Festival frenzy: The top 10 summer music fests


Belgium was once shown to have more summer music festivals per capita than any other country in the world. The sky is the limit, but take our advice and catch one of these, in order by date

Rock Werchter

Not the oldest rock festival in Flanders, but certainly the one that gave the region’s festival culture cult status when it became a mass event in the 1980s. It still mobilises 300,000 people over four days.

Headliners this year are Muse, Mumford & Sons, Tool and P!nk. In its drive to support local talent, Werchter also welcomes artists like Zwangere Guy, Geike and Balthazar. And even 17-year-old Ibe, who won the televised contest The Voice van Vlaanderen last month – a last-minute addition due to a band cancellation. 27-30 June, Festivalpark, Werchter (Rotselaar, Flemish Brabant)

Couleur Café

At the foot of the Atomium, Couleur Café invites fans of African and Latin, hip-hop and soul to three festive days of music. With Lauryn Hill, Couleur Café has one of the most sought-after artists of this summer on its roster. Although her only album dates from 1998, Hill continues to sell out concerts with an inspiring live performance. That also goes for other headliners, like Salif Keita, known as “the golden voice of Africa”; Goran Bregović, the Balkan composer known for his soundtracks for Emir Kusturica; and up-and-coming jazz master Kamasi Washington. And they don’t forget the locals, like Tamino or Zwangere Guy. 28-30 June, Osseghempark, Brussels

Gent Jazz Festival

A few weeks before the all-encompassing Gentse Feesten, the city welcomes the Gent Jazz Festival. Since its inception in 2002, it has evolved from into a crossover event, so you’ll see jazz greats like Diana Krall and Gregory Porter next to names like the Cowboy Junkies and Sting, whose music has always been infused with jazzy influences. Mulatu Astatke, the godfather of Ethiopian jazz, is not to be missed, but the festival’s apex might be the last day when 14 formations of musicians play five hours of bagatelles by New York avant-garde composer John Zorn. 28 June to 9 July, De Bijloke, Ghent

Cactus Festival

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Cactus is one of Flanders’ most amiable summer festivals. Families gather in the shady Minnewaterpark just outside Bruges’ city centre. It’s one of the few major festivals with only one stage. The line-up is a mix of comeback kids (Neneh Cherry, Antwerp fivesome Dead Man Ray), new kids on the block (New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding, Faces on TV from Ghent) and well-known names (dEUS, Joe Jackson, Bloc Party). 5-7 July, Minnewaterpark, Bruges


No one could have imagined in 2005 that Tomorrowland would become the most praised dance festival on earth. With 400,000 visitors from all over the world, it’s one of the biggest, too. For two long weekends the Schorre recreation site in the small town of Boom is turned into a magical fairy-tale world where love rules, enforced by hundreds of DJs and sporadically live musicians, including local heroes Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. The festival sells out every January in just a few hours, so you’re out of luck for this year. If it’s on your bucket list, be prepared in early 2020. 19-21 & 26-28 July, De Schorre, Boom (Antwerp province)

Sfinks Mixed

Free music festivals with a killer line-up are rare in Flanders, but Sfinks Mixed is the proverbial exception. It started before anyone coined the expression “world music”, but that’s what it’s been serving up since 1976. This edition sees Les Négresses Vertes continuing their comeback, which started last year. Malian singer-songwriter Habib Koité, Cuban Jovenes Clasicos del Son (often dubbed The Magnificent Seven) and Ivorian groove queen Manou Gallo are among the most appealing artists this year. 25-28 July, Molenveld, Boechout (Antwerp province)

Reggae Geel

For reasons that have yet to be explained, the Kempen – a region in north-eastern Flanders known for its quiet, folky atmosphere – has a particular interest in Caribbean music. It’s a crucial part of the Afro-Latino Festival in Bree and the essence of the Antilliaanse Feesten in Hoogstraten. The area even has a festival exclusively dedicated to Jamaica’s most famous export product. Reggae Geel offers the entire range of the genre – from The Congos, the vocal group that has been going strong for almost half a century, to Beenie Man, aka the King of Dancehall (pictured), to Burna Boy, the Nigerian who blends his reggae with afrobeats. 2-3 August, Geel

Festival Dranouter

Dranouter is a prime example of a festival reinventing itself. For a few decades, it was the place to be for fans of folk music. But shortly after the turn of the last century the festival broadened its scope. Certainly, with artists such as the legendary Alan Stivell and Siobhan Miller, folk is still a mainstay of Dranouter, but the festival doesn’t shy away from rock and pop bands like Black Box Revelation, Novastar or The Kooks, and even – ubiquitous on this summer’s festival schedule – rapper Zwangere Guy. While, like all the summer festivals, it’s a largely outdoor affair, some of the concerts take place in the village’s church on the festival site. 2-4 August, Dranouter (Heuvelland, West Flanders)


Pukkelpop has evolved from an alternative rock festival par excellence to one combining cutting-edge artists – both newcomers and established names – from hugely diverse genres. Noisy rock, rhythmic dubstep, raucous funk – and everything in between, across eight stages. This means a lot of headliners, which this year include new star of soul Anderson .Paak, rap frontrunner Post Malone and brooding indie rockers The National. As always, Pukkelpop provides a platform for up-and-coming Flemish artists. 15-18 August, Kiewit festival site, Hasselt


Leffingeleuren, held in a district of coastal town Middelkerke, is traditionally considered the last hurrah in Flanders’ long festival summer. It seldom has the biggest stars, but it’s a place for (re)discoveries. The line-up is far from complete, but it already looks promising, with noise masters And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, guitarist Steve Gunn and Jordan Mackampa, a British troubadour with Congolese roots. Leffingeleuren’s local contingent includes the extremely promising Charlotte Adigéry and bands Peuk, Brutus and the inimitable The Germans. 13-15 September, Leffinge (Middelkerke)

Photos, from top: Muse/©Hans-Peter Van Velthoven, Cactus Festival/©Jokko, Zema/©courtesy Reggae Geel