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LaRoche Bluegrass Festival in France

laroche bluegrass festival

(The following piece has been submitted by one of our mandolin students. We are always on the look out for relevant, interesting, original content from our members. If you would like to write for the ArtistWorks blog, please email your ideas to [email protected].)

If you are a fan of bluegrass festivals, you may have heard of the LaRoche Bluegrass Festival in eastern France. It is one of the biggest in Europe, and it hosts bands from all over Europe and the UK, as well as the United States. LaRoche-sur-foron, France is located in the Alps and is in a gorgeous valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. 

laroche bluegrass festival, view

Photo: What the surroundings look like in LaRoche.

laroche bluegrass festival, town

The town itself is not large (10,000+), but it is full of little shops and numerous good restaurants. Being located near great hiking and skiing (Chamonix is nearby) makes this a tourist destination year round. Like most French towns, it also has an “old town” that dates to around the 13th century. But as intriguing as all of this is, it does not begin to capture the magic that is the LaRoche Bluegrass Festival.

Photo: One of the quaint, old-looking streets in LaRoche.

What is most amazing is that the town gives itself over completely to the festival. There are not only stage shows at the main concert venue, but also indoor and outdoor mini-concerts throughout the day - every day - at various restaurants around town. 

All of these are within a few minutes walk from each other.  A person can have a nice lunch or dinner and hear one or two bands play a set while you eat. 

laroche bluegrass festival, concert

Photo: Liz Meesters and Peter Noorman, of the Netherlands, playing outdoors at a restaurant in LaRoche.

Beyond this, there are impromptu picking sessions that erupt all over downtown at almost any hour… well, maybe not too early! Most of these are bluegrass sessions. However, on the last afternoon I encountered a group of French musicians playing some superb swing music. 

laroche bluegrass festival, stage

Photo:  Stage photo of Nashville Airplane, one of the best known French bluegrass bands.

At the festival site itself, which is right downtown, there is a main stage with a fine sound system and lots of seats set up in front. A food and beverage area complete with tables is to the side, so that you can eat and still hear the concert. CDs by the various bands are sold at a central location next to the stage.  

There are numerous tent vendors selling souvenirs, various activities for children, and a hall devoted to luthiers who come to display - and sell - their work.

This year, Blue Highway was the main draw from the U.S. However, there were also bands from France, England, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, the United States, and Portugal, among others.  Most bands played bluegrass, newgrass, swing, or some form of stringband music, and the musicianship was tremendous, as was their mastery of the different genres. 

Imagine a band doing perfect four-part gospel harmonies, in English as well as in their native language. You saw it at LaRoche. 

laroche bluegrass festival, downtown

Photo: An evening set by the band contest winners, Jumper Cables (from the Czech Republic).

There was also a band contest that gave a weekend set on the main stage to each contest band, spread out over a couple of days, with the winner being announced Sunday evening. Last year’s winner, East - West (from the Czech Republic) was a headliner at this year’s festival.

Eastern France is not next door for most of us. But if you are a bluegrass fan, and you are lucky enough to be in Europe at the end of July, you need to go to LaRoche. And don't forget to take your instrument!

Steve A.

AdHocMando

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