The sounds of the Spanish summer

From Blur to Duran Duran, Spain’s music festival line-ups attract more than 2.5m each year

Fernando Navarro
The Arenal Sound festival in Burriana, Castellón.
The Arenal Sound festival in Burriana, Castellón.Cortesía Red Bull

Without music festivals, summer wouldn’t be the same – especially in Spain, a world leader when it comes to organizing them, both in terms of attendance figures and the quality of what’s on offer.

Three of the oldest Spanish festivals are also the ones best-known internationally: the Benicàssim Festival (FIB), Sónar and Primavera Sound. Held in Barcelona last month, the 2015 edition of the latter attracted 175,000 people over four days to catch over 200 acts, including Patti Smith, Damien Rice, Antony and The Johnsons, The Replacements and Interpol. Meanwhile, the city’s Sónar event, one of the world’s most important electronic music festivals, will include The Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip, Duran Duran and Skrillex on its bill between June 18 and 20.

Taking place in the refined surrounding of Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house, the Universal Music Festival will feature Elton John and Caetano Veloso

But biggest of them all is FIB. “We were all born and grew up with FIB,” says Gerardo Cartón, author of the book Manual del perfecto festivalero (The perfect festival-goers’ manual). “It has been a must-visit and key event for many years.”

Since it began in the mid-1990s, the Benicàssim showcase has become a key date for British music lovers, who flock to the Castellón seaside town in large numbers each year and this time round will be treated to performances from Portishead, Blur, Florence + The Machine and The Prodigy, as well as many others, between July 16 and 20.

Last year more than 2.5 million people attended a music festival in Spain. Among the reasons for their popularity is the fact that the country has a climate so favorable to holding them and that it makes the most of its surroundings to offer events with personality that are difficult to find elsewhere.

A performance at last year’s Sónar festival in Barcelona.
A performance at last year’s Sónar festival in Barcelona.Cortesía Red Bull

Such is the case of La Mar de Músicas, which this year will be held from July 17 to 25 in key locations around the city of Cartagena, Murcia, including the old cathedral. “Our audience most of all seeks out comfort, and enjoying the artists close-up, almost touching them, is one of our hallmarks,” explains festival director Francisco Martin Peñas. Audiences in 2015 will be able to enjoy the sounds of Benjamín Clementine, Owen Pallet, Julia Holter, Toumani Diabaté, Kronos Quartet and Richard Galliano.

Taking place in the natural surroundings of Vilanova i la Geltrú, Barcelona province, the Vida Festival will feature Primal Scream, The War on Drugs and Andrew Bird between July 2 and 5, while Pirineos Sur will bring Mark Knopler, Calle 13 and Noa to the green surroundings of Valle de Tena and Serrablo in Huesca between July 17 and August 2.

The all-new Oba Festival, which takes place from August 7 to 8 on the shores of the River Sella at the foot of the Picos de Europa mountain range in Cangas de Onís, Asturias, will feature performances from Vetusta, Hugo Le-Loup and La Maravillosa Orquesta del Alcohol.

Summer jazz

Summer is also synonymous with the best in jazz. The San Sebastián Jazz Festival, known as Jazzaldia, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a jazz band ball featuring a mix of artists and styles, including the Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Jimmy Cliff, The Cookers, John Zorn, Ben Harper and the trio of George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart.

This year’s big name, though, is Jamie Cullum, who will be performing on no less than three occasions: on July 22 he will help open the festival with a DJ set, which will be followed by a solo piano concert in the Kursaal Center, and a performance with his band on the Trini stage.

The other big date for jazz lovers is the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival, which will be held from July 14 to 18 and is set to reunite pianists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, two of the biggest names in contemporary jazz who are once again touring together as they did in 1978.

Another festival with Afro-American musical roots is BluesCazorla, to be held in Jaén between July 2 and 4 and featuring ex-Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson.

Based in Aranda del Duero (Burgos), Sonorama Ribera has over the years consolidated itself as a major event for Spanish indie music and the 2015 edition will bring artists such as La Habitación Roja, Arizona Baby and Australian Blonde to its stages between August 12 and 15. But its organizers also believe the festival is more than just its lineup. “We have forged a very strong relationship with Aranda’s historic center, showcasing its underground cellars, Ribera del Duero wine, its roast lamb…” notes co-director Juan Carlos de la Fuente Rojas. “All of this is strongly capable of competing with the beach.”

Another event following a similar line and with a growing audience is Dcode, which on September 12 will seek to establish itself as Madrid’s most important festival with performances by Sam Smith, Crystal Fighters and Izal in the Ciudad Universitaria district. The event is aimed at students, much like, at least in part, the Low Festival, which will bring thousands of young indie music lovers to Benidorm from July 24 to 26 to catch Foals, The Libertines, L.A. and Grupos de Expertos Sol y Nieve.

With so many festivals out there, specialization becomes an added value, admits Manolo Fernández, a music journalist and organizer of the Huercasa Country Festival in Riaza, Segovia, which will celebrate its second edition this year with sets from US artists such as Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Laura Cantrell. “We were born out of the idea of being different, fundamentally because of three essential criteria: healthy living, country life and North American roots music – especially country music,” Fernández says.

Two already well-established festivals also specializing in American music, although with more of a rock focus, are Azkena Rock and Bilbao BBK Live. Azkena will be held between June 19 and 20 in Vitoria, in the Basque Country, with ZZ Top, Mastodon and D-Generation, among others. Bilbao BBK Live takes place between July 9 and 11 and features headliners Muse, Jesus and Mary Chain, Mumford & Sons and Ben Harper.

More information
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Benicàssim Festival to look to rest of Europe to attract attendees

And definitely not to be forgotten is the event where the main aim is simply to party. Arenal Sound in Burriana (Castellón) has grown to become the biggest festival in the country since it debuted in 2010, last year attracting 280,000 youngsters with its promise of sand, sea, and day and night fiestas. The lineup for this year’s edition, due to be held from July 28 to August 2 , features The Hives, The Kooks, John Newman, Dorian and We Are the Scientists.

Also known as a fun event, the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival, set to take place between August 15 and 22, has become another of Spain’s best-attended events since it moved to the beaches of Benicàssim from Italy. Last year’s edition attracted 250,000 people.

Finally, making its debut in 2015 and offering something very different, the Universal Music Festival will take place in the refined surrounding of Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house and feature performances by musical heavyweights such as Elton John, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Juanes, Raphael, El Barrio and Miguel Poveda between July 20 and 27.

You won’t spot anyone sporting festival stamps, backpacks or slapped-on sun cream there, but it does go to prove that in the world of Spanish festival-going, there is something for everyone.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS