Bluegrass in La Roche takes place in La Roche-sur-Foron, France, a small medieval town in a beautiful setting within the Alps region, not too far from Geneva, Switzerland. When the festival comes to town, the quaint little town comes alive as bluegrass music is celebrated just about everywhere from the town square, cafe corners, brasseries, and the festival site itself, which drew up to 4000 attendees a day. In addition, prior to the festival a bluegrass camp is held each year which had over 125 students this year, with instruction on all bluegrass instruments from banjo to dobro, vocal harmonies, jamming and more from teachers from the United States (Henhouse Prowlers), and from Europe as well. It was also the 2nd year for thor kids bluegrass camp. Both sets of camps culminated with the students getting the chance to perform on the festival stage opening various days’ festivities.
Bluegrass in La Roche has been going on for 18 years now and is also Europe’s largest bluegrass festival, with no signs of slowing down and traditions in place with folks returning year after year. It was amazing to learn that this festival has been free for the first 17 years and this was the first year that the event has charged an entrance fee, a reasonable five euros for the weekend. Five euros to an event with 35 groups coming in from more than 10 countries, what a deal! This is possible with major support from the town and sponsoring organizations but even more so because of the hard work of festival director Christopher Howard-Williams, his team and the 200+ volunteers that make the event possible. Every aspect of the festival from food and beverage cooking and sales, merchandise sales, hospitality, guest services and so much more was flawlessly executed by an enthusiastic volunteer crew.
It made sense that the president of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), among other distinguished guests, made the trip to La Roche…this is truly an international festival, more than any other bluegrass event I can think of, likely why it is up for the Event of the Year this year at the distinguished IBMA awards. La Roche hosted 35 bands from more than 10 countries took part in this year’s festival from all over Europe (France, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Belgium) and also from India, USA and Australia among others. It was a treat to get away from the American bluegrass scene in America and see what’s going on across the pond, and I must say, it’s amazing! Full of passion, drive, theatrics, tradition and talent. The festival has its main site for 4 days, but beginning Wednesday there are bands performing outside and inside the town’s cafe’s, pubs and eateries during the day as well, making for a lovely experience wandering around. Beyond that there was endless jamming day and night in the town square as well as the festival site where anyone from the main stage headliner to a local musician could be found jamming together to the sounds of bluegrass, old-time, gypsy jazz and more. These were some of the best jam circles I’ve ever seen and seemed to go on til about 5am each morning…I’d make it til about 3.
Have a listen to this playlist featuring artists from the festival that I made – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/10b3mcYzIOCA9kVPVKM1lI?si=1d28eebf79d5436a&pt=87ce4d1c2f37048fa626ac9374a85a01 – while you may be familiar with the American acts like Henhouse Prowlers, Tim O’Brien and Special Consensus, I was delighted to discover so many passionate, unique and awesome new bands from other parts of the globe, although quite a few aren’t on spotify yet!
Photos & Video Credit: Elliot Siff