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Summer music festivals
Rock Werchter may be sold out but there are plenty of other Belgian music festivals worth checking out. Here’s our pick of some of the best.
July 5-8 - Les Ardentes
Liège is known as the Ardent City and its four-day festival, held in the central Parc Astrid, is particularly diverse this year. The four headliners are Morrissey (Thursday), Marilyn Manson (Friday), 50 Cent (Saturday) and Cypress Hill (Sunday) – how’s that for an eclectic line-up? Other artists of note include Patti Smith, Hollie Cook, Death In Vegas and the Streets’ Mike Skinner (playing a DJ set). The big question is, will Morrissey impose a ban on the sale of meat products at the festival site, like he did last year at Lokeren? Day tickets are €55; a four-day pass is €105. www.lesardentes.be
July 6 & 7 - Rock Zottegem
While not necessarily the prettiest town in Flanders, Zottegem is home to a well-organised festival with a legion of loyal fans. On the bill this year: the Human League, Alanis Morissette, the Cult, Sepultura and Soulfly. Day tickets cost €37; two-day tickets are €65. www.rock-zottegem.be
July 6-8 - Cactus
“Hear – See – Feel The World,” goes the motto of this Bruges festival. Over three days you will get to see and hear the likes Paolo Nutini, Razorlight, John Hiatt, Emilíana Torrini and Soundgarden’s Chis Cornell. Whether you get to feel them is as yet unconfirmed. One day-tickets cost €40, two-day tickets €69 and three-day tickets €90. www.cactusfestival.be
July 6-8 - Sjock Festival
To rockabilly, garage and psychobilly fans, Gierle’s Sjock festival is like Christmas and New Year rolled into one. This year’s opening psycho salvo (Friday) sees veterans Frantic Flintstones and Demented Are Go show how it’s done. Over the next two days, there will be performances from Hipbone Slim & the Kneetremblers, the Sonics, the Blasters, Moonshine Reunion and the sensational Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Day tickets €15 (Friday) and €20-€25 (Saturday or Sunday). €50 for all three. www.sjock.jkthoekske.be
July 12-15 - Dour
According to the influential Lastfm.fr, Dour is “the best place to discover new artists”. A quick glance at the 2012 line-up supports this view, but it should be added that this year’s star draws are no spring chickens: Franz Ferdinand, the Flaming Stars, Atari Teenage Riot and Dinosaur Jr don’t need discovering. The most eagerly awaited concert is that of Ministry, the iconoclastic shock-rockers led by the wonderful Al Jourgensen. Day tickets €50, four-day ticket €100. www.dourfestival.be
July 18-22 - Francofolies
Unlike its sister festival in Montreal, the Belgian branch of Les Francos now allows English-language artists. As a result, the 2012 edition boasts Hugh ‘House MD’ Laurie and Charlie Winston as well as Belgian acts Hudson and Perry Rose. Best of the French-speaking contingent is Rita Mitsouko lead singer Catherine Ringer. Pricing is complicated, though; please refer to www.francofolies.be
July 26-29 - Suikerrock
Heavy riffs will dominate proceedings in Sugartown this year, at least for the first two days, courtesy of Triggerfinger, Channel Zero, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper and the irrepressible Status Quo. Day three, in comparison, should prove somewhat less frenetic, despite Belgian avant-garde legend Luc Van Acker’s past stint in Revolting Cocks. Day four, featuring Daan, Ozark Henry and Texas, is the least appealing. Only day tickets left, €45. www.suikerrock.be
August 3-12 - Lokerse Feesten
Let us risk a bold statement: the 10-day Lokerse Feesten is the most pleasant outdoor festival in this land. Easy access, very reasonable pricing, the relative absence of queues and the choice of food stalls inside and outside the grounds offer the advantage of an open-air festival without (most of) the inconvenience. At the time of going to press, half the acts were yet to be announced. But the first batch has already set the tone: New Order, Bryan Ferry, Suede, the Beach Boys, the Charlatans, Public Image Ltd, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Specials. Day tickets €20-€35; combi tickets €115. www.lokersefeesten.be
August 10-12 - Marktrock
“100% free, 100% Belgian”: the Leuven festival occupying the Vismarkt – and, to a lesser extent, the Oude Markt – is 30 years young. This year’s bill features first-generation punks the Kids, electro cult heroes Neon Judgement and housewives’ favourites Soulsister. www.marktrock.com
August 10-19 - Brussels Summer Festival
Held in the capital’s museum district (Place des Palais, Mont des Arts, Magic Mirrors), the Brussels Summer Festival is cheap and cheerful. On the bill, more than 50 local and international artists: Iggy & the Stooges, Vive La Fête, the Stranglers, Moon Invaders... Day tickets €17.50 (August 10 to 12) or €12.50 (August 13 to 19). A 10-day pass is just €35. www.bsf.be
August 16-18 - Pukkelpop
The 27th edition of this most high-profile festival is bound to be emotionally charged, after the tragic events of last year. Thursday is headlined by Björk and also features Bloc Party and Hot Chip. Saturday (day tickets sold out) features the Hives, Dizzee Rascal and Foo Fighters. Friday is possibly the most eagerly awaited day: after the Eagles Of Death Metal, Maxïmo Park, the Afghan Wigs and Charles Bradley, Limburg will welcome the return, nay, the resurrection, of the Stone Roses. Day tickets for Thursday and Friday are €79; a three-day pass is €155. www.pukkelpop.be
June 29-July 2 - Couleur Café
For years now, Couleur Café has clashed with Rock Werchter, but that hasn’t damaged its popularity. On the contrary, this Brussels festival seems to be the perfect alternative if you’re not fond of rock beats. Couleur Café’s sweaty line-up of almost 60 artists contains hip-hop (De La Soul, Nas), reggae (Stephen Marley), soul (Erykah Badu), pop (Jessie J) and the Cuban octogenarians of Buena Vista Social Club. As always, the vast Tour & Taxis site also hosts exhibitions, 50 world food kitchens and a market with countless stalls. Tickets €36 (one day) and €79 (three days). www.couleurcafe.be
