The music was strong, fast, and fundamental, the clapping frenetic, and the dancing masterful. The bull ring was filled with flamenco-lovers and the sherry was flowing. It was 2 am and the excitement and energy were building.
Each year the Fiesta de la Vendimia (Harvest Festival) in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain draws renowned flamenco performers and crowds of their fans to the bull ring for the Buleria. Jerez is the center of the cultural traditions for the Buleria flamenco style.
The festival is held in early autumn and the weather in southern Spain is still hot. The streets are filled with fiesta revelers, musicians, and other performers. But the Buleria is an overnight celebration of flamenco.
We were staying near Cádiz, in a little beach house in Zahora and had spent our days exploring hill villages such as Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera. These are beautiful, ancient, small villages that are perfect for walking and soaking up the warmth of the weather and the people. But things got a lot more exciting when we reached our little hotel in Jerez de la Frontera. The fiesta was in full swing and the Buleria was to be held the night that we arrived.
Lines formed in the late afternoon on the plaza outside the bull ring. And as night fell the crowd surged through the old gateway and we tried to get good chairs near the front. The bull ring is circular with stadium bench seating, but for this night the dirt of the arena was covered with plastic chairs.
Deep under the arena vendors sold food and the sherry that area is famous for. Impromptu flamenco performances, accompanied by groups of rhythmic clapping supporters, broke out in several places along the dirt-floored passages under the stadium.
On this night the dancing was limited. Several famous flamenco singers performed along with their guitar and clapping accompanists. As each act concluded the crowd became more animated while waiting for the next performance. They started many syncopated clapping rifs that passed back and forth across the stadium, like a fan wave moving through a crowd.
Late in the night the headline dancer for the Buleria came out and thoroughly amazed everyone. He was supported by two guitarists and a group of five rhythmic clappers as percussionists. Still photographs do not do justice to the intensity and speed of the musicians or the dancer.
His name is Andrés Peña and he is a virtuoso dancer. His furious pace was mind-boggling, especially at 2 in the morning.
We left at 3:30 am and they hadn’t brought out all the musicians yet for the start of the finale jam session. The crowd was ecstatic and going strong. They were able to enjoy flamenco all night, but we just couldn’t make it any further. But we soaked up all that we could and it was spectacular!