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The year of the comeback: Your ultimate guide to this summer’s music festivals

17:18 02/07/2021
UPDATED 09 AUGUST

With the opening of Werchter Parklife this week, summer music festivals have returned to Belgium. But with some of them cancelled, others postponed and others going ahead right when we expect them, it’s hard to keep track. Here’s a run-down of what, where and when in the music festival landscape.

As a reminder: Current coronavirus regulations allow 2,500 people at open-air events. On 30 July, the number will rise to 5,000, and on 13 August it reaches 75,000. That said, local councils are allowed to limit these numbers as they see fit. The mayor of Boom, for instance, refused a permit to Tomorrowland altogether this year.

Werchter Parklife  Far from the Rock Werchter we know, this mellow event offers a concert or two a day by the same band – one of several excellent local bands and musicians like Selah Sue, Gabriel Rios and Black Box Revelation. The first half of the month is already sold out. Until 1 August, Rotselaar (Flemish Brabant)

Paradise Down by the Lake  Hosted by the peeps who bring us Paradise City (see below), this more intimate affair puts festival-goers on rafts in a lake in the middle of idyllic estate grounds. You are surrounded by live lounge and jazz fusion, cinematic visuals and a light show when night falls. Until 1 August, Lochristi (East Flanders)

Gooikoorts  The first festival of the summer that is happening on its traditional weekend; Gooikoorts kicks off today (Friday). The city is limiting this friendly, countryside folk festival to 400, but there are still day tickets left. Kids under 12 get in free (just be sure to reserve them a place). 2-4 July, Gooik (Flemish Brabant)

Brosella by night

Brosella  Brussels’ folk and jazz festival in the lovely open-air theatre of Ossegem Park has expanded to three days, taking in Friday night, and limiting the total number of people to 1,000. So reserve your space asap as people like this family-friendly folk and jazz festival. It operates on a pay-what-you-can scale this year. Kids go free, but be sure to register them. 9-11 July, Brussels

Gent Jazz  Back in 2019, Gent’s Jazz’s headliner, Sting, called in sick the day of his performance. He was scheduled a year later, and we all know how that festival summer turned out. Things were too unsure this year to programme him again, so we’ll all have to wait until 2022 to see the legendary British musician in action. This year, however, still offers a solid line-up, including TaxiWars, fronted by dEUS alum Tom Barman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymée Nuviola and jazz piano master Jef Neve. 9-18 July, Ghent

 Around the World

Tomorrowland: Around the World  The biggest and best dance festival in the world was famously cancelled by the mayor of Boom last month, much to the surprise and disappointment of organisers and fans. But at least there’s Around the World, a digital version, which proved to be a big hit last year. Besides the best electronic artists in the world, the festival features circus acts and fortune telling. And visuals that will blow you away. 16-17 July

Belgofolies  The annual Francofolies de Spa becomes Belgofolies, an alternative version of the rock, soul and chanson festival. Usually featuring French-language musicians, some bands, like Hooverphonic, are sneaking across the language border this year for an all-Belgian edition. There is also a junior edition of the festival for kids. 19-25 July, Spa (Liège province)

Roots & Roses  With its heart firmly in the justice and labour movement, Roots & Roses usually take places on 1 May. Corona has pushed it to July this year – and to three whole days! Yes, roots is at the centre of this festival on the Dender river in little Lessines, but you’ll also hear modern folk, blues, rock and maybe even a bit of surf. 23-25 July, Lessines (Hainaut)

Retro Sur-mer  This celebration of all things retro includes a music festival, old-timer car show, vintage markets and dance classes. On the stage are burlesque shows, rockabilly and big bands. And the whole thing is free, just register in advance. 28 July to 1 August

Lokersefeesten  One of Belgium’s most popular pop and rock festivals isn’t letting us down, returning to the centre of the usually quiet Lokeren. Tickets are being sold in bubbles of four, so your own personal party can jump to the riffs of Belgium’s biggest bands, like Hooverphonic, Arsenal, Het Zesde Metal and Novastar. It almost feels like normal. 30 July to 8 August, Lokeren (East Flanders)

The crowd at Esperanzah!

