Vestrock is an extraordinary Zealand cultural phenomenon

Vestrock and HulstPicture Sas Schilten

The Hulster festival Vestrock is different from all the hundreds of other festivals in the Netherlands. You can see this immediately as you approach the center of the Zealand fortified city. Right next to the star-shaped ramparts, on a piece of land called Buitenvest, there are three festival tents and a rugged main stage, including an impressive light show. The square looks like a festive bulge of the intimate city center: from the local Pearle optician you can see the multicolored flashes of light hitting the mirrors.

Here is an intensive program with international names and rock shows until after midnight for three days. And no one from Hulste can escape that: Vestrock is an integral part of small town life this first weekend in June. And Hulst is proud of the unique property of Vestrock, which you can see when you take a walk through the city and around the festival site; from early childhood to the residents of nursing homes, and from the mayor to – of course – the festival directors.

Vestrock in Hulst Image Sas Schilten

Vestrock and HulstPicture Sas Schilten

Vestrock, which was founded in 2010 by two music lovers who also wanted to host a party, came up with a special poster this year. The independent festival in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen had managed to get the British band Editors as headliner on day one – a band that stood for the big Pinkpop four years ago. And the program showed more stubbornness. On Sunday, for example, the pop phenomenon Antoon was lined up with a DJ duo with the curious name Goe Veur In Den Otto and the child hypnotist Mega Mindy. Anyway, one of the most amazing festival posters in years and one wonders how it came about.

The residents of Hulst, Marcel Verhaar and Gino Baart, can explain this. Thirteen years ago, they thought it would be nice if such a fun pop festival could be arranged in their municipality, because there was not much to do in the region. In 2010, a handful of bands were programmed on the track just outside the city walls. The organization was not easy, says Baart. ‘The weather was bad, in advance we sold half of the approximately two thousand tickets. So we had to use our holiday money to pay the bills. ‘

null Picture Sas Schilten

Picture Sas Schilten

Yet the sun shone on the day itself. “The weather was beautiful and we sold out at the door.” It was the start of an extraordinary cultural phenomenon in Zeeland. As a low-threshold independent festival with cool names, Vestrock proved to be able to support itself, without profit. And every year, Verhaar and Baart tried to outdo themselves. ‘After five years, we thought: why not try to bring in international action? Not a single festival in Zeeland-Flanders dared to do so. ‘ Vestrock grew into a festival with more than 10,000 visitors, and the money raised from sponsors, catering, grants and entrance fees meant that in addition to local talent, ever-larger names could be booked up for the hit editorial staff this year. Baart: “Make no mistake: We have been working on this for seven years. We had to network for a long time. ‘

Fast and De Lieve Jongens Band on Vestrock's big stage in Hulst.  Picture Sas Schilten

Fast and De Lieve Jongens Band on Vestrock’s big stage in Hulst.Picture Sas Schilten

Vestrock has meanwhile become much more than a pop festival. The festival turned into a kind of sign for municipal solidarity, and a festival where virtually all residents of Hulst are now involved. “It was quite exciting in the first years,” says Mayor Jan-Frans Mulder, who on Friday takes a breather after the screaming rock show in The Darkness. ‘The city council wondered: What kind of audience would come to it? And what kind of straps? Will it be fun or aggressive? ‘ After the first editions, most of the resistance disappeared. ‘We saw that the whole of Hulst was enjoying himself. And that Hulstenaren, who had left the municipality, returned for it, and made a kind of reunion of it. ‘

The whole Hulst mingled in Vestrock. ‘Hundreds of volunteers now work there,’ says Mulder. ‘The local companies sponsor the festival. Here the carnival associations tap and the scout takes care of the campsite with six hundred tents. ‘ Vestrock, says the mayor, became an important municipal binder.

Le Motat in the Chapel at Vestrock in Hulst Statue Sas Schilten

Le Motat in the Chapel at Vestrock in HulstPicture Sas Schilten

You can see for yourself when you look over the tents. Elderly people sit on the balconies of the nursing home and watch the performance with binoculars. And children from 6 years swarm across the place without parental supervision: it is safe within the fences. On Sunday, K3 and Buurman & Buurman are on stage for them. Verhaar: ‘So in the morning there will be a band with a thousand children in front of the entrance. It’s really cute. ‘

As Vestrock became more and more supported, the creators seriously decided to expand the festival into a municipal party. Baart en Verhaar: ‘We are now arranging a special program with Dutch-speaking artists for the elderly with binoculars.’ A highlight in Vestrock’s history: ‘When we had Jan Smit on stage here and we transported a 96-year-old lady to the venue in a taxi so she could see Jan Smit perform once more. Excellent. She was wearing her Jan Smit scarf and could talk to him afterwards. She died shortly after ‘.

Vestrock in Hulst Image Sas Schilten

Vestrock and HulstPicture Sas Schilten

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