Originally published on catavino.net
Barcelona is known for many things, among them art, history, industry, tradition, trade, food (of course), and night life. The Barcelona locals, as well as party-hungry tourists, have an international reputation for doing everything a bit later in the evening than their other European counterparts. Notoriously, dinner in Barcelona (and many parts of Spain) is around 9:30pm, and “no one” goes out to the disco (note: that the term “disco” is still cool here and refers to a night club. Don’t laugh) until at least 2am. Understandably, if you’ve come to Barcelona and only have a few precious days to take in the city, you probably don't want to be out until 6am (I live here and I don't want to do that). The good news is, there are some wonderful places to see live music that are full of great energy and cool vibes that are inexpensive (or free), open earlier than midnight, and offer sounds that span the globe. Barcelona, after all, is about as international a city as you can find, with the convergence of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Latin America, and North America providing a energetic melting pot of not only food and language, but of music; it's not always easy to find, but well worth the search. While jazz has a deep tradition throughout Catalunya, you can find any type of act imaginable here, from international superstars playing to thousands of fans at festivals like Primavera Sound and Sonar (not the focus of this particular post), to virtually unknown gems that spew forth pure magic from their collective fingertips upon tiny stages in dimly lit bars and venues across Barcelona.
Here is a list of five places to for great live music while in Barcelona
Sala BARTS: Short for Barcelona Arts on Stage, Sala BARTS (pronounces the way it’s spelled) offers performances that run the extreme gamut between international dance troops, to acoustic folk, classic rock cover bands, and intensely funky world beat from Brazil to Nigeria. On the iconic avenue of Paralelo with average ticket prices ranging from €15-€35, take a look at their concert schedule and discover something classic and familiar, or new, strange, and amazing! With a large venue that fits up to 1,500 people on the lower level and an intimate lounge/bar venue above for cheaper/smaller acts, Sala Barts prides itself on true cultural expression through a vast variety of music performances all year long. Shows start around 8pm or 9pm. Check concert schedule. Days and prices vary.
Café Principal: Blues jams, Afro Cuban Beat, Brazilian samba hip-hop, modern funk, North Brazilian dance and more make up the billing for Café Principal in September alone. In addition, similar to our other featured venues, Café Principal also showcases local art and culture in their historic, “Art Nouveau” café that opens by day (9a.m), serving typical breakfast and lunch fare on their terrace. Though the location is actually on Las Ramblas (an address sure to raise the eyebrows of anyone has has spent any amount of time in Barcelona and knows the inherent touristiness of this veritable human zoo), the concert schedule is fresh and exciting, with a fairly diverse offering from Monday to Saturday in an intimate space that fits around 100 peoples. And the best part? Free entry to the live music! Connected to the cafe is the famous Teatre Principal, which features ticketed events from big name acts throughout the year. Music starts at 10pm Monday-Saturday. Free Entry
Heliogàbal: Opened in 1995, Heliogàbal is a cultural association dedicated to the development and promotion of arts and culture in the neighborhood of Gràcia. Gallery shows, poetry, and small-format concert of everything from pop and indie rock to folk and jazz have made Heliogàbal an indispensable part of the unique Gràcia experience. If you’ve visited Barcelona and have yet to wander the streets of this upper area of the city, put this excursion (just a few metro stops from the center of the city) at the top of your trip's “to do” list. Among other things, Heliogàbal is a great place to experience Barcelona’s unique blend of cuban rumba, gypsy flamenco, and rock and roll dubbed Rumba Catalana. If you’re so lucky as to be in attendance at one of these tiny, intensely energetic concerts, you’ll never forget it. Concerts usually around 10pm or 11pm, Wednesday-Sunday. Prices €0-€8
Café Royale: Excellent live music in a central location, every night, for free. Need I say more? Regardless, I'll elaborate. No big neon signs or blaring music advertises this loungy venue that sits right at the heart of Barcelona. On a admittedly dingy side street off of the even dingier Plaça Reial, a single door man, black curtains, and a circular emblem with the letter “R” in its center is the only indication that you are indeed entering Café Royale. That’s not to say that it is hidden, not by a long shot, but it is a little more discrete than the rowdy, "all-nighter" spots by which it is surrounded. Known for funk, flamenco, experimental jazz, world beat, hip hop, and more, Café Royale is a spot I consistently recommend for a lot of fun with a group. Music starts are 11pm, and though entry is free, you’ll see why when you go to buy a drink. Maybe make this a stop after enjoying a few at a more reasonably-priced local. Concerts begin around 10pm Monday-Sunday. Free entry
Harlem Jazz Club: Opened in 1987, The Harlem Jazz Club is a Barcelona venue with a legacy longer than the line at the Picasso museum... Thousands of concerts have filled this small hall with blues, jazz, funk, and salsa music, quite often opening their stage to impromptu performances during their frequent jam session nights. A fairly spartan local with a basic bar and low stage, people come for the music; one moment swinging with grace and swaggerer, the next assailing you with powerhouse blues riffs that crank from vintage amplifiers. All the while, the tattered and worn Harlem Jazz banners sets the backdrop at this "NYC-style" musician’s club house. Located in the heart of the Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona, Harlem Jazz Club played a pivotal role in welcoming modern jazz and blues rock to the Catalan capitol. Monday-Saturday. Concerts begin around 10pm. Price €8 average.
As you can see, options are many, and in all honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Besides these excellent bars and concert halls, Barcelona is ripe with endless musical gold, many times in the form of concerts that spill out from official venues onto the very streets, rocking plazas and alleyways late into the night. These neighborhood block parties, festivals, and cultural events are a must, as they are a major part of what makes this city a year-round delight for the senses. In general, going out for a night of music in Barcelona is much more affordable than doing so in many other international cities, and the caliber and dedication of the city’s local musician cadre is impressive to say the least. Enjoy! Sam Zucker On a final note bases on personal preference, if you get a chance to see a gypsy jazz concert (of which there seem to be a multitude), don’t pass up the opportunity to be transported back to the pre-war times of old Barcelona and Paris, when clarinets and bass strings danced in harmony to the lighting-fast lines of acoustic guitars. There’s nothing like it.
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