The Grand-Daddy of European Festivals: Rock Werchter

On June 25th, I arrived in Belgium, my new home for the next year or so. Belgium is a fun and busy place to be in the summertime. There are multiple festivals every weekend in this tiny country and because of Belgium’s size it’s very easy to hit up as many as possible. In addition to the BIG festivals that are filled with international acts, there are city and town festivals, day trips to the beach, or wine filled picnics.

From the first time I met Billy, he would tell me wild stories of all his adventures at Rock Werchter. An endless list of famous bands, throngs of people, camping shenanigans, and mouth-watering food and drink. I had to go! So plans were made, tickets were bought, and I arrived in Belgium just in time to unpack my suitcase and pack my festival backpack.

Billy’s hometown is ten minutes away from the festival grounds, so I was camping with some Rock Werchter veterans. Billy has been to nine Werchter festivals, so he has packing and festival organization down to a fine art. Very appreciated on my end because the sheer massiveness of this festival was a tad overwhelming. Bright and early Thursday morning, we managed to fit in 5 people, 4 hiker’s backpacks, sleeping bags, mattresses, 5 tents, 4 lawn chairs, and food coolers into a Mazda 2 (the smallest Mazda). After hiking to our camping spot, all-night party campground B0, we got everything set up, got a beer and we made our way to the Wei (Flemish for festival grounds).

Festival goers enjoying drinks and food

The weekend was filled with great friends, sunny weather, and rockin’ bands. The crowd vibe was excited and chill. I thought the festival was extremely well organized and well maintained, an exceptional feat when considering the numbers of people attending. According to the Rock Werchter website, this year set a new attendance record, with 85,000 festival-goers each day and a total of 139,000 unique visitors for the four day festival.

Out of the 81 acts that preformed these were my favourites:

Jack White killin’ it!

1. Jack White– A show that took us on a time-travel journey of Jack White’s impressive hits. White’s five piece band of extremely talented musicians were all dressed in impeccable suits. White was rippin’ it on the guitar, further proving to me that he is probably the guitar genius of my generation.

According to interviews, Jack White tours with TWO complete bands that are completely male or female. Each are amazing in their own right and White chose them while recording and producing in his studio over the past three years. He says that he decides which band to use the morning of the show and never plans a playlist because he prefers to play songs that suit the vibe of the crowd. Kudos to Jack White and his preformance, I think he just became my rock’n’roll hero.

Eddie Vedder

2. Pearl Jam– In the past I haven’t been the biggest Pearl Jam fan. I enjoyed them but never felt much of a connection. After this show, I realize I’ve been missing out for years. The show was big, loud and Eddie Vedder was a pleasure to watch. He is so genuinely grateful to be preforming for all his fans and that sentiment really came through. The magnitude of the crowd was awe-inspiring from the front; they were full of energy, singing along and enthusiastically fist waving.

Before Werchter, I had watched “Pearl Jam Twenty” directed by Cameron Crowe. It has amazing concert footage, insightful interviews and covers the band’s long history. It gave me high expectations for this show and Pearl Jam didn’t disappoint. I can now say I am a full-on fan!

3. The Cure– I have been wanting to see The Cure for the past couple of years and their performance on Thursday night did not disappoint. The sun had just set, the weather was still balmy and many festival goers had a dreamy buzz washing over them.

Robert Smith was looking as eccentric as ever with green eyeliner, red lipstick, and wild mad scientist hair. He seemed to be in an exceptionally good mood, happy to please the crowd by playing their biggest hits. The Cure is one of my most memorable and enjoyed performances of Rock Werchter.

4. Metric– Metric had the difficult task of opening Werchter on the smallest stage, the Barn. No matter, the tent was packed and ready for a sweaty and energetic show. The band was sharp and put together a great party set list that got everyone moving and jumping.

Of course, Emily Haines had all the boys swooning. Her leather short shorts earned her ‘best legs of the festival’. Her performance was entertaining and vibrant. Overall, I was super proud to show off one of my favourite Canadian bands to my Belgian friends, who were very impressed.

5. Wiz Khalifa– Wiz Khalifa got the party started on Friday! I didn’t know much about him before and now I love him. Charismatic and fun show that had everyone singing along, swaying to his hip hop beats, and practicing their best gangsta arm wave. He had a heartwarming shout-out to the crowd about the free download music scene and attributed his success to it. I really got the feeling he was overjoyed to be playing for such a huge crowd at such a renowned festival. It’s always nice to watch someone preform who truly wants to be there.

6. The Editors– This show was another big surprise for me. The Editors are absolutely HUGE in Europe but I haven’t heard much about them in Canada. I thought it was going to be a fairly mellow show, a la Snow Patrol who I skipped, but I was proven wrong. It was an onslaught of hard electic guitar, heavy piano, powerful singing and oodles of fireworks. According to my Werchter veteran friends, the performance from The Editors was a worthy and impressive headline act. I definitely agree and will be revisiting my Editors albums.

6. Nneka– I discovered Nneka while living in Kenya last year and was eager to see her show in Belgium. I had a friend see her live in Tanzania who said she was phenomenal. Her afternoon show was a great opportunity to sit in the grass to chill listening to a smooth and soulful singer. Her performance and comments throughout her show felt genuine and I enjoyed her soulful music on sunny Saturday afternoon.

7. Mastodon– I arrived late for this show and had to stand in a long que to withdraw money but Mastodon’s heavy metal got me pumped up for the day ahead. Great set! I’m planning on getting their albums for days when I’m feeling feisty.

8. Dropkick Murphys– This show was really fun! However, I don’t remember too much of it because of a bit too much sangria. I spent the entire show jumping and dancing. The energetic and raucous music of this punk rock Boston band got me feeling rebellious and ready for a party. Obviously, a great addition to the line up for a heavy last day of Werchter to keep everyones energy up.

9. Black Box Revelation– BBR is a Belgian band that has a very unique sound; part garage, blues electric, with some 60’s and 70’s flair reminiscent of the Kinks and Led Zeppelin. In any sense, BBR was a gritty rock’n’roll show that captured the crowds attention in the heat of the late afternoon. Their sound is mature and full for a band that is incredibly young- Jan Paternoster is 22 and Dries Van Dijck is 20 years old. Amazing! This band has a bright future ahead of them.

10. Florence & The Machine– I was really excited to see Florence + the Machine and I enjoyed it but I also expected more. Her voice was amazing but I think that their set would have benefitted being on a smaller stage. According to my friends, the band played in the pyramid stage two years ago and it was an amazing show. This show was a bit darker and more intense, which is hard to pull off from the main stage.

Florence’s stage presence was different from previous video clips I have seen. Instead of the fragile and feminine songstress with the shockingly powerful vocals, this time she seemed empowered and commanding like a high priestess leading her followers. I’m a big Florence + the Machine fan and even though the show wasn’t what I expected it still makes my top 10.

Overall, I had a fabulous time; Rock Werchter is world class festival, one that I would go to over and over again. My friends and I have only one regret, which is not exploring and seeing more of the smaller acts that attended (especially the Alabama Shakes!). But it was great to have so many awesome acts to pick from. Rock Werchter 2012 was simply the cat’s pajamas.


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