I’m sure we all know that every village, town, and city in the Basque Country has its own annual festival (fiesta, besta, or jaia) that serves to bind community ties and is, well, a great excuse to let your hair down and have a great time.
But did you know that in recent years a more universal kind of outdoor popular music festival, which attracts visitors from all over Europe (and beyond), has also taken root in the Basque Country? Let’s take a look at some of these, and if you are in the Basque Country this summer be sure to check them out.
The outdoor festival scene kicks off in the Basque Country this weekend, June 17-18, with the veteran Azkena Rock, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, a festival that celebrates rock n roll in all its guises and never fails to attract some of rock’s most celebrated groups. If you’re ready to rock, but in a mature chilled-out environment, this is the place for you (be sure to wear black though). This year’s acts include The Who, Danzig, Henry Rollins, Imelda May, and Radio Birdman.
On the weekend of July 1-3, in the bucolic surroundings of Lekorne-Mendionde in Zuberoa, the defiantly independent EHZ (Euskal Herria Zuzenean, Basque Country Live) festival takes place. There’s something touchingly and quintessentially Basque about this event: an intimate gathering that is resoundingly free of any corporate sponsorship and that celebrates the local and global. This year’s Basque acts include Fermin Muguruza and New Orleans Basque Orkestra and Gozategi, and from further afield the electro-folk of the Crystal Fighters, the folk-punk of The Rumjacks, the psychedelic rock of Kadavar, and the Latin sounds of La Yegros.
The weekend of July 7-9 sees the BBK Live Festival come to town in Bilbao. The festival takes place on Kobetamendi, a striking hilltop location overlooking the city, where the young gather in their makeshift tent city to party heartily throughout the weekend. You don’t even have to descend into Bilbao, as the marcha is non-stop in the hills above. The emphasis here is on independent music and among this years performers are New Order, Pixies, Arcade Fire, Foals, and Tame Impala.
This is immediately followed by the Big Festival in Biarritz, July 9-17, which typically features an eclectic mix of rock, French chanson, reggae, and techno music. Being Biarritz, too, a surfing theme runs through the week’s many events, with different daytime activities a big part of the overall experience. This year’s line up features (among many, many others) The Chemical Brothers, Pharrell Williams, The Libertines, and The Prodigy.
Later that same month, on July 28, 29, and 30, we have the Mundaka Festival in the surfing capital of Bizkaia. This year’s performers include funky rock bass goddess Nik West, Canadian rockers Danko Jones, and folk rock stalwarts The Waterboys. The Mundaka Festival also makes a special effort to showcase the greatness of Basque food, with tastings, workshops, street parties, and cook-offs. So for a bit of surf, turf, and wonderfully varied music, this is the place for you.
Wrapping things up at the end of the season is the Donostia Kutxa Kultur Festibala in the city by the sea, Donostia-San Sebastián. This year’s event takes place September 2-3 and features local favorites like the great Berri Txarrak and rising stars Belako as well as English indie rockers Bloc Party and Scottish hip hop popsters Young Fathers.
So, as you can see, there’s something for everyone and these are just the popular music festivals. Don’t forget, all you jazz cats, blues devotees, folkies, and classical music buffs out there, there are also plenty of events more suited to your tastes… but we’ll leave those for another post.