For four days in September, something rather unusual occurs in four towns and villages tucked away in the mountains of Malaga and Cadiz. It is not unusual to see Texan hats in Montejaque, for country music to be heard beside the gorge in Ronda and the Mirador viewing point in Grazalema or for the bullring in Villaluenga del Rosario to resonate to the sound of electric guitars. The third Pueblos Blancos Music Festival began on Thursday and runs until Sunday.
About 20 groups, mostly from Austin but some from Nashville and elsewhere, have come to perform in these stunning places, and the concerts take place at different times between 1pm and 1am, depending on the location. The venues are the Blas Infante auditorium on the balcony near the Ronda gorge, the Plaza de la Constitución in Montejaque, the Mirador del Tajo in Grazalema and the bullring in Villaluenga del Rosario. The music includes rock, blues, country, Tex-Mex, jazz, funky and R&B, performed by professional bands from the other side of the pond who have chosen this as their first platform in Europe.
"They come here because they love the places, and to share experiences, link up with musicians they know and meet others from here," explains Josu Camacho, the head of Perform in Spain, who founded this event with musician and philosopher Phil Plata and Juan de Castro, member of the Sierra de Líbar Foundation, who runs the tourist office in Montejaque. The performers are not paid, and they even pay for their own air tickets. As the event has no private sponsors and is only supported by the local town halls and the Malaga and Cadiz provincial governments, the budget is very tight.
The atmosphere, though, makes up for the lack of funds. A community of musicians has formed now, and they treat this as a meeting point for themselves, the residents of the 'white villages' and bands from the area or elsewhere in Spain.
The exchange of talent has paid off. After the second festival the Madrid group Ecléctica went on a tour of Mexico, and Chisum Cattle Co travelled to Austin and won Best Instrumentalist Of The Year in theTexas Sounds Awards.
Both groups are performing at the festival again this year, and others include the Jake Levinson Band, Joe King Carrasco, Nakia Reinoso, Tim González and Suzanna Choffel, to name just a few. Montejaque is the operations centre; all the artists are staying there and are taken by bus to the venues each day.
The idea for this festival came after Phil Plata and Josu Camacho happened to meet in Austin. Josu had been impressed by the type of live music which he had seen there and wanted to bring it to Spain. "There were concerts in the street, a laundry, a bookshop, all totally informal," he says. Phil Plata came to the region to visit the 'Pueblos Blancos' and Juan de Castro then joined them to help with the organisation. Right now and for the next few days, Austin doesn't seem far away at all.