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Music in Leiden: A Green Man and The Golden Cap

Updated: Jan 17

De Gouden Pet serves as another example of what gives the mini-city of Leiden an intrigue and vibrancy to distinguish it beyond it serene canals and picturesque streets. And to think, my day only began after the sound of singing came through my living room window…

A fairly normal June day in Leiden, although surprisingly sunny I must add. Full of a fresh optimistic air following a prolonged period of exams. Yet, the quiet of my pretty Dutch street was pleasantly disrupted by a collection of clapping and chatterings below my window. Ooh? What’s going on?

The windows of my flat are very much like many of the people who occupy the city: although they’re in good nick for how old they are, they’re also temperamental and dislike being moved... Nevertheless, with a rattle and crack, I shifted them up eagerly to inspect the commotion below and what I saw immediately caught my interest.

With a proud voice and animated performance, an ensemble of three singers and a keyboard player called W8FF had set themselves up directly opposite my flat, giving their rendition of what sounded like Piano Man by Billy Joel in Dutch. I later figured it must have been their own song to that tune as I was later able to tell that some of the words didn’t match the lyrics in English; maybe my brief time on Duolingo was well spent after all!

Self-assured in their stance and fed by the warm admiration of their audience, they were dressed in smart white shirts along with matching blue fedoras and trousers. Not knowing how much longer they would be performing, I brushed my teeth, jumped into my boots and tumbled down the stairs to see them on the street.

Upon nosing around a bit further, it became apparent that there were several similar troupes near the same location, all having a large advertising flag with a number stapled to them. How curious? A stack of leaflets with QR codes piqued my interest as I thought it might offer some clues... Leading to a list of bands and tick boxes, I realised that these bands and troupes were all taking part in a competition.

This competition turned out to be De Gouden Pet (or The Golden Cap) and these QR code leaflets were part of the voting. One of the largest festivals of street musicians in the Netherlands, the competition has been held around Leiden’s picturesque city centre since 1987. Alongside the vote held by the audience members, another award is voted by a panel of judges, who vote based on “musicality, originality of music and presentation”.

“I was about to walk straight past his display of downright weirdness when I took the time to realise that these kind of mad little things were exactly what I wanted to see on my year abroad”

Walking around the city, a pretty wide variety of music filled the streets: folk, rock, country, indie and pretty much anything in between. My favourite act of the days was Bertje Doperwtje, wearing a matching green t-shirt and clogs almost as loud as he was with eyes so wacky they almost seemed to pop out of his head. This may explain why he is a recognisable face in his home city of Alkmaar as a regular street musician. To think I was about to walk straight past his display of downright weirdness, I took the time to realise that these kind of mad little things were exactly what I wanted to see on my year abroad. Even though I’m glad I stayed to watch this wild-eyed madman sing purposefully over the top, I feel that the wall of laughter around me suggested that it would have been even funnier in Dutch. Back to Duolingo...

Two winning acts graced the stage with one voted for by the judges and one voted for by the audience. Happy Harmony took the judges favour while Clover Bluegrass Boys, voted for by the public, were awarded with the prestigious Golden Cap! Both acts also won the sweet prize of €500.

For anyone in the Netherlands around the end of June, I firmly recommend attending this competition which celebrates the joy brought by music in many forms. You’ll smile at what you see and if you stay in Leiden for longer than the one day, you’ll see how much the intimate streets of this quaint city can change from vibrant and song-filled to quiet, peaceful and contemplative.

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