Though its unequivocal highlights are situated in summer, the Belgian festival scene likes to peek out its head multiple times between January and March. One way of keeping the musical fire alive is by counting on the tender warmth that jazz tends to bring. Concerts in tribute to Belgian-born guitar hero Django Reinhardt take over the country’s biggest cities during Djangofollies for two weeks in January. Brussels launched its fresh-faced River Jazz Festival in 2015, and its Klarafestival is no stranger to renowned jazz players either. Even the country’s biggest student town becomes jazz central in March with Leuven Jazz, and the Hageland region can count on its Blues & Roots Night.
Another type of crowd braves the cold by sweating the nights away at indoor electronic festivals like Hasselt’s cutting-edge Modfest and dubstep walhalla Rampage. Crowned ‘Best Indoor Festival’ at the European Festival Awards this year was Liège’s Les Transardentes, the sister of Walloon summer favorite Les Ardentes.
Louvain-la-Neuve’s free Welcome Spring! Festival already hints at it: as soon as the birds start chirping and the flowers start blooming, the new festival season gets going. Two-day punk extravaganza Groezrock has no problem luring the hardcore festivalgoers off their couches on the last weekend of April after more or less the same crowd was already delighted to see the lineup of Durbuy Rock Festival. Also organized around this time is the hard-as-nails Tongeren Metal Fest, with all of these leading up to Belgium’s High Mass of hardcore in June, Graspop Metal Meeting.
Meanwhile, Brussels is brewing with Balkan beats at the Balkan Trafik festival, grooving it up with its Jazz Marathon, rocking it out underneath the Atomium with its Irisfeest, and welcoming exotic sounds at Jam’in Jette. Indie bands and recent revelations rule at music temple le Botanique’s Les Nuit Botaniques. Liège comes alive with splashing color at the Indian tradition-inspired United Holi Colors, and Antwerp keeps things domestic with a celebration of the Flemish kleinkunst style at Nekka Nacht.
With summer now within reach, June starts heating up the calendar fast. The Beursschouwburg’s rooftop festival Out Loud! and Tomorrowland-teaser Sunrise Festival in vacation domain De Lilse Bergen make it abundantly clear that holidays are within grasp. Walls of death are created at the aforementioned Graspop Metal Meeting. Paradise City, Ringland, and Ubuntu make it clear that engaged festivals more than deserve their spot in the Belgian festival landscape.
The most anticipated of all the festival months, July is a blur of sunlit meadows, music-fueled days and sweaty nights moving in unison with the relaxed masses. Kicking things off the beginning weekend is mother hen Rock Werchter, queen of contemporary pop and rock with names like Ellie Goulding, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Editors, Tame Impala, Band of Horses, Florence + The Machine, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Jamie XX. And that’s just last year’s batch of musical gods and goddesses. Spinoffs TW Classic and Werchter Boutique showcase equally illustrious names during one-day festivals.
Simultaneously, there’s Couleur Café, making for the Sophie’s Choice of Belgian festivals. An urban delight set in Brussels’ Tour & Taxis site, Couleur Café combines world music from the hip hop, reggae, dance and soul varieties with grade-A food stands from every kitchen imaginable. Think Jamie Woon, Youssou ‘N Dour, Woodie Smalls, and Cypress Hill. In Wallonia, it’s five-day ravers Dour and Les Ardentes swinging the scepter. Closing out the month with a bang is dance and electronic mecca Tomorrowland, a festival that’s experienced a phenomenal rise over the course of a decade thanks to its mythical themes and fantastical stages. In between all of these musical mastodons, there’s still the capital’s Brosella Folk & Jazz and Bruxelles les Bains, Antwerp’s Summerfestival, Bruges’ Cactusfestival, Boechout’s multicultural Sfinks Mixed, Ghent’s Jazz Festival, Tienen’s Suikerrock, the alternative Rock Herk, and the list goes on.
Standing head and shoulders above the August pack numbers-wise, the genre-transcending Pukkelpop reels in close to 200,000 visitors and boasts no less than ten different stages. Though big names such as Rihanna, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and Bring Me The Horizon (edition 2016) feel right at home at Belgium’s biggest alternative open-air festival, it’s also an excellent opportunity to discover unexplored musical horizons. Add tons of homegrown talent and a bona fide foodie forest, and you’ve got August’s most popular festival. That said, the second month of Belgian summer holidays is also the month of numerous and beloved free festivals such as the Brussels park happenings Feeërieën and Boterhammen in Het Park, Mechelen’s Maanrock, and multiple ‘Marktrocks’ all over the country. Electronic fun at the ocean is up to Wecandance, Dranouter takes care of folk fans, and Brussels Summer Festival hosts concerts in the capital’s most stunning décor. Europe’s oldest Reggae festival takes place in Geel, and Antwerp’s Jazz Middelheim is aimed towards jazz cats of all ages.
As far as end-of-the-summer treats go, rock festival Crammerock is soaring higher every year with 2016’s edition boasting, among others, The Kooks, The Kaiser Chiefs, and Balthazar. Another way to get the last of those holiday jitters out is Antwerp’s dance haven Laundry Day. Luckily there’s Studio Brussel’s Car Free Festival to lighten up the return to work and school as the country’s best bands pop up on public transport to deliver surprise performances. In the end, there’s no keeping back fall, but that’s okay because Autumn Falls festival and café concert series Stoemp will be coming along with it.
Even during the autumn and winter slumber, the avid festivalgoer is never left hanging. October recreates sultry summer nights indoors during dance extravaganzas like the underground Link Festival and Brussels’ BXL Mon Amourrr. Meanwhile, Antwerp transforms its Laundry Day into a Laundry Night. In November, classical music and pop meet at Night of the Proms, and music lovers are again kept warm by soulful tunes at Blues in Schoten. For those desperately avoiding Christmas markets, skating rinks, and glühwein in December, there’s new underground festival Extrema Noir and live concerts at Studio Brussel’s Music for Life.