Every year during Pentecost weekend—Pentecost being the Holy Spirit’s special day, celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter—the sleepy Netherlands town of Landgraaf draws 60,000 music pilgrims daily. They stream in to see rock and roll’s biggest bands, and they’ve been doing it for 46 years. Welcome to Pinkpop, Europe’s oldest annual rock festival.
The name comes from merging the Dutch word for Pentecost (Pinksteren) with “pop” for the music genre. Later the name morphed into another interpretation: “pink” for the color and “pop” for the Dutch word for doll, which is how the iconic dolly-in-a-pink-dress logo came about.
Screaming guitars and frantic, electric performances are de rigueur. If a band is in a groove, it’ll keep playing for two hours or more. Bruce Springsteen holds the unofficial record, playing for close to three hours during one of his Pinkpop stints.
The Pinkpop Festival Scene
It’s a sea of pink out there. The European, 20-something fans get into the mood by dying their hair pink and wearing pink T-shirts and pink plastic glasses. Each year the fest sells an official Pinkpop hat, which heaps of people buy and put to inventive use. You’ll see the floppy caps block sun, keep away rain, carry French fries and dry dishes, among other functions.
The crowd flows around three stages: the two largest venues sit at opposite ends of the festival grounds, while the third, smaller stage is off to one side. The festival alternates time slots, more or less, so the group surges from one hot spot to the next. Be prepared for a serious crush to get up close.
Not that it’s a pushy crowd. That’s part of Pinkpop’s appeal. The masses scream, sing, arm flail, and jump up and down—in 1998 fans bouncing to Primus actually caused an earthquake measuring 1.3 on the Richter scale—but the overall vibe remains peaceful and chilled out. Perhaps it has something to do with the Netherlands’ infamous herb, which wafts through the air wherever you are. For the record: marijuana is not technically legal, but the purchase and possession of small amounts (up to 5g) is allowed.
The crowd stays true to its guitar-shredding heroes through downpours, blazing sun and damp cold. In the Netherlands, all three can occur in a single afternoon. The shows are too impressive to leave though. Bands bring it, from lengthy sets to eyeball-searing pyrotechnics to epic stage dives (Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder wins the award for the latter, leaping from a TV crane. Google it and behold.)
Unlike many fests of its kind, Pinkpop does not encourage children to attend. There is no special kids’ zone, and young ones must pay full price for a ticket.
Pinkpop Festival’s 45th Anniversary Headliners
2014 was Pinkpop’s 45th anniversary. The first groups to RSVP for the party included:
Metallica, Arcade Fire, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Mastodon, Bastille, Editors, Ed Sheeran, Stromae and Rudimental. The Rolling Stones are rumored to be the main headliner (though it’s still unconfirmed at press time).
Pinkpop Festival’s History & Past Headliners
The first Pinkpop made noise in 1970 in the southern town of Geleen. Golden Earring headlined the one-day shindig. In 1988 the festival moved to greener pastures in nearby Landgraaf, taking over the old horseracing track. Pinkpop has remained at the site ever since. It became a two-day festival in 1995, and expanded to three days in 1997. Read more about the Pinkpop Festival history.
Name a prominent band and it likely has rocked the stage during Pinkpop’s 45-year run. Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, Peter Tosh, Rush, U2, ZZ Top, Lou Reed, Hüsker Dü, Lenny Kravitz, Tori Amos, Smashing Pumpkins, Moby and Radiohead are among the notables.
Recent programs have featured:
- Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, The Cure, Mumford & Sons, Soundgarden, Linkin Park, Mastodon, Keane, The Hives, Ting Tings, Wombats, Afghan Whigs, Ben Howard and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings in 2012.
- Green Day, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Queens of The Stone Age, Phoenix, FUN., Jimmy Eat World, 30 Seconds To Mars, The Gaslight Anthem, Handsome Poets, Ellie Goulding, Stereophonics and Triggerfinger in 2013.
- Muse, Pharrell Williams, Avicii, Robbie Williams, The Script, Elbow, George Ezra, OneRepublic, Rise Against, Counting Crows, Above & Beyond, and Anouk in 2015.
The Pinkpop Festival is held in May or early June, depending on when the Pentecost holiday weekend falls. It spans Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with the last day reserved for the biggest performers. Pinkpop also has a strong track record of booking lesser-known bands just before they explode into stardom.