9th Annual Barcelona Bluegrass Camp report

This article was co-written by Xavier Cardús, one of the organizers of the camp. Photos are a contribution from Josep Ponsà.

On March 1-2, 2024, the Associacio Bluegrass i Old-Time Al Ras (Al Ras) hosted the 9th annual Barcelona Bluegrass Camp in Barcelona, Spain. We had more than a hundred musicians gather to enjoy two days playing bluegrass music, with participants from the USA, Ireland, Holland, the Czech Republic, France, Poland, Switzerland, Portugal, and of course, Spain.

The Barcelona Bluegrass Camp has been held the first weekend in March for nine years. 

Friday, March 1st: The Barcelona Bluegrass Camp begins with the Big Jam, giving musicians the opportunity to know one another in a social and relaxed setting. Students, teachers, and kids gather around in jam circles, and play their favorite songs.

After the Big Jam there was the Teacher’s Concert, and we had a number of excellent bluegrass musicians gathered to teach this year, including the renowned bluegrass guitar instructor Steve Kaufman, and banjo instructor Bill Evans. Both instructors have decades of experience in teaching and countless instructional material available. Teachers, organizers, and invited guests performed a great show to the gathered musicians. Organizer Joan Manel, from the Al Ras Association, kept putting out additional chairs all night to keep the growing crowd comfortable.

After the concert there was another jam for socializing with old friends coming together again for musical fellowship.

Saturday, March 2nd: Everyone gathered at 9:30 in the morning to find out where their classrooms were, where their combo will be meeting, chat with fellow students about bluegrass, and maybe grab a coffee or sandwich at the café of La Sedeta, the building where the camp takes place.

The teachers this year were Steve Kaufman, guitar; Bill Evans, banjo; Raphael Maillet, bluegrass fiddle; Mitch Depew, old-time fiddle; Ondra Kozak, mandolin; David Prat, old-time banjo; Maribel Rivero, bluegrass kids; Oriol Saña, Paul Vlodroop, and Juan Manuel Hernández, combo teachers.

One coffee break, a lunch break, the campus family photo, and a lot more jamming later, and the instrumental instruction part of the camp was over at 5:30. Students then rehearsed with their combos, led by teachers and invited guests, and presented their material in a student’s concert at 7:00 in the evening.

The combo segment of the camp underlines the importance of gaining experience by playing bluegrass music together, demonstrating how cultivating better musicianship is not just an individual process, but also one of learning to sensitively play music with other instruments. The student’s concert was more packed than the teacher’s concert, and the Al Ras organizers rapidly sold raffle tickets for a year’s subscription to the ArtistWorks online teaching program while the students combos played (Congratulations to the two raffle winners, fiddler Pablo Luchtan and guitarist Pol Gillén).

We like to call special attention to Bluegrass Kids, a program spearheaded by bassist Maribel Rivero. In association with l’Escola de Música de Premiá de Mar, the kids program has increased under Maribel’s direction. This year, she worked with 19 kids under 10 years old to get them prepared for the students concert. Great job kids, and great work Maribel — thanks for everything you put into Bluegrass Kids!

Before everyone headed back to the bar for more jamming, students, teachers, and guests were invited onstage to join in a performance of two camp songs: Salty Dog and Elzic’s Farewell (the Chris Thile version).  

The evening, and the camp, ended with the teachers, students, and organizers at the café downstairs, reminiscing, making plans, and playing music together.

  • The Al Ras Association organizers:  Lluís Gómez, Joan Manel Hernández, Jorge Rodríguez, Xavier Cardús, and Ignasi Cardús
  • Artistworks for donating two year-long subscriptions for the raffle
  • El Barn D’en Greg who provided a BBQ and Jam Sunday afternoon for the travels still in town
  • Everyone at La Sedeta and the Café for putting up with the overflow of musicians for two days

La Sedeta building, an old silk stocking factory converted to a community center, has been the perfect venue for the “camp,” because it has enough classrooms, a nice big auditorium with a performance stage, good sound, and plenty of seating. Just as important, there is also a friendly café on the bottom floor where musicians can go at their own calling to grab a coffee, beer, or a bocadilla (a type of sandwich).

The 9th Barcelona Bluegrass Camp was a great success, and we can’t wait to see everyone again next year, and of course some new faces!

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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.