Primavera Sound: Can Europe's Coachella help Spain's economy recover?

Are successful festivals now looking beyond their hometowns to an international archipelago of music tourism?

For years, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival has been the international vanguard of successful music festivals. Taking into account the quality of its acts, the idyll of its setting and the relatively recent transition from dusty free-for-all into an efficient and high-end vacation spot, it has set the standard for every other major mainstream music event on the planet.

Almost every other event, that is.

Coachella’s only competition on an international scale might be Primavera Sound, a Barcelona-based festival that has been around almost as long (since 2001). It takes place May 28-30, and has achieved a similar renown and affection from longtime fans and the bands it presents.

But where Coachella takes an isolated stretch of Indio and transforms it into a temporary oasis, Primavera is deeply integrated into urban Barcelona (and at its sister fest in Porto, Portugal). Held annually at the Parc del Forum site on the Balearic Sea near downtown, last year’s fest drew almost 192,000 fans (and nearly half of them international) over three days, with 22,000 attending a host of free club-level shows around town open to the general public. Headliners this year include Black Keys and the Strokes, and Patti Smith and Underworld performing rare full-album sets.

In the midst of a country with a 23.7% unemployment rate, the growing festival is a notable bright spot in contemporary Spain. Even as the country’s young indignados demand major reforms, Primavera is proof that a well-run music festival can be an anchor for a recovering economy and a central element of its tourism.

Having covered Coachella and the Electric Daisy Carnival for years, I became curious about how large-scale music festivals are helping to define cities in other countries.

Are successful festivals now looking beyond their hometowns to join an international archipelago of music tourism? How do other events balance the recent turn toward 1%-er amenities and attractions while keeping things appealing to locals? How does a festival’s culture change when it’s built into an ancient urban environment rather than an empty field in the desert?

I’ll be filing several stories from Primavera throughout the festival exploring all of this, and to introduce our Coachella-centric audience to perhaps the only other event of its scale with as vaunted a reputation. There won’t be any anarchist hippos, but there might still be a lot to learn.

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