Lebanon’s summer festivals announced their 2017 lineups a few months ago, there was one act that stole the show: the legendary Elton John at the Byblos International Festival. One of the most popular artists of our time, a five-time Grammy Award winner with over 250 million albums sold, Sir Elton John is coming to Forum de Beyrouth on December 10 with his band as part of his Wonderful Crazy Night tour. Though the performance won’t happen until winter — and it won’t actually be in Byblos — it’s still part of the festival.
It’s not often that Lebanon gets such a massive star to stage a concert here, but Byblos Festival Producer Naji Baz says that they were lucky enough to be able to attract the artist thanks to their connection to his manager. “It was made easier by the fact that he’s performing in Dubai two days before that,” he admits, adding that a problem with Lebanon is that it’s not in very close proximity to the standard touring circuit, which is generally Europe and North America.
Another reason why it’s so difficult to get artists of this caliber to come here is Lebanon’s small size, which doesn’t always make it worthwhile for them. Baz explains, “We’re limited by our capacity. Artist fees depend on the potential gross that can be generated. In an arena that has 8,000 seats, the fee should always be in balance with this.” Though security concerns are sometimes still an issue, he says that artists are aware that security is becoming an international problem, and also trust festivals with long-standing reputations.
Setting the excitement of Elton John aside, the rest of the festival’s summer program, from July 2 to August 4 at its traditional sea-side venue, is a fun one, featuring a selection of acts and artists from around the world.
Opening the festival is multi-platinum selling Jamaican R&B artist Sean Paul, known for his steady stream of party hits that are laced with reggae and popular with the mainstream crowd. Another current pop-favorite coming to the festival is Germany’s chart-topping DJ duo Milky Chance, with their unique fusion of reggae, electronic, pop and folk. Added to the mix is M. Pokora, bringing his brand of very lively, very pop, French songs to Byblos as part of his current tour.
Also at the festival this year is a musician that’s been in the business for 60 years, singer and songwriter Patti Austin. Her jazzy sounds are no doubt the perfect harmony to accompany late night seaside views, while contemporary artist, the Lebanese-Armenian violinist Ara Malikian, adds his innovative musical presence as well.
Byblos Festival is also hosting a nostalgic musical by Marwan, Ghadi and Oussama Rahbani, “Nasri w Philemon Fil Bal,” a tribute to remarkable Lebanese musician and actor Nasri Shamseddine and Philemon Wehbe, one of the greatest composers of the Arab world. Starring Ghassan Saliba, Soumaya Baalbaki and Bassima, and accompanied by an orchestra, the stage will also incorporate footage of real musicals, as well as songs and dialogue. The music and dance performance takes audiences back to beautiful moments of the past, showing how these Golden Age artists have left their mark on Lebanese culture.