The live music scene in Northern Ireland is not as famous as the one in the southern part of the island and has perhaps been a bit underrated over the years. But, you need to remember, this is the city that gave rise to the legend of Van Morrison and, more recently, bands like Snow Patrol.
Music has always been a part of the culture of Northern Ireland and the pubs of Belfast have always been full of bands. There was a time when the tunes would have been about the political troubles as much as they would have been about love or celebration. But times have changed.
There’s no better example than the annual Belsonic music festival in the heart of the city centre. Not too long ago, bringing together a crowd this large of young people for a night might have only 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.
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.
If you would like to read more, you can check out Michael Turtle’s full story about the Belsonic Festival!