The Gentse Feesten (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɣɛntsə ˈfeːstə(n)]; "Ghent Festival") is a music and theatre festival in the city of Ghent, Belgium. Besides stage events there are random small street acts such as mimickers, buskers, etc. The festival starts on the Friday before the third Sunday of July and lasts until and including the fourth Sunday of July. The date calculation originally had no reference to July 21st (Belgium's national holiday) but that holiday is always included. In fact, the festival starts on the (Fri)day before the Saturday before July 21st and lasts ten days. The last day (always a Sunday) is known as de dag van de lege portemonnees (the day of the empty wallets) alluding to the fact that many people have spent their last penny at the festival, and is by the people of Ghent seen as "their" day while the stream of visitors from other places ceases.
The first Gentse Feesten was held in 1843. The intensity of the festivities changed throughout the years, sometimes very strong and radiant (e.g. the 100-year anniversary was said to be very festive and lively), but sometimes also very low-key.
The modern day Gentse Feesten were started in the summer of 1969 by Ghent singer Walter De Buck and ex-wife Paula Monsart, along with the people from the Trefpunt cafe. In the beginning the festival consisted of one stage near the Saint Jacob Church. Since the late eighties the festival has grown enormously and now covers the whole inner city of Ghent.
Although the festival has become a mass event, it has retained some of the rebellious and anarchistic atmosphere of the early days.
About 2 million visitors attend the festival every year, making it one of the biggest cultural and popular festivals in Europe. The number of unique visitors on top nights surpasses 250,000. In a 2005 ranking by localfestivities.com, the Gentse Feesten was called the third biggest city festival in Europe, only preceded by the Fallas in Valencia and the Oktoberfest in Munich.
Festivals within the Gentse Feesten
Traditionally the shows at the festival have been free, but in the later years a number of side festivals have chosen the period of the Gentse Feesten to organize separate events.
- Trefpunt Festival - In the late '60s The Gentse Feesten were reinvented by Trefpunt vzw and Walter De Buck. Since 2011 it's named Trefpunt Festival with multiple locations around the city centre: 'Bij Sint Jacobs', 'Baudelohof' and many others. Each year Trefpunt Festival brings over 1000 musicians from all over the world who perform more than 200 concerts. Expect blues, rock, funk, soul, jazz, world music, folk and everything in between.
- Gent Jazz Festival (formerly Blue Note Festival and Blue Note Records Festival) (since 2002): jazz festival, held at Castle of Counts in its initial years and then moved to the Bijloke abbey.
- Comedy Festival Gent (since 2007): comedy festival at JOC Rabot, which also hosts a few English-speaking shows.
- International Puppetbuskerfestival: festival for puppet players spread over the whole city.
- International Street Theater Festival (MiramirO):
- Polé Polé Festival (since 2003): World Music at the Korenlei and Graslei.
- Ten Days Off (1995-2014): electronic dance music in the Vooruit. Around 20.000 visitors in 2005. Ten Days Off's final edition was in 2014 and will not return starting 2015.
- Boomtown (since 2002): Alternative music. Originally held at Oude Beestenmarkt. Due to renovations, the event wasn't organised in 2008 and moved to Kouter the year after. The festival would not return to its original square and remained at Kouter.
- Ground Zero Festival (2009): Free no-nonsense music festival in Damberd Jazz-café on the Korenmarkt
- Belgian Summer Sing (since 2008): international choral festival spread over the whole city.
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