By Lin Noueihed, BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon may be racked by bombings and fresh out of its first elections since Syrian troops pulled out, but for its summer music festivals the show must go on.  Held among the ruins of a Roman city and in a 19th century mountain palace, the Baalbek and Beiteddine festivals begin on Thursday, hoping to turn the gaze from the country’s political turmoil to its classical, pop, world and Arabic concerts. Organizers feared they would have to cancel the al fresco performances when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated in February, touching off large street protests. A series of ensuing explosions and killings fueled those fears. Anti-Syrian Lebanese columnist Samir Kassir was killed on June 2, the day Beiteddine Festival was due to announce its 2005 lineup. Its organizer Nora Jumblatt was in a hotel preparing for the press conference when she heard the news and called it off. “We passed through a period when we were worried we would not be able to do it, but we didn’t cancel, we waited. We changed the dates, we cut the number of shows to fit the situation and we waited,” Jumblatt, wife of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, told Reuters. “Don’t forget, Beiteddine Festival began during the war. In 1985 things were very difficult and we did it then.”The Beiteddine Festival was launched in the midst of the 1975-1990 civil war, which divided Lebanon into Christian and Muslim enclaves and pitted neighbor against neighbor, nowhere more so than in the mountains where it is held.

It grew from a small affair that drew local acts in a palace courtyard overlooking terraced slopes, into a renowned annual event that draws thousands each year and this summer boasts the group UB40 and Ravi Shankar on sitar.

But the musical Mamamia was postponed until next year amid security concerns, she said. Another show was also put off and Beiteddine is taking extra security precautions this year.

The festival has taken on a distinctly Arab flavour. Iraqi singer Kadhim al-Sahir is performing on July 23. Lebanese composer, oud-player and singer Marcel Khalife performs on the closing night. All that is fitting, says Jumblatt, barely months after Syrian troops ended their 29-year presence in Lebanon.


Held in Baalbek, a stronghold of the Shi’ite Muslim Hizbollah group, Lebanon’s oldest festival was frozen during much of the war. Its founder May Arida, said it was more vital to host the concerts this year, despite the turmoil, than ever.

“I could not shut down the festival because this would have damaged Lebanon’s reputation,” said Arida, who founded the Baalbek International Festival during Lebanon’s heyday in 1955. “Our program has not changed. No one canceled and nor did we.”

A few years back, Sting played amid the majestic yellow pillars of Baalbek, once the Roman City of the Sun. This year, it opens with Flying Flames, a musical dance show incorporating trapeze and acrobatics.

But amid the killings that have rocked the country, Baalbek will not be celebrating its golden jubilee this summer, Arida said. It postponed its 50th anniversary party until next year.

Tickets are selling, but few expect the concerts to attract as many Arab fans from around the region or Lebanese expatriates.

“It is our duty more than ever to hold the festivals because sadly all people abroad hear about Lebanon is fear and assassinations so we must show our civilized, cultured face,” Jumblatt said.

“We hope nothing else happens, but that is out of our hands.”