Bluegrass and Old Time Music Is Alive In Spain - by Lluis Gomez

by Lluis Gomez

I was born in Barcelona but raised in a small town called Premià de Mar, an old fisherman’s town, close to Barcelona and on the way north to France. I am a professional banjo player and run a few festivals and camps in Spain. I play here in Barcelona with different bands, from bluegrass to celtic music and playing lot of gypsy jazz, that is very popular here. I’m also the director of the Al Ras Festival and the Barcelona Bluegrass Camp, and with others good and crazy friends I help to organize the Barcelona Bluegrass Jams, so, yes, I’m busy, hehe!

I started playing music playing folk guitar. I was first really influenced by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and folk singers in general. Then I discovered fingerpicking guitar and become crazy about Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi John Hurt, Big Bill Bronzy, all of the country blues players.  When I was 17 years old I decided to take classical lessons on flute and guitar. It was a great help for me. A good training and a way to study and understand music, but, when I was 20 years old I become crazy with the banjo thanks to the military service (I did not go, but I did a social service, there, my “boss” gave a banjo album that changed my life!)  and a really popular album in Spain called “Banjo Paris Session” with Bill Keith, Jim Rooney and Jean Marie Redon and others musicians.

So, my life changed and became crazy with banjo. I went to Paris to take some lessons with Jean Marie Redon, then traveled to Ireland to meet Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Pete Wernick and others at the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival. I then started to travel to USA to feel the real bluegrass. I made lot of good friends (impossible to write all the names), and I have to mention that all the people helped me a lot, asking “are you on holiday?”, and replying “no, I’m here learn bluegrass”, and people said “You’re crazy!” Haha, lot of fun!!

I started my own project with my name and the Barcelona Bluegrass Band with a new cd called “Dotze Contes”, that means “Twelve tales”, I was lucky to record with people like my banjo hero Jean Marie Redon and others like Ron Cody, Jesse Brock, Henrich Novak and others. With this new cd I played all around Europe and also teach banjo, so, I’m really lucky and honored!

My Banjo Playing

I started with a little bit of clawhammer and three fingerpicking, at that time no Internet, so just listening albums and trying to figure out rolls, etc. At the beginning it was hard and I remember I was frustrated and quit the banjo for a while because I didn’t undertstand the fifth string. It made no sense to me. I was lucky to meet a guy called Gabi who was the first banjo player I saw playing in live.

At that time bluegrass it was not really well known, so I started to play with Irish, blues, folk, and jazz musicians. All kind of musicians. I was willing and excited to play banjo in any context.

I love straight bluegrass and of course Earl Scruggs, but I don’t consider myself a bluegrass banjo player. First, because here in Spain there isn’t a chance to play with straight bluegrass bands. Also because I love all kind of music, so I started to play my own music and arrange Celtic to Charlie Parker music.

I use a lot of single string, also rolls combination with harmony chords and substitution I learned when I was studying jazz guitar, it really helps to improvise.

I think you can play all kinds of music with the five string banjo.

The Banjo and Bluegrass & Old Time Scene In Spain

In the past years bluegrass and old-time have become really popular here in Spain. People are interested to learn banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and are curious about the music and the way it’s played.

We have an 16 years old festival called Al Ras. We are lucky because Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Russ Barenberg, Ron Cody, Jesse Brock, and other American and European musicians have played here. During these 16 years lot of things have happened. Good concerts, jams, and especially friendship - which to me is the most important thing.

I can talk about the Barcelona area because this is the place I live. We have a Bluegrass Camp, always the first weekend of March. Last year it was full with 110 people. Banjo, guitar, double bass, mandolin, harmonica, and dobro lessons. It was a blast. We also have a jam session every two weeks. We have been organizing jams for more than 10 years.

As I mentioned, the interest on this music is bigger all around Spain. Right now there are 3 more festivals, Rustyc in Basque Country, Nofugrass Fest in Castilla y Leon, and Old Rooster in Lleida. Plenty of new bands from old-time to bluegrass and newgrass.

We’re lucky too because in the last years American bands touring Europe are coming to Spain. This is great for us because we can listen and learn the music we love. Of course we have Cd’s and YouTube, but nothing like to see a live concert!

As a banjo, mandolin and fiddle teacher, I have lot of new students. All ages, and all kind of interest, from Scruggs to Bela Fleck, and from Bill Monroe to Chris Thile, etc. Also violin classical players are really interested in this music. The way it is played and the improvisation.

And about luthier we’re lucky too. Agustín Zubiaga in Basque Country who makes great banjos and mandolins. Daavid Prat and Sedo García in Catalonia, both make all kind of acoustic instruments. All 3 are really good players as well. Agus plays banjo in probably the oldest bluegrass band in Spain, La West, more than 20 years playing in live!

So, yes, we can say bluegrass and old-time music is alive here in Spain!

Lluís 5 Banjos.jpeg


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