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Festival News

As Covid restrictions begin to ease and the arts and cultural sector gradually reopens, the 59th annual Belfast International Arts Festival (BIAF) returns 6 October to 7 November with an extensive programme that gives audiences opportunities to both experience live performances again whilst also enjoying a selection of online events at home.

Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard is set to return to Belfast this autumn for a special one-off performance in the newly restored Grand Opera House.

His is one of two live music performances* to go on pre-sale this Friday 6 August as part of the festival.

On Friday 22 October, exactly two years since Hansard’s sold out performances at BIAF in 2019, the lead singer of Irish rock band The Frames and one half of folk-rock duo The Swell Season is looking forward to his first gig in front of a live audience on the island of Ireland since the pandemic.

The Great Irish Songbook, featuring legendary Irish folk group Dervish and a stunning line-up of special guests is set to take to the Grand Opera House stage on Thursday 21 October.

Taken from the 2019 album of the same name (on US label Rounder Records), The Great Irish Songbook promises an evening celebrating some of Ireland’s most recognisable folk songs.

Described by BBC Radio 2 as “an icon of Irish music”, when announcing their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, Dervish, whose career spans over three decades, are to be accompanied by a star-studded line-up of some of Ireland and Scotland’s most celebrated musicians.

Artists performing some of their favourite Irish songs alongside an eight-piece Dervish include Belfast’s own Brian Kennedy, the multi-award-winning Cara Dillon, Gaelic folk singer Karen Matheson, the revered Eddi Reader and Belfast’s own Open Arts Community Choir.

Belfast International Arts Festival Director Richard Wakely describes this year’s music programme as a “joyous return to live performance and a celebration of the value of togetherness”.

“Communal artistic and entertainment experiences carry so much value. That’s why themes of togetherness and building connections through live music were at the forefront of our minds when we were programming this year’s festival. Our music programme is, above all, a joyous one that celebrates all that is great about live, in-person music: inclusivity, social connectivity, the sense of being there in the present and feeling part of something truly unique.”

He’s hopeful that come the autumn the concerts can be experienced as intended.

“In order to deliver events of this scale and calibre, we need to ensure they are viable and that necessitates a further relaxation of restrictions, especially relating to venue capacity. I hope that by the time our festival comes around that we can deliver these concerts to their fullest potential.”

BIAF will reveal its full programme later in August. From 6 October to 7 November 2021, audiences can experience compelling drama and dance, experimental genre-busting works, topical talks, the latest literary releases, classical music, toe-tapping folk and roots, independent film, contemporary visual arts and outdoor spectacle. The programme offers opportunities for audiences to both come together again in venues and spaces across the city and to enjoy artistic works from home.

The 2021 edition of BIAF opens with The Border Game, a Prime Cut and Lyric Theatre production reflecting on 100 years of the border and how it has impacted those who live along it.

From the award-winning writers Michael Patrick & Oisín Kearney (My Left Nut and The Alternative), and Irish Times Theatre Award-winning director Emma Jordan (Red and A Streetcar Named Desire), The Border Game is inspired by the testimonies of 100 people living along the over 300-mile Irish border.

BIAF’s principal funder is the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and it is also supported by Belfast City Council, British Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, the Government of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and a range of funders and sponsors.

For more information and to book tickets click here or call Box Office at Visit Belfast Welcome Centre on 02890246609. Sales open Friday 6 August at 9am. #BIAF21