Esperanzah!  The world music festival on the beautiful grounds of the Floreffe Abbey returns with its usual excellent and eclectic programme featuring psychedelia to ska to reggae and everything in between. The festival is also committed to ecological and social responsibility, engaging festival-goers with information about different issues. 31 July to 1 August

Dranouter  The pop and rock-infused folk festival has a mostly local line-up this year, which makes it a bit less roots and Americana than usual but a great opportunity to catch up with local acts. Check out Flip Kowlier, Naima Joris and Brihang – the rapper from Knokke who is on just on all the festival schedules this year. But for a taste of what Dranouter is really all about, don’t miss Bipolar Bows, a cellist/violinist duo whose fusion of classical music with jazz, blues and funk blows audiences away. 5-8 August, Heuvelland (West Flanders)

Voltage Festival: After seven years, this festival is now selling one-third of its tickets to overseas buyers, making it a major player in Belgium’s techno scene. The name of the festival comes from its unique location at an abandoned electricity plant in Zwevegem. Atmosphere is guaranteed. 7-8 August, Zwevegem (West Flanders)

Gouvy Jazz & Blues Festival  Gouvy is groovy, is the tagline of this festival, and truer words were never spoken. In this tiny town on the border with Luxembourg, great musicians gather for a laid-back weekend of jazz on Saturday and blues and rock on Sunday. The line-up includes Belgium’s Green Moon Tribe, slide guitar master Erja Lyytinen of Finland and the Italian/American quintet Big Daddy Wilson. 7-8 August, Gouvy (Luxembourg province)

Crowd surfing at Brakrock

Brakrock  A toned-down version of the punk rock fest in Duffel features many local and international bands over three days. If you have a skateboard and know how to use it, this is the festival for you, with a skate park installed just for the occasion. There’s also an eco focus, with mostly organic food. 6-7 & 13 August

CANCELLED Antilliaanse Feesten  The biggest Afro-Caribbean festival in Europe is also the most eclectic, boasting all kinds of sub-genres like soca, champeta, cumbia, zouk, reggae and ska. Expect the food and drinks to flow, a lot of hooting and more than a little booty-shaking. 13-14 August, Hoogstraten (Antwerp province)
DUE TO CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS, ANTILLIAANSE FEESTEN HAS CANCELLED ITS 2021 EDITION

Paradise City  Like so many other festivals, Paradise City postponed its normal June date to mid-August hoping to be able to admit more people. It paid off, so the normal 7,000 people will be let through the gates. The electronic music festival is on the grounds of Ribaucourt Castle in Steenokkerzeel and is committed to sustainability and healthy, organic food. Four stages host international DJs and electronic music masters like Lefto, Beauhause and Avalon Emerson. 13-15 August, Steenookkerzeel (Flemish Brabant)

Crowd at Alcatraz festival

Alcatraz  This hard rock and metal fest is back in Kortrijk. Head bang to such international acts as Epica, Kreator and Heilung, an industrial-folk music band whose songs are based on runic inscriptions from the Viking Age. Rock on! 13-15 August, Kortrijk

Jazz Middelheim  Antwerp’s annual jazz festival is back in the idyllic Park den Brandt, with a line-up that includes John Zorn, Laurie Anderson and the fantastic Belgian ensemble STUFF. 13-16 August, Antwerp

CANCELLED Pukkelpop  One of Belgium’s biggest music festivals, Pukkelpop began organising a normal edition months ago, somewhat in defiance of the culture sector being left out of decisions on coronavirus measures and somewhat assuming they’d be allowed to by now anyway. So join 66,000 fellow revellers for an international line-up of rock and pop heavies like Liam Gallagher, Editors, Anne-Marie and Compact Disk Dummies. 19-22 August, Hasselt
DUE TO CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS, PUKKELPOP HAS CANCELLED ITS 2021 EDITION

Bomboclat

Bomboclat  Dancehall and afrobeat are at the centre of this lively and family-friendly festival on the beach at Zeebrugge. Move your hips to local and international bands offering the sounds of the Caribbean. 20-21 August, Zeebrugge

Ostend Beach  Will it be Urban Friday, Clubbing Saturday or Classic Sunday? That would be classic electronic music, which is what you get on the sands of Belgium’s biggest beach town. There are hotel and hostel packages, too. 20-22 August, Ostend

