mitch and Michael are from the US, Danny is from Germany, and Fabi is from Switzerland. Mitch is an accomplished, award-winning fiddler and first in the hearts of Barcelona’s old-time musicians, due to the fact that he has been teaching old-time fiddle at the Barcelona Bluegrass Camp for several years. The Bib Ramblers used to meet to play on a street called the Bib Rambla, hence the name, and they presented well-thought-out arrangements of old-time standards like Walking In My Sleep, Cumberland Gap, and a Tommy Jarrell inspired Sail Away Ladies.

The festival continued on Friday, with a concert at La Sedeta featuring the two out of town bands, The Bib Ramblers and Red Wine, and of course jams before and after the performance. I’ve already told you about the Bib Ramblers, who performed three shows for the festival, and you have perhaps already heard of Red Wine, Italy’s number one bluegrass export. Red Wine played originals and songs by renowned bluegrass songwriters, a cappella gospel numbers, and even a song in Italian. They have a great stage show and it is no wonder that Red Wine won a Distinguished Achievement Award from the IBMA this year.

Formed in 1978, the band has a 45-year vintage, and their love and expertise for bluegrass music is clear. The big festival day is Saturday, when everyone meets at the Mercat Vell in Mollet de Valls, a small town just outside Barcelona. The Mercat Vell is the old market, situated in the center of town, which has been converted to a venue with a large seating capacity to serve the community.

Saturday started with the Bluegrass Kids, an initiative led by Maribel Rivero, and organized by the Escola de Música de Premià de Mar. Kids had been practicing at the school and at their home with their families for weeks, and they met an hour before showtime to make arrangements, do a final run through, and opened the festival in Mollet at 1730 local time. Uauo! (wow!) I have to tell you, the future looks bright for fiddling in Barcelona!

The Four Pints were a last minute addition, so they were squeezed in after the kids. Less than a month old, this group represents the best of the Barcelona jams. The last time all four were together at a jam to make their magic, someone proposed a new band, and the Four Pints were born! Laura on banjo, Marta on fiddle, Maribel on bass, and Foska on guitar gave enchanting renditions of bluegrass standards like Used To Be and Rabbit In the Log.  Congratulations to these musicians, for some of whom it was their first time playing bluegrass onstage.

After the Four Pints, Barcelona’s most active bluegrass band, the Newgrass Republic, gave a stellar performance. Led by Tony Jou on guitar and vocals, the band gave a bluegrass interpretation of songs like North to Alaska and Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down. Congratulations to all the Republicans!

It was a great festival, and the local bands were just as good as the visiting ones. Case in point, the Al Ras House Band. Any bluegrass festival goer knows that sometimes the best musicians aren’t in a band per se, but can be found in a local jam somewhere, playing the music they love with friends. The Al Ras House Band is made up of a fluid cast of local jammers, and this year they got together to perform bluegrass versions of local country music heartthrob Joe Fields’ songs.  Joe fronted the band and gave a great performance of crowd favorites like I Don’t Want to Write Another Sad Song After You Leave Me (a Joe Fields original) and George Straight’s Amarillo by Morning.

The traditional raffle was held before Red Wine closed the show. Hopefully ticket-buyers had the opportunity to win a mandolin donated by Sun Spiral Guitars, a collection of books from DINSIC music publishing, and various packets of CDs, tote bags, t-shirts, and stickers from Al Ras and the festival bands.

Red Wine put on another great show, showing why they have set the standard for bluegrass in Europe for so many years.

To close off the show, everyone got onstage to play together, all the musicians, the organizers, and the jammers, closing with Elzic’s Farewell, Old Joe Clark and the traditional closer, Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

One of the nice things that has developed with the Al Ras Festival is the Sunday afternoon bar-b-q and jam at El Barn D’en Greg.  The food is great and the atmosphere is low-key, allowing local and visiting musicians a chance to get together and play in a relaxed setting before saying goodbye for another year.

That’s all for now. If we don’t see you for the Barcelona Bluegrass Camp in March 2024, we hope to see you at the next Al Ras Festival in November 2024.

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About the Author

Michael Luchtan

Michael Luchtan is a musician and scholar raised in the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Georgia, now living in Barcelona, Spain. He has been awarded research grants from prestigious institutes such as Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Western North Carolina, Berea College in Kentucky, and East Tennessee State University, where he received a master's degree in Appalachian Studies in 2019. Funded by a grant from the Open University of Catalonia to examine the circulation of embodied knowledge, his comprehensive research on Barcelona's bluegrass scene and its surrounding communities has positioned him as a prominent authority on European Bluegrass. As a correspondent for Bluegrass Today, he enthusiastically covers festivals, events, and communities, sharing his unique perspective on the genre's global resonance.