Most people don’t associate country music, plaid shirts, square dancing, and cowboys with Brazil. But, in this large country of over 200 million people, there is a lot of regional music for every musical taste.

As winter arrives in Brazil, particularly in the northeast, thoughts turn to forró, the most popular country-style music, and the forró-heavy São João festival that is part of Festa Junina.

The mainstay instruments of forró, the triangle and accordion, provide a hard-to-miss combination and when I hear it I have flashbacks to grade-school square dancing classes.

Large colorful figures and textiles mounted on a large iron gate for São João
São João decor in the Pelourinho

Old-school forró artists

According to my musician husband, here are some of the classics to check out.

Alceu Valença at Teatro Castro Alves in April 2022

When is São João

The official holiday is June 24th, but the festivities typically span several days around the actual holiday to encompass at least one weekend.

Where to celebrate São João in Salvador

  • As with most festivities in Salvador, the Pelourinho, the city’s historic center, is the epicenter of São João activities. You can expect the Pelourinho to have multiple stages with shows, all running at the same time. The shows are all free, and you can wander in and out as you see fit
  • Most of the bars and restaurants throughout the city that have live music will undoubtedly have musicians playing forró — you will NOT be able to miss it
A large São João crowd gathered in front of a stage that is in front of a church.
One of the many stages in the Pelourinho

São João food and drink

In addition to music and dance, São João has a food and drink tradition. If all of the country talk makes you think hearty and homestyle, you wouldn’t be far off. Here that means:

  • Hot chocolate 
  • Corn — in just about any form you can possibly imagine
  • Peanuts — in various forms
  • Coconut — made into a variety of sweets
  • Thick, creamy, infused liquors in a variety of fruit flavors 
Colorful fabric arranged in diamonds and hung on ribbons to celebrate São João in the Pelourinho
More Pelourinho decor for São João

What you need to know

  • São João in Salvador is a family-friendly affair
  • The main festivities take place in the Pelourinho, the city’s historic center
  • This is a great time to break out your plaid shirt and straw hat!
  • June is winter in Salvador, so be prepared with some lightweight rain gear
  • There will be lots of dancing — square dance, partner dance, solo dance
  • There will be security checks in the Pelourinho, so plan for lines and only bring what you need

São João is an extremely popular festival throughout the country — even people who generally don’t like forró music set aside their dislike of it for a few days of celebration. 

The celebration does not tend to get a lot of visitors from outside the country, making it an opportunity to visit during a major festival without the same sky-high prices, inconveniences, and risks. I know many people who prefer São João to Carnaval for exactly those reasons.

Fantastic festivals is just one reason to visit

From world-class beaches to gorgeous colonial architecture to sultry dance rhythms, discover the 40 reasons why publications from The Guardian to the New York Times are saying that Salvador is a must-visit destination.

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