Feeërieën  Ancienne Belgique’s evening concert series is moving from Brussels Park, which is undergoing some restructuring works, to Tour & Taxis. The line-up hasn’t been announced yet, but AB already promises ‘Turkish psychedelia, krautrock/jazz and ethereal soprano voices’. Feeërieën’s sister series, Boterhammen in het Park – lunchtime concerts – is also moving and has been redubbed Boterhammen in de Stad. 23-27 August, Brussels

Compact Disk Dummies
Compact Disk Dummies are having one busy summer

Maanrock  This free rock and pop festival is usually spread around the centre of Mechelen, but this year an extra-long edition takes to parks in and around the city. The line-up is still in development, but you can already count on local faves Arno and Compact Disk Dummies to be on the bill. 26-29 August, Mechelen

Sfinks Mundial XL  Sfinks Mixed is a jovial free world music festival in little Boechout, near Antwerp. It also has a smaller version in the spring called Sfinks Mundial. This summer it’s not quite as big as the normal Mixed, but not quite as small as Mundial, hence the XL. In any case, it is the perfect place to hear a cool mix of folk, Latin American, African and Middle Eastern sounds. It is famous for the amount of space it devotes to kids’ activities. 26-29 August, Boechout (Antwerp province)

Gate by Couleur Café: To the disappointment of Bruxellois, Couleur Café is not going forward this summer, but it is launching an alternative. Gate is happening at the StudioCity Gate in Anderlecht and blends the normal festival’s soul, roots and world beats we hold dear with a bit of rap and jazz rock. The two Sundays are reserved for sporty, artistic and culinary activities. 26 August to 4 September, Brussels

High Hi
High Hi are playing Pukkelpop and Rock Ternat

Rock Ternat  While many festivals are happy to be back, Rock Ternat really has something to celebrate: It’s returning after an eight-year absence. Having folded after its 2013 edition, the rock and pop festival just 15 kilometres west of Brussels is making a comeback and with a stellar line-up that includes Discobar Galaxie, Arsenal and Brihang. Bonus: The festival is just a 15-minute walk from the Ternat train station. 27-28 August, Ternat (Flemish Brabant)

Cirque Magique

Cirque Magique  This combo circus and electronic music festival is low key and funky, inspired by traveling carnivals and sideshows of yore. On the grounds of one of Belgium’s most unique looking castles, it does indeed sometimes feel like magic. 3-5 September (new dates), Avelgem (West Flanders)

Factory of Sweetness  Tienen’s annual rock and pop festival Suikkerrock is hosting this smaller event, labelled Factory of Sweetness. Taking place on the private grounds of the city’s famous sugar refinery, the line-up includes a lot of locals like Goose and Bart Peeters and some internationals, including Go_A, which represented Ukraine in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. 3-5 September, Tienen (Flemish Brabant)

Voodoo Village

Voodoo Village  This one-day dance festival is on the grounds of the Graven Castle, where you won’t know whether to concentrate on the music or the 100 hectares of forest and gardens that are normally closed to the public. Star chefs are brought in, too, for formal dining in the open air. A shuttle bus runs between Brussels South Station and the site all day and night. 4 September, Grimbergen (Flemish Brabant)

Fire is Gold  This one-day festival in Middenvijver rec park on the left bank of the Scheldt in Antwerp is devoted not just to hip-hop music but to urban sport, fashion and discourse. 04 September, Antwerp

Horst Arts & Music Festival This festival distinguishes itself by throwing art and architecture into the mix. It takes place both indoors and out, on a former military site, overgrown and gone wild. You’ll find specially developed, innovative dance floors to go along with the stellar line-up of electronic musicians. 10-12 September, Vilvoorde

Inc’Rock  While Inc’Rock usually kicks off the festival season in May, it wisely postponed its edition this year to September, where it will end the season instead. Rock, pop, hip-hop and chanson acts gather near the lake in the little town of Incourt. 23-26 September, Incourt (Walloon Brabant)

Photos, from top: ©Elodie Grégoire, ©Bjorn Comhaire, courtesy Tomorrowland, courtesy Cirque Magique, courtesy Brakrock, courtesy Alcatrez, courtesy Bomboclat, courtesy Peter Verstraelen, courtesy Trix, courtesy Live Events/Twitter

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw