Clownia: Global Bands Come Together in Catalonia for a Summer Feel-Better Festival

David Navas
Clownia Festival

A community-building showcase of global protest, folk and party music took over a medieval village in Catalunya. And yes, there were clowns.

Over the last weekend in June, the Clownia festival took over Sant Joan de les Abadesses, a medieval village in the green hills of Girona, about an hour-and-a-half from Barcelona. Festival goers – many of them families with young children - unhurriedly crossed a striking stone bridge first built in the 12th century over the River Ter to get to the fields of the Clownia site, which organizers called “a place where everything is possible.”

If you are a person who snorts at that kind of talk, you are probably not one of the many fervent fans (or at least not yet) of Txarango, the band behind the creation of Clownia. “Somni,” which means dream, is one of the first Catalan words you’ll learn if you are introduced to the language by Txarango’s songs. The band headlined the five-year-old festival and set the tone for a community-building showcase of global protest, folk and party music. And yes, there were clowns – but not the scary kind - and a family-friendly cabaret.

The celebratory and rebellious fusions of folk, ska, rock, jazz, punk, and Caribbean, Balkan, Brazilian and other international beats heard at Clownia were almost always punctuated by horns, sounding the brassy call for social action as part of everyday life that is the leitmotif of conscious jam bands.

Artists included Amparanoia, led by Spanish singer Amapro Sanchez, whose mix of Latin lounge and soul has an anti-establishment message, rising neo-global folk group Bukahara and Australia’s The Cat Empire. A set by Marcel Lázara and Júlia Arrey was inspired by a bicycle trip the singer-songwriter couple took around Brazil.

Festival tickets (at 39 euros, about $45) sold out months ago, with capacity capped at a little more than 4,500 people. Still, those who did not get tickets in time could take advantage of an informal ticket sharing system: fans who were only attending one day were welcome to leave their phone number at the box office in order to pass their tickets on to someone else. Similarly, a cooperative social economy mind set was behind the line-up of like-minded musicians the members of Txarango have met on the band’s travels. Colombia’s Dr. Krapula, for example, had Txarango open for them at shows in Colombia when they met at another festival, and the Catalan band invited them to Clownia.

In the picturesque center of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, where there is a 9th-century monastery, every cafe and bar offered a special festival menu for five euros or less. Vans with beds, conveniently parked near the festival grounds, were the preferred accommodations. At the charming Hotelet de St. Joan, some of the artists could be found watching a World Cup game in the lobby and the owner gave guests attending Clownia the access code to the front door.

A band for toddlers opened a program of free shows on Saturday (June 30) that packed the town’s main square, where a flag of Catalunya hung behind the stage next to a Clownia banner. Girona is a strong seat of the Catalan independence movement, and Catalan, not Spanish, is the lingua franca of the festival. The recent struggles by Catalan leaders for independence from Spain were referenced by some of the performers onstage at Clownia, as were the universal themes of immigration, freedom of expression and gender equality.

The essential message of Clownia was that it was a feel better-festival at a time when we could really use one, perhaps best summed up by another banner in the square: “A World That Dances is a Better World.”

Festivals 2018