I’ve long considered the music I love to be holy and compared going to a great show to attending religious services. But I rarely felt that emotion or thought that thought so viscerally as I did one rainy night last October in Barcelona.
Wearing a sports jacket and walking through tiled hallways lined with giant looming statues, I felt a little awkward for a few minutes as I filed into a gallery at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, a rococo 19th century museum, and took my seat surrounded by a room full of new friends also scrubbed up clean for the evening’s formal gala, with guests and artists alike turning in their T-shirts for embroidered Western wear, sequined gowns, and a few tuxedos.
Centuries-old paintings stared down at us from every angle: gorgeous, gold leaf-framed Catalan royalty. It was easy to imagine them wondering what the heck was going on in their home. They surely saw through our duds into this crew’s mongrel hearts.
In the front of the room, the musicians started to file in and perform completely unamplified, their voices, guitars, mandolins, dobros echoing through the marble room. Grahame Lesh, Ross James, Scott Law, Nicki Bluhm, Holly Bowling, Matt Butler, Eric Krasno, Elliott Peck, Jillian Nershi, Greensky Bluegrass’s Anders Beck and Paul Hoffman, the String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi, Keith Moseley and Jason Hann all came and went from the front of the room, performing in various groupings for me and my 100 or so lucky fellow travelers. It was the midpoint, more or less, of last year’s IGE trip to Barcelona—a full-bore musical immersion.
This was day 5 of 10, I think. Maybe it was day 6. Who’s to say. I could go check the itinerary, but the larger point would be lost; by then, the days and nights were blending together into a holistic whole. The days were no easier to separate than were the activities. Sightseeing. Exploring. Finding different pockets of friends to hang out with in the friendly little tribe. That day had begun with a wonderful guided tour of Sagrada Familia, the renowned, appropriately trippy cathedral designed by architect Antoni Gaudi early last century that remains under construction. I toured it in a smaller group with Moseley, Hann and their wives. The night before, we had been treated to a private flamenco guitar and dance performance in a 16th-century barroom. The next night we’d all be at the large Apolo club for the week’s single open-to-the-public performance, which would see the trip’s musicians collaborating with like-minded Spaniards. After that, we’d take over the Harlem Jazz Club, down a cobblestone street for an Eric Krasno trio performance featuring Hann and The New Mastersounds bassist Peter Shand. One cool thing after another, unforgettable nights and days blending together into an unforgettable whole.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see cities and really get deep into them,” says Grahame Lesh, who was in Barcelona last year and in Venice with IGE the prior year, and who will be in Lisbon with them this October. “I’ve visited them, but we don’t have an opportunity to see the music scene of the city, to see the Grateful Dead scene and the American roots music scene in a city across the Atlantic.”
“It’s also pretty great to hang out and jam with musicians that I know and don’t know, all of us brought together in different formations to try cool things,” Lesh continues. “We’re all on the road a lot so we know each other but never get to spend real time together and to meet one another’s spouses and have adventures together, so this is such a pleasure. All of this is why we block the time out and make the IGE trips a priority.”
Grahame’s words encapsulated beautifully what I saw day in and day out, staying in an apartment building where the musicians were camped out in a block of units; what I saw walking a few blocks through some twisting alleys to the hotel where the 100 or so guests were staying. Many nights ended there, with groups of musicians taking the stage for impromptu acoustic performances, with the guests stretched out on the floor, chilling, sipping wine, doing yoga, canoodling in the corner. Their experience wasn’t all that different from the musicians’. Seeking a little insight into that, I got in touch with Dave Fleishman (@Deadesq), a Californian who has attended the last two IGE events and will also be in Lisbon. He told me that he’s transferred almost all of his music-travel spending to these events.
“The IGE experience is clearly music-oriented, but there’s so much more to it,” he says. “It’s also an incredible travel experience. You settle into this city and you learn the neighborhood you’re in and the city you happen to be in—and you have these remarkable musical experiences. It’s a fantastic combination of the two. And they do such a great job picking venues and putting unique and one-of-a-kind musical experiences together. It’s very different than the experience you would have anywhere else.”
“It’s the essence of live music and I think it’s as much if not more fun for the musicians as it is for the fans,” he continues. “They seem to be having the time of their lives on these trips and it comes through in their music: the way they play, the explorations they make. There’s something about being cloistered away together for 10 days that allows for explorations you just don’t experience anywhere else. Some of the music makes me think, ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’”
“They know they’re with knowledgeable music fans,” Fleishman concludes. “We’ve got 10 days with these people and get to hang out with them outside the music. It’s a very relaxed way to vacation to hear music and to sightsee. There’s nothing like it and I’ll keep coming along as I can.”
Below, you can check out some photos from the 2018 IGE experience in Barcelona courtesy of photographer Jay Blakesberg.
The 2019 IGE Music & Art Immersion Experience will take place in Lisbon, Portugal from October 4th through October 13th, 2019. For more information, or to book your spot on the 2019 IGE trip, head here.