July 27-29 - Sfinks
No other Belgian festival has kept reinventing itself so thoroughly as Sfinks Mixed, in the Antwerp commuter town of Boechout. Generally, only a few names ring a bell (this year: Zita Swoon Group, Kid Creole and the Coconuts), but rest assured that the organisers have unearthed some unknown talents. They might come from Togo, the Solomon Islands, South Korea, Mexico or Brussels, but all are bound to surprise you. Sfinks Mixed has an elaborate programme for kids, a great market and loads of exotic food. Three-day tickets €56. www.sfinks.be
August 3-5 - Dranouter
Dranouter was born as a folk festival, but after a makeover at the end of the 1990s it now encompasses diverse genres and is one of Belgium’s biggest festivals. Yet thanks to the way the site is divided, you don’t really feel like a sheep in the herd. This year, the sloping grasslands near the French border welcome, to name but a few of the more than 50 acts, one-man blues band Seasick Steve, masterful Tuaregs Tinariwen and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Unlike most other festivals, Dranouter has lowered its prices: €50 (one day) to €100 (three days). www.festivaldranouter.be
August 3-5 - Esperanzah!
The colourful world music festival with a convivial atmosphere and beating heart has overcome budget worries to announce a line-up with the familiar names of Congolese favourites Staff Benda Bilili, Groundation, Caravan Palace, CocoRosie, Crystal Fighters and Xavier Rudd. The Esperanzah! experience is enhanced by the romantic setting of Floreffe Abbey overlooking the Sambre valley. Family activities are planned too. Tickets €35 to €38 (one day), €80 (three days); riverside camping €12. www.esperanzah.be
August 10-11 - Antilliaanse Feesten
The small city of Hoogstraten in Antwerp province is home to one of the world’s biggest Caribbean music festivals, believe it or not. This year sees salsa king Luis Enrique, roots reggae stars Morgan Heritage and Trini soca queen Destra Garcia take the stage alongside a host of artists from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Good vibes and great food guaranteed. Day ticket €40 in advance; weekend pass €70. www.antilliaansefeesten.be
July 5-8 & 11-14 - Gent Jazz
Ten years after its inception, Gent Jazz has outgrown its name. Yes, the festival in the heart of Ghent still offers some ace jazz names (Brad Mehldau, Wayne Shorter and Joe Lovano). But the list of pop acts is as impressive: resurged soul maestro Bobby Womack, for instance, or Antony & the Johnsons backed by a symphony orchestra, plus a rare live show from neo-soul artist D’Angelo. Catering has moved upmarket, under the care of top Ghent restaurants. Tickets €37 to €47 per night; €240 for the whole festival. www.gentjazz.com
July 6-8 - Comblain-la-Tour Jazz
The Ourthe valley in the Ardennes countryside harbours an international festival devoted to jazz and blues. Since its inauguration in 1959 by US GI Joe Napoli, a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, it has become the place to be for American musicians. It promises the McCoy Tyner Trio with special guest Ravi Coltrane, plus BJ Scott. Tickets €15-€28 (one day), three-day pass €52. www.comblainjazzfestival.be
July 14-15 - Brosella Folk & Jazz
This free two-day event in Brussels takes place at the Théâtre de Verdure at the foot of the Atomium. On Saturday, folk music reigns, with British Tamil singer Susheela Raman and BJ Scott’s tribute to Woody Guthrie. Jazz takes over on Sunday with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Belgium’s most adventurous big band, and a gathering of European trumpeters. www.brosella.be
July 19-22 - Leffe Jazz Nights
The home town of Adolphe Sax prepares for a 15th edition with a new name (formerly Dinant Jazz Nights) under the patronage of the Barefoot Lady, organist Rhoda Scott. The three-nighter promises evenings under the stars accompanied by plentiful liquid refreshment and sizzling sausages on the grill. The musical menu is equally impressive, with Scott being joined by fellow Americans Jimmy Cobb, Joey DeFrancesco, Kyle Eastwood (son of Clint) Larry Coryell and David Linx to name but a few. Leading the European front, Olivia Ruiz will be accompanied by her Red Star Orchestra, along with Manu Katché and Philip Catherine. Day tickets €15-€35; pre-sale pass €100 (four days). www.dinantjazznights.org
August 16-19 - Jazz Middelheim
Belgian jazz legend Toots Thielemans has just turned 90, but he keeps returning to Jazz Middelheim, as patron. Jazz Middelheim presents another living jazz legend, 82-year-old Ornette Coleman, and young talents Zara McFarlane and MixTuur will also perform. It’s staged in a tent in the amazing Antwerp castle garden Park Den Brandt. In case of dry weather, pack a picnic. Tickets €37 (one day), €122 (four days). www.jazzmiddelheim.be
June 29-October 14 - Festivals of Flanders and Wallonia
Flagship concerts across the country fall under the umbrella of these rival king and queen of summer festivals. They are not so much festivals as constellations of smaller events that bring music to dozens of towns and villages across the country. The Festival of Flanders is already under way in Limburg and will pass through Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels, Mechelen and Flemish Brabant (until October 30). On the Walloon side, concerts revolve around a Spanish theme this year and feature Catalan celeb Jordi Savall, Sephardic ensemble La Roza Enflorese and Argentinian conductor Leonardo García Alarcón. It’s the perfect recipe for a sizzling summer.
