5 Panama City Musts For Music Lovers27th October 2015
Panama City offers visitors a truly diverse landscape, from the architecture to the many cuisines represented here. What few tourists realize, however, is how many fun events and activities the capital hosts. The yearly calendar is truly mind-boggling.
Sure, it’s well worth your while to see iconic works like the Panama Canal, the Frank Gehry-designed Bridge of Life Museum, or the lotus-shaped Baha’i Temple. But if you’ve had your fill of seeing the sights—and are jonesing for an interactive experience—look to Panama’s music scene. Along with the burgeoning art scene, it’s growing by leaps and bounds.
Whether you’re into jazz, opera, rock, or salsa, you’ll find it’s easy to lose yourself in the music. You may happen upon big names offering intimate performances…or impromptu jam sessions featuring scheduled acts and a visitor who just happened to bring his guitar. (In fact, it could be you!) What’s certain is you’ll meet people from all walks of life and experience Panama from a music-lover’s perspective.
Here are some tips to help you find that perfect gig or musicfest:
1. January is for Jazzfest!
As you may already know, Panama’s summer months are December through April. Every January, when the weather is perfect, Panama hosts a wide range of jazz-related activities, from music programs for kids to world-renowned acts.
Jazz great Danilo Perez—originally from Panama—was instrumental in founding the annual Panama Jazz Festival more than a decade ago. With more accolades than we can possibly mention here, Perez drew on his international experience and influence to establish a festival framework complete with clinics, concerts, jam sessions, and more, culminating in a massive outdoor event. The big finale is completely free and jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and The Wayne Shorter Quartet have performed.
*Music lover’s tip
Jazz lovers, fear not. You don’t necessarily have to be in Panama in January. Danilo’s Jazz Club operates out of the American Trade Hotel all year long. Performances are usually on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and cost anywhere from $5 to $20. It’s a café setting with a concert environment, as drinks are served but talking is discouraged.
2. Summer Continues With Musicalion
Panama’s vast Omar Park is the setting for a series of free music events dubbed Musicalion. The shows typically take place over a week or more in February, before Carnival (mentioned below). The line-up is always full of surprises. Past versions have featured everything from opera and salsa to rock and reggae. Hundreds of acts perform for spectators of all ages, who bring blankets and mats to sit on the grass. (And if you’re into fitness, look for yoga, jogging, and other fitness events on the program.)
3. One of the World’s Best Carnivals
Panama’s Carnivals are often compared to those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. Taking place over the four days preceding Catholic Lent (which varies from year to year), Carnaval is a colorful, crazy bash filled with cacophonous chords known as murga, live reggae performances, and much more.
The best known Carnival celebration is in the colonial town of Las Tablas. But you don’t need to make the four-hour drive from the city just to get your festival fix. A fiesta of equal magnitude takes place right in the capital.
Chanting crowds cram into the city streets, primarily on the Cinta Costera. Outside of Carnival, the Cinta is a busy avenue and network of paths and recreation areas. During Carnival, the city blocks off what little traffic there is, and it becomes a pedestrian-only party-central. Expect to get very wet—there are massive cistern trucks dousing the crowds during the hot, sunny days. At night, concerts—and dancing, lots of dancing—continue into the wee hours.
*Music lover’s tip
By the way…if you’re into marching bands, November 4 is the best time to be in Panama. November is a month of national pride, and on the fourth, marching bands from schools and other institutions strut their stuff to celebrate the flag and other simbolos patrios, or national symbols.
4. Hidden Dives with Great Vibes
With so many restaurants, concerts venues, and cafes, Panama City can be a challenge to navigate. But if you’re looking for a great dive bar or pub that’s off the tourist track, we have some suggestions for you. Though the Hard Rock Hotel features some great acts, you can find smaller, more intimate performances at El Pavo Real on Via Argentina, and El Sotano on Avenida Federico Boyd. Expect classic, alternative, or even hard rock. If you’re in the Panama Canal area, you can often find classic rock at Lum’s and a variety of performances at The Country Store. Modern DJs and tunes from electronica to indie music are often featured at trendy spots in Casco Viejo, like Teatro Amador and Casa Jaguar.
5. Ritzy Venues to Play Dress Up For
If you’re in the mood for something more upscale, check event sites like Ticketplus and Showpro Panama for events at Atlapa Convention Center, the Figali Convention Center, the City of Knowledge/Ateneo, Teatro Balboa, and much more. We’ve seen listings for piano concertos, Spanish guitarists, Panamanian tipico music, and everything else imaginable. Every genre is represented, and big acts like Andrea Bocelli, Maroon 5, and Sting have performed in Panama in the past.
Hotels like El Panama and the Riu also host excellent events and theaters like La Quadra often feature musicals. Unfortunately, the tiny gem that is Panama’s National Theater is closed for major renovations at time of writing, until further notice. We look forward to its re-inauguration when it has been restored to its rightful glory. Until then, there are plenty of other venues and the music scene is hopping…enjoy!
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