Our friends with the Al Ras Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association in Barcelona are hosting a raffle this year to raise money for their various efforts to spread the word about bluegrass and traditional music along the northern Mediterranean coast of Spain. It is truly a missionary effort on their part, and they have had tremendous success hosting an annual festival, as well as regular pickings and instructional efforts. Like most European nations, Spain has its own rich folk culture going back centuries, but the people with Al Ras have found that the appeal of Appalachian style folk music has an appeal that translates across both language and culture.
This description of their work, with a fundraising appeal, is a contribution from Michael Luchtan, an American living in Barcelona. If you support the spread of bluegrass outside the United States, please consider whether you can help.
The fall weather is just starting here in Barcelona, and as we start to get ready for the colder temperatures, our attention turns to some of the bluegrass projects that we have heating up here. Many of you have come to visit our festival, camps, or jams when touring Europe, and we want to let you know, now that things are finally starting to get back to normal after the pandemic of 2020, what our organization, the Al Ras Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association, is up to and how you can support us.
The Al Ras Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association puts on three main types of events in Barcelona: regular jams, the annual festival, and a music camp. We also have special events in between if someone passes through and we can all get together for some musical fun. And one of the connecting themes is our Bluegrass Kids program, which just this year began to expand outside of Spain, with help from the European Bluegrass Music Association, with a Bluegrass Kids workshop in France for the Bluegrass in La Roche Festival.
Three times a month we host a public bluegrass jam for musicians in Barcelona, meeting in the back of our supportive music venue, La Sonora de Gracia. The third Sunday a month is the Slow Jam, hosted by Joan Manel, a member of the Al Ras Organization who is a knowledgeable musician and enjoys teaching newcomers. We will often see kids start here at the Slow Jam because it is a less intimidating place to take a solo than at the regular jam. The second and fourth Sunday is the “regular” jam, and things can get pretty fast pretty quick! At the regular jam we play the bluegrass standards at a fast clip, and will even try out some original compositions from our members, like one of Lluis Gomez’s pieces which mix bluegrass with flamenco, or transcriptions of newer works like Béla Fleck’s Baptist Pumpkin Farm or Boulderdash.
The Al Ras Bluegrass and Old Time Festival happens on the first weekend of November, and we are celebrating our 21st festival this year with musicians coming from all over Spain and Europe to perform, and of course to have jams into the night. The Bluegrass Kids will be performing on Saturday night, under the nurturing eye of bassist Maribel Rivera. In the past, before COVID-19 shut down the world in 2020, we would always have a band from the United States come to perform, but we still haven’t recovered 100%, and for now we are only presenting local bands from Catalonia, bands from Spain, and bands from Europe like Red Herring.
We are looking forward to having more experts from the US come and visit next March, when we will have the acclaimed mandolinist John Reischman and the friend of Al Ras, the guitarist Chris Luquette. Bluegrass musicians come from all over Spain and Europe to this three day camp, held in Barcelona, the first weekend of March for 6 years. The Barcelona Bluegrass Camp is the most important event for our Bluegrass Kids, as they get to gather and play music together for an extended period of time, culminating in a rousing performance.
Last but not least, the Al Ras Association is a central point for bluegrass musicians who are traveling through and need support. We will often organize a concert or a master workshop for visiting bluegrass musicians who contact us, and at the very least welcome then to our jam our maybe have them over for a special jam and BBQ somewhere.
If you are interested in supporting us in our work, the easiest way to do that is through the Teaming website, where you can sign up to give just a dollar, or a euro, a month to our organization. Although it is small, this type of support adds up and gives us a reliable source of funds to organize our events (where the largest expenditure is paying the musicians, as it should be!). You can sign up for our Teaming website here online.
Yet another way to support us is by buying a ticket to our raffle! This year you can buy a ticket to the annual raffle for the Al Ras Festival (held November 3-6) online from anywhere in the world. Tickets are 5 euros (or dollars) a piece, and you can purchase them by sending a PayPal to the account email@example.com. Up for auction is a year’s subscription to the ArtistWorks program. ArtistWorks is an innovative teaching platform that allows the musical student to work closely under the tutelage of bluegrass masters, on the instrument of their choice, such as Tony Trischka or Bryan Sutton.