June 30-July 22 - Festival de la Follie
Take in some fresh air and beautiful scenery in Ecaussines, near Enghien, where dreamy aristocrat Count Emmanuel de Lichtervelde opens the courtyard of his family château to musicians and music lovers for a handful of concerts every summer. The event takes its name from the thick foliage that surrounds the stately pile. Brussels-based violinist Yuzuko Horigome is the star of this year’s edition.
July 2-August 31 - Festival des Midis-Minimes
This annual stalwart is offering short lunchtime concerts every weekday in July and August. The programme stretches the classical label to the seams, bringing together world sounds, early music, Romantic sonatas and even a nod to contemporary creation. Taking its name from the Sablon church where it first saw the light in 1986, the Midis-Minimes has since decamped to the nearby Conservatory. Some concerts are repeated in two sister festivals: Zomer van Sint-Pieter in Leuven and Maca-Minimes in Wavre. www.midis-minimes.be, www.zomer-van-sint-pieter.be, www.maca-minimes.be
July 6-15 - Juillet Musical d’Aulne
In search of a magnificent backdrop? Head for Aulne, a village in Hainaut that harbours the ruins of a Cistercian abbey as well as a classical festival. Now in its 30th year, the event features concerts by Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya, a former Queen Elisabeth winner, Renaissance polyphony by the Laudantes Consort and swinging gypsy music by violinist Roby Lakatos and his ensemble. http://j-m-a.be
July 14-August 26 - Festival de l’Eté Mosan
More music and old stones beckon as part of this leisurely journey along the Meuse that pauses in churches, priories and fortresses. Guests include the Belgian National Orchestra under Stefan Blunier, the über-famous Concerto Köln and zesty cello quartet O’Celli. www.etemosan.be
July 15-29 - Musica Mundi
If hearing talented young things on the cusp of a brilliant career is a prospect that quickens your heartbeat, take a trip to Lake Genval and this endearing festival founded by pianist Hagit Hassid and violinist Leonid Kerbel. Like Imuse, it dovetails classes with concerts by big names of the international music scene. One, Siberian violinist Maxim Vengerov, who will be returning this year as teacher and performer, claims that “no other festival or concert organiser offers this mix of inspiration, of warmth and professionalism.” www.musicamundi.or
August 11 - Nuit Musicale de Seneffe
The non-profit Brussels organisation Idée Fixe is behind this one-off extravaganza that takes over the grounds of the eponymous château. With its myriad small concerts, firework displays and thousands of flickering torches, the only thing to fear is a downpour. www.ideefixe.be/lanuitmusicale
August 16-September 8 - Les Contes d’Hoffmann
If there’s one thing that makes us feel like we’ve been transported to Verona or Aix-en-Provence, it’s the outdoor opera productions in a cluster of fancy spots also organised by Idée Fixe. Offenbach’s upbeat work is on the programme this year, at Liège’s Archbishop’s Palace, the Cercle de Wallonie in Namur, Château de La Hulpe and Ooidonk Castle. www.ideefixe.be/hoffmann
August 17-29 - Imuse
It’s full of lovely music, it’s set in a château in the height of Belgium’s Indian summer, and yet you’ve never heard of it. Only the name is new: the event has been around for 20 years as the Rencontres Musicales Internationales d’Enghien, serving up its mix of masterclasses and concerts. This anniversary year should rely on the same ingredients: a quiet atmosphere that favours in-depth listening over musical pyrotechnics, a friendly cast of students and more seasoned musicians, and some of the most glorious scenery Belgium has to offer. www.musicalenghien.com