Is it Festival Season Yet?
A curated list of diverse music festivals around Greece, from July to August. SOURCE: greece-is.com
Festival season in the capital begins in June and ends early in July, before Athenians have the chance to escape the city for more alluring summer destinations. Three major music festivals are organized each year in Athens, which attract big names from the international music scene. World-famous groups like Sigur Rós, Beirut and Suede have come and gone already, while more are on their way, like the Editors, James, Muse and Unkle. But festivals extend well beyond the capital; different places all over Greece, including many islands, do their best to lure travelers with unique international and local sounds, ranging from classical music to thrash metal rock. Below is our list of small and big events in chronological order. Check the dates, pick a destination, and prepare yourselves for several inimitable sonic journeys.
1. HELIOS FESTIVAL, CORFU | 8-10 JULY
Wild nights await the lovers of electronic dance music on the Ionian island of Corfu. Helios Festival celebrates its 5th birthday and its organizers, Element Productions, have prepared three nights of pure, youthful frenzy. Pre- and after-parties at Club 54 and the famous beach club Pazuzu frame the main event, which takes place on the 9th of July at Olympos stadium next to the airport, where local and international djs – including the world-famous Dutch duo Bassjackers – will spin the decks. Dancers, fire and laser shows, fireworks, and various other happenings add to the fun, while the island itself naturally entertains Greek and foreign party animals during the day, with its gorgeous beaches, historical landmarks and a charming Venetian town.
2. SANI FESTIVAL, HALKIDIKI | 8 JULY – 13 AUGUST
Every summer for 24 years now, music enthusiasts have been flocking to Sani hill in Halkidiki for an international feast of music and culture. The menu has always focused on jazz, classical, but also Greek entehno (art house) music, while the medieval-tower backdrop and surrounding sea have repeatedly contributed to creating an elevated experience for both artists and audiences. This year’s festival opens with the section “Jazz on the Hill,” which will feature three virtuoso jazz pianists — Michael Wollny from Germany, Yaron Herman from Israel, and Hiromi from Japan — to be followed by the internationally acclaimed British composer and soul singer Joss Stone. Classical music aficionados might also want to embark on a baroque journey with renowned British violinist Daniel Hope. For those less interested in the international scene and more into the local entehno, the concerts of veteran singers/musicians Alkistis Protopsalti and Dionysis Savvopoulos will not fail to satisfy.
3. THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE AEGEAN, ERMOUPOLIS, SYROS | 10 – 23 JULY
Syros, the aristocratic gem of the Aegean, hosts one of the most acclaimed classical music festivals in Greece, now marking its 12th year. Founded in 2005 by Greek-American conductor Peter Tiboris, the festival attracts world-class musicians, dancers and actors, while it has also become a summer destination for lovers of the arts from Europe and beyond. This year, it opens with a performance of Haydn’s Mass No.10 in C major and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, both conducted by Peter Tiboris himself, while its piece-de-resistance is Leoncavallo’s famous opera Pagliacci. The festival’s location is the historic Apollo Theatre, which some consider as the miniature Scala of Milan – hence its pet name “La Piccola Scala” (the small Scala).
4. UP FESTIVAL, AIGIALI, AMORGOS | 12 – 17 JULY
Amorgos, the charming Cycladic island popular with those preferring less crowded destinations, hosts the 5th edition of the indie Up Festival. With a line-up of Greek artists and bands worth discovering (for free), those attending will have the option to enjoy the performances with their feet dug in the sand, as the location is beautiful Aigiali beach. Psychedelic, vintage pop, folk rock, electronic, and dance are some of the genres featured in the festival, even though – in true indie manner – most bands would hate to be associated with just one genre. If you are looking for unusual sounds, check out the Villagers of Ioannina City and their rock renditions of traditional Greek folk songs from the district of Epirus; and The Boy, the solo project of prolific songwriter and film director Alexandros Voulgaris, who never stops experimenting – solo or in collaboration with other artists.
