Belsonic Festival, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast has a long history with music – melodies and lyrics didn’t quite build this city but they helped give it its soul. It’s the way of the Irish, after all.
The live music scene has perhaps been a bit underrated over the years but this is the city that gave rise to the legend of Van Morrison and, more recently, bands like Snow Patrol.
There’s a melancholy in the traditional folk songs from Ireland – tales of loss, of leaving, of poverty and grieving. It’s been particularly the case here in Northern Ireland over the years, as the people have struggled with troubles well beyond what any community should have to.
The mood has shifted, though, over the past decade. Belfast no longer needs to sing and dance to forget its worries. It embraces the revelry now because it finally has something to celebrate.
There’s no better example than the annual Belsonic music festival in the heart of the city centre. There was a time not too long ago when bringing together a crowd this large of young people for a night would only have led to violence. Now they gather peacefully for a whole week of parties.
Belsonic is a music festival made of parts. It goes for a week with concerts every night but they are each separate from each other. The lineup is diverse – hopefully with different bands that appeal to different people. This year the concerts include Queens of the Stone Age, Kodaline, Biffy Clyro, Example, and Chic with Nile Rodgers.
There are no multi-day tickets available for the Belsonic Festival and that is a good and bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It means people can get involved on different nights, depending on their interests. But it makes for an expensive week if anyone wants to see multiple shows and might discourage people who would like to go to more than night.
“Good evening, Belfast,” the lead singer of Dublin-based band Kodaline shouts out to the crowd on the Monday night. Cheers erupt.
“A year ago we were playing in a basement across the road. Now we’re here on the Belsonic stage!!” More cheers.
Well, if I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not sure of the exact words he shouts out. But that’s the sentiment. The point is that Kodaline has seen enormous success in the past 12 months since their full album ‘In a Perfect World’ was released. It’s a good enough reason for them now to be headlining a night of Belsonic – although the fact that they’re essentially locals adds a sentimental edge to the night.
Take a look at the lineup for the festival and you’ll see a distinctive blend of British and Irish music – Kodaline from Dublin, Biffy Clyro from Scotland, and Example from England. But then there are the big international names – Queens of the Stone Age, for instance.
This isn’t simply a local festival and it needs the star power of an American band in the mix – but it’s still a festival that pays tribute to where it is and the importance of music in the city.
You can’t really forget you’re in Belfast during the festival’s concerts, though. Everything is held in the square in front of the city’s historic Customs House. A simple fence contains the area for the paying guests but there’s a fluid feel between the concert zone and the rest of the city. The music flows out and through the streets and residents of overlooking apartment blocks hold small parties on their balconies.
Belsonic is not the kind of festival that you dedicate several days or even a whole weekend to. It is only held in the evenings and it makes for a good excuse to visit Belfast and see its sights and the surrounding areas during the days. Belfast is a complicated city but getting in touch with its musical heritage – through local live music in pubs or through a larger festival like this – goes a long way to understanding it.
Unfortunately there aren't many cheap hotels in Belfast but you can often get good deals at ETAP Hotels, which has a great location.
For a cool boutique hotel, The Bullitt is my favourite choice.
And for luxury in a beautiful heritage building, you can't go past The Merchant Hotel.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Tourism Ireland but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.