22 Jul Gijón, the most musical town in northern Spain
If there is one thing that Asturias’ largest city, Gijón, stands out for, it is music. Perhaps the reason lies in the influence the Atlantic Ocean has on this city situated on the northern coast of Spain. Not to mention its Celtic roots, which it has managed to fuse with the rock music that made up the sound track of its industrial past and the pop and indie sounds of the major service, tourist and seaside city it has become today. Of course, there is still room for more: early music, jazz, classical, gospel and the like. All styles share the stage in what is considered the liveliest town in northern Spain.
Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Stephan Graphelli, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Tina Turner, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Prince and the Rolling Stones have all played this town… among many others. Yet, apart from major concerts, the following are some of the festivals we recommend that succeed one another in Gijón throughout the year:
Gijón Sound Festival
In recent decades, Gijón has seen the emergence of an outstanding assortment of professional local musicians. This has been accompanied by the development of a truly stunning musical street culture which, back in the early 1990s, the national media dubbed the “Xixón Sound”. The Gijón Sound Festival, a music festival held every year in mid-April, came into being as a showcase for this musical potential.
Compared to other formats, which pack visitors and concerts into an enclosed space in the outskirts, the Gijon Sound Festival makes the most of concert halls, pubs and other venues right in the city centre, converting this Asturian town into a stage that draws together audiences and different musical trends. This way, you can combine going to different concerts with visiting the city and, in passing, make the most of the superb cuisine to be enjoyed in the local cider taverns. In short, it is a perfect festival to experience and enjoy the city to the full.
The first weekend of May, Gijón dances to the beat of the latest trends in electronic music. Starting in 2007, the Gijón International Festival of Audiovisual Creation or Visual Electronics Laboratory (Spanish acronym, LEV) has offered a panoramic, eclectic and quality overview of the broad spectrum of different branches of the creative processes linked to electronic music and the visual arts. It is held in different venues, such as Laboral City of Culture, the Laboral Centre for Art and Industrial Creation and the Atlantic Botanic Gardens.
It is an ephemeral physical event focussing on the natural synergy between images and sound. It includes live performances, experimentation and the continuous mutations and hybridizations between genres and styles that highlight the importance of music and the visual arts as artistic manifestations in a state of constant evolution and transformation.
Atlantic Arc Festival
The last two weeks of July sees a good number of roots musicians take to the stage in Gijón/Xixón. Like in other regions such as Galicia, Brittany, Ireland and Scotland, the predominant musical tradition here in Asturias is Atlantic or Celtic. For two weeks, the sea, the countryside, literature, the performing and the visual arts, music and gastronomy all rendezvous at different venues and on the different stages dotted around the streets and squares in the city centre.
The concerts are held on several stages. Here you can find groups who champion the most traditional beats. Though there are also those who have gone one step further. Via fusion or their own style, these offer their audiences new sounds, albeit always based on their Atlantic or Celtic roots.
It is not only a great showcase for local groups, but also a festival of reference for proposals from neighbouring lands and northern Europe.
Early Music Festival
Held in July, the Gijón Early Music Festival is renowned for maintaining a balance between its concert programme and the courses and workshops it organizes related to these repertoires, in addition to boasting the participation of figures of international renown as well as some of the country’s budding musicians. Different types of informative initiatives are promoted around works, historical instruments, early dances, organology, instrument making, musicological research and music therapy applications. Another of this festival’s activities worth highlighting is the coordinating of the Early Music International Competition, a unique event on the Spanish scene that has been held in the city since 2012.
The Gijón Early Music Festival has been carrying out important work since its inception 16 years ago, that of making a period as wide-ranging and interesting as art history better known to the public at large.
Jazz Xixón and the Gospel Festival
In November, it is the turn of Jazz, that rhythmic music with groove, which is ever present in the city’s cultural programming, but which takes centre stage in the first fortnight of November. Jazz Xixón brings the sounds of large groups and soloists of this musical style to different venues in the city, where figures like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Stephane Graphelli have played in the past.
The festival is a great opportunity to feel the warmth, elegance and sensuality of this musical genre, which is only possible watching the artists playing live.
To end the year, just before the Christmas holidays the Jovellanos Theatre opens its doors to host a carefully selected cycle of concerts by some of the most renowned gospel choirs in the world. Gijón is then filled with the characteristic voices of this music rooted in the suffering of generations of African slaves who were uprooted from their land and deported to the Americas, especially to the United States. This music of religious origin, which emerged from African American churches, has now become a veritable spectacle.
Why come to Gijon?
Gijón is the capital of the “Costa Verde” or Green Coast and, as such, is a city wide open to the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by stunning countryside. With more than 2,000 years of history, Gijón boasts traces of all ages. These range from pre-Roman and Roman remains, such as the Campa Torres Archaeological and Nature Park, the Roman baths and the city wall, to impressive Baroque palaces like the Revillagigedo Palace and the Jovellanos Birthplace Museum, newer buildings raised in the Modernist style and the imposing former Universidad Laboral, nowadays known as Laboral City of Culture.
Its ever-busy streets constitute a lure for those who wish to enjoy the old fishing quarter of Cimavilla or walks along the promenade of San Lorenzo Beach or around the Marina. The district of El Carmen and the “Wine Bar Trail”, as well as the area around the Plaza del Parchís, are also perfect settings to enjoy finger food, visit art galleries or go shopping in the many vintage, designer or fashion shops that have led to this area being known as Gijón’s “Soho”.
What about a cider or two?
You cannot leave Gijón without trying the local cider. To do so, nothing better than to sign up for the Cider Trail, a proposal offering visits to the city’s different cider mills. Here you can learn how this typical Asturian drink is made and, of course, taste it accompanied by the best local cuisine: fish, seafood, fabada (bean and pork meat stew), cheeses, cachopo (a large veal escalope stuffed with ham and cheese), and the like. What more could you ask for!