5. CHANIA ROCK FESTIVAL, CHANIA, CRETE | 15 – 17 JULY
The old town of Chania in Crete may sound too graceful a destination to host a rock festival. But the Venetian Bastion of San Salvatore, erected in the 16th century next to the famous Venetian harbor, has been hosting the event since 2014. It makes for an ideal venue, in fact, as it lends plenty of acoustic and visual drama to the performances. This year’s line-up includes thrash metal band Kreator from Germany, metal band Therapy? from Northern Ireland, the British Cutting Crew (famous even to non-rock fans for their 80s mega-hit “(I just) died in your arms”), and Sweden’s Crazy Lixx, a band attempting to bring back the hard-rock sound of the 80s.
6. JAZZ IN PAROS, PAROS | 20 – 25 JULY
The festival is part of the Paros Jazz Academy, an intensive 5-day workshop organized every year since 2011 on the island of Paros. It is attended by amateur jazz musicians and singers from various corners of the globe who wish to improve their technical skills and deepen their understanding of jazz under the tutelage of professionals. The latter, including the festival’s artistic director – Greek composer and bassist Petros Klampanis, who has made a career for himself in New York – will be performing at this year’s “Jazz in Action” concert-marathon on the 23rd of July. You can also catch several jamming workshop sessions throughout the duration of the festival.
7. SARONIC CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL | 28 JULY – 9 AUGUST
This annual festival is, in fact, a get-together of 10 friends and chamber-music devotees from Europe, North America and Australia who, for the past five years, have been meeting on the Saronic islands of Hydra, Spetses, Poros and Galatas (a town in the Peloponnese across from Poros) to practice and share their passion for classical music with local residents and tourists. Together they form the Leondari Ensemble. They are all world-class musicians and regular performers with many of the world’s most renowned ensembles, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. This summer, they have added the remote island of Kythira to their destinations and, joined by guest artists, they will be performing works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Mendelssohn – among others.
8. SAMOS YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL, SAMOS | 7 – 13 AUGUST
Between Turkey and Greece, the gates to the Orient and the Occident, the island of Samos quite appropriately becomes, for the 7th year in a row, a musical bridge. Established and young artists come together from all over the world, to share their music and perform for a diverse audience of locals and visitors. The festival takes place at the small, 4th century B.C. open-air theater of Pythagorion, perched on a hillside overlooking the harbor city of Pythagorion (the oldest man-made harbor in the Mediterranean, named after the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, said to hail from Samos) and the sea. A variety of music genres comprise this year’s program, including classical, jazz, opera, folk and world music – a treat meant to satisfy many musical tastes.
9. MOLYVOS INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL | 16 – 19 AUGUST
The island of Lesvos, which has been in the spotlight this past year as the reception point of multiple waves of migrants and refugees, decided, despite the challenges, to persist on its love for classical music and host for a second year the Molyvos International Music Festival (MIMF) –symbolically titled “Crossroads.” The festival takes place on the enchanting village of Molyvos (aka Methymna) and becomes a cultural exchange hub for international young talents and the biggest names in classical music. Its mission is to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds through its main program, but also through innovative workshops, informative education projects and unique street-concert teasers, the so-called “Molyvos Musical Moments.”
10. MUSIC VILLAGE FESTIVAL, PELION | 18 – 24 AUGUST & 26 AUGUST – 1 SEPTEMBER
This is no ordinary music festival. It is rather an ever-changing community of people from around the world, who – for 11 years now – have been gathering at the medieval village of Aghios Lavrentios on Mt. Pelion to learn, create and experience music. Two different workshop sessions are offered this summer, and their theme is “poetics of sounds and words in 20 movements”. Various artistic activities take place on a daily basis, and each session wraps up with a group performance, highlighting the work of students and their tutors. More than 100 musicians, actors and dancers are expected to participate in each of these performances, the entrance to which is free for visitors.