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Barcelona’s not a city that’s famous for its live music. Artists routinely complain about the stringent and often prohibitive licensing restrictions on playing live gigs in bars and clubs — restrictions that seem all the more arbitrary given that it’s much simpler to get permission to play recorded music at the same volume.
As a consequence, Barcelona is famous for its club scene but –apart from the usual stadium and arena mega-gigs common to all big cities — a damp squib for concert-goers. Even the buskers are terrible.
But there is one huge exception.
For the past decade, the Primavera Sound festival has been the lone bright spot on Barcelona’s musical landscape. It has snowballed in popularity and is now one of the highest-regarded music festivals in Europe.
It even manages to bring some soul to that barren concrete wasteland of misused public funds, the Parc Del Forum. The bulk of the festival takes place there on the 26th, 27th and 28th of May, but this year the festival is adding two more days that will take place in Poble Espanyol, where the festival was held during its first four years.
Around 200 artists are expected to play this year, watched by over 100,000 fans. That is, by any reckoning, a large event. It’s also a fairly pricey one with tickets costing €80 for a single day or €180 for the full festival experience. The extra tourist income may be a welcome bonanza for hoteliers, paella-microwaving bars on Las Ramblas and the Ajuntament’s tax collectors but Primavera could easily be a non-event for many crisis-stricken locals.
Fortunately the new sponsors of the event, San Miguel, have organised a substantial program of free events that anyone can enjoy.
Primavera Sound Als Bars is a slightly complicated affair involving the need to claim the free tickets from the San Miguel Facebook page to gain entry to ‘unplugged’ acoustic concerts by Spanish bands in bars and restaurants around the city. These are already ongoing so check it out as soon as you can.
Primavera Sound Baixa al Metro is rather simpler. Just get into the Diagonal, Sagrada Familia or Universitat Metro stations on Friday the 20th of May to enjoy a free show.
Primavera a Viva Veu is a cycle of acoustic concerts held on the 23rd-25th May in Fantástico club on Carrer Escudellers in the Barri Gòtic.
Claustrophobic music fans can get their fix at Primavera al Carrer from the 26th-28th when a Red Bull-sponsored bus will drive around the city dropping bands off to play at selected destinations such as Plaça Universitat while finally Primavera al Parc rounds off events from the 27th-29th at Parc Central de Poblenou with a series of free concerts advertised as suitable for the whole family.
There aren’t any household names playing at any of these free events but don’t let that put you off: discovering new bands is a huge part of the fun even at the main Primavera sound event and while people always look forward to seeing headliners like Pulp, it’s often an up-and-coming band that steals the show.