Celebrating the changing of the four very distinct seasons in Switzerland is deeply ingrained into the Swiss psyche and many towns and villages have been holding festivals to mark the shift in Mother Nature since Pagan times, especially from winter to spring.
In preparation for the glories of spring, there are many Swiss cultural celebrations that are attended also by visitors from all over the world and include a mixed cultural-religious version of Carnival which is called Faschnacht (‘Fasting Eve’ occurring just before Lent) with townsfolk and musicians parading through the streets in colorful costumes representing the dark spirits of winter and /or the awakening of spring and new life.
However, a more contemporary and innovative annual festival called ‘Zermatt Unplugged’ is emerging and after only 4 years, is already becoming an Alpine as well as international music tradition which celebrates the “awakening” of spring by combining world-known ‘Pop & Rock’ musical talent with soon-to-be discovered future stars.
Unlike the plethora of music festivals worldwide, ‘Zermatt Unplugged’ offers festival-goers 5 impressionable days in April with 9 stages, 25 music groups giving 45 exclusively acoustic concerts (33 of them free!).
Unlike other music festivals worldwide, ‘Zermatt Unplugged’ purposely invites famous musicians as well as newcomers. And unlike all other music festivals, ‘Zermatt Unplugged’ has for its “stage” the ancient alpine wooden chalet-covered, traffic-free village center as well as the ski slopes of Zermatt (pop. 5’640) nestled at the foot of the Matterhorn (14,692 feet) and the Monte Rosa (15,203 feet), the highest peak in Switzerland.
Now one of the most important acoustic music festivals in Europe, ‘Zermatt Unplugged’ presented to about 15’000 serious music lovers some of the world’s best known singers, songwriters and bands as well as some brilliant ‘new talent’ in a laid-back authentic music-lovers ambience with a spectacular alpine backdrop. After all, what better place is there than the Swiss Alps for acoustics (think yodel)?
Gorgeous sunny days were spent on the slopes or on rides up to the world’s highest cable car station (12,740 feet) for lunch at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise or on the centenarian cogwheel train up to Gornergrat for dining at the highest altitude hotel in Switzerland, the Kulmhotel facing the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa.
There was even a stage set up on the sunny ski slopes, “The Blue Lounge”, on the Blauherd in order to rock n’ slide at 8,465 feet! The Cervo Alpine chalet, hunting lodge and design hotel (with new outdoor whirlpools viewing the Matterhorn) was a new talent stage this year and is located at the end of the Ried Ski Trail just before arriving in the village (accessible also via the Sunnegga Tunnel and lift).
Skiers, snowboarders and excursionists returning to Zermatt were greeted with musical performances at the base of the slopes (you can’t miss a tune here!). This was followed by a festival-goers “warm up” while listening to different groups in the many bars and clubs in the village before the evenings’ headliners at the larger venues such as the Main Tent, the largest marquee in Switzerland which can hold up to 2,000 spectators; the Vernissage (the original stage created by local artist Heinz Julen where the roots of the ‘unplugged’ concept began); and the latest venue at the new Hotel Backstage developed and managed by Heinz and wife Evelyne Julen.
‘Unplugged’ international headliners included British singer and three-time Grammy winner, Seal; Roger Hodgson formerly of Supertramp; British singer and songwriter, David Gray; America’s OneRepublic; Swedish acoustic rock band Mando Diao who appeared last September on MTV Unplugged; and New York’s a cappella singers, Naturally 7.
Switzerland’s locals and everyone’s Swiss favorites were Sina, Swiss dialect pop-rock singer from the Valais who has already produced 8 award-winning albums and Swiss Brazilian Marc Sway who easily transitioned between Bossa Nova, samba, R&B and soul in 3 languages!
Moreover, 33 young talented groups performed throughout Zermatt who were immensely appreciated by enthusiastic followers of authentic sounds. This harmonious mix of polished performers and soon to be polished performers reflects the generosity and the mission of the festival organization which is to present great musicians that made it along with young talent that only need encouragement and opportunity to get the international exposure that they deserve.
These young talented musicians played every day all over Zermatt such as in the Foyer Tent (a great crowd attraction as a meeting place with gourmet food stands and bars to enjoy during the concerts) and other new talent stages including in the many village bars and clubs which remained open for them well into the early hours of the morning.
Elsie's Bar, simple and rustic was a great choice to view new talent on the Kirchplatz (Church Square). The weather was sunny good enough for open air performances at Elsie’s this year in the daytime. For the first time this year the legendary Alex lounge in the Hotel Alex opened up for the festivals’ new talent. One of the most famous clubs in Zermatt – the Pink in the Hotel Post, which is fondly known as the “Pöschtli” by insiders also set up for new talent this year. The Hotel Post is known for the many stars of the Montreux Jazz Festival who have been staying here for more than 30 years in order to relax, and to have the opportunity to continue to jam in a familiar and friendly environment. In fact, there was a touch of jazz at the Unplugged Zermatt festival as the local Snowboat Caffe became the ‘Montreux Jazz Boat’ which offered a taste of this coming summer’s program in Montreux in July.
If you missed this one-of-a-kind festival this year, click on your favorite musicians to enjoy their video performances.
See you there!
Written and contributed by SonjaSwissLife
Photos courtesy of Swiss Photographer Dominique